abinet ministers are ramping up pressure on scientists to cut the self-isolation period to five days to ease staff shortages in businesses and public services, according to reports.
Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed ministers were “looking at” changing the guidance despite scientific advisers warning it could lead to infectious people returning to work prematurely. Between 10 and 30 per cent of people are still harbouring the virus on day six, according to the UKHSA.
Government sources told The Times that Health Secretary Sajid Javid was left “frustrated” after the UKHSA clarified that the recommended Covid self-isolation period in the US is shorter than in the UK – after previously saying it was as effectively the same in both countries.
However, the UKHSA has updated its blog post, which now states: “In the UK our advice is to self-isolate for at least six full days from the point at which you have symptoms or get a positive test, whichever is first.”
The UKHSA said it made the correction after the US CDC health protection agency clarified its isolation period started when symptoms first appeared.
More than 176,000 deaths with Covid on certificate – ONS
A total of 176,035 deaths have occurred in the UK where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.
The highest number on a single day was 1,485 on January 19 2021.
During the first wave of the virus, the daily toll peaked at 1,461 on April 8 2020.
Starmer says PM’s deflections on partygate are ‘absurd’
Sir Keir Starmer has weighed in on “partygate”, branding the prime minister’s excuses “absurd”.
The Labour leader tweeted: “Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd.
“Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.
“Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.”
‘Appropriate disciplinary action’ should be taken if Covid rules were broken in Downing St
Health minister Ed Argar said “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken if rules are found to have been broken at an alleged Downing Street drinks party in May last year.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.
“That’s why it’s right that [Sue Gray] is looking into the facts and will report, and she can go with this investigation where she needs to, without fear or favour.
“I hope that she will report swiftly, and depending on what she finds in that investigation – if people are found to have broken the rules in that context, it’s right that appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”
Covid cases fall across London
Confirmed cases were down in 26 out of 32 boroughs in the week to January 5, according to the latest Government data.
Just four local authorities saw infection rates increase by any significant margin.
All boroughs recorded fewer than 2,000 cases per 100,000 people in the week to January 5, fuelling hope the Omicron wave may have peaked, but still a high level of disease.
You can read the full report from our politics team here.
‘People are furious’: Former Scot Tory challenges PM over ‘drinks party’
Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson condemned the alleged Downing Street drinks party in May 2020, saying “People are (rightly) furious.”
The Tory peer tweeted in response to health minister Ed Argar telling BBC Breakfast: “I can entirely understand why people who’ve lost loved ones, or people who’ve just had their lives hugely disrupted by these restrictions, are angry and upset by these allegations.”
Baroness Davidson said: “This line won’t survive 48 hrs. Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking?”
PM ‘cannot run and hide from party allegations’
Boris Johnson “cannot run and he cannot hide” from claims an aide organised a “bring your own booze” Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown, Labour’s Ed Miliband has said.
The shadow climate change and net zero secretary described the revelations as “incredibly damning” and called on the Prime Minister to explain whether he was at the party.
Mr Miliband told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason this is so damning is because it was an organised party, no ifs and no buts, because it was clearly the most flagrant violation of the rules.
“It was on the day that the cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said we were only allowed to meet one person outdoors, those were the rules in place. And, crucially, Number 10 has not denied that the Prime Minister was at the party.
“Now, it’s all very well that we are having Sue Gray’s inquiry, but the Prime Minister cannot run and he cannot hide. He’s got to answer. If I went to a party, I know I went to the party. He’s got to explain – was he at the party?
“How can he possibly justify all of the things he said in the House of Commons – that no rules were broken, that he did nothing wrong? He is going to have to answer.”
Minister ‘spent last May glued to Zoom screen’
Asked if he would have accepted an invitation to an alleged Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown, Mr Argar said he spent last May “glued to my Zoom screen”.
He told Sky News: “I spent my May last year talking to you on various occasions, and various other media outlets, but pretty much glued to my Zoom screen and making sure that I knew what the regulations were – not least because I was a health minister who’d helped draw them up.”
Pressed on whether he would have accepted such an invitation in light of this, he said: “I wasn’t invited to any parties and I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals.
“I was clear about what the rules were at the time and it’s right that Sue Gray is looking into this matter independently.”
‘We understand why people are upset,’ says minister after ‘BYOB No10 party’
Health minister Ed Argar said he can understand why people are upset over claims the Prime Minister’s aide organised a “bring your own booze” Downing Street drinks party during the first lockdown.
He told Sky News: “I can understand that with these allegations people will be upset and angry, which is why it’s right that the Prime Minister asked for that independent investigation to be completed at pace, to get to the facts behind these allegations.”
He said he would not “pre-judge” an inquiry by Cabinet Office official Sue Gray.
“What actually happened or didn’t happen in Downing Street is a matter for Ms Gray,” he said.
“She will come up with her conclusions having interviewed the relevant people, having looked at the evidence and … she will then conclude a) what did or didn’t happen, and then b) whether anything that did happen was consistent with the rules.”
Schools chief backs isolation cut
Dame Maura Regan, chief executive officer of Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust, said she would be in favour of a move in England to decrease the Covid isolation period to five days.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Personally, I’d welcome it, because I think the most important thing is there are many staff that actually have no symptoms, many children that have no symptoms, and I think it’s important to get staff back as quickly as possible.
“I think the most important thing we have to remember is that while it’s significant for all children, it’s particularly significant for those students that are actually facing exams, and many of them have had two, two and a half years, of disruption and to then have a lack of quality teaching is actually greater disruption for them.”
She said “one of the biggest challenges” currently for schools is “effective supply cover”.
She added: “Many people can’t get supply in and, obviously, supply agencies are at something like 50% down on those that are available.”
Around the world
– The United States reported at least 1.13 million new coronavirus infections on Monday, a Reuters tally showed, the highest daily total of any country in the pandemic so far
– An experimental monoclonal antibody treatment from pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co is effective against all known variants of the coronavirus, including Omicron
– Hong Kong will shut kindergartens and primary schools and start offering Covid vaccines for children from the age of five, the city’s leader said on Tuesday
– Japan will maintain its tight entry restrictions to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant until the end of February, the prime minister said on Tuesday