Covid news – live: Rishi Sunak says he argued against September’s circuit-breaker lockdown

UK enjoys easing of lockdown measures as temperatures rise

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has admitted he argued against a circuit-breaker lockdown in September, which scientists said was necessary to head off a second wave.

Mr Sunak said it was his job to think about the country’s finances and that another lockdown would have been bad for the economy. But, appearing to shift the blame onto Boris Johnson, he said the choice to ignore Sage’s recommendation was ultimately the PM’s.

“Just remember what my job is. In the same way that you’d expect the education secretary to feed in about this on the impact on children’s education and learning, you’d expect me to talk about the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods,” he told ITV’s Peston programme.

“Ultimately things that are bad for the economy are bad for our long term health as well and our ability to fund things like the NHS,” he added.

Meanwhile, French president Emmanuel Macron has announced stricter lockdown measures in response to a continuing surge of Covid-19 cases. In a televised address on Wednesday evening, Mr Macron said confinement measures that were already in place in Paris and 19 other departments would be extended nationwide for four weeks from Saturday.

These measures include a 7pm curfew, a 10km travel restriction and the closure of all non-essential shops. Schools and nurseries will also be closed for three weeks from 12 April.

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Outdoor hospitality in Wales set to reopen from 26 April

Cafes, pubs and restaurants in Wales could reopen from 26 April, the Welsh government has said.

The potential changes will be confirmed at the 22 April review of restrictions, it said, as Welsh ministers set out further plans to restore freedoms in the country.

First minister Mark Drakeford is due to set out a series of new measures on Thursday that will see Wales move fully into Alert Level 3 by 17 May, “subject to public health conditions remaining favourable”.

He will confirm that all remaining non-essential retail and close contact services will be allowed to reopen from 12 April, while the rules will also be changed to allow travel into and out of Wales from the rest of the United Kingdom and Common Travel Area.

Students in Wales will also be permitted to return to face-to-face education from the same day.

By early May, plans include allowing organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people and for gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities to reopen for individual or one-to-one training – but not exercise classes.

Sam Hancock31 March 2021 19:45

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France tightens lockdown as Covid cases surge

Emmanuel Macron has announced stricter lockdown measures in response to a continuing surge of Covid-19 cases in the country.

In a televised address on Wednesday evening, Mr Macron said confinement measures that were already in place in Paris and 19 other departments would be extended nationwide for four weeks from Saturday.

“We must make an additional effort,” he said. “No region is safe from this virus.”

My colleague Anthony Cuthbertson has this breaking news story:

Sam Hancock31 March 2021 19:28

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Sunak admits to arguing against September lockdown to protect economy

Rishi Sunak has admitted he argued against a circuit-breaker lockdown in September that scientists said was necessary to head off a second wave.

The chancellor suggested it was his job to think about the country’s finances in isolation and that another lockdown would have been “bad for the economy”.

But he said the choice to ignore the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage)’s recommendation was ultimately Boris Johnson’s.

Follow our policy correspondent Jon Stone’s report here.

Sam Hancock31 March 2021 19:23

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Thousands receive surplus vaccines in Walthamstow

Long queues could be seen today outside a library in northeast London, as it was announced that people could walk in for surplus Covid-19 vaccines.

Walthamstow Library vaccinated 3,000 people on Wednesday after the call-out for local people for spare vaccines, who were prioritised based on risk.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, tweeted on Wednesday morning about the extra supply, saying: “Walthamstow there is extra supply of Covid-19 vaccine today at the library.

“If you are 50+; 18+ with a health condition; a carer; a health and social care or blue light worker you can walk in before 6.30pm for 1st vaccine. Bring NHS number and evidence of the category you are in!”

Several Twitter users reported that queues were up to two hours long, with some claiming that anyone over the age of 18 could queue for a spare Covid-19 vaccine. But Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) quickly clarified that only those in risk categories could receive surplus vaccines.

On Wednesday, it was announced that a total of 4.1 million people in the UK are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the equivalent of around one in 13 (7.8 per cent) of adults.

People queue outside Walthamstow Library in northeast London

(PA)

Sam Hancock31 March 2021 19:15

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Shaun Lintern: Racism in healthcare is real and it matters

Our Health Correspondent Shaun Lintern has provided his analysis on the government’s report into racial inequality in the UK, which claimed that there is no link between race and poor health outcomes.

He writes: “Coming so soon after the Covid pandemic, where black men were three times more likely to die than white men, these conclusions seem almost indecent.”

More below:

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 19:00

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Government denies COP26 delays over virus impact

The UK Government has denied claims that the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) could be postponed due to the impact of the virus.

Media reports on Wednesday suggested that the Glasgow summit this year may be pushed back or scaled down.

A Government spokesman said: “We are working on the basis of Cop26 being held in person this November, while closely monitoring the Covid situation.

“The summit team is working closely with all partners and exploring what different scenarios might mean for Cop26 and how we plan for that, whilst putting the health of the participants and the local community first. We are not looking to postpone the summit.”

Asked whether Cop26 would be postponed or scaled down, a No 10 source said: “I’ve seen nothing at all to suggest that.”

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 18:43

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NI health minister encourages jab uptake

Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, has urged everyone eligible for a coronavirus jab to come forward for it.

The minister, aged 49, received his first dose of the AstraZeneca jab at a Ballee Pharmacy in Ballymena, Co Antrim on the day the rollout was expanded to his age group.

The vaccination programme was widened on Wednesday to include the 45-49 age group.

Mr Swann emphasised the importance of as many getting vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“Today I came to community pharmacy and got the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which is the one we are using mainly across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It is important that we get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, that’s why we are putting such a concerted effort into this programme, and that’s why we’re seeing such a great uptake across Northern Ireland from those eligible.

“For those people who are still hesitant, I am confident enough to come here today to take Oxford AstraZeneca because my age profile now fits in, so when yours does as well, I’ll ask anyone, please come forward.

“There are booking slots, we’re making them available across Northern Ireland, at regional centres, GPs and community pharmacy as well.”

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 18:10

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Second doses exceed initial jabs for first time over 24 hour stretch

Second doses of Covid-19 vaccine in the UK have outnumbered first doses for the first time.

A total of 270,526 second doses were registered on March 30, compared with 224,590 first doses, according to the latest Government figures.

Previously the number of first jabs per day had always exceeded second jabs.

A total of 4.1 million people in the UK are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the equivalent of around one in 13 (7.8 per cent) of adults.

Second doses are likely to exceed first doses on most days over the next few weeks.

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 17:23

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Two young males arrested after ‘disorder’ near Welsh parliament

Three police officers suffered minor injuries after being pelted with missiles including bottles while responding to “violent disorder” near the Welsh Parliament.

A 21-year-old man and a 16-year-old boy were arrested on suspicion of public order offences and a knife was recovered after crowds of mostly young people gathered outside the Senedd on what was the hottest day of the year on Tuesday.

The area outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay was left littered with rubbish including bottles, cans, packaging and plastic bags where more than 100 people had congregated.

On Wednesday South Wales Police said an “incident of violent disorder” broke out around 10pm on Tuesday, after which the two individuals were arrested and released on bail.

It said an investigation was under way to identify further participants of the disorder.

A spokesperson for the force said: “During the course of the disturbance a number of missiles, including bottles, were thrown at officers. Three suffered minor injuries.”

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 16:57

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UK death toll rises by 43

A further 43 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 126,713 – according to the latest government data.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 150,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 4,052 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

It brings the total to 4,345,788.

Vincent Wood31 March 2021 16:35

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