World news – GB – UK coronavirus live: Rhondda Valley outbreak linked to Doncaster Races; patients urged not to go to A&E for tests


Fresh restrictions in south Wales after cluster of new cases; Bolton hospital boss says 100 people turned up to ask for Covid tests

Every household in Middlesbrough will be given free masks with information leaflets as the elected mayor steps up the fight against coronavirus, PA Media reports. The town is on the government register as an area of concern and the independent mayor Andy Preston is in the process of updating residents with 65,000 leaflets. Re-usable face coverings will be handed out alongside the leaflets to help people follow the latest guidance.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons education committee, told Radio 4’s World at One that his understanding was that schools will get priority for testing under the new plans due to be announced shortly. “As I understand it, schools will be on the priority list,” he told the programme.

In an interview with the Evening Standard Prof Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, has suggested that pubs could be forces to close early in the capital to help combat coronavirus. A policy like this is already in force in Bolton, where pubs, restaurants and takeaways have to close between 10pm and 5am.

Some media organisations have described restrictions like this as amounting to a curfew but that’s misleading. A curfew does not just stop you going to the pub after a certain time at night; it means you cannot even leave your home.

A hospital boss in Bolton has urged people to stay away from its accident and emergency unit unless strictly necessary after nearly 100 turned up to request Covid-19 tests. As PA Media reports, the plea came as admissions of patients with coronavirus increased over the weekend and the infection rate across the borough – the highest by far in England – continued to rise sharply. Bolton NHS foundation trust, which is based at the Royal Bolton hospital in Farnworth, said this morning there were three coronavirus patients in critical care and a total of 20 on wards. It added an increased number of patients under 65 are being admitted, with some in their 40s and 50s.

We are seeing more people being admitted with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as a result of the very high rate of infections in Bolton. This is not a shift we want to see.

However, the rate continuing to rise is of concern and we continue to urge the people of Bolton to consider others when making decisions that could jeopardise their safety.

Here is the Guardian story by my colleagues Heather Stewart and Severin Carrell about Lord Keen of Elie being on the brink of leaving the government.

A trip to Doncaster Races has been blamed for a cluster of coronavirus cases in the Rhondda Valley, south Wales, as restrictions were tightened severely.

The Welsh government said one of the clusters in the area was associated “with a club outing to the Doncaster races, which stopped off at a series of pubs on the way”.

We have seen a rapid rise in cases in Rhondda Cynon Taf in a very short space of time, linked to people socialising indoors and not following social distancing guidelines.

We now have evidence of wider community transmission in the borough, which means we need to take urgent action to control and, ultimately, reduce the spread of the virus and protect people’s health.

The latest figures show the rolling seven-day new case rate is 82.1 per 100,000 people in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Yesterday, the testing positivity rate was 4.3% – this is the highest positivity rate in Wales.

Contact-tracing teams have been able to trace about half of the cases back to a series of clusters in the borough. The rest are linked to community transmission.

I imagine the UK Government will find it hard to find any member of the Scottish Bar @FacultyScot to replace Lord Keen as Advocate General for as long as the Tories are intent on breaking international law #InternalMarketBill #RuleOfLaw

UK government’s law officer for Scotland, Lord Keen, has offered his resignation to the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson @BBCScotlandNews understands Lord Keen, the advocate general, has found it increasingly difficult to reconcile govt plans to change EU exit deal with the law

If Lord Keen of Elie is resigning as advocate general for Scotland, and a Ministry of Justice spokesperson in the House of Lords, it may have something to do with Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, telling a committee this morning that something Keen said yesterday was just plain wrong. (See 10.07am.)

Angela Rayner went into PMQs with much expected of her, at least from her own side. Although Sir Keir Starmer has mostly dominated in his exchanges with Boris Johnson, he has been judicious in what he has said, leading to mutterings that Labour needs to be more aggressive and hard-hitting, a tone Rayner was always likely to be more comfortable adopting. Johnson cannot patronise her as a north London lawyer. And many observers think he is uncomfortable facing women at the dispatch box (an assessment accepted so widely that Emily Thornberry made it central to her leadership campaign).

In the event Rayner was refreshingly different, and perfectly creditable, but she did not deliver the drubbing may have been hoping for and Johnson ended the session effectively unscathed. It was not a heroic performance by the PM, and the encounter was more or less a draw, but given how things have been going for him recently at the dispatch box, that counts as a good result.

Like most events on TV that attract strong feelings among viewers, PMQs is harder than it looks, and experience matters, and that probably explains why Rayner did not deliver a knock-out. Her opening line about someone called Keir who could not go go work was lovely but it was a lead-in to a gotcha question (how much do care workers earn?), and to be effective those have to be relatively quick; her spiel went on for too long, allowing Johnson to use up most of his reply engaging with her other points before you noticed that he had not answered the question.

She caught him out with the Care England chief executive’s quote, but at that point you wanted to hear Johnson pressed on why his understanding of what was happening did not square with reality. She later accused Johnson of saying the testing crisis was all the public’s fault when any fair-minded observer would have concluded that that was not he was saying. (There’s a difference between attributing cause and attributing blame.) And although it was interesting to hear the rule of six grouse shooting exemption raised, Rayner’s question should have been reframed. She asked why it was the government’s top priority, but most people will realise it wasn’t. The question is why shooting should have qualified for any exemption at all.

There possibly is some mileage in a class attack on Johnson and his cabinet, but the Red Wall voters did not seem too bothered about his Eton pedigree at the last election and Rayner did not really pull it off this afternoon. But what was striking, though, was having someone who has worked a care worker at the dispatch box up against the PM. There is potential in that, worth exploiting more next time she’s here.

Johnson was better than he has been in recent weeks partly because he dropped his ludicrous attempt to brand Labour as a party of IRA-loving remainers and towards the end he actually seemed relieved by how it had went. He concluded with his familiar tribute to the common sense of the British people, and how that was how coronavirus was going to be defeated. It was half-persuasive the first time he tried it but less so now because last week Johnson explicitly said at his press conference last week that government could not just trust people to “take responsibility for their own health” because they did not understand the risks. He is still struggling to reconcile his innate libertarianism with sensible public health policy.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned that it is “highly likely that cases of serious illness and death will rise in the weeks to come” if community transmission of coronavirus continues, emphasising how important it is for people to limit their interactions “as much as possible to stem that spread”.

At her media briefing, Scotland’s first minister said that there were 267 positive tests yesterday, along with one death, adding that “cases are rising and we absolutely can’t afford to be complacent about that”.

National Records of Scotland published its weekly report today, confirming five deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate between 7 and 13 September, two of which occurred in a care home and three in a hospital.

As at 13 September, a total of 4,236 deaths by this measure have been registered in Scotland.

The NRS also published analysis which found that, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were over twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those living in the least deprived areas. People living in larger urban areas were over four times more likely to die with Covid-19 than those in remote rural locations.

At the briefing, Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s economy secretary, said that she was writing again to the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking him to extend the furlough scheme beyond next month.

The SNP’s Martyn Day asks what Johnson will do to honour the promise he made last year to take a fresh look at the plight of the Waspi women.

Johnson says it will. It is recruiting more police officers and toughening sentences for serious offenders.

Stephen Doughty (Lab) says problems with testing in Wales originate in England. The government is incompetent. When will the PM get a grip?

Johnson says the opposition is being too negative. The system is continuing to improve. The average distance people have to travel is coming down. More people are being tested than in the rest of Europe. Labour just wants to score political points, he says.

Johnson says the government will work as hard as possible to remove the current restrictions. But to do that, people have to continue to follow the rules.

Johnson says he hopes she is not saying the existing scheme should just be extended. (She signals she isn’t – Labour says it wants to extended only for certain sectors.) He says the government will continue to look at creative ways of keeping people in work.

Steve Double (Con) asks about regional airports, which he says have been hit by the closure of Flybe.

Johnson says the government will continue to consider applications for public service requirements. And it will continue to consider the case for cutting air passenger duty, although he can’t make a commitment now, he says.

Joy Morrissey (Con) asks if the PM agrees the internal market bill will protect the UK.

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