UK coronavirus live: new restrictions placed on nearly 2 million people in north-east England


News updates: residents in Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland banned from mixing with other families

When Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem MP for Twickenham, asks about testing, Hancock criticises her for what she said about the system in the Commons two days ago. That was when Wilson said people in Twickenham were obtaining tests locally by pretending to live in Aberdeen. Hancock did not directly address this claim on Tuesday, but today he says Wilson made a claim that “turned out to be wrong”. He says MPs have a duty to explain things “fairly and straight and properly”.

In the Commons Labour’s Stella Creasy asked if the private contractors providing testing services would face a financial penalty for tests being unavailable.

Hancock ignored the question, and just said it was the duty of everyone contributing to the test and trace service to make it work as effectively as possible.

In his opening statement Hancock said the new restrictions in the north-east would affect people in Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.

From Friday, residents in these areas will be banned from socialising with other people outside their own households or support bubble, while food and drink venues will be restricted to table service only, Hancock said.

Here is the Department for Health’s news release with the list of the 25 hospitals in England that will get a share of the £150m fund being allocated to expand and upgrade A&E facilities.

The release also provides more details of the scheme to get patients booking appointments for A&E through NHS 111. The scheme is being piloted in Cornwall, Portsmouth and south-east Hampshire, Blackpool and Warrington and will be rolled out more generally from December.

Commenting on the plan, Dr Cliff Mann, the NHS national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said:

While emergency admissions are now back to near normal levels and 999 calls are actually above usual, Covid-19 infection control means rethinking how we safely look after people who might previously have been to an emergency department for a more minor condition. Local teams are working hard to expand and adapt services to ensure people can continue to get the care they need safely, whether that’s in hospital or closer to home.

This additional investment will help us continue the development of NHS 111 and provide a broader range of services, with direct booking that will ensure all patients can see the right clinicians in the right setting, and address the extra challenges posed by Covid-19 so that emergency departments can safely treat those patients who do require their services.

Referring to NHS 111, Hancock says he wants to improve access to the NHS. The booking system will let A&E know when people are coming.

He says there is a plan for care homes to get PPE. Details will be set out shortly in the winter plan for social care.

On testing, Hancock says “of course there’s a challenge in testing”. But capacity is at record levels. The problem is, demand has gone up faster, he says.

He says the government has chosen to prioritise care home residents. Of the tests available, more than 100,000 a day are sent to care homes.

On contact tracing, Hancock criticises Ashworth for playing “a decisive card” because he was trying to differentiate between public and private. He says the two sides should work together.

But he asks if triaging access to A&E will worsen health inequalities. And if it leads to more people going to GP surgeries, will they get more funding?

Ashworth points out that Hancock did not cover testing in his statement. Four months ago Hancock said testing for all was established. He promised test and trace. But instead we have ended up with trace a test, he says.

He says in his Commons statement on Tuesday Hancock quoted many figures for the number of tests being carried out in MPs’ constituencies. But those figures were no comfort to people being asked to travel miles for a test.

Ashworth says people made sacrifices during the lockdown. But the government did not honour its side of the bargain. It was meant to deliver a functioning test and trace system, but it failed.

Hancock says winter is always a stretching time. But this winter presents particular challenges, he says.

He says a further £2.7bn has been allocated to the NHS to help it manage over the winter. This is in addition to money provided for PPE, he says.

In August £300m was announced for emergency upgrades. He says more funding is now being allocated to expand more emergency departments.

The role of NHS 111 will be expanded, he says. Millions of people used it to get the best advice on coronavirus. He says people will not be turned away from emergency departments in serious situations. But the government is investing £24m in NHS 11 call handling capacity and it will build on trials to turn it into a gateway for emergency care. People will be able to use it to make a booking with the appropriate care. That could be a booking with a GP, but it could be a booking for A&E, he says.

Hancock says there have been concerning rises in infection rates in some parts of the north-east.

He says he will explain the new local restrictions, and measures being taken to prepare the NHS for winter.

NHS test and trace has published its latest weekly performance statistics (pdf). Here are the main points.

More than 1m people have now downloaded the Protect Scotland contact-tracing app, the Scottish government has announced.

Over 1 million people have downloaded our free contact tracing app. Protect Scotland is:🔹 Easy to use🔹 Private and anonymous🔹 An extra tool to support #TestAndProtectDownload now to help us stop the spread ⬇

One source of information on coronavirus taken seriously by scientists is the data from the Covid symptom app launched by a team from King’s College London. More than 4 million people have downloaded the app, and in an interview on the Today programme this morning Prof Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, said that his findings suggested that, if people did not have severe headaches or fatigue, they probably did not have coronavirus. He said:

What we are learning from all these data points [is that] nearly everybody, 80% of people, in all the age groups in the first week reported quite severe headaches and tiredness, fatigue.

What we are seeing is, if people are particularly worried about colds and Covid, if they don’t have this combination of symptoms, quite severely, it’s highly unlikely that their symptoms are actually related [to coronavirus].

In a comment that may offer reassurance to thousands, he also said that people with a runny nose, or who were sneezing, almost certainly did not have coronavirus. He said:

We’ve also shown some negative signs in our app. So if you do have a runny nose, or congestion, or sneezing, that’s really a sign you absolutely do not have Covid.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has accused the Scottish and UK governments of failing to collaborate effectively on the coronavirus and fighting endless constitutional wars over Brexit and independence, in an op ed for the Scotsman.

Starmer is visiting Scotland for the first time as leader today with the Scottish party in crisis: five days ago the Scottish party leader, Richard Leonard, very narrowly survived a no confidence motion after a rebellion by centrist Labour MSPs and peers over his leadership.

With Labour polling at between 14% and 18% before next May’s Holyrood elections, Starmer acknowledged the Scottish party “had a mountain to climb”. His article did not mention Leonard.

In an effort to carve out safer territory for Labour and reassert its claims to have delivered devolution, Starmer said both the Tories in London and the Scottish National party in Edinburgh were “banging on” about Europe and independence while they should be focusing on jointly combating the pandemic. He said:

Rather than acknowledging the deep problems with their response to the virus, like the current testing fiasco or the crisis in our care homes, they are dodging blame and attacking each other.

Labour in government created devolution so that decisions could be made closer to people. But, for that, we need governments to work in partnership. [So] I say to both governments: get a grip, focus on the job in hand and work together to defeat this virus. I continue to believe that a four-nations approach is the best response to the health and economic crises we face.

There was a misstep in the piece: Starmer accused the Scottish Tories of refusing to stand up to Boris Johnson over his move to ignore the EU withdrawal agreement. On Wednesday, Lord Keen, the Scottish advocate general in the UK government and former Scottish Tory party chair, quit in protest over precisely that.

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