Give three-month freedom pass to people who have recovered from Covid, says top No 10 adviser

Cat Neilan
·46-min read
A Cabinet minister said the Government would look into Sir John Bell's suggestions - Reuters
A Cabinet minister said the Government would look into Sir John Bell's suggestions - Reuters

People who self-isolate after testing positive should be given a "freedom pass" enabling them to do whatever they want for three months, MPs have been told. 

Sir John Bell, Regius Chair of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said the current contact tracing system was "massively ineffective" and would be "much improved" by quarantining people with a positive test result and symptoms. 

"My view is you test people, if they have got a positive result you ask them to quarantine for two weeks, and ensure they quarantine for two weeks, and if they behave themselves you give them a freedom pass for three months," he told the Science and Technology committee. 

"You say 'you have had the disease, you can go and do anything you want for three months - it is fine'," he added. 

"If they test negative you can then have a couple of days freedom because you know that they are not infected. If they are a contact you test them every other day but leave them to go about their business in the real world, so there are advantages to everybody from this."

Speaking to the Commons this afternoon Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, suggested he would consider such a move.

​Follow the latest updates below.

04:05 PM

And that is it for another day...

After months of feeling as though the country was on hold, the news about the Pfizer breakthrough seems to have unlocked a can-do attitude in Westminster. 

Matt Hancock tried to stick to the party line that people should not get ahead of himself - but he barely stopped smiling from the broadcast round in the morning to his two-hour statement in the Commons,. Even Sir Desmond Swayne wasn't going to rain on his parade. 

Matt Hancock: No hiding that smile today - Eyevine
Matt Hancock: No hiding that smile today - Eyevine

Behind the scenes the tustle for when lockdown can be lifted - and what that actually means - has begun, and the Health Secretary has agreed to look at suggestions for further alleviating measures such as lengthy quarantine periods. 

That perhaps is freeing up some bandwidth to consider Brexit, with talks taking place in London again this week. While Downing Street might insist the Internal Market Bill will be returning to the Commons with the controversial clauses reinserted, there is a high degree of scepticism about whether that will be the case by the end of the month, when a deal should be all but sewn up. 

However a whopping 81 per cent of you think they should remain, arguing - as No 10 does - that they are a vital safety net for the integrity of the union after Brexit. 

That's it for today - tomorrow promises to bring more interest with PMQs taking centre ground. 

03:48 PM

Army will not be used to enforce coronavirus regulations, says defence minister

Armed Forces personnel will not be used to enforce coronavirus regulations, a defence minister has confirmed.

Jeremy Quin reassured MPs that, whilst supporting authorities in their response to the pandemic is one of the military's "highest priorities", there is "no way" that military personnel would be tasked with enforcing the Government's Covid-19 rules.

His comments came as Labour's shadow defence secretary John Healey sought assurances that the UK armed forces' involvement in tackling coronavirus would not impact on their core capabilities.

Speaking in the Commons, Conservative Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) said: "When the major generals removed liberties, Oliver Cromwell wondered publicly if even arming one in 10 would be sufficient to enforce it.

"Will (Mr Quin) assure me that the Armed Forces will not be used to enforce any coronavirus regulations?"

Mr Quin replied: "I can reassure (Sir Desmond) that I know many fine major generals, I don't know any who would wish to return to the 1650s.

"I can also reassure him that there is no way that the Armed Forces would be used to enforce coronavirus regulations."

03:19 PM

Union warns of 'huge hurdles' on mass testing plan for university students before Christmas

Plans to introduce mass testing for Covid-19 at universities ahead of Christmas present huge logistical challenges and risk leaving students "in limbo", a union has warned.

A letter, sent to vice-chancellors from universities minister Michelle Donelan, proposes a week of mass testing, between November 30 and December 6.

But the University and College Union has called on the Government to move all non-essential in-person teaching online now, to lower the risk of transmission on campuses during lockdown and to help thousands of students to return home safely.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: "We hope the Government is able to properly oversee mass testing of students at the end of term, but there are huge hurdles to overcome to manage this process properly and not leave staff and students stuck in limbo.

Ms Grady added: "[The Government] must also support students to learn remotely next term and work with universities to help release any students who wish to remain at home from their accommodation contracts.

"We cannot risk another mass outbreak due to further government incompetence."

On Monday, the Prime Minister said guidance for university students wishing to return home for Christmas will be issued "very shortly" to ensure young people do not infect elderly family members. 

03:11 PM

UK Government working on 'set of principles' for Christmas, says Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hopes the UK Government, and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can come to a "set of principles" for Covid-19 regulations over Christmas.

Responding to Conservative former minister Stephen Crabb, Mr Hancock told the Commons: "I really hope that the talks that are under way can come to a set of principles and set of rules across the UK for Christmas.

"So many people travel across the UK including to and from Wales over the Christmas period, even more so than in the rest of the year, and I hope we can bring this to fruition."

Labour MP Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) welcomed the news that students could be tested before returning home for Christmas and asked whether "similar arrangements will be in place in January so students can then return to study in the new year".

Mr Hancock replied: "One step at a time."

02:52 PM

Further 300 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 300 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 34,963, NHS England said on Tuesday.

Patients were aged between 35 and 100. All except eight, aged between 66 and 99, had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths were between September 28 and November 9.

Seven other deaths were reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

The worst affected region was the North West, with 114 deaths registered, followed by North East & Yorkshire, with 79 and the Midlands with 62. 

There were 17 deaths in London, 13 in the South West, 11 in the South East and four in the East of England. 

Coronavirus UKLA current
Coronavirus UKLA current

02:44 PM

Matt Hancock gives Sir Desmond Swayne short shrift over suggestions NHS 'would have coped'

Matt Hancock gave Sir Desmond Swayne short shrift today, after the New Forest West MP tried to suggest that the NHS "would have coped"  without a lockdown. 

The Health Secretary stood up to give a one word answer - no. 

02:36 PM

Government likely to make 'some progress soon' on airport testing, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has said he is optimistic "some progress" will be made on airport testing soon, as the Government rolls out regular mass testing.

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling urged the Government to prioritise airport testing, saying "economically, it is vital to us",  and asking if the lateral flow tests could be circulated for use within the sector at the "earliest opportunity".

Mr Hancock replied: "Yes, the expansion of testing capacity obviously opens up the number of different uses that it can be put to.

"And we're working very closely with the aviation industry.

"The Transport Secretary is leading those discussions but I am heavily involved in them and I hope that we can make some progress soon."

02:19 PM

UK will distribute Pfizer vaccine 'whatever the outcomes' of Brexit, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock said he is confident in the UK's plans to distribute the Pfizer vaccine "whatever the outcomes" of Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: "Of course the news about the Pfizer vaccine is extremely encouraging and we're all hopeful that it's proved safe and effective and approved by regulators.

"If that is indeed the case, given that it's being manufactured in Belgium and as (Mr Hancock) has noted it has to be kept at minus 70 degrees at all times until shortly before administration, what arrangements is he putting in place to ensure that there is absolutely no delay of the supplies at the borders following the end of the Brexit transition period?

"Because any significant delay could at worst result in precious supplies being damaged and rendered useless which could delay roll-out."

Mr Hancock responded: "Of course we've looked at this risk and I have confidence in our plans to be able to deliver the vaccine whatever the outcomes of the negotiations over our future relationship with Europe."

02:13 PM

Have your say: Should Boris Johnson quietly drop the controversial Brexit bill?

Controversial measures which tear up parts of the Brexit divorce agreement will not return to the Commons until the end of November at the earliest, Downing Street confirmed this afternoon. 

The Government’s defeat in the Lords last night was not unexpected. Indeed for many weeks, ministers have been urging peers to back the UK Internal Market bill, knowing the deeply held reservations so many Tories in the upper house had about the law-breaking clauses. 

Many warned that persisting with UKIM risked damaging the reputation of UK plc at a time when the Government should be burnishing our global brand.  The rebellion has been given a further boost by the election of Joe Biden, who has made it clear he takes a dim view of anything that could jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement.  

But in breaking the deadlock in Brexit talks, has it already achieved what it was really intended to and should it now be quietly dropped? Or should Boris Johnson stick to his guns and bring it back ? Have your say in the poll below. 

02:03 PM

Matt Hancock assures MPs 'managing uncertainty is critical' following mink outbreak

Sir Bernard Jenkin notes Matt Hancock's strategy to suppress the virus until a vaccine can be deployed is "still beset by so many uncertainties". 

The chair of the Liaison Committee asks: "Who would have thought mink in Denmark could throw a spanner into this situation?"

He asks if the tracing capability and the ability to get people to self-isolate is not the most vital part of the strategy, and who is ultimately responsible for that. 

Mr Hancock says it is important to continue strengthening Test & Trace alongside everything else, adding: "Of course, managing a pandemic is beset by uncertainty - we still have uncertainty over whether even the Pfizer vaccine will pass the safety hurdles... but managing through that uncertainty is an absolutely critical part of getting this right."

01:47 PM

Matt Hancock 'everybody will look closely' at Sir John Bell's regular testing suggestion

Choosing which vaccine to have backed is like "playing roulette", Jeremy Hunt has said as he praises his successor Matt Hancock. 

The chair of the Health and Social Care select committee said buying 40m doses of the Pfizer vaccine was "an enormous achievement for the country and he deserves great credit for that". 

He also thanks the Health Secretary for introducing regular testing for NHS staff, but says the next big issue was about getting people to isolate and asks him about Sir John Bell's suggestions for an alternative to the committee this morning. 

Mr Hancock says the option of testing people regularly if they are contacts "wouldn't even be open to us had we not secured the huge capacity for lateral flow testing". 

It is something "that I am sure everybody will want to look at closely", he adds. 

01:39 PM

Jon Ashworth praises 'glimmer of light' on vaccine breakthrough

Jonathan Ashworth welcomes the announcement on routine testing for NHS staff, saying it will protect staff and help with infection control. 

The Labour frontbencher asks if relatives of care home residents could have priority access to tests so they can visit their loved ones "and even hug them". 

He then turns to self-isolation and asks Matt Hancock if he will accept "a better package is needed" for people to comply. 

Mr Ashworth says he is "optimistic" about the prospect of a vaccine and asks the Health Secretary if the disproportionate impact on BAME individuals will be taken into account. He also asks what will be done to prevent people having to travel across the country to get a vaccine, and what work is being done to ensure the "cold chain" distribution required for the Pfizer vaccine is delivered. 

"This is indeed an important moment, we see a glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. Our constituents are hopeful and we look forward to rapid progress in the distribution of this vaccine so we can all get back to normal," he adds. 

01:32 PM

NHS tasked with being ready for vaccine programme from Dec 1, says Health Secretary

Matt Hancock then turns to the Pfizer vaccine, telling MPs that our order for 40m doses "puts us at the front of the pack". 

He notes that there are other vaccines including the one in Oxford that are close to reporting their phase three trials, but stresses that none are ready yet. 

He quotes Jonathan Van-Tam's football analogy from last night, saying "it shows the virus can be beaten, and beat this virus we must". 

He says the UK will be "ready to begin a large scale vaccination programme", starting with the most vulnerable. The NHS has been tasked with being ready "for any date from December 1".  

01:29 PM

Confidence in mass testing 'will get Britain back on her feet', says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock starts his statement to the Commons sounding happier than he has done in months.

The Health Secretary says the strategy has always been to suppress the virus until a vaccine could be developed and "that plan is working". 

He turns to the strain that has emerged on mink farms in Denmark, saying that this has been monitored "for some times" but as a result of the outbreak, the travel corridor has been removed. 

Then he turns to the UK's PCR testing capacity, which yesterday stood at 517,957 - the largest in Europe - and that more than 10m people have been tested at least once. 

Additionally the lateral flow tests have been rolled out for the pilot in Liverpool, and from today, will be rolled out twice weekly for all NHS staff. 

After that they will be rolled out more widely, he says, telling MPs he wrote to 67 public health directors yesterday to see if they would take part in a pilot (that's one more than he said this morning). 

"Testing provides confidence and it is this confidence that will help get Britain back on her feet once more," he says. 

01:20 PM

Update: Government admits 'technical error' led to Trump-Biden tweet

A Government spokesman has admitted a "technical error" led to Boris Johnson tweeting his congratulations to Joe Biden using an image with a message to Donald Trump still visible. 

Earlier today Number 10 declined to comment, however this afternoon a spokesman confirmed that although two statements had been prepared "for the outcome of this closely contested election", and error meant that "parts of the alternative message were embedded in the background of the graphic".

12:56 PM

Lobby latest: Government refuses to rule out third lockdown

Downing Street has refused to rule out another lockdown, despite growing hope that Pfizer's vaccine breakthrough heralds the beginning of a return to normality.

This morning scientific adviser Sir John Bell said there was a 70-80 per cent of chance of normality resuming after Easter "provided they don't screw up distribution of the vaccine - that's not my job, but provided they don't screw up we will be fine". 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman noted that national measures will come to an end on December 2.

However, he added: "Now is not the time for complacency. Yes, this is a positive step forward.. but we really need people to follow the rules in place between now and December 2 in order to get that R rate down."

12:53 PM

Lobby latest: Government has no plans to cancel end of year exams

There are no plans to scrap England's A-level and GCSE exams in 2021, despite Wales announcing plans to do so earlier today, Downing Street has said. 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told journalists: "We've set out that they will take place slightly later this year to give students more time to prepare.

"We fully understand they've experienced considerable disruption and it's quite right we give them and their teachers extra time.

"There isn't any change to our plans. We continue to think exams are the best way of judging a pupil's performance and they should go ahead this year."

Gavin Williamson after today's Cabinet - AFP
Gavin Williamson after today's Cabinet - AFP

12:49 PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson 'looking forward' to working with Joe Biden on climate change, trade and human rights

Boris Johnson told Cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning he is "looking forward" to working with US president-elect Joe Biden on tackling climate change, boosting free trade and standing up for human rights.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Cabinet began by discussing the US election.

"The PM congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and said he was looking forward to working with the president-elect on tackling climate change, boosting free trade and standing up for human rights and the rules-based international system."

The spokesman told a Westminster briefing that Mr Johnson and Mr Biden had not yet spoken, and declined to say whether a call would take place on Tuesday.

Asked about the speculation suggesting the graphic in the PM's tweet congratulating the president-elect was written over one with Donald Trump's name, he said: "I think you saw the PM congratulating the President elect on Monday evening and setting out that he looks forward to working with him closely on shared interests."

It is understood that a technical error caused the situation.

12:44 PM

Lobby latest: UK faces 'serious and enduring' threat from terrorism, Cabinet told

The UK faces a "serious and enduring" threat from terrorism, Downing Street has said as Cabinet ministers received an update on the UK terrorism threat level from the head of MI5.

Following Tuesday morning's Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Cabinet received an update on the UK terrorism threat level from MI5 director general Ken McCallum.

"This follows last week's announcement that the threat from international terrorism has been raised from Substantial, meaning an attack is likely, to Severe, meaning an attack is highly likely.

"The director general reiterated this is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat. However, there is a risk that the recent attacks in France and Austria could have a galvanising affect in other parts of Europe - including the UK.

"It also remains the case that the UK faces a serious and enduring threat from terrorism and since March 2017 UK police and security services have foiled 27 plots, including eight motivated by right-wing ideologies.

"Cabinet thanked the security services for their tireless work to keep us all safe."

12:43 PM

Lobby latest: No 10 stands by Brexit bill after Lords defeat

Downing Street has defended the controversial UK Internal Market bill after controversial clauses were removed by the Lords last night, amid fears it could create tension with a Joe Biden administration.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the legislation was devised to "protect and uphold the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland", and that the clauses would be retabled.

Number 10 "expects the House of Lords to recognise the obligation that we have to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure they have unfettered access to the UK single market," he added, saying: "I think we have been consistently clear that the clauses represent a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK's single market and the huge gains of the peace process."
He added:  "We continue to work through the joint committee procedure with the EU in relation to implementation on Northern Ireland protocol. We think this is an important safety net which is why we've included it in the legislation."

12:38 PM

Boris Johnson heaps praise on vaccine taskforce head Kate Bingham

Boris Johnson has praised outgoing vaccine taskforce head Kate Bingham, for having secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, despite growing questions about the amount of public money on her own PR team. 

According to documents, Ms Bingham has already spent £500,000 on the team, which is contracted until the end of the year, equating to £167,000 a year for each consultant.

Whitehall insiders suggested the head of the vaccine taskforce's contract ran until the end of the year and she had always intended to leave at that point.

Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Bingham and praised her work in securing access to potential coronavirus vaccines.

12:27 PM

Veterans minister tweets pictures of soiled nappy sent through the post

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has posted pictures of a soiled nappy that was sent through the post to his wife.

The Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View tweeted the images "not because I want sympathy... but I do think people should be aware of what getting involved in politics is really like in 2020 Britain."

Conservative colleague Tom Tugendhat replied to his post, saying: "Politics shouldn't just be for those who are willing to take this. These attacks are wrong and they keep talented community leaders outside the debate. That hurts us all.

"We don't need to accept this. We can call it out. I'm glad  Johnny Mercer has."

12:11 PM

Wales scraps all end-of-year exams in 2021

Wales is scrapping all GCSE, AS-level and A-level exams next year, education minister Kirsty Williams has announced.

They will be replaced by coursework and assessments amid ongoing disruption to schools caused by the coronavirus.

Ms Williams said the ongoing pandemic made it "impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place" and the decision "removes pressures from learners".

She said: "The well-being of learners and ensuring fairness across the system is central in our decision-making process...  We remain optimistic that the public heath situation will improve, but the primary reason for my decision is down to fairness; the time learners will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely and, in this situation, it is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place."

Ms Williams said universities across the UK had been consulted and had confirmed "that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications."

12:09 PM

NHS Test & Trace boss admits they under-estimated rise in demand after schools reopened

Baroness Dido Harding, chair of NHS Test and Trace, has acknowledged that the "balance between supply and the demand forecast" of Covid-19 testing towards the end of the summer "wasn't right".

Pushed on why the demand for testing was not anticipated when schools reopened, she said: "I said that we did not anticipate the exact amount, correct.

"But we were expecting demand to grow and we were growing capacity faster than any other European country to meet it.

"With the benefit of hindsight, the balance between supply and the demand forecast wasn't right, clearly that's true.

"But what you've also seen in the last six weeks is that we've met our commitments to get that supply and demand into balance."

Asked when demand could increase again, Baroness Harding said: "Armed only with my crystal ball, all of us are working so hard with experts in science, in medicine, in behavioural science to understand what may happen as we go forward."

11:47 AM

Dido Harding defends use of consultants to set up NHS Test and Trace

Baroness Dido Harding has defended the use of external consultants to set up NHS Test and Trace out of nothing, amid criticism about the cost of private practitioners. 

Challenged by Labour MP Dawn Butler, the chair of the system said: "We stood this service up in May at extraordinary speed, we built something that's the same size of Asda in the course of five months.

"When you start something very quickly you need to pull on all the talents across all of society.

"You can't offer people permanent jobs when you don't have a permanent organisation, so you have to employ people either as independent individual consultants or through consultancy organisations."

When asked if civil servants could have done the same job and if using the private sector was value for money, Baroness Harding added: "We need both.

"To stand a service up at this speed we have needed to call on the talents across the whole of society both the public sector and private sector, as the organisation becomes more established and more permanent we are able to offer people more long-term permanent jobs and we are seeing the proportion of civil servants grow."

11:37 AM

Ministers refuse to back down on Brexit bill after Lords revolt

Number 10 is planning to defy the Lords and retable the controversial law-breaking clauses contained in a key piece of Brexit legislation, after Lords voted overwhelmingly against the Government last night.  

The Lords voted 433 to 165 - a majority 268 -  to remove two sets of international law-breaking clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill after fierce criticism led by Tory former leader Michael Howard and Tory ex-chancellor Ken Clarke.

Peers went on to inflict a further defeat on the Government by 407 votes to 148, majority 259, stripping out a further contentious clause relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Speaking in the chamber, former Tory leader Lord Howard said the UK would be setting a "lamentable example" if it breaks international law.

Lord Clarke, a former chancellor, said the legislation was "immoral", describing it as "intrinsically ridiculous and deeply damaging".

Former prime minister Sir John Major said the legislation had "damaged our reputation around the world". "Lawyers everywhere are incredulous that the UK - often seen as the very cradle of the Rule of Law - could give themselves the power to break the law," he added.

However Downing Street was defiant, issuing a statement saying the bill "delivers on a clear Conservative manifesto commitment" and the clauses would be retabled "when the bill returns to the Commons".  

11:22 AM

NHS Test & Trace 'hugely valuable' despite as few as 3pc of people quarantining, says Dido Harding

Dido Harding has insisted that NHS Test & Trace is still "hugely valuable" despite the low rates of people who are self-isolating as a result of the system. 

With not all cases providing all of their contacts, and then a large proportion of those not following self-isolation rules, Jeremy Hunt suggested as few as three per cent of those who should be in quarantine actually were staying at home.

He said the proportion was certainly not above 20 per cent but NHS Test & Trace chief Baroness Harding told him: "If it's a tool that contributes to 20 per cent-plus of our fight against Covid, then it's a hugely valuable and important tool.

"I describe it as our second line of defence. Our first line of defence is actually our own behaviour - social distancing, wearing of face masks, washing our hands.

"The harsh reality is that that first line of defence and that second line of defence on their own have not been enough to prevent a second wave, and that is true across the whole of Europe."

Baroness Dido Harding heading into her committee hearing this morning - PA
Baroness Dido Harding heading into her committee hearing this morning - PA

11:13 AM

Hawks and doves descend for first Cabinet after vaccine breakthrough

While the morning has been dominated with the Health and Science & Technology committee hearings, behind closed doors Cabinet has been meeting.

Boris Johnson heads to Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - PA
Boris Johnson heads to Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - PA

Pfizer's vaccine breakthrough is expected to dominate discussions - with the lockdown faultlines resurfacing at the prospect of freedom. 

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is the most senior hawk within Cabinet, making it clear throughout that he wants a lighter touch approach to restrictions.

Rishi Sunak arrives for a weekly meeting of Cabinet ministers - Bloomberg
Rishi Sunak arrives for a weekly meeting of Cabinet ministers - Bloomberg

Matt Hancock this morning could barely contain his joy as he confirmed he had asked the NHS "to be ready from the start of December", however it remained his "central expectation" that the "bulk of the roll out" would happen in the first part of 2021.

Chief adviser Dominic Cummings arrives before the Cabinet meeting - Getty
Chief adviser Dominic Cummings arrives before the Cabinet meeting - Getty

Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, joins the Health Secretary on the doveish side of Cabinet. 

Michael Gove collects his morning coffee from a cafe before attending the Cabinet meeting  - PA Wire
Michael Gove collects his morning coffee from a cafe before attending the Cabinet meeting - PA Wire

11:05 AM

Dido Harding's Tory MP husband 'living exactly what self-isolation means', she says

Dido Harding has said her husband's self-isolation means her family are "living exactly what that means right now". 

John Penrose, MP Weston-super-Mare, was told to self-isolate via the contact tracing app and was doing so despite having no symptoms. 

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care committee, Baroness Harding said: "My husband has been asked to self isolate by the app and duly is. 

"We are living exactly what this means right now."

She praised the app's privacy, noting that Mr Penrose had said "'but I don't know who I was close to', and I said 'yes that is exactly the point of the app'."

10:59 AM

Poor compliance with self-isolation because of financial pressures, says Dido Harding

Dido Harding has said people are not complying with self-isolation requirements "because they find it very difficult" to do so financially. 

The head of NHS Test & Trace told Jeremy Hunt: "People are not complying with isolation, not because they don't want to but because they find it very difficult.

"The need to keep earning and feed your family is a fundamental element of that, which is why I think the financial support package is a very important thing."

However she was unwilling to comment on whether the support package of £500 should be increased, telling the Health and Social Care committee: "As to the actual sum of money, that is not for NHS Test & Trace - it is a decision for the Government, for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor".

10:50 AM

Dido Harding defends NHS Test & Trace

Dido Harding has defended the performance of NHS Test & Trace, claiming that the system is finding 20-25,000 positive cases per day. 

She told MPs the system had found between 40 and 50 per cent of those who contracted the disease since it was launched, and was "at the higher end of that at the moment". 

Bu she added: "You are completely right... one of the biggest challenges of this disease is hunting out people who have this disease who don't know it."

Baroness Harding also stressed that last week NHS Test & Trace had found "77.8 per cent of contacts for whom we had contact details", adding: "No system can reach people for whom we don't have contact details."

She acknowledged that it needed to be improved, but said Jeremy Hunt was being "slightly pessimistic" about the number of people the system was reaching. 

10:45 AM

UK's R-rate lower 'because NHS Test & Trace exists', claims Dido Harding

Dido Harding has insisted that Test and Trace is increasingly working "more locally and regionally", as she comes under pressure to explain the discrepancy between contacts reached through the central teams. 

The head of the system was unable to tell MPs the breakdown of the budget between the two different teams, but stressed she was "very supportive of the locally-led nationally-supported model". 

She conceded the system was not a "silver bullet" to holding back the spread of coronavirus, but argued the system was having an impact, noting that the R-rate was about half what it was in the first wave. 

That was partly because people are "wearing face masks, washing hands, keeping our distance...but also because NHS Test and Trace exists," said Baroness Harding.

"There is no doubt rate of growth is much lower than it was in the first wave," she added. 

10:31 AM

Give people with positive tests 'freedom pass' for three month if they 'behave', MPs told

People who have tested positive and self-isolated should be given a "freedom pass" for three months, MPs have been told. 

Sir John Bell said testing would enable "everybody" to get back to normal in some capacity. 

Speaking to the Science and Technology committee chair Greg Clark, he said: "My view is you test people, if they have got a positive result you ask them to quarantine for two weeks, and ensure they quarantine for two weeks, and if they behave themselves you give them a freedom pass for three months.

"You say 'you have had the disease, you can go and do anything you want for three months - it is fine'," he added. 

People who test negative can have "a couple of days" of freedom, but are tested every other day while being left to "go about their business in the real world", he adds. 

10:26 AM

Contact tracing 'massively ineffective', MPs told

Contact tracing has been "massively ineffective - and the people out there know it's massively ineffective", MPs have been told. 

Sir John Bell said the relatively low chance of stopping transmission through contact tracing and isolation was struggling and would be "much improved" by quarantining people with a positive test result and symptoms. 

That would cut the time and number of people needed to isolate, which would make it "much more effective," he said. 

"We have to start to get a bit more pragmatic about what are efficient ways of reducing transmission, because at the moment my view is that contact racing is not very efficient."

Improved technology - particularly rapid tests - means people could be tested without having to quarantine and compliance "would go up enormously" among those who did have to, he said, criticising the "big stick" approach that has been taken until now. 

10:20 AM

Pfizer vaccine will require 'bespoke solution' because of 'cold chain', MPs told

The Pfizer vaccine will probably require a "bespoke solution" to the need to store it at -80* until it is used, MPs have been told. 

Sir John Bell said the challenges of distributing this particular vaccine have been known and discussed for some time "but now it is game on, we have got to get it in place, so we don't get delayed by distribution when the thing gets approved."

He said while the safety data was yet to come in, regulatory approval was not likely within the next two to three weeks, but by mid-December "we should be ready to go". 

Distribution "falls to the Department of Health and Social Care", who would probably rely on the NHS, he added. 

"If we get two or three vaccines, which i suspect we will have by new year, I suspect we will have different routes of distribution. Pfizer needs a cold chain at -80* to the bedside, so the idea that will be done through local GPs sounds unlikely."

The bespoke solution would be "absolutely worth it," he added. 

10:10 AM

Vast majority of people with Covid symptoms 'hypochondriacs', says Sir John Bell

Sir John Bell has urged against using symptoms of coronavirus as the basis for self-isolation, saying the majority of people who claim to have the virus "are hypochondriacs". 

The Regius Chair of Medicine at the University of Oxford said tests were the best way to identify people with "high live virus and in doing so catch the people who are most likely to spread the virus to other people", although noted the tests would not catch everyone. 

"Everybody you catch is a win, and as a result I think you are making really substantial inroads into finding people who are asymptomatic," he added. 

But asked if people with symptoms who got a negative result should isolate anyway, he said the "data was very clear".

 "95 per cent of people with symptoms do not have this disease - most people with these symptoms are hypochondriacs," he added. "If you use symptoms as the only way of identifying people you will be locking down a lot of people who shouldn't be locked down."

10:00 AM

People under-reporting contacts to protect friends and family from isolation, MPs told

People are probably under-reporting their contacts to protect their friends and family from having to self-isolate, MPs have been told. 

Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackpool and Darwen Borough Council, told Jeremy Hunt's Health and Social Care and Greg Clark's Science and Technology committees that the national test and trace system was only getting three contacts per case interview, which seemed "improbable".

He added: "People are reluctant to give their full list of contacts because what they don't want to do is to cause the rest of their family - who perhaps have one low-wage basic income earner in a household - and they don't want to have to trigger them into isolation and lose their capacity to feed their family.

"We feel people are under-reporting the number of contacts they probably really had because what they are doing is protecting their family members and friends from being identified and being asked to self-isolate as close contacts."

09:58 AM

'Two or three vaccines' likely to be ready by new year, says Sir John Bell

Sir John Bell has doubled down on his optimism that there is hope of normality by spring, telling MPs there could be "two or three vaccines" available by the new year. 

The Regius Chair of Medicine at the University of Oxford said that until yesterday it was still unclear whether a vaccine could be created.

Noting that distribution and further regulatory processes would throw up problems, it meant that "many of the other vaccines that are at the same immogenicity are likely to also be efficacious, so I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the new year with two or three vaccines, all of which could be distributed. 

"That is why I am quite optimistic about getting enough vaccinations done in the first quarter of next year, that by spring things will start to look much more normal than they do now."

He said there was a 70-80 per cent of chance of normality resuming after Easter "provided they don't screw up distribution of the vaccine - that's not my job, but provided they don't screw up we will be fine". 

Yesterday Sir John spawned widespread delight with his optimistic take on the Pfizer breakthrough. 

09:51 AM

Contact tracing 'leaky' and insufficient to stop transmission, MPs told

Contact tracing is "always a leaky system" that will not be sufficient to stop transmission, MPs have been told. 

Dame Anne Johnson, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, told a joint session of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee that  "even with the best contact tracing system" the high proportion of asymptomatic cases meant many would go undetected. 

"There are losses at every stage of that cascade. People may not get tested if they're symptomatic, they may not isolate, they may not report all their contacts, and so on," the Sage member said. 

"And so it's always been a leaky system."

Dame Anne said that contact tracing was "only one part of the system", emphasising the benefits of other non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as face coverings and social distancing.

She added: "We were very clear that the test and trace system is very important, but it's only one part of the many interventions we have to make to keep on top of this epidemic."

09:49 AM

Have your say: Should Boris Johnson quietly park the controversial Brexit bill?

The Government’s defeat in the Lords last night was not unexpected. Indeed for many weeks, ministers have been urging peers to back the UK Internal Market bill, knowing the deeply held reservations so many Tories in the upper house had about the law-breaking clauses. 

Many warned that persisting with UKIM risked damaging the reputation of UK plc at a time when the Government should be burnishing our global brand. 

The rebellion has been given a further boost by the election of Joe Biden, who has made it clear he takes a dim view of anything that could jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement. 

Number 10 has responded with defiance, saying the clauses will be reinserted when the UK Internal Market bill returns to the Commons.

But in breaking the deadlock in Brexit talks, has it already achieved what it was really intended to? Or should Boris Johnson stick to his guns? Have your say in the poll below. 

09:43 AM

Record-breaking redundancies recorded in third quarter - before second lockdown

More people were made redundant between July and September than at any point on record, according to new official statistics, as the pandemic laid waste to large parts of the economy.

Around 314,000 redundancies were registered during the three months, up by 181,000 from the quarter before, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The data suggests that unemployment in the UK reached 4.8 per cent in the three months to September, with 1.62 million people being unemployed.

It is an increase of 0.7 percentage points on the quarter before, and 0.9 percentage points from a year ago.

09:41 AM

ICYMI: Sir John Major attacks Government's 'corrosive' Brexit legislation

Former prime minister Sir John Major has warned that Brexit may be "even more brutal than expected" due to the UK's negotiating "failures".

In a pre-recorded lecture at Middle Temple, the former Conservative party leader said the UK's "inflexibility" and "threats" towards the EU would make future trade "less profitable".

And he warned of the "corrosive" impact to the UK's reputation of a proposed law giving ministers the power to over-ride aspects of the Brexit agreement.

Sir John, who was an outspoken critic of the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January, said the UK Internal Market bill "was a slippery slope down which no democratic government should ever travel".

Watch the speech in full below.

09:38 AM

Government will hand GPs £150m to support vaccine roll out

Matt Hancock has said the Government is to provide £150 million to support GPs in the roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine.

The Health Secretary said that once it becomes available, the vaccine will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists as well as "go-to" vaccination centres set up in venues such as sports halls.

"We will be working across the NHS with the support of the armed forces seven days a week, over weekends, over bank holidays, to get this rolled out into people's arms as quickly as possible," he told BBC Breakfast.

He said the exact model would depend on which vaccine was adopted.

"The Pfizer vaccine needs to be held at minus 70C until the last few hours before it is deployed, which obviously makes things more complicated. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a bit easier to deploy logistically."

He said the vaccine would not be required for children and that uptake would be voluntary.

"We are not proposing to make this compulsory - not least because I think the vast majority of people are going to want to have it," he said.

09:36 AM

Regulator to approve Pfizer vaccine in 'weeks', says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has said it will be "most likely weeks" for Pfizer's new vaccine to be approved by the UK's regulator, but it was possible some vaccine could become available before Christmas.

"That is absolutely a possibility. My central expectation is that the mass roll-out of this vaccine - if it comes good - will be in the first part of next year," he said.

But His "central expectation" is that the mass roll-out of a coronavirus vaccine would take place in the first part of 2021, the Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Hancock said the next step was for the safety data to be published and cleared by the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

"We are talking most likely weeks. It happens at the speed of the science. It is not an administrative decision when this data gets published," he said.

08:28 AM

Storing and administering Pfizer vaccine has 'enormous complexity', warns Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has stressed the "enormous complexity" in storing and administering the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept in cold storage of around minus 80C.

The Health Secretary noted that keeping it at such a low temperature was "obviously very complicated," particularly for care homes. 

"Also, you can't take it out of that freezer more than four times on its journey from the manufacturing plant into the arm of patients... so that brings its complications," he added. 

"I'm sure that the NHS is going to rise to this challenge of deployment, and we've been working on it for four months now.

"What I'd say is this is a promising step, but there's many steps still to come."

Mr Hancock said he did not know when their first data would be released from the vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca,

"We're not exactly sure when further news will come from the Oxford trial," he said. "But we're working again to ensure that that can be deployed, should it come off."

08:25 AM

NHS braced for vaccine roll out from start of December, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock said he had told the NHS to be ready to begin vaccinating people from the start of December.

The Health Secretary told Sky News that no vaccine will be deployed until the Government is "confident" of its safety.

He added: "I have asked them [the NHS] to be ready from the start of December.

"Of course, there are many hurdles that still need to be gone over and we haven't seen the full safety data, and obviously that is critical.

"We won't deploy a vaccine unless we can be confident in its clinical safety, but we also do need to be ready should a vaccine be licensed and get through all those hurdles and be ready to roll it out."

08:24 AM

Vaccine breakthrough 'one step of many' before we return to normality, says Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that while latest trials showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 90 per cent effective were "very promising", there were many more steps to be taken before it is rolled out.

Speaking on Sky News, he warned that people still had to follow the current restrictions until the vaccine is found to be safe and licensed for use.

Mr Hancock added: "This is very promising news but it is one step of many that we need to take to get out of this and to tackle this pandemic once and for all.

"I think it is absolutely reasonable for people to see this as a step forward but we have got to know this is one step amongst many that we collectively need to take.

"The critical thing is that for all your viewers is that we all keep our resolve on measures that are currently in place now because it will still take some time for this good news that the Pfizer vaccine is around 90% effective, to proving it is safe, being able to licence it, and then the vast task, which obviously we have been working on for some time, of making sure that everybody in the population can get the jab."

08:24 AM

People urged to maintain social distancing despite vaccine breakthrough

Matt Hancock has said that it is important to maintain social distancing until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

The Health Secretary told Times Radio: "I want life to be back as close to normal as soon as possible. This is clearly a promising step but there are many steps to come.

"We are all really so pleased to see some light at the end of the tunnel but it is absolutely crucial that in the meantime we all hold our resolve.

"We have always said our strategy is to suppress the virus until the vaccine can make us safe. That has come one step closer."

How close are we to a Covid vaccine?
How close are we to a Covid vaccine?

08:22 AM

Vaccine roll out will be 'colossal exercise', says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has said it will be a "colossal exercise" to roll out a new coronavirus vaccine should it become available.

The latest trials showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 90% effective were "very promising", the Health Secretary said. 

The NHS is now working with the armed forces to ensure they were ready as soon as a vaccine was cleared for use.

"What is absolutely critical right now is that as soon as a vaccine becomes available we are ready to deploy it," he told Times Radio.

"That is the job that will be led by the NHS. I have tasked them to be able to deploy this vaccine into people's arms - according to priority that is set by clinical need - as quickly as the vaccine becomes available.

"It will be a colossal exercise. The work has been going on for months to get this in place should this happen."

UK Provisional ranking for vaccine prioritisation
UK Provisional ranking for vaccine prioritisation

08:12 AM

Vaccine hopes threaten to expose further fault lines in Cabinet over calls to reopen economy

The fault lines over how quickly to reopen the economy are expected to resurface when Cabinet meets this morning, after Pfizer's vaccine breakthrough was announced yesterday afternoon. 

The hawks who have longed pushed for lighter restrictions are expected to make the case for the economy to be fully reopened as soon as possible, coming up against those who urge caution until the drug has passed all the final safety hurdles and the roll out programme is well underway. 

Last night Boris Johnson appeared to fall into the latter camp, pleading with the public not to take the foot off the peddle and stick with the lockdown rules until they come to an end on December 2.

However Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has made it clear he prefers a lighter touch approach in a bid to protect consumer spending. 

Matt Hancock this morning confirmed he had asked the NHS "to be ready from the start of December", however it remained his "central expectation" that the "bulk of the roll out" would happen in the first part of 2021, with the prioritisation list focusing on the elderly and health and social care workers.

He said it would be a "colossal exercise".  

Mr Hancock's former special adviser Jamie Njoko-Goodwin last night tweeted that the Government "faces a thorny political challenge: namely, what is the risk appetite for reopening the economy ahead of the vaccine? Last thing ministers will want to do is move too fast and risk an unnecessary third wave when the end is in sight."

07:49 AM

Peers overwhelmingly reject 'Trump like' Brexit bill

The House of Lords voted resoundingly to remove controversial clauses from Boris Johnson’s Brexit legislation on Monday night, as peers accused the Government of behaving like a “third world dictatorship”.

In a major defeat for the Prime Minister, peers sought to expunge sections of the Internal Market Bill which ministers admitted would break international law in a “very specific and limited way”.

Peers voted by 433 to 165 to strip out the clauses which would allow the UK to renege on its obligations in the Withdrawal Agreement.

During the debate, Tory grandee Lord Clarke warned that the legislation was a “rather Donald Trump-like gesture” and urged peers to join him in voting against the Government. “I’ve never heard anybody describe any particular proposal that is being forced upon us in these negotiations by Brussels which should have such a ­horrendous and catastrophic consequence that we need to be allowed to behave like the government of a third world dictatorship,” he said.

The former chancellor said that no government he served in would have “contemplated for one moment” proposing the powers set out in the Bill. “It would have been rejected as incompatible with the way we govern this country, so it is the duty of this House to reject it,” he said.