[Editors note: Matt Hancock agreed to requests to consider prioritising teachers for vaccination, as schools are vectors of transmission, teaching staff will be expected to take responsibility for testing, contingency plans are published on Gov.uk website, Trust is established to investigate the effects of long-Covid including in children who do not display symptoms and 3/4 of UK will be placed in tier four lockdown from midnight tonight as Covid 19 spirals out of control, as revealed in recalled Parliamentary statement today]:
Ministerial Statement – Covid-19 Update 1300: 30 December 2020
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care:
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which gained approval today is a world-first for Britain and is the biggest single stride against the pandemic.
Within weeks, the scientists of Oxford University Jena institute like the British code-breakers, before them, partnered with AstraZeneca who have done a brilliant job of manufacturing a safe vaccine and at speed by cracking a modern day Enigma code. It is affordable, can be stored at normal fridge temperatures and is a Great British success in the British way – it is another example of Britain as a life-sciences superpower.
We have focused on the vaccine as a way out of this pandemic.
From Monday 4 January 2021, 100 million doses are on order which is enough to vaccinate [50 million people] every adult in the UK with two doses. So, everyone who wants one will get one. There will be 540,000 doses from Monday with tens of millions from AstraZeneca arriving from the beginning of February. Although there will be two doses up to 12 weeks apart, people will get protection after the first dose which will accelerate the speed that people can get the first dose and bring forward the day when we can lift restrictions.
We also have to take some difficult decisions as the NHS is under significant pressure with 200,000 patients in hospital at the moment, and the threat to life is real – as among health professionals in the NHS – I want to thank the NHS staff and Chief Medical Officer working on the wards over Christmas – we owe it to them to fulfil our responsibility to keep the virus under control.
There are 53,135 new cases, most of which are believed to be the new variant so it is necessary to include tier 4 measures to wider areas. From one-minute past midnight tomorrow morning, almost all the country will be in tiers three or four.
It is absolutely necessary due to the number of cases seen.
Today, is a day of mixed emotions – joy that a vaccine programme in Britain is the first and sorrow for the deaths caused, and determination to stick at it to the end. 2020 came with great challenges but we have hope in 2021.
As we move more areas to tiers 3 and 4, I want to say thank you to the NHS and institutions.
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Leicester South, Labour (Co-op):
Should we be making full use of retired NHS staff to help with vaccinations and how many vaccinations do we have today? People are travelling across the country to receive care. We have lost more than 600 healthcare workers due to this virus. Will he set clear target for when all NHS and care home staff will receive the vaccine? This is a race against time – the new variant is much more transmissible so surely it will be harder to bring infections numbers under control? We are in a national emergency and our NHS in becoming overwhelmed. We need not put more lives in jeopardy when the end is so near. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes.
He’s quite right. There are problems thrown-up with the challenges of this virus but it is also right that this vaccine approval means the end is in sight but we have difficulties to overcome; there are significant pressures on the NHS. People are sometimes being taken across the country to receive care when the system is under pressure. I can confirm, thanks to the decision-taking today, we can accelerate the vaccination of NHS staff. We have 530,000 vaccines across the UK available for deployment in first week on January and the NHS is constantly increasing and expanding the scale of its operation. Where rates are very high and continuing to rise, it is on all of us and how everybody behaves. By taking personal responsibility by not coming into contact with others unless it is absolutely necessary that is how we will get through the next few weeks together before the vaccine saves us.
Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey:
Why in mid-winter, when NHS is under so much pressure, shouldn’t our entire focus be on getting the vaccine out and stopping the NHS collapsing and placing the NHS staff at the front of the queue?
I share the same desire to keep the virus suppressed while getting out the vaccine. We can roll out the vaccine faster by getting the first dose into people faster.
On education, the Secretary Of Education is setting out details shortly about the delicate balance of keeping children in education while not adding upwards pressure on the R.
Dr. Phillipa Whitford, SNP: We welcome the authorisation of the AZ vaccine which can be stored in fridges which will help poorer countries. But there are reports of shortages of oxygen in NHS hospitals and the government only takes action when the virus is soaring, when it’s too late to take control. So, as cases are rising everywhere, does the SOS think the whole of England should go under tier 4 restrictions?
I have just announced that most of England should go under T4 restrictions. It’s been a pleasure working with Jean Friedman in Hollyrood to ensure that this vaccine supported by UK science can be deployed properly to everyone across the whole of the UK, according to clinical need.
Siobhan Baillie, Stroud: social media films of hospitals have been misinforming the pubic about space in hospital. Can the minister ensure the public receive authoritative sources of information?
Munira Wilson, Twickenham: If the NHS suffers from insufficient staff, why build the Nightingale hospitals?
SOS: the Nightingale hospitals are here as back-up (decommissioning stories are wrong) should they be needed which will require changes of working patterns for staff. I will absolutely look into BionTech test. Pressures in Essex are very significant and I will look into any request for military assistance as the whole armed forces have done so much this year in the roll-out of testing and we will draw on the sharp ingenuity and manpower of the armed forces when we need them
Jim Shannon, DUP: devolved administration – time scale for completion of vaccination programme?
SOS: This UK vaccine is being deployed across the UK fairly, according to clinical need, and roll out of the Oxford vaccine will start on 4 January but I cannot say when it will be completed, that depends upon the manufacturing schedule but we have ordered enough vaccine to ensure that every adult who wants one will be able to get one across the UK.
Ruth Edwards, Rushcliffe:
SOS: We have new hope but also difficult weeks between now and when it is rolled out. It is especially tough in Nottingham which is in T4.
Tulip Sadiq, Hampstead: 1,500 armed forces personnel are deployed in schools to rollout mass testing which means schools get the support of less than half a solder each – are more resources required for this huge operation?
SOS: the SOE will set out in his statement shortly – armed forces support is not the only support for mass testing rollout in schools. I look forward to seeing the extra effort put in by schools across the country.
Mark Harpur, Forest of Dean
SOS: the NHS can deliver at the pace mentioned.
Kevin Jones, North Durham: Many elderly residents are still waiting for their vaccine such as a 94 year old resident has not received his so when will they be received so I can reassure them?
SOS: I will arrange a meeting with vaccine roll out manager. 7/10 vaccines have gone to those over 80 and rest to NHS and care home staff. So we are managing to deploy the Pfizer jab to older people.
Mark Menzie, Flyde: we have lots of smaller care home – when will they receive vaccines?
SOS: it’s harder to get Pfizer to care homes due to its storage requirement which will become much easier with the AstraZeneca vaccine and I will stress the importance of getting them to care homes asap.
Lillian Greenwood, Nottingham South: of the self-employed, 2/5 cannot get help from schemes?
SOS: it isn’t possible to save every job but we have to do everything we can and will ensure someone from the Treasury will contact you to discuss this asap.
Steven Brine, Winchester: is only thing holding us back vaccine supply?
SOS: Vaccine batches have to be checked to ensure they are in pristine condition as the vaccine has to be stored properly and we have 500,000 AZ jabs ready to go on Monday in addition to the Pfizer vaccine second doses. We can significantly accelerate the vaccination programme with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Vicki Foxcroft, Lewisham: speed of innoculation programme?
SOS: speed of roll-out will be determined by speed of manufacture. We need to receive more approved doses and are working very closely with AZ on this. The NHS has a plan and is ready to go.
Bob Blackman, Harrow: many elderly residents had to queue for more than an hour to wait for their vaccine but now need to know when should they receive second?
SOS: Those who had appointment before 4 Jan should come forward now. I haven’t heard about the queuing problem so will arrange a meeting with the vaccine rollout manager with you.
Martyn Day, Scotland: longer Covid consequences in the young and healthy – is this the UK Govs plan?
SOS: we haven’t set this out yet while the general approach is to vaccinate the vulnerable as soon as possible then lift restrictions but the exact timing depends upon the roll-out of the vaccine and its effect on reducing transmission.
Craig Mackinlay, South Thanett: how will you ensure that staff shortage won’t obstruct vaccination roll-out?
SOS: yes that is our goal – we changed the law to enable more people to give vaccines and have a big training programme on the go now.
Dr Rupa Huq, Ealing Central & Acton: Oxygen shortages in hospitals?
SOS: easier transportation of Oxford vaccination makes it easier to deliver to the community and hubs, optimising speed of delivery of vaccine.
Robbie Moore, Keighley : schools testing support?
SOS: SOE – armed forces supporting schools mass testing.
Dame Diana Johnson, Kingston: over 600 Health & Social Care staff have died – vaccination in next couple of weeks?
SOS: we will vaccinate the NHS and social care staff as soon as we can based upon clinical need – NHS staff are in priority group two and social care-home staff are in group one. We are trying to do this as quickly as we can.
Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Epsom & Ewell:
SOS: we are trying to understand where these transmissions are happening and will be happy to talk to you about this.
Steve McCabe, Birmingham: 1000 hours are required to do lateral-flow tests – what can you do?
SOS: we have given out more support and PPE – I am happy to arrange a meeting with you and the Care Minister about the time taken to do these vital tests.
Sir Robert Neill, Bromley: staffing issues: I know retired doctors and nurses who would be willing to help but who have not been contacted?
SOS: if these people haven’t been contacted, I will check and get back to you – we are keen to hear from retired NHS professionals as we are organising their reintroduction into service.
Emma Lewell Buck, South Shields: we are in T4 yet the virus is spreading?
SOS: rates in South Shields are going up sharply. The evidence-base is that it is in areas in T4 for the longest where we are seeing a reduction, such as Kent. And, the new variant is much harder to suppress. ¾ of the country is now in T4 following today’s announcement from the Secretary of State.
SOS: we all have to take personal responsibility – everyone should behave as though they have the virus – it’s not just about rules that have been voted upon by the house. Liverpool got the rate right down but it’s now increasing due to the new variant.
Dame Cheryl Gillan, Chesham & Amersham: There are escalating rates of Covid and hospital admissions and healthcare staff are working around the clock – the trust is established to help with long-Covid at Stoke Manderville – what support is there for help with long Covid which are very severe is some cases?
SOS: we are putting effort into research into long Covid which can be debilitating to people’s lives. The single most important thing to do is understand the causes.
Feryal Clark – Enfield: [advice to] children?
SOS: follow public health messages. Help on its way: by testing in schools and the vaccine which will help to protect the most vulnerable, before moving onto the under 50s, where the risk of death is low but who are highly likely to contract the disease.
Adam Afriyie, Windsor:
SOS: symbol of hope and means to an end to remove restrictions – timing: speed of rollout is accelerated by the new vaccine but although we may forecast manufacture we cannot predict how quickly it will be delivered. I am highly confident that by the spring we will be through this.
Clive Efford, Eltham: what advice do Sage experts say schools play in the transmission?
SOS: it is the best way to protect lives and remove restriction by clinical need.
Daisy Cooper, St Albans: when will teachers receive vaccine?
SOS: clinical need first, then important call for next priorities for both teachers and unpaid carers which we will then need to set out.
Jeremy Corbyn, Islington North: The effects of Corona have fallen on the most vulnerable – deaths of people with disabilities and those with learning difficulties and children – can SOS assure us that he will support those with disabilities and children’s mental health difficulties due to Covid?
SOS: Yes: in accordance with priorities.
Meg Hillier, Hackney: NHS staffing sufficiency?
SOS: NHS workforce – we have increased permanent workforce by more than 13,000 in last few months and I am working with NHS and others on the staffing problem.
Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge:
SOS: in what I hope will be my last answer of the year, I would like to thank NHS staff who have done more than in any other year since its formation and social care staff who have gone out of their way to give help to others – there is no limit to my gratitude – their attitude inspires me and so many other people.
The wider impact of closing schools on children’s development would be significant. Taking all these factors into account we have made a number of changes to help break chains of transmission, to keep education setting as safe as we can.
Accordingly, we will open primary schools as planned on Monday 4 January except in a small number of areas where infection rates are highest where we will implement a contingency plan where only children of frontline workers and vulnerable children will access schools but the majority of schools will open on Monday. Ongoing testing for primary school staff will continue in mid-January and self isolation will occur where students and staff test positive or the virus.
Because the Covid infection rate is particularly high in the secondary school age group, we will take the time to mass-test as many staff and students as possible; military personnel will be on standby to provide in-person support if required in schools. Those in exam years will be at the head of queue so that by 18 January, schools will be open in most areas. Exam year groups and students in isolation will continue to receive lessons remotely. We will support remote educationa by delivering 100,000 devices during the first week of term in addition to 560,000 devices to be distributed to children who need them the most.
With schools, our best line of attack is to keep schools open – I am more determined than ever that children should not damage their life chances of education.
Shadow Secretary of State, Kate Green:
The Government has lost control of the virus so is SOS confident that the measures announced today will control the virus and will he publish SAGE’s advice on his issue? Those primary and secondary schools that will not be opening will be a cause of great concern for families. What plans does he have to keep all children in schools and ensure every pupil will have a device and connectivity? Can parents be furloughed if they have childcare needs? Clinically extremely vulnerable people will be concerned about returning to schools. Does SOS believe that all school staff should be prioritised to protect them and safeguard children’s education? Is there a credible (contingency) plan if the exams cannot go ahead? How is SOS making exams fair? I welcome the decision to delay the return of children to university, to later in January. Children and young people are paying the price for the government losing control of the virus.
SOS: extra support: rolling-out the largest mass-testing exercise to ensure children can return to school not just equipment due to all secondary school settings opening on 4 January but mass vaccination programme as they return back to secondary school which is a real opportunity to beat back his virus. SAGE will publish its advice soon. Contingency framework has been a public document for a number of months which makes quite clear that there a number of schools in the framework and we must continue to deliver remote education in those schools. And, exam year children will return even if in contingency areas. We are doing everything to ensure that vulnerable children can attend school, working with local authorities, police and schools. Pupils taking exams in January will continue to do so.
Robert Halfon, Harlow: What risk assessment has the SOS taken on the effect of school closures such as eating disorders which have increased four-fold partly due to isolation?
SOS: we will resist knee-jerk reactions to close schools and colleges due to the impact of lost learning. We have commissioned EPI to do a close study on the impact, especially among exam year cohorts.
Carol Monoham, Glasgow NW: SOS making last-minute decisions that leave schools with no time to plan. Ongoing testing but we know these testing spaces are busy, tightly-packed environments and this new strain has a higher propensity to infect children so following these groups each teacher must be a priority to vaccine.
What steps is he taking to deliver online learning and recorded classes?
SOS: we are in a rapidly changing situation and have to adapt responses – we do recognise this new strain requires a different approach and that is why assessment testing in schools is not optional because schools are unique environments and likewise I want to see all teacher vaccinated and I am pleased that we are in a position that primary schools are opening on 4 Jan and secondary school’ exam cohorts will re-enter on 11 January and all other pupils on 18 January.
James Cartlidge, South Southwark: if we vaccinated teachers faster it would reduce pressure of schools and schools closing?
SOS: I agree but schools have to be prioritised across clinical need priorities but I hope that as this progresses, we will be looking at this?
Daisy Cooper, St. Albans & Lib Dem Deputy Leader: race against time to stop educational inequality. Shocking that mass testing is being rolled out 4 months after schools opened?
SOS: £78m funding of mass-testing regime in secondary schools and half-million extra devices on top of 50,000 delivered on 4 Jan and 100,000 in the following week. Please pay attention to my earlier statement.
Mike Wood, Dudley:
SOS: It is about helping families and the whole community because we will be educating millions of children every single week with £78m fund but some school will have problems so I am grateful that armed forces will help ensure implementation of testing in all secondary schools and colleges.
Matt Western, Warwick and Leamington: 12-17 years olds are vector spreading so will SOS prioritise online teaching, vocational testing and staff for vaccination – what support will be provided?
SOS: exams for those youngsters taking imminent BTEC qualification will occur. It is not my remit to determine who will be receiving the vaccinations but I hope that as we work through the groups most vulnerable, those in our educational settings will be looked upon in a most positive way.
Arron Bell, Newcastle under Lyme: would you provide rapid testing of staff and students who have come into contact with people with Covid?
SOS: yes to reduce the number in self-isolation.
Yvette Cooper, Pontefract: why has government not given funding to deliver mass testing in schools and why is the support they receive always too late?
SOS: I will ensure that my private office will pass the information onto you as soon as it is available.
Felicity Buchan, Kensington: will London be in contingency framework?
SOS: after a two week period, will be a review to see those areas in contingency framework which will be ready to move out and will be guided by public and scientific advice. Sweeping decisions cannot be made and we must minimise disruptions as much as possible.
Kevan Jones, Durham: lateness of government communication – who will support schools and colleges and what will happen to data without a local based plan – will government be making the same mistakes of the national test and trace system – local plans need to be in place?
SOS: it is important to work with local directors of public health to identify where more Covid cases may develop and develop more rapid testing right across the country; extra support is being provided where schools and colleges have particular problems. Data: positive test data will be fed immediately into the Test & Trace system which is also shared with Local Authorities.
Caroline Noakes, Romsey & Southampton North: parents need certainty about if they may need additional childcare – please assure constituents that this plan will provide them with certainty?
SOS: I hope the staggered times gives confidence.
Karin Smith, Bristol South: I don’t have confidence – how will we know that it is safe to return children to school?
SOS: with this new Covid strain, we have to go so much further to give parents and carers extra confidence that it is safe to return to school and root out those with the disease.
Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge: will you thank school workers?
SOS: yes. Manchester children benefit from brilliant schools, teachers have done an amazing job and we are asking them to do more because absolutely everything possible must be done to keep schools open to give children education.
We have seen the gap widening between children from wealthy and poor backgrounds as the gap is widening significantly what will you do?
SOS: she is right. Education is powerful tool to close disadvantage gap. We want to see part of the spending review happening over multiple years and I must confess to being old-fashioned so I will do everything I can to take extraordinary measures to keep schools open and that closures will be for the minimum time due to isolation. Covid Catch-up funds will help drive up standards and reduce the attainment gap.
Ruth Edwards, Rushcliffe: real-time dashboard of data?
SOS: we will look at it how to share information as best as possible – I will listen to how we can continue to drive reforms and improvements in the school system for now and decades into the future
Lucy Powell, Manchester Central: Some primary schools won’t open but government has not published a list of schools – this is not acceptable – no word on how exams year can proceed on a level playing-field?
SOS: you always complain
Nigel Mills, Amber Valley: what are the criteria for school closure?
SOS – we will publish details of LA’s in contingency areas on gov.uk website later today and it will be an absolute last resort result to manage Covid infections.
Rachel Maskell, York: how will government support children sitting tests this year?
SOS: this unique year requires unique steps in grading so well will ensure that there is advanced notice on testing areas to ensure children are in the best possible position to succeed.
Essex, Steven Metcalfe: less well off students may miss out on their education what extra support will be provided for quality remote learning?
SOS: additional action will need to be taken which will lead to the temporary closure of schools over the coming term, more than the previous term, which is why we are distributing over a million laptops and a national academy to support online learning to support children and a Covid catch-up point.
Andrew Gwyn, Denton: Autumn was too disruptive for too many – access to laptops.
SOS: as earlier said, a million laptops. 99% of schools were able to open even in areas of high infection rates and mass testing regime will help to endure this.
Jonahtan Gullis, Stoke on Trent: would government send out cost-price textbooks to the most vulnerable children?
SOS: brilliant idea – I would be happy to meet you to discuss this.
Dr Rupa Huq: stronger guidance and funding?
SOS: I am not in a position to provide independent schools with funding to rollout testing but we are providing them with testing equipment and other equipment to conduct a testing regime for years 7 and above.
Rob Butler, Aylesbsury: question about safety of schools
SOS: at every stage, for safety of pupils and those who work in schools, it’s at the heart of decisions made and it is a difficult-important balance, so I think the measure goes so far to gain confidence that they are going into safe and secure environment.
Mike Amesbury, Weaver Vale
Yes, school will be open on Wednesday.
Flick Drummonds, Meom Valley: would he urge Department of Health to prioritise testing of teachers?
I could urge the DOE to prioritise those who work in schools but clinical trials have not been completed to ensure the vaccine is safe for children under the age of eighteen so it would not be ethical to give to children under the age of 18.
Could I urge him to press his colleagues in government to get teachers tested as a priority?
Kim Johnson, Liverpool: How many of the laptops have reached those in need only 1/6 of children on free school meals?
SOS: Liverpool is one of the areas experiencing high infection rates. Over half a million laptops have been distributed and many hundreds of thousands more will be distrubuted over the coming weeks.
Esther McVey, Tatton: questions about educational assessment
SOS: unless in exceptional circumstances, exams are the best methods of assessment and ethnic minorities tend to do better in exams.
Head-teachers are willing and able to be partners but Secretary of State has said that some primary schools won’t open next week, what will be the criteria and when will those schools be given advanced warning and thereby be treated with respect?
SOS: our command centre looks at tiering and it is as part of that health structure that those decision get made, working with Health Secretary and myself and Education Secretary discussions about when to close schools – the Gov.uk website provides notice and warnings are currently published on that website.
Sir David Amess, Southend West: how will armed forces work with schools?
SOS: where school struggle with testing, armed forces will step in.
Ian Byrne, Liverpool: Liverpool has 100,000’s working class children who have suffered due to the ineptitude of this government, a complete failure to listen to teachers concerns – will he listen to teaching profession about what they need?
SOS: we always do and aim to help children with the most disadvantaged backgrounds and so we will be delighted to meet you and your educational professionals.
William Wragg, Hazel Grove: this house will be adjourned on 11 Jan – what message does this send to schools?
SOS: we all recognise the great burden we pay to public servants. As a former chief whip, I think it is best to be focused on the job in hand which for me is jobs and schools.
Justin Madder, Elsmere Port: how many pupils of schools that will be closed due to the virus, won’t have access to online learning?
SOS: we have looked at the needs of schools for additional equipment which is why we have expanded provision from 200K to over one million laptops which is ongoing and will continue over the coming weeks.
Dr Julian Lewis, New Forest East: children who have virus without symptoms can still transmit?
SOS: yes, he is right, which is why testing is so important.
Matt Rodda, Reading East: armed forces support for schools is meagre?
SOS: we would only provide armed forces personnel in exceptional circumstances when schools would not be able to set up regime otherwise – we’ve given schools lots of money to conduct tests.
20:16hours: Claudia Webbe, Leicester East (Labour): schools are not safe: the government acted the way it did because it put wealth before health, as long as the city of London kept trading. But, health is wealth – it is a false choice [to say otherwise]. The government could have invested in online learning and the internet so students could study from home but by handing 12bn to people linked to the Tory party they put donors first. There is still time to save many thousands of lives – implement zero Covid approach: a national lockdown, listen to the scientists – we are only as safe as the most vulnerable amongst us – government must now ensure that those most at risk get the vaccine first but also the minimum wage workers who get us through this pandemic – the delivery man has more right to the vaccine than a millionaire [gasps of horror from the opposition]. The government would place the communities at risk by opening schools – I implore the government to change its direction.
20:32hours: Jackie Doyle-Price, Thurrock (Conservative): schools not businesses are spreading the virus and as the virus spread our post office had to close which means that Thurrock residents have not received any mail for three weeks – I want the government to consider whether the measures are effective at delivering the outcome we want?
Nathalie Hollingworth, 30.12.2020.