Welcome to The Star’s live blog on Wednesday May 26 where you will be able to find a round-up of the latest coronavirus news and the biggest Sheffield news stories of the day.
Last updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2021, 14:00
- Hancock rejects Cummings’ ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ about his conduct
- ‘Strong sunshine’ forecast for Sheffield
- Bereaved families said the Government has “missed the point” and is engaged in a “political pantomime”, following the fallout from Dominic Cummings’ testimony.
- Pilot scheme launched to encourage coronavirus testing and help with self-isolation
Bereaved families said the Government has “missed the point” and is engaged in a “political pantomime”, following the fallout from Dominic Cummings’ testimony.
Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, set up in the peak of the pandemic, said in a statement on Twitter: “In Parliament, Matt Hancock claimed that he and the Govt has a track record of openness, transparency & explanation & that they ”will keep on with the spirit of openness and transparency”.
“Over 2,660 questions have been answered in Parliament but he has refused to answer a single one from us – how can he when both himself and the Prime Minister have refused to meet with us directly on seven occasions?
“If you are serious about being open & transparent Health Secretary, we call on you to meet with us next week & to release the Government’s internal lessons-learnt review – how else can you stand there and tell bereaved families across the country you are open and transparent?
“Yet again the Government have missed the point and concentrated on a political sideshow, throwing blame at each other and other politicians.
“All the public care about is saving lives and the inquiry plays a fundamental role in that – it must be brought forward to prevent more people experiencing our pain.
“This political pantomime continues to show a level of disrespect to our lost loved ones and brings us no closer to the answers we need for lives to be saved. If the Government have time to play a leading role in this sideshow they have the time to get on with an inquiry.”
Downing Street denied Boris Johnson was “obsessed with the media”, as claimed by Dominic Cummings.
Asked whether the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had tried to fill jobs with her friends, another claim made by Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “All appointments made in No 10 are done in the normal way, that’s always been the case.”
Asked if Boris Johnson regretted hiring Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It is a matter of fact that the Prime Minister took on Dominic Cummings into that role, into a senior role in No 10, and he’s on the record on that, talks about it on a number of occasions, I don’t have anything to add.”
His official spokesman added he had not asked Mr Johnson whether Mr Cummings was trustworthy and honest, but he added: “The Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings worked together for a number of months… but you’ve got his words from that time.”
Downing Street has insisted the Prime Minister continues to be “guided by the latest scientific advice”.
“It is the Prime Minister’s job, and that of the Cabinet, to take that advice and put it alongside wider implications of measures such as lockdowns and consider the long-term impact of those measures,” the PM’s spokesman said.
“That’s what the Prime Minister did, he balanced that judgment and took action whenever necessary throughout this pandemic.”
Asked whether he said he would rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown, Boris Johnson said: “I have already made my position very clear on that point.
“I’m getting on with the job of delivering the road map that I think is the sensible way forward.”
Mr Johnson has previously denied making the comment, which Dominic Cummings told MPs he heard from the Prime Minister in his Downing Street study.
Asked if Mr Cummings told the truth, Mr Johnson dodged the question.
Pressed on whether he was arguing with the things Mr Cummings said, the Prime Minister said: “I make no comment on that.”
Asked whether the public cared about the allegations made by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “I think the public want the Government to deliver on their priorities – supporting the NHS, creating more jobs, supporting the economy as we come out of the pandemic.
“That’s what we are focused on.”
Responding to Dominic Cummings’ claim that he was not a fit person to be leading the country, Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s important for us to focus on what really matters to the people of this country.
“I think, if I may say so, that some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.
“What people want us to get on with is delivering the road map and trying – cautiously – to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember.”
Responding to Dominic Cummings’ claims about it being “nonsense” to say care homes were shielded, Boris Johnson said: “We did everything we could to protect the NHS and to protect care homes as well.”
He added: “We put £1.4 billion extra into infection control within care homes, we established a care homes action plan, I remember very clearly, to ensure that we tried to stop infection between care homes.
“We remain very vigilant.”
Hancock rejects Cummings’ ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ about his conduct
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the “unsubstantiated” attacks on him by Dominic Cummings are “not true”, as he fought to save his career.
Boris Johnson’s former aide accused Mr Hancock of repeatedly lying, being disastrously incompetent and claimed he should have been fired on multiple occasions during the course of the pandemic.
Forced to go to the House of Commons to respond to the claims, Mr Hancock said: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.
“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”
During a seven-hour evidence session to MPs on Wednesday, Mr Cummings claimed his former boss, the Prime Minister, is “unfit” to lead and his Government’s failures had led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Apart from his damning assessment of Mr Johnson, Mr Cummings saved his fiercest criticism for Mr Hancock over failings around care homes policy, personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and his public pledge on a testing target which caused disruption in Whitehall.
Mr Cummings told MPs that the Prime Minister had been told “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes” from hospital by Mr Hancock – something which did not happen.
It was “complete nonsense” to claim the Government had put a shield around care homes, Mr Cummings claimed.
He said Mr Hancock should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions and Whitehall’s top mandarin at the time, Sir Mark Sedwill, had “lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty”.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Hancock said: “Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up each morning and asked ‘What must I do to protect life?’
“That is the job of the Health Secretary in a pandemic.
“We’ve taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and of what we don’t know.”
Mr Cummings accused the Health Secretary of making a “stupid” public pledge to increase testing to 100,000 by the end of April 2020, claiming he then interfered with the building of the Test and Trace system to maximise his chances of hitting his target.
“It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm,” Mr Cummings claimed.
But in the Commons, Mr Hancock defended his approach and said: “Setting and meeting ambitious targets is how you get stuff done in Government.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the allegations made by Mr Cummings are either true – in which case Mr Hancock “potentially stands in breach of the ministerial code” and the principles of standards in public life – or they are false “and the Prime Minister brought a fantasist and a liar into the heart of Downing Street”.
Health Select Committee chairman Jeremy Hunt, one of those who questioned Mr Cummings, said they had asked for evidence to be provided to back up the former adviser’s claims and until that is produced “those allegation should be treated as unproven”.
Mr Hancock’s Cabinet colleague, Robert Jenrick, rejected Mr Cummings’ central claim that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily because of the Government’s handling of the crisis.
Asked directly whether he thinks that claim is wrong, the Communities Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, I think it is, because you have to remember that we didn’t have all of the facts at the time that the decisions were being taken.
“Nobody, I think, could doubt for one moment that the Prime Minister was doing anything other than acting with the best of motives with the information and the advice that was available to him.”
Downing Street said on Wednesday that Mr Hancock continues to have the confidence of the Prime Minister and the pair are “working closely” to save lives.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, is likely to face questions of his own about the explosive evidence from his once-closest aide when he visits a hospital on Thursday.
As well as being branded unfit for office, it is alleged that Mr Johnson dismissed the pandemic as a “scare story” or the new “swine flu” in early 2020 as the global crisis loomed, and wanted to be injected with Covid-19 on television in a bid to calm the nation.
Mr Cummings, who was ousted from No 10 late last year as part of a behind-the-scenes power struggle, said that, by the end of October 2020, his relationship with Mr Johnson had deteriorated due to the Prime Minister’s delays in ordering an autumn lockdown that could have prevented deaths.
He said he “fundamentally regarded him as unfit for the job” and that he was attempting to make changes to the “structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions”.
Virus expert says 20,000 to 30,000 lives could have been saved with earlier action at the start of the Covid pandemic
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose modelling was instrumental in persuading the Government to bring in the first lockdown, said scientists had become increasingly concerned in the week leading up to March 13 2020 about the lack of a clear plan, and 20,000 to 30,000 lives could have been saved with earlier action.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme when the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), of which he was part, determined that a policy of pursuing herd immunity would lead to a vast number of deaths, he said a key meeting was held with the NHS on March 1 “which finalised estimates around health impacts, so the week after that really.”
Prof Ferguson said he “wasn’t privy to what officials were thinking within government”, but added: “I would say from the scientific side there was increasing concern that week leading up to the 13 of March about the lack of clear, let’s say, (a) resolved plan of what would happen in the next few days in terms of implementing social distancing.”
Asked how influential Sage was in changing the policy from one of herd immunity to one of lockdown, he said: “I think the key issue… it’s multiple factors, partly the modelling, which had been around for a couple of weeks but became firmer, particularly as we saw data coming in from the UK, and unfortunately I think one of the biggest lessons to learn in such circumstances is we really need good surveillance within the country at a much earlier point than we actually had it back in March last year.
“As we saw the data build up, and it was matching the modelling, even worse than the modelling, let’s say it focused minds”.
He then said locking down a week earlier would have saved 20,000 to 30,000 lives “and I think that’s unarguable. I mean the epidemic was doubling every three to four days in weeks 13th to 23rd of March, and so had we moved the interventions back a week we would have curtailed that and saved many lives”.
The Government said a further nine people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 127,748.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 3,180 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.
It brings the total to 4,470,297.
‘Strong sunshine’ forecast for Sheffield
Starting with cloudier but sunny days on Friday and Saturday, Sheffield is in for a mini-heatwave as it heads into the Bank Holiday weekend.
The Met Office is forecasting bright sunshine starting on Friday and lasting right through until Wednesday.
Although as the heatwave begins there might be some cloud and a small chance of rain on Friday and Saturday, once this is out the way the sun will be out in full force for the next few days.
With highs of 21C throughout, it’s going to be a ‘hot and sunny weekend’.
Forecast in full:
Thursday: Sunny start for most although cloudy near the coasts, the cloud will quickly retreat back towards the sea leaving a bright and sunny day everywhere. Feeling warmer than recently. Maximum temperature 19 °C.
Thursday night: A dry night with clear skies across the region. Fog patches forming in rural areas inland, but dissipating in the early hours as high cloud moves in from the west. Minimum temperature 8 °C.
Friday: A bright morning with hazy sunshine. Some cloud bubbling up during the afternoon with a chance of a shower. Feeling warm with strong sunshine. Maximum temperature 17 °C.
Outlook for Saturday to Monday: Cloudy with outbreaks of rain early on Saturday, but clearing to a hot and sunny weekend. Feeling very warm throughout with strong sunshine, particularly on Monday.
Hancock to respond to Cummings’ claim he should have been fired over Covid
The Health Secretary will face MPs htis morning over allegations made by former senior No 10 aide Dominic Cummings that he lied to colleagues and performed “disastrously” during the Covid pandemic.
Matt Hancock told the PA news agency on Wednesday night he had not seen Mr Cummings’ seven-hour evidence to MPs as he was “saving lives” by dealing with the vaccination rollout.
He will answer a Commons urgent question and is due to lead a Government press conference, the day after a scathing attack by Mr Cummings who argued the Cabinet minister should have been sacked on 15 to 20 occasions.
The former de facto Downing Street chief of staff, who apologised for his own shortcomings, also claimed the Prime Minister was “unfit” for the job and that “tens of thousands of people died who didn’t need to die” because of the Government’s failings.
As he arrived at his north London home on Wednesday evening, Mr Hancock said: “I haven’t seen this performance today in full, and instead I’ve been dealing with getting the vaccination rollout going, especially to over-30s, and saving lives.
“I’ll be giving a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow and I’ll have more to say then.”
MPs will question Mr Hancock on the claims, which included that Health Secretary indulged in “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” in producing a target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day for coronavirus in April 2020.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said “we absolutely reject” the criticisms made by Mr Cummings.
Boris Johnson, meanwhile, is likely to face questions of his own about the explosive evidence from his once-closest aide when he visits a hospital on Thursday.
As well as being branded unfit for office, it was alleged Mr Johnson dismissed the pandemic as a “scare story” or the new “swine flu” in early 2020 as the global crisis loomed and wanted to be injected with Covid-19 on television in a bid to calm the nation.
Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of performing “disastrously” below the standards expected and that the cabinet secretary – the country’s top civil servant – recommended the Health Secretary should be sacked.
The Vote Leave strategist said he too recommended, sometimes on a daily basis, that Mr Johnson sack the Health Secretary but the Conservative Party leader was warned off the idea because “he’s the person you fire when the inquiry comes along”.
“I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly,” Mr Cummings told MPs.
Downing Street said on Wednesday Mr Hancock continued to have the confidence of the Prime Minister and the pair were “working closely” to save lives.
The riposte is unlikely to prevent the Government from facing an onslaught of queries about Mr Cummings’ evidence.
In a series of claims, Mr Cummings said:
– It was suggested chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty should inject Mr Johnson with the virus on live TV to show it was nothing to be scared of.
– Herd immunity from people catching the disease was thought to be inevitable because there was no plan to try to suppress the spread of the virus.
– Then cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told the Prime Minister to go on TV and explain the herd immunity plan by saying “it’s like the old chicken pox parties, we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September”.
– The Prime Minister rejected scientific advice for a lockdown in September, instead opting to “hit and hope”.
Mr Cummings, who was ousted from No 10 late last year as part of a behind-the-scenes power struggle, said that, by the end of October 2020, his relationship with Mr Johnson had deteriorated due to the Prime Minister’s delays to ordering an autumn lockdown that could have prevented deaths.
He said that he “fundamentally regarded him as unfit for the job” and that he was attempting to make changes to the “structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions”.
Offering his version of events of the outset of the pandemic in Britain, Mr Cummings described his mounting panic about the situation in March 2020.
The 49-year-old said there was no plan in place for a lockdown or measures to protect the most vulnerable and quoted deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara who, he claimed, told him she thought the country was “absolutely f*****” and that “we’re going to kill thousands of people”.
The first lockdown was finally implemented on March 23, but Mr Cummings said the Prime Minister later regretted the move.
Similar mistakes were made in September as Mr Johnson was urged by Government scientists to impose a second lockdown but he resisted because of economic concerns.
Asked if he had heard Mr Johnson say he would rather see “bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown on the nation, Mr Cummings said: “I heard that in the Prime Minister’s study,” describing BBC reporting of the incident as “accurate”.
Mr Johnson told the Commons, while Mr Cummings was only half-way through his evidence, that dealing with the pandemic had been “appallingly difficult” but that his administration had “at every stage tried to minimise loss of life”.
Sheffield health chief reveals why he’s ‘not terribly concerned’ by Yorkshire Covid variant
A Yorkshire variant of Covid discovered in Sheffield is ‘not terribly concerning’, the city’s health chief has said.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, told Times Radio that the age profile of the patients being admitted to hospital was “different”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, told Times Radio that the age profile of the patients being admitted to hospital was “different”.
“When you talk to the chief executives, what they say is that the balance of where Covid-19 patients are going is very different this time,” he said.
“In January and February, because you had much older, iller patients, you had much greater pressure on critical care because those patients were very seriously ill.
“What the chief executives are saying to us now is that because the age profile of those who are being hospitalised is so different – so again in the hospital I was speaking to yesterday, around 70% of the hospitalisations are (among people) under 45 – what they’re finding is that a much higher proportion of patients are actually being dealt with, and are being treated, in general and acute beds.
“So, as well as smaller numbers compared to the January and February, there’s actually lower levels of acuity and there’s less pressure on critical care.”
People aged 30 and over can now book their coronavirus jab
People aged 30 and over can now book their coronavirus jab as the UK’s vaccination rollout extends to more ages.
The eligibility age for the jab was lowered three times last week as the Indian variant spreads.
And now around 1 million people aged 30 and 31 will get a text message in the coming days asking them to come forward for their Covid-19 vaccine as Britain attempts to keep ahead of the B.1.617.2 variant.