Coronavirus morning headlines as questions grow over how long lockdown will have to last

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The coronavirus morning headlines for Friday, January 22, as First Minister Mark Drakeford is due to give the latest coronavirus briefing for Wales.

The next review of the lockdown restrictions is not expected until next Friday (January 29), but he will give the Welsh Government view as infection rates continue to fall.

There are growing concerns over how long lockdown will have to last. In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out the lockdown lasting until the summer, while Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was “far too early” to speculate on whether restrictions would be lifted in time to allow Britons a foreign holiday during the warmer months.

Northern Ireland has confirmed its coronavirus lockdown is to be extended for a further four weeks to March 5.

England is also considering £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus to encourage more people to self isolate.

The UK Government’s caution in announcing a timetable to ease the lockdown has sparked fears in the hospitality industry that ministers could be preparing to tell pubs and restaurants to keep their doors closed until May, despite the Government aiming to have vaccinated all the most vulnerable by next month.

There were 1,290 further UK deaths reported on Thursday, and experts modelling the pandemic suggested there could be a huge surge in cases if restrictions were lifted too early. Latest case numbers for Wales here.

The Wales infection rate is now down to 281.2 cases per 100,000 people based on the seven days up to January 16. That is a decrease on the 285 previously reported and is the lowest it has been since the very start of December.

Dr Marc Baguelin, from Imperial College London, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said the opening of the hospitality sector before May would lead to another “bump” in transmission.

But UKHospitality chief Kate Nicholls warned delaying reopening until then would mean there would be “very little left” of the sector once the measures were finally eased as Tory MPs urged Boris Johnson to stick to the timetable of restoring freedoms by March.

Lockdown in Northern Ireland extended until March 5

Northern Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown is to be extended for a further four weeks to March 5.

Transmission rates are decreasing slowly and new, more contagious variants are causing Stormont ministers concern.

An extended shutdown closing non-essential retailers, keeping schools closed to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began after Christmas and had been scheduled to end next month.

Curbs may not ultimately be lifted until Easter.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: “I appreciate that this will be disappointing to many people listening to us this evening.

“I think particularly of those who are feeling the pain of separation from loved family members and friends, for workers and employers worried about their livelihoods and indeed parents who are juggling the education of their children with work and other responsibilities.”

The rocketing tally of new case numbers has begun to ease off.

But struggling hospitals are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.

People in England who test positive could get £500

Everyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 could automatically be given £500 as part of plans ministers are reportedly considering to boost quarantine compliance.

The proposal is said to be the “preferred position” of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), according to a leaked sensitive document seen by The Guardian.

The overhaul, the paper reported, has been prompted by Government polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing, while just one-in-four comply with rules to self-isolate for 10 days after testing positive and 15% continue to go to work as normal.

The £500 handout scheme would cost up to £453 million per week – 12 times the cost of the current system.

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank which has previously calculated that only one in eight workers qualify for the financial support currently offered to those told to self-isolate, welcomed the proposal.

Researcher Maja Gustafsson said: “The current approach is not fit for purpose with statutory sick pay among the least generous of advanced economies and far too few people eligible for the £500 support payments.

“Swiftly putting in place a much more universal and generous system will make a real difference to controlling the spread of the virus.”

The DHSC said it would not comment on a leaked paper but did not deny that blanket self-isolation payouts had been mooted.

A Government source suggested it was just one of many options being discussed as part of improving stay-at-home compliance for those who had tested positive.

“We are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules,” said a DHSC spokesman.

“All local authority costs for administering the Test and Trace support payment scheme are covered by the Government, and each authority is empowered to make discretionary payments outside of the scheme.

“£50 million was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20 million to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.”

No timetable for lifting lockdown in England

New £800 fine for people who attend house parties

Lockdown flouters who are caught gathering at house parties now face a whopping £800 fine for their actions.

The deterrent to curb the brazen breaches was announced by Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday and will apply to house gatherings of 15 people or more.

The measure is set to come into force next week and, like other fines, it will double for report offences up to £6,400.

Ms Patel did didn’t rule out fines for queue jumpers when asked whether they would be considered.

She said that such people were putting the lives of vulnerable people at risk – and called them “morally reprehensible”.

In Wales, a senior police officer has warned that a minority still breaking Covid lockdown rules could make the pandemic “stretch longer”.

The “gold commander” for policing lockdown across the Gwent force area said he wanted to thank the vast majority for sticking to the law.

But Chief Superintendent Mark Hobrough told BBC Wales those “blatantly flouting” rules would face enforcement action.

Cases in your area by postcode:

Thousands of licensed premises have had to close – report

Thousands of bars, pubs, sports clubs and other licensed premises closed last year as the hospitality sector was hit by the impact of the coronavirus crisis, new research suggests.

Britain lost around 6,000 licensed premises last year, nearly three times than in 2019, according to a study by consultants CGA and business advisory firm AlixPartners.

The pandemic and wave of lockdowns led to a net decline of 5,975 sites in 2020, around 5% of the total, said the report.

The turmoil of 2020 led to the permanent closure of 9,930 sites, with just under 4,000 opening for the first time, according to the study.

The number of restaurants, pubs, bars and sports and social clubs all fell last year amid the ban on events and socialising, said the report.

“Our report takes stock of the huge damage wreaked by the pandemic on the licensed sector in 2020,” said Karl Chessell of CGA.

“With stop-start trading for much of 2020 and a widespread shutdown during what should have been a bumper Christmas, nearly 10,000 licensed venues have not been able to make it through, and it is sadly inevitable that thousands more casualties will follow.

“After such a bleak Christmas it is difficult to be optimistic about the market.



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