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Education Secretary does not rule out lengthening school days for Covid catch-up
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not ruled out lengthening school days or shortening summer breaks to help pupils in England catch up from coronavirus disruption.
Ministers announced an extra £400 million of funding on Wednesday and asked secondaries to deliver some summer teaching to counteract the months of classroom closures.

With all pupils in England set to return on March 8 in the first easing of the lockdown, the programme includes a one-off £302 million “Recovery Premium” for primary and secondary schools to support disadvantaged pupils.

It could include running additional clubs and activities in the summer, or opting for evidence-based approaches to help children from September.

A further £200 million will be available to secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools.

Mr Williamson defended the level of expenditure after Labour said it was inadequate for the scale of the task ahead.

He said the funding was just the “immediate response” and that newly-appointed education recovery commissioner Sir Kevan Collins will investigate more extensive measures.

Pressed on whether extending the school day could be among the measures, the Education Secretary told Sky News: “He’ll be looking at how we can boost and support children in a whole range of different manners.

“But it’s not just about time in school it’s about supporting teachers in terms of the quality of teaching and how we can help them.”

Mr Williamson told BBC Breakfast that “in the next few days” ministers will outline the “more granular detail” of how students will be assessed this year in the absence of exams.

The recovery package, which comes on top of the £300 million pledged in January, stopped short of mentioning the proposals to extend school days and shorter summer holidays.

Both were previously described as “policy gimmicks” by the school leaders’ union, the NAHT.

Summer provision will be introduced for pupils who need it the most, such as incoming Year 7 pupils, while one-to-one and small group tutoring schemes will be expanded.

Some £200 million will fund an expansion of existing tuition programmes for students – including the National Tutoring Programme (NPP) – as well as funding additional language support for pre-school children.

Boris Johnson said that “our next priority will be ensuring no child is left behind as a result of the learning they have lost over the past year”.

“This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils, and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential,” he added.

Appointed earlier this month to oversee the Government’s catch-up programme, Sir Kevan will develop longer-term plans for how evidence-based interventions can be used to address the impact of Covid-19 on learning after engaging with schools, colleges, charities and parents.

In June last year, the Prime Minister announced a £1 billion catch-up fund to help pupils in England.

The package included £350 million for the NPP to help the most disadvantaged pupils, and £650 million for schools to help children from all backgrounds catch up.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Summer schools will be of value for some pupils but it will be important not to overwhelm students. Recovery cannot happen in a single summer.”

He added: “Fortunately, there already exists a wealth of knowledge within the profession about how to narrow achievement gaps. We need to trust schools to put in place a long-term approach based on what they know about the needs of their pupils.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “frustrating” that the £700 million package had been “salami-sliced to such an extent that it may reduce its effectiveness”.

“Our view is that the total sum of the money should go directly to schools, colleges, and early years providers, rather than being diverted into other pots or ring-fenced,” he said.

Sir Peter Lampl, the founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust educational charity, called the package of measures “a promising start”, but he added there were “no quick fixes” as he called for a consistent multi-year recovery plan.

“The strongest evidence for accelerating learning is for increasing time for high-quality teaching. Targeted summer schools are one way to achieve this, and it’s good that schools will have flexibility to decide what will work best for them and their staff,” he said.

“However, it’s important to recognise the problem of teacher burnout that could be exacerbated by additional workload.”

Shadow education secretary Kate Green said there was “no specific mention” of supporting children’s mental health or wellbeing, which she described as “fundamental to enabling their recovery”,

“This is not adequate and will not make up for the learning and time with friends that children have lost,” the Labour MP added.

Published: 24/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Spider-Man stars tease fans with multiple titles for upcoming third film
The stars of Spider-Man have teased fans with multiple titles for the upcoming third film as they shared an early glimpse at the superhero movie.
British actor Tom Holland, who plays the wise-cracking web-slinger, appeared to have revealed the name when he shared a title card reading “Spider-Man Phone Home”.

However, Zendaya, who plays MJ, shared a title card claiming the sequel to 2019’s Far From Home was called Home Slice.

And adding further confusion, Jacob Batalon, who stars as Peter Parker’s best friend Ned Leeds, said it was called “Home-Wrecker”.

All three actors shared what looked to be stills from the upcoming film, which is in production in Atlanta, Georgia.

After the tease, Holland, 24, appeared on US TV and poured cold water on a popular fan theory about the third Spider-Man movie.

It had been rumoured former Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield would be joining Holland on-screen.

However, during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Holland said: “It would be amazing if they were because they haven’t told me that yet and I am Spider-Man and I’ve read the script from beginning to the end, so it would be a miracle if they could have kept that from me.

“But at the moment, there is no cameo from the two boys.” Holland revealed one cameo in the film will be his brother, Harry, who will play a drug dealer who gets webbed upside down by Spider-Man.

Holland, who has played Spider-Man in Marvel movies Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, also joked about his reputation for accidentally sharing spoilers.

“Actually, it’s getting to the point where it’s really frustrating,” he said. “Because I feel like now I’ve progressed, I’m a trustworthy member of the Avengers, and I haven’t really ever spoiled anything. Well, there’s a few things. But no big things, we’ll leave it at that.”

The Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel is scheduled to be released in December. Holland next stars in crime drama Cherry.

Published: 24/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

‘Substantial reduction’ in hospital admissions four weeks after first Covid jab
The Covid-19 vaccines being used in the UK could reduce a person’s risk of being admitted to hospital by as much as 94% four weeks after the first dose, new data suggests. Experts examined Covid-19 hospital admissions in Scotland among people who have had their first jab and compared them to those who had not yet received a vaccine.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews and Public Health Scotland (PHS) looked at data on people who had received either either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the one developed by scientists at the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca.

Four weeks after receiving the initial dose, the Oxford jab appeared to reduce a person’s risk of hospital admission by 94%.

Those who received the Pfizer jab had a reduction in risk of 85% between 28 and 34 days after the first dose.

Data for the two jabs combined showed that among people over the age of 80 – who are at high risk of severe disease – the reduction in risk of hospital admission was 81% four weeks after the first dose.

Lead researcher, professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future.

“We now have national evidence – across an entire country – that vaccination provides protection against Covid-19 hospitalisations.

“Rollout of the first vaccine dose now needs to be accelerated globally to help overcome this terrible disease.”

The study team said the findings are applicable to other countries using the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines.

The study is the first to describe a country-wide effect of the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs in the community on preventing severe illness resulting in hospital admissions.

The researchers examined data between between December 8 and 15 February 15. During this period, 1.14 million vaccines were administered in Scotland – 21% of the Scottish population.

The Pfizer vaccine has been received by some 650,000 people, while 490,000 have had the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Researchers looked at GP records on vaccination, hospital admissions, death registrations and laboratory test results – and compared the outcomes of those who had received their first jab with those who had not.

Dr Jim McMenamin, national Covid-19 incident director at PHS, said: “Across the Scottish population the results show a substantial effect on reducing the risk of admission to hospital from a single dose of vaccine.

“For anyone offered the vaccine I encourage them to get vaccinated.”

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and co-lead for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), said: “This research provides encouraging early data on the impact of vaccination on reducing hospitalisations.”

Researcher Dr Josie Murray, from PHS, added: “These data show real promise that the vaccines we have given out can protect us from the severe effects of Covid-19.

“We must not be complacent though.

“We all still need to ensure we stop transmission of the virus, and the best way we can all do this is to follow public health guidance – wash your hands often, keep two metres from others, and if you develop symptoms, isolate and take a test.

“We also all need to protect ourselves, our families and friends by taking the second dose of vaccine when it is offered.”

Chris Robertson, professor of public health epidemiology at the University of Strathclyde, said: “These early national results give a reason to be more optimistic about the control of the epidemic.”

The data has been published as a pre-print. This means that it is early work that has not yet been through peer-review and has not yet been published in a journal.

Published: 22/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

What will be in the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown?
The long-awaited details of the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown are due to be revealed on Monday. For days, speculation has been rife over what steps the Government will take to steer England out of its current coronavirus restrictions.

Here is a look at what is expected:

– How will Monday play out?

After spending the past week looking at data on coronavirus deaths, cases, hospital admissions and the effect of the vaccine rollout, Boris Johnson will convene a virtual meeting of his Cabinet on Monday morning to discuss the road map plan.

Later in the afternoon the Prime Minister will make a statement to Parliament before hosting a televised press conference at 7pm.

The road map will also be published on the Government’s website.

– What form will the road map take?

Ministers have emphasised that the Government is taking a cautious approach to easing restrictions.

Changes are expected to be rolled out in four steps.

Before each new stage the Government will look at the Covid-related data to assess what impact each easing has had.

– So what will reopen first?

The Government has previously said it would be prioritising the reopening of schools, with March 8 the target date for the return of pupils.

It is understood that as an initial part of the first step of easing restrictions all schools will be open from this date, while outdoors after school sports and activities can also restart.

– When will we be able to see friends and family again?

It is also understood that, from March 8, people will be permitted to have socially distanced one-on-one meetups with others outdoors in a public space.

This means friends and family members could sit down for a coffee or have a picnic in the park, something not currently allowed under lockdown.

– How about getting together in groups?

From March 29 more social contact is expected to be permitted, with outdoor gatherings allowed either under the rule of six or between two households.

This means groups of a maximum of six people from multiple households can get together outside, with a greater number allowed if the meetup is between two households only.

The rule change is understood to be timed to coincide with the start of school holidays and to allow friends and families greater flexibility to meet outside where the risk of Covid transmission is lower.

– Are any other changes expected?

Yes, from March 29 it is understood that outdoor sports facilities, for example tennis or basketball courts, will reopen.

There is also expected to be a return of organised adult and children’s sport, such as grassroots football.

– What will happen in future steps in the road map?

The longer-term picture of the Government’s plans is as yet unclear.

Previous speculation placed non-essential shops alongside outdoor recreation and socialising as the next areas targeted for easing after schools.

Various reports also suggested hospitality could return at some point between the Easter weekend and May, with an initial focus on outdoor provision.

Elsewhere, it was claimed ministers were looking at plans for people who live in the same household to be allowed to go on holiday breaks together from April.

More details may yet be revealed by the Prime Minister on Monday, while much will depend on the success of the vaccine rollout and the Government’s ongoing assessment of Covid-related data.

– How is the Government reaching its decisions over easing restrictions?

The Prime Minister said his road map will contain four tests for easing restrictions.

The Government will take into account the success of the vaccines rollout, whether there is evidence they are reducing hospital admissions and deaths, the level of infection rates and the presence of any new Covid variants.

Such data will be examined ahead of each step along the road map before measures are unlocked any further.

Published: 22/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

US approaches coronavirus death toll of 500,000
The US stands on the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus. A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost is 498,897 – roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta.

The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.

America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN: “It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic.”

The US virus death toll reached 400,000 on January 19 in the waning hours in office for president Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a failure.

The first known deaths from the virus in the US happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California.

It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December.

Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.

US president Joe Biden will mark the grim milestone with a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House.

The White House said Mr Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honour those who lost their lives.

He will be joined at the event by first lady Jill Biden and vice president Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.

Mr Biden has made a point of recognizing the lives lost from the virus. His first event upon arriving in Washington for his inauguration a month ago was to deliver remarks at a Covid-19 memorial ceremony.

Joyce Willis of Las Vegas is among the countless Americans who lost family members during the pandemic. Her husband, Anthony Willis, died on December 28, followed by her mother-in-law in early January.

She was unable to see him in hospital before he died because she, too, had the virus and could not visit.

“They are gone. Your loved one is gone, but you are still alive,” Mrs Willis said.

“It’s like you still have to get up every morning. You have to take care of your kids and make a living. There is no way around it. You just have to move on.”

Then came a nightmare scenario of caring for her father-in-law while dealing with grief, arranging funerals, paying bills, helping her children navigate online school and figuring out how to go back to work as an occupational therapist.

The global death toll is approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins.

While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real death toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and cases inaccurately attributed to other causes early on.

Despite efforts to administer coronavirus vaccines, a widely cited model by the University of Washington projects the US death toll will surpass 589,000 by June 1.

“People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now,” Dr Fauci said later on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Published: 22/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

PM to prioritise schools and socialising in road map out of lockdown
Boris Johnson has said he will prioritise the reopening of schools and safely reuniting loved ones in his road map out of lockdown.
The Prime Minister will use a speech to Parliament on Monday to detail the “cautious” approach for easing coronavirus restrictions across England.

His road map will contain four tests for easing the measures, with the Government set to examine the data at each stage before unlocking further.

Ministers will assess the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, new variants and infection rates before proceeding to the next step.

The tests are currently being met, the Government said, allowing the first relaxation to take place on March 8 – when schools are widely expected to return.

Mr Johnson said: “Today I’ll be setting out a road map to bring us out of lockdown cautiously.

“Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education as well as their mental and physical wellbeing, and we will also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.

“Our decisions will be made on the latest data at every step, and we will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far and the sacrifices each and every one of you has made to keep yourself and others safe.

“We have therefore set four key tests which must be met before we can move through each step of the plan.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that there will be “weeks between the steps” so ministers can “watch carefully” the impact of each relaxation of the restrictions.

Restrictions will be eased step-by-step across the whole of England at the same time, Downing Street said, due to the current uniform spread of the virus.

Number 10 said the blueprint would seek to balance the health needs with the social and economic impacts of lockdown.

For example, outdoor activities are set to be opened earlier than indoor ones, due to the reduced risk of spreading coronavirus outside.

MPs will be given the chance to vote on the regulations enabling the road map in the coming weeks, Number 10 said.

Mr Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of the Cabinet on Monday morning to discuss the plan, and then unveil the details to Parliament in the afternoon.

He is expected to host a Downing Street press conference later on Monday evening alongside key advisers.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Mr Johnson to give people “hope for the future” but to prove he will not “throw away the nation’s hard work as he did before”.

“When the Prime Minister speaks to our country, he must look the whole nation in the eye and promise his latest road map will prevent a fourth lockdown, at all costs.

“If he cannot promise an end to lockdowns, then he must rethink and deliver a plan that will.

“Our country’s death toll of 120,000 people is one of the worst in the whole world. Had the Prime Minister managed this crisis properly from the start, so many families would not now be mourning the loss of loved ones.

“Boris Johnson now owes it to the country to set out a route out of this catastrophe which guarantees the hardship of these past months will never return.”

Published: 21/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Major incident declared after large fire hits Manchester warehouse
Fire breaks out in a 3 storey warehouse in Manchester
A major incident has been declared after a large-scale fire broke out at a three-storey warehouse in Manchester.

Around 125 firefighters were sent to tackle the blaze in Holland Street, Denton, on Sunday afternoon.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) said the incident had caused a large plume of smoke which was affecting the M67 motorway and the local community.

Evacuation procedures were also in place locally, the GMFRS said.

It said the fire had originated in the warehouse building and had spread to adjoining units.

Some 25 fire appliances were at the scene, with firefighters deploying ground monitor jets to pump water on to the blaze as well as using three aerial appliances to tackle it from above.

The M67 motorway was closed between junctions one and two, with motorists urged to take extra care and residents reminded to keep their doors and windows closed.

Members of the public were also asked to avoid the area.

Photos shared on social media showed a large dark cloud of smoke rising into the sky above nearby homes, businesses and the motorway, with the plume also visible from some distance away.

GMFRS area manager Stewart Forshaw, who is in charge of the incident, said: “Around 125 firefighters are working incredibly hard to bring this incident under control.

“The first crews on scene were met with a well-developed fire and more support was quickly mobilised to deal with the blaze.

“The incident is causing a large smoke plume that is affecting the local community and can be seen across the county.

“I would ask those who are affected by the smoke to keep their doors and windows closed and to avoid the area.

“Smoke is also affecting the M67 motorway and it is closed between junctions one and two. If you are travelling, please take extra care.

“It is likely our firefighters will be here throughout the evening and into tomorrow as we continue to deal with this incident.”

Greater Manchester Police (GMP), who declared the major incident, said officers were called to reports of a large-scale fire at around 1.15pm.

Superintendent Natalie Dixon said: “We currently have an evacuation procedure in place to ensure all those in the vicinity of the fire are kept safe.

“All those required to evacuate will be contacted by police and we ask that no one leaves their house unless otherwise instructed.

“We are urging all those in the local area to keep their doors and windows closed to ensure they are better protected from any smoke inhalation.

“We are also asking the public to avoid the area where possible.”

Published: 21/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

‘One in six people’ in England could be on NHS waiting list by April
One in six people in England could be on the waiting list for NHS treatment by April due to strains on the health service caused by coronavirus, a think tank has warned. Modelling by researchers at Reform showed that patients waiting a year or more had risen by over 12,000% since the start of the pandemic.

The organisation predicted that waiting lists could hit 10 million by April, equivalent to one in six people in England, as referrals for non-Covid cases begin to resume but limits on NHS capacity remain.

NHS directors say that if the predictions are correct then services will face a “mammoth” task to tackle the backlog.

Reform said “a lack of system resilience” has forced the NHS to become a “national Covid service” and that patients in need of other serious medical treatments would continue to lose out.

It said that due to resources being diverted to support coronavirus services there may be 1,660 extra deaths from lung cancer alone.

Reform said that trusts that were not utilising independent sector resources were being “negligent”, and urged NHS England to publish plans showing how such capacity might be used in future.

Eleonora Harwich, director of research at Reform, said: “We must never have the equivalent of a ‘National Covid Service’ again.

“This is a system problem and in no way detracts from the heroic effort of NHS staff battling Covid-19.

“However, the cessation of so much non-Covid care means patients are facing more serious health conditions or disabilities, and some will die prematurely.

“It is essential that the Government makes tackling the backlog of undiagnosed disease and untreated illness a national priority.”

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS faces a mammoth task to recover the treatment backlog that has built up during the pandemic.

“This would need to more than double in size in the next three months if Reform’s prediction of it reaching 10 million by April is to materialise.

“The NHS has operated at the top of its capacity for far too long and it will take years to get through the backlog as it currently stands, and this is before the hidden waiting list of people who have not yet come forward for treatment is factored in, the size of which is not yet known.”

NHS leaders wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week seeking a guarantee that the Government will protect the service after the most immediate threat from coronavirus has passed.

Dr McCay continued: “There is a long road ahead and solutions should be focused on supporting the NHS to recover in a realistic, safe and manageable way and on ensuring the workforce is looked after following everything it has been through.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said the assessment by Reform was a “disservice” to medical staff.

“The NHS has never been a Covid-only service – for every Covid patient in hospital, the NHS is treating three people for other conditions,” he said.

“It is obviously a disservice to the work done by our staff who have kept services going throughout the pandemic to suggest otherwise.

“Even during the highest point of pressure during the pandemic, the waiting list was actually lower than it was at the same point last year and twice as many elective treatments were delivered as well as around three times as many diagnostic checks in the second wave, compared to the first.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, told the Today programme: “There is a significant issue here but we’ve got to be really careful not to exaggerate things.

“In June 2020 another organisation, using virtually exactly the same methodology, said that the NHS waiting list would hit exactly this figure of 10 million by last December – that didn’t happen.

“Actually the waiting list is 4.4 million – that’s a very big waiting list but it’s nowhere near 10 million.

“We just need to be careful about over-exaggerating what is a very significant problem and will take investment and time to overcome.

“In my personal view, trumpeting worst-case scenarios to get some newspaper headlines at the NHS’ expense isn’t particularly helpful.”

Published: 17/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

PM warned NHS to stay ‘at full stretch’ for weeks as he plans to ease lockdown
The NHS is likely to remain “at full stretch” for at least another six weeks, a leading health official said as he warned the Prime Minister against easing lockdown too quickly. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, has written to Boris Johnson calling for a focus on “data, not just dates” when it comes to the Government’s approach to the route out of lockdown.

The Prime Minister will scrutinise data this week on coronavirus case numbers, hospital admissions, deaths and the impact of the vaccine rollout as he prepares his plan to reduce restrictions.

Mr Johnson has said he will aim to give target dates for restrictions being eased when he sets out his plan next Monday, but “won’t hesitate” to delay plans if infection rates make it necessary.

It comes as:

– The Chair of the Vaccines Taskforce Clive Dix told Sky News that every adult in the UK could be given both jabs by August or “maybe sooner” in a sign of the optimism around the speed of the vaccine rollout.

– Surge testing will be deployed in parts of Norfolk, Southampton and Woking, Surrey, where the South African Covid-19 variant has been found, and expanded in Manchester.

– A new tool determining those most at risk of severe disease or death has identified 1.7 million additional people in England who should shield – a move that will see 800,000 of those impacted shifted up the priority list for a vaccine.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hopson said case numbers were “still far too high” and the health service remained “at full stretch”, something he said trust leaders believed would continue for at least another six to eight weeks.

He said: “The evidence on Covid-19 cases, NHS capacity, progress with vaccinations and readiness to combat Covid-19 variants all show that it is much too early to start lifting restrictions.”

It comes as reports suggested Downing Street is considering a cautious approach to easing the current measures.

The Daily Mail said ministers are weighing up allowing holiday lets to open in time for the Easter weekend and that pubs could open in May, but with only up to two households permitted to mix indoors.

The rule of six would then come into force for mixing inside by June, it added.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported Covid-19 cases would need to sink to 1,000 per day before lockdown could be softened, a figure suggested by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this month when he urged a cautious approach to lifting restrictions.

That figure is a long way from the 10,625 lab-confirmed cases reported on Tuesday, and Downing Street said no decision had been made yet on easing the lockdown.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), meanwhile, did not deny suggestions that rapid-result testing will be at the heart of attempting to introduce a level of normality in the coming months.

It follows a report in The Times that claimed a Government testing blitz is set to start in time for some schools reopening next month.

The newspaper said NHS Test and Trace is preparing for nationwide “surge” testing under which more than 400,000 lateral flow tests, which can provide results in less than 30 minutes, will be sent by post to homes and workplaces every day under a scheme called “Are you ready? Get testing. Go”.

Asked about the possibility of expanding the use of lateral flow tests, the department said more than 70% of local authorities in England were already offering rapid testing to those who are unable to work from home and pointed to the drive to widen the availability of quick-result testing to businesses with more than 50 employees.

A DHSC spokesman said: “We have not finalised further plans for testing.”

In a possible indication of what Mr Johnson could announce next week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out a phased return for schools in Scotland.

Primary school children between the ages of four and eight will be back in their classrooms from Monday, along with some senior students needing to do practical work for qualifications – but Ms Sturgeon stressed it was “unlikely” any more youngsters would go back before March 15.

The SNP leader was also cautious about holidays, telling people the Government was “likely to advise against booking Easter holidays” either overseas or within Scotland, as it was “highly unlikely” that hotels and self-catering accommodation will have been able to open by then.

For the summer, she said holidays in Scotland “might be” possible – although foreign travel was still “highly unlikely” to be permitted.

In Northern Ireland, the country’s education minister said a definitive decision might be made on Thursday about when schools can reopen.

The Stormont Executive has already said it will be March 8 at the earliest before schools can open their gates to more pupils.

Published: 17/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

Weekly registered Covid deaths fall for first time since Christmas
The number of weekly registered deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales has fallen for the first time since Christmas, new data shows. There were 7,320 deaths registered in the week ending February 5 where “novel coronavirus” was mentioned on the death certificate, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is a fall of 1,113 deaths (13.1%) compared with the previous week.

The last time deaths fell was the week ending December 25, which included one bank holiday which likely had an impact on registrations.

Coronavirus accounted for 42.6% of the overall deaths registered during the seven days, which also fell from the previous week.

All regions in England and Wales saw a decrease in the number of deaths involving Covid compared to the previous week, but still have an overall higher number of deaths compared to the average for this time over the past five years.

Some 2,175 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales were registered in the week to February 5 – a drop of 13% on the previous week.

This is the first fall since the week ending December 31.

The number of deaths of residents notified to the Care Quality Commission also fell – from 695 in the week ending February 5 to 536 in the week ending February 12.

A total of 37,895 care home residents in England and Wales have now had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate, the ONS said.

Some 10,133 care home resident deaths involving coronavirus have been registered so far this year – more than a quarter (26.7%) of the total number of care home resident deaths involving Covid registered during the pandemic.

The figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.

Taking into account figures from Northern Ireland and Scotland, which only include deaths that took place in care homes, this means more than 40,000 care home deaths have been registered in the UK.

Of the 41,770 deaths registered since the start of the pandemic, around a quarter (10,757) have been registered since the start of 2021.

Published: 16/02/2021 by Radio NewsHub

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