Coronavirus UK news LIVE: Gavin Williamson defends face mask u-turn in schools as kids return to classrooms in Leicester

EDUCATION Secretary Gavin Williamson has defended the government's u-turn on face masks in schools.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, Mr Williamson said: “We always follow and listen to the best scientific and medical advice, and that's why we're not recommending that face coverings should be mandatory right across the country in all schools.

“The best scientific and medical advice says that that isn't necessary.”

Meanwhile, pupils are returning to classes at some schools in Leicester – with travel safety measures in place to guard against Covid-19.

Around 20 schools in the city are reopening for some pupils on Wednesday – with children at a further 92 returning to classes next Tuesday.

The UK death toll rose to 41,449, with 16 more deaths reported.

Follow our coronavirus live blog for all the latest news and updates…

  • A WEIGHTY ISSUE

    Obesity increases the risk of death from Covid-19 by nearly 50% and may make vaccines against the disease less effective, according to a new study.

    The study from the University of North Carolina finds that people with a BMI over 30, are at greater risk from the coronavirus in every way.

    Their risk of ending up in hospital with Covid-19 is increased by 113%, they are more likely to be admitted to intensive care (74%) and have a higher risk of death (48%) from the virus.

    Prof Barry Popkin, of the department of nutrition at the UNC Gillings Global School of Public Health,told the Guardian: “It is a 50% increase essentially. That’s a pretty high scary number. All of it is actually – much higher than I ever expected.”

  • HOGAN'S CLAIMS 'EXAMINED'

    European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has “taken note” of statements by the Irish authorities claiming EU trade supremo Phil Hogan broke coronavirus rules.

    European Commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said Ms von der Leyen was still examining the case following the submission of Mr Hogan's report into his travels.

    “It is a detailed report, it's a report which is public, to ensure full transparency about the moves by the commissioner during that period in Ireland,” she told reporters in Brussels.

    “The president is in contact with commissioner Hogan about it.

    “On the other hand we have taken note of the statement from Irish authorities … But this is the only thing that we can say at this stage, so once more the president continues considering the matter, she's examining and assessing carefully on the basis of that report.”

  • TEACHERS TOLD:'ERR ON SIDE OF CAUTION'

    In a message to its members, school leaders' union NAHT recommended all secondary schools ask pupils and staff to wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas unless there is a “compelling” reason not to.

    General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “Once again, many school leaders will feel as though the Government has passed the buck and handed the difficult decision over to them.

    “We will continue to lobby the Government to take a clear and unambiguous line on this.

    “In the meantime, NAHT's advice is that it would be prudent for secondary schools to ask pupils and staff to wear face coverings in corridor and communal spaces unless there is a compelling reason not to.

    “Erring on the side of caution would seem a sensible approach to take given the information coming out of the WHO.”

  • DRIVERS BLAST COVID TRAFFIC RESTRICTIONS

    Drivers across Britain are calling for “nightmare” traffic restrictions imposed because of Covid-19 to be scrapped.

    Critics say the measures have little impact on virus transmission and are being used by councils to drive through 'anti-car' policies and extend cycle lanes.

    Drivers in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, say a £30,000 one-way system has created a traffic “nightmare” and it now takes 40 minutes to get through the town centre.

    In London, cars have been banned entirely from some areas in a trial scheme that will last for six months.

    Due to reduced car use during lockdown in Brighton, new cycle lane schemes were introduced which affected traffic as normal life started to resume.

  • 'SERIOUS QUESTIONS RAISED'

    A teaching union has questioned if the Government is following scientific advice or “prioritising political expediency” after a U-turn on face-covering advice for schools in England.

    Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “It is deeply regrettable that the Government has failed to heed concerns until the last possible moment.

    “The latest announcement on face coverings raises serious questions about whether the Government is seriously following the scientific advice or is simply prioritising political expediency in order to meet the Prime Minister's wish to ensure that every school reopens fully at the start of term come what may.

    “This latest Government U-turn will raise questions about the statement issued by the UK's chief medical officers last Sunday that there is a low risk of coronavirus transmission in schools.”

  • DRIVING ME MAD

    Thousands of learner drivers struggled to book their driving test this morning after the DVSA website crashed again.

    More than 100,000 people were placed in a virtual queue after more driving test slots were released today.

    Learners had complained that the website was still crashing for them shortly after it reopened after 8am this morning.

    It comes after the DVSA website also crashed last week, as it opened for the first time since the coronavirus crisis.

  • REGULAR TESTING IN OFFICES

    Offices could offer regular coronavirus testing to help get Brits back to work after pressure from Boris Johnson to get staff behind desks.

    The Government will urge companies to launch a regular testing drive among their employees to help keep the economy on track if there are spikes of coronavirus through the winter.

    Meetings have taken place between business leaders and Whitehall officials over how to roll out the widespread use of mobile testing units in factories and offices around the country, according to the Financial Times.

    Employers who have their staff regularly tested could even be allowed to stay open in the event of a local lockdown, a source told the FT.

    Director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall said companies could embrace the idea but only if the Government ensures the cost of tests are cheap.

  • COVID PROTESTS IN BERLIN BANNED

    Authorities in Berlin on Wednesday banned several protests planned for the weekend against coronavirus pandemic measures.

    Officials said that those protesting would likely have breached rules on social distancing designed to stop the spread of the virus.

    Germany has seen an upswing in infections in recent weeks and the government is considering whether to impose fresh restrictions again.

    Berlin's top security official, Andreas Geisel, said police would act to stop any large gathering of people and indicated that authorities wouldn't tolerate a tent camp that protesters have erected near the German parliament.

    “I'm not prepared to accept that Berlin is abused a second time as a stage for corona deniers … and right-wing extremists,” he said.

    Numerous leading figures in the country's far-right scene, including members of the Alternative for Germany party, had announced they would participate in rallies in Berlin on Saturday.

  • KEY WORKERS URGED TO STAND AS COUNCILLORS

    Key workers have been urged to stand as councillors by Labour ahead of next year's elections.

    It is part of Labour's push to improve the diversity of its elected representatives by encouraging more female, black, Asian and minority ethnic, disabled and LGBTQ+ members to stand as candidates.

    Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “Our key worker heroes have been on the frontline working round the clock to get us through this crisis.

    “They have risen to the challenge during this pandemic, putting their lives on the line to keep our country going and make sure we are all cared for, fed and connected.

    “Now we need them to help lead the recovery from this crisis and rebuild our communities and our country in the months and years ahead.

    “Our key workers must be at the heart of decision-making across the country, which is why Labour will be supporting key workers who want to get involved in politics and stand for election in the years ahead.”

  • 'MASKS MEAN MAYHEM'

    Furious teachers have today warned that making kids wearing masks at school will cause bullying and distract from their vital learning.

    Katharine Birbalsingh, founder of Michaela community school in Brent North London, told Radio 4's Today: “The idea that these children will be wearing masks perfectly and not bullying each other… we need to consider that when considering if it will make a difference to pupils’ safety.”

    She added: “They will be wearing reused dirty masks, they will swap them, ping them, they will lick and spit on each other’s masks for a joke.

    “They will wear them incorrectly, they will lose them.

    “The girls will be in the loos, checking their masks, making sure they look nice. They will be touching their faces all the more – I would argue they make them less safe.”

  • COVID KNOCK-ON

    Deadly asthma attacks could spike to “unprecedented levels” when kids go back to school after the coronavirus lockdown, experts warn.

    Campaigners say that the disruption to basic asthma care as a knock-on result of the Covid-19 pandemic could leave thousands of children at risk.

    The UK's leading respiratory charity, Asthma UK, estimates that up to 133,800 children in England have missed out on their annual review.

    During the routine checks, a child’s inhaler technique is checked and they are provided with an up to date asthma action plan.

    Experts say they are essential in keeping children with asthma well and out of hospital.

  • CRIME FELL DURING LOCKDOWN

    Police recorded crime during the coronavirus lockdown was 25% lower in April and 20% lower in May compared with the same period in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

    It also fell 5% in March compared with February.

    But reports of crime rose as lockdown restrictions began to ease, a report published on Wednesday said.

    In particular, reports of theft fell in April and May to “almost half the level recorded” during those months in the previous year.

    However, records of drug offences rose by 22% in April and 44% in May compared with April and May 2019.

    This is down to “proactive police activity in pursuing these crimes during lockdown”, the ONS report said.

  • FROM ROCK TO HARD PLACE

    Scores of Brits returning from Gibraltar must isolate for 14 days as easyJet took them to Spain after a flight delay.

    Fuming passengers coming back from the Rock would have avoided quarantine because the overseas Brit territory is on the UK’s virus safe list.

    But their flight to Gatwick was rescheduled on Monday due to poor weather, so they needed overnight accommodation.

    All rooms on the tiny Med getaway were full, so they had to accept easyJet’s offer to find a hotel or sleep rough.

    The budget airline bussed 80 helpless Brits across the border to run-down Cadiz in virus hotspot Spain.

  • SELF ISOLATION AIRBNB

    A property developer plans to turn a garden flat into a temporary coronavirus self-isolation unit – and rent it out on AirBnB.

    Prakash Tanna has applied for planning permission to convert one of his flats to be used for quarantining during the pandemic.

    The 43-year-old says the flat could be rented at a reduced rate for locals in the Twickenham area of south west London, or those flying in and out of nearby Heathrow.

    The self-isolation unit would be rented on AirBnB and tenants living in the main house could use it for free.

    The property is a fully functional bungalow in a garden setting, which Mr Tanna says is ideal for those who cannot self-isolate at home or have come from abroad to Heathrow.

  • ARE YOU A COVID 'LONG HAULER'?

    Patients recovering from coronavirus could suffer up to sixteen symptoms after overcoming the illness.

    The condition, dubbed as “long Covid” has left many people unable to work and others are still suffering months after initially overcoming the virus.

    Around half a million Brits are believed to be suffering with long Covid after doctors dismissed long term symptoms as ME.

    Symptoms include breathlessness, muscle aches, hair loss, diarrhoea, chest pain, hallucinations and excessive fatigue.

  • GAVIN DEFENDS MASK U-TURN

    When asked why the government decided to make a U-turn decision for masks in schools, Mr Williamson told Sky News this morning: “We always follow and listen to the best scientific and medical advice, and that's why we're not recommending that face coverings should be mandatory right across the country in all schools.

    “The best scientific and medical advice says that that isn't necessary.”

    Pressed on whether the Government had followed Scotland into the decision, he said: “As you highlighted, what Jenny did highlight, was that we shouldn't be bringing mandatory face coverings in communal areas right across the country into every secondary school.

    “And that's not what we're doing, but we are recognising the fact that there are certain areas of the country where there's a high instance of, or higher instance, of coronavirus, that we're taking an extra precautionary measure.”

  • SCHOOLS REOPENING IN LEICESTER

    Pupils are returning to classes at some schools in Leicester – with travel safety measures in place to guard against Covid-19.

    Around 20 schools in the city are reopening for some pupils on Wednesday – with children at a further 92 returning to classes next Tuesday.

    Extra buses will operate on busy public transport routes because fewer passengers are allowed on each vehicle due to social distancing measures, Leicester City Council said.

    The authority has issued maps with “safe routes” for cycling and walking to encourage more pupils to travel on foot or by bike.

    Social distancing reminders have been painted onto pavements near some schools to prevent crowds forming and signs with health advice have been put on lampposts.

    Marshals will also be present outside some schools.

  • TRAIN SERVICES RAMPED UP

    Train services will ramped up from September 7 to 90 per cent of pre-Covid levels as schools reopen and more workers return to the office. 

    The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators and Network Rail, said services across Britain will be increased to around 90% of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels from September 7.

  • 'SICK AND TIRED'

    Tory MP Huw Merriman said he is “sick and tired” of the way young people are being treated.

    He told the BBC: “I think we need the firm smack of government behind this. We need to send a message out that schools are a safe setting.

    “We know that the risks are so low you're sadly more likely to see your child lose their life through getting to school than actually the Covid pandemic.

    “And really we need to send a message out that school is a place where children can be themselves, can learn, can thrive and really take their opportunities and not be scared.

    “The worry is that if we're saying it's unsafe in the corridors, the next thing it'll be unsafe in the classroom and that will really prove an impediment on people's learning.

    “And, quite frankly, as a Conservative MP that came into politics to try and help people's life chances through school, I am sick and tired of the way that we are treating our young people.

    “I feel it's an absolute disgrace and I really feel the Government needs to get a grip and just be certain, get on with it and inspire confidence rather than just completely changing its mind.”

  • MORE MASK GUIDANCE

    Further guidance about face coverings in English schools have been published by the Government.

    It says that in local lockdown areas face coverings should be worn by staff and students moving around schools in communal areas and corridors from September 1.

    It goes on to say that all schools and colleges will have the discretion to require face coverings in communal areas where social distancing is not possible.

    Schools should also take steps to have a “small contingency supply” of masks for pupils and staff members who do not have one or if their face covering is soiled.

    The guidance also says no one should be excluded on the grounds they are not wearing a face covering.

  • 'OUTDATED SCIENCE'

    The two-metre rule should be scrapped because its based on outdated science, a group of academics have claimed.

    The group of researchers have argued that there should be “graded recommendations” for different distancing rules in different settings.

    Writing in the BMJ, they said this would provide greater protection for people in high risk settings and greater freedoms for people in lower risk settings.

    They added that this would “potentially enable a return towards normality in some aspects of social and economic life”.

  • RE-INFECTION

    Two patients, in Belgium and the Netherlands, are confirmed to have been re-infected with coronavirus.

    It comes after a report by Hong Kong researchers about a man who had contracted a different strain of the virus four-and-a-half months after being declared recovered.

    Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said: “Viruses mutate and that means that a potential vaccine is not going to be a vaccine that will last forever, for 10 years, probably not even five years. Just as for flu, this will have to be redesigned quite regularly.”

    He added that vaccine designers would not be surprised.

    Dr David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and chair of the British Medical Association's medical academic staff committee, said the cases were also worrying as it suggested that previous infection does not provide protection.

  • CASES SOAR

    India recorded more than 60,000 cases of Covid-19 for the eighth day in a row on Wednesday.

    The total cases have passed 3.2million, according to data from the federal health ministry.

    The world's second-most populous country is third behind the United States and Brazil in terms of total caseload, and has recorded the world's highest single-day caseload consistently since August 7.

    Deaths in the last 24 hours stood at 1,059, taking the total number of fatalities from the infection to 59,449.

  • MASK U-TURN 'HALF-BAKED'

    Kate Green, Labour's shadow education secretary, called the Department for Education's sudden change on face coverings at England schools a “half baked U-turn”.

    “Parents and schools needed clarity and leadership, but instead the Government have just passed the buck back to them,” she said.

    “Face coverings should be compulsory in communal areas in schools.

    “Instead of this half baked U-turn, the Government should have given clear guidance and a plan to deliver it,” the frontbencher added.

    In a backflip, the DfE advised on Tuesday night that face coverings should be worn when moving around corridors and communal areas.

    Face coverings should be worn by secondary pupils and staff in local lockdown areas of England, and will be at the discretion of secondary schools elsewhere across the country.

  • SCHOOLS 'LAST TO CLOSE' DURING LOCKDOWNS

    PM Boris Johnson has vowed to get all kids back into reopened schools from next week.

    And on Tuesday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the move was the Government's “priority”.

    He told the BBC: “If we were in a local lockdown, schools would be absolutely the last sector we would want to close.

    “At the end of the day this is about the life chances of children – making sure they get the start they deserve in life.”

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