The Tories were set to suffer a humiliating defeat in parliament this week over their handling of the coronavirus crisis. But they looked set to be saved by a speaker’s ruling.
The manoeuvres came as scientists said deaths from the virus in Britain could rise to 100 a day in a few weeks. The warning came from Professor Graham Medley from the government’s Sage group of scientists.
Medley said transmission of the virus must be cut now to avoid further rises.
“The things that we do now will not stop 100 people dying a day, but they will stop that progressing much higher,” he said.
But the things the Tories are doing now are guaranteeing that transmission rises.
They continue to push people into unsafe workplaces, commutes, schools, colleges and universities. And a lack of tests means people with the virus don’t always know and so can’t isolate to prevent further spread.
The Tories’ failure to contain the virus has seen more people come under local lockdown restrictions. New restrictions came into force in Leeds, Cardiff and other parts of Wales and more towns in the north west of England last week.
More than 21 million people are now subject to local restrictions, a quarter of Britain’s population. London was added to Public Health England’s watchlist last week, meaning a lockdown could be imposed.
And Britain recorded a record number of daily cases—6,874—last Friday.
Meanwhile thousands of students are locked down in university accommodation after outbreaks at several campuses (see pages 10&11).
Outbreaks have hit Manchester Metropolitan University, Edinburgh Napier, Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow among others.
The crisis is deepening splits in the Tories. Labour said it would likely back a rebel Tory amendment in parliament this week.
The amendment, put by Tory Graham Brady wanted to force ministers to seek parliamentary approval for new restrictions.
Some 46 Tories had signed up to it by Sunday.
But Johnson looked set to avoid defeat as Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle indicated he would not allow it to be heard.
The growing crisis last week forced top Tories to advise people to work from home again where possible.
But this follows weeks of ministers urging people to return to work and blaming those who don’t for the collapse of firms such as sandwich makers.
And the reality is that many people won’t be able to work from home.
And they have refused to invest in the NHS to prepare for a second wave of the virus (see right).
We need more resistance to win the measures that can save lives.
School class sizes could rise to 60 as Covid hits
Children face rising class sizes and school closures because of the Tories failure to make schools safe or to provide proper virus testing.
Some schools plan to increase class sizes to up to 60 students as more staff struggle to access tests and have to self-isolate.
A survey by the NAHT head teachers’ group found that nearly half of schools have teachers who can’t be in school as they are awaiting a virus test.
NAHT spokesperson James Bowen warned there would be shortages of supply teachers over the winter.
He added that schools aren’t getting extra money from the government to cover the costs of hiring supply teachers.
“Many budgets simply won’t stretch to meet these supply costs,” he said.
Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said, “There comes a point when you can’t run a school because there aren’t enough staff.”
Over 1,000 schools have now reported a confirmed case of coronavirus since schools reopened. And cases are rising rapidly.
In the week to 22 September, the number of schools in England badly affected by the virus quadrupled according to Department for Education figures.
And the number of students absent rose by 50 percent.
The DfE said that 4 percent of schools were classed as “not fully open” due to Covid-19 over the seven-day period. It compares to 1 percent in the previous week.
The figures make a mockery of Tory claims that schools are safe.
Fines shift blame for virus
People in England can now be hit with fines of up to £10,000 for breaking coronavirus rules.
From Monday, refusing to self-isolate when instructed to do so is illegal.
Fines for breaking the law start at £1,000. But people can be fined £10,000 for repeated or “serious” breaches.
It is also illegal for someone who tests positive for the virus to knowingly give false information about close contacts to NHS Test and Trace. And police will be able to check on whether people are complying with the rules.
The Tories say that poorer people will be able to get a one-off payment of £500 if they lose income due to self-isolating.
But not everyone is eligible. And the money will be backdated—meaning people will be left with nothing for two weeks.
The new measures are an attempt to divide ordinary people and shift the blame for the rise in virus cases.
Food bosses hid infections
The number of coronavirus infections at food factories could be over 30 times higher than official figures show.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has received just 47 notifications of coronavirus workplace infections by food manufacturing firms.
The firms, which employ 430,000 people in Britain, have reported no deaths.
But an investigation by the Pirc group found that there have been at least 1,461 infections and six deaths.
And it said the real figures are likely to be higher.
Pirc warned that bosses have too much influence over the data as they can decide whether to say someone was infected at work or elsewhere.
It said the figures submitted to the HSE are “not credible”.