Local Lockdown Restrictions Will Be Eased To Allow Households To Mix For Childcare Purposes
Matt Hancock delivered a statement updating the House of Commons on coronavirus (PA)
The local lockdown restrictions on household mixing will be eased where it is necessary to provide childcare, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary said he hoped the exemption would provide "clarity and comfort" to those living under the stricter coronavirus measures after MPs lobbied for the move.
In a statement to the Commons he revealed the new rules, which will affect millions of Brits, will ban interactions such as playdates or parties but will allow for a "consistent childcare relationship that is vital for somebody to get to work is allowed”.
The new policy comes ahead of a statement on new nationwide restrictions by the Prime Minister tomorrow morning, where he is due to announce a 10pm closing time for pubs.
Boris Johnson will put a curfew on the hospitality industry as well as patrol venues to make sure they are obeying the "rule of six” as part of a plan to tackle soaring Covid cases.
And it comes as the Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended the Covid-19 alert level for the UK be increased to level 4, meaning transmission of the virus is "high or rising exponentially".
It has been at level 3 - meaning “a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation” - for several months, but the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland said in a joint statement this evening: “After a period of lower Covid cases and deaths, the number of cases are now rising rapidly and probably exponentially in significant parts of all four nations.
"If we are to avoid significant excess deaths and exceptional pressure in the NHS and other health services over the autumn and winter everyone has to follow the social distancing guidance, wear face coverings correctly and wash their hands regularly.
"We know this will be concerning news for many people; please follow the rules, look after each other and together we will get through this."
On childcare Mr Hancock said to MPs: "I've heard their concerns about the impact of local action on childcare arrangements
"For many, informal childcare arrangements are a lifeline without which they couldn't do their jobs.
"So today I'm able to announce a new exemption for looking after children under the age of 14 or vulnerable adults, where that is necessary for caring purposes.
"This covers both formal and informal arrangements.
"It does not allow for playdates or parties, but it does mean that a consistent childcare relationship, that is vital for somebody to get to work, is allowed."
He added: "I hope this change will provide clarity and comfort to many people who are living with these local restrictions.”
The cabinet minister also confirmed people on low-incomes forced to self-isolate will be eligible for a £500 payment from next Monday.
"Self-isolation can be tough for many people especially if you're not in a position to work from home,” he said.
"I don't want anyone having to worry about their finances while they're doing the right thing.
"So we will introduce a new £500 isolation support payment for people on low incomes who can't work because they have tested positive or are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace."
Mr Hancock said as well as “strengthening our support for those who self-isolate”, the government is toughening up the sanctions for those who do not, with new fines of up to £10,000.
In his statement to the Commons he also confirmed his department had published the list of who will be prioritised for tests while the issues with capacity and processing continue.
"First to support acute clinical care, second to support and protect people in care homes,” he said.
“Third NHS staff including GPs and pharmacists, fourth targeting testing for outbreak management and surveillance studies, fifth testing for teaching staff with symptoms so we can keep schools and classes open, and then the general public when they have symptoms, prioritising those in areas of high incidents."
He added: "The system relies on people coming forward for tests if and only if they have symptoms of coronavirus or have been specifically advised to by a health professional."
Mr Hancock was speaking hours after the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty had delivered a dire warning about what could happen if the virus is not reined in.
The minister began his statement saying: “This deadly virus continues to advance across the world. The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the number of new cases in Europe is now higher than during the peak in March.
"Here the latest figures indicate 6,000 new infections a day, almost double the previous week. As the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser said earlier today, we're seeing a rise in cases across all age groups. This pattern is emerging across the entirety of our United Kingdom.
“And earlier this afternoon the Prime Minister held discussions with the first ministers of the devolved administrations and the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, to make sure that wherever possible, we are united in our efforts to drive this virus down.
"We know that the epidemic is currently doubling around every seven days and that if we continue on this trajectory we could see 50,000 cases a day by mid-October, so there can be no doubt that this virus is accelerating."