Brexit news live: Latest Boris Johnson and Northern Ireland updates

Government considering closing UK borders to prevent Covid spread

UK retailers are considering abandoning goods returned by EU customers, with some even thinking of burning them due to the cost and trouble of bringing them back into the country.

After the post-Brexit introduction of new paperwork and charges for goods crossing over the border, fashion industry boss Adam Mansell said it was “cheaper for retailers to write off the cost of the goods than dealing with it all”, adding the process includes at least four new charges and documents.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of online shoppers have been faced with additional customs and delivery charges costing up to one-third of the price of items ordered from the EU. One shopper was asked to pay £77 in tax on £245 of clothes bought from a French website, The Times reports.

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Salmond urged to give evidence as Holyrood issues order for documents

Alex Salmond has been given a deadline by which to appear before MSPs probing the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him

Linda Fabiani, the convener of the specially established committee, wrote to the former first minister after he refused to come to Holyrood and answer questions from them on February 2 – citing health and safety concerns in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints took the unprecedented step of issuing a notice to the Crown Office under part of the Scotland Act, demanding a number of documents.

The notice, formally issued by Holyrood chief executive David McGill, states that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) “may hold documents relevant and necessary for the committee to fulfil its remit”.

The committee is seeking the release of documents detailing text or WhatsApp communications between SNP chief operating officer Susan Ruddick and Scottish Government ministers, civil servants or special advisers from between August 2018 and January 2019, that may be relevant to the inquiry.

It also wants to see any documents linked to the leaking of complaints to the Daily Record newspaper in August 2018.

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 18:58

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Signs of improvement in coronavirus case numbers, Whitty says

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there were signs of improvement in the number of coronavirus cases.

He told the Downing Street briefing there were also signs the number of people in hospital was beginning to flatline in parts of England.

He added: “There has been a turning of the corner on that and the number of people with infections has gone down.

“There are definite signs of improvement but from a very high level.

“This [slide] then looks at the number of people in hospital with Covid in the UK and it’s increasing all the time, and has been over the last several weeks, and is now at an extraordinarily high level.

“But there’s now signs of this beginning to flatten out, in some parts of England – particularly the south east, east of England and London – there’s now signs of some reductions but at an incredibly high rate still.”

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 18:26

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Government favours cautious approach to easing lockdown, Johnson says

Boris Johnson said he favours a cautious approach to easing the lockdown to prevent the nation being shut back down again by a resurgence of coronavirus.

The prime minister told the Downing Street press conference: “I think we will have to live with coronavirus in one way or another for a long while to come. I think it is an open question as to when and in what way we can start to relax any of the measures.

“Obviously, we want to do everything we can to open up but only safely, only cautiously.

“I also think that the British public and British business would much rather we opened safely and cautiously when it was right to do so rather than opening up again and then being forced to close back down simply because the virus takes off again.

“I think that is a far more sensible approach.

“The first thing that we want to be able to reopen if we can make any progress will, of course, be schools.”

Sir Patrick Vallance rejected calls from those who want restrictions to be eased by a specific date, arguing the situation must be assessed before a careful releasing.

The chief scientific adviser said: “I don’t think this virus is going anywhere, it’s going to stay around and therefore the answer is it’s going to be around, I think, forever as a virus, but it will be controlled.

“The key thing, I think, is to keep watching, measuring and assessing where we are and not getting too hooked up on specific dates, because we don’t know at the moment.

“We need to watch, wait, measure and release carefully as we go through it.”

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 18:09

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Boris Johnson hints at tighter border rules, saying ‘we may need to go further’ to limit Covid spread

The government may have to introduce more border restrictions to stop new variants of Covid-19 from spreading in the UK, the prime minister has said.

Our policy correspondent Jon Stone reports:

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:52

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Hospital numbers will not drop significantly for weeks, Whitty says

It will take weeks to see significant drops in the number of people in hospital, said England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

Prof Whitty said it will take even longer for deaths to start falling. He added: “The number of people who are dying has been steadily increasing.

“The most recent seven-day rolling average is over 1,000 deaths a day.

“This is a very high rate and it will take longer to come down and will probably go up over the next week.”

Boris Johnson said deaths will remain high for at least “a little while to come”.

The prime minister told the Downing Street press conference: “The death numbers will continue to be high at least for a little while to come.”

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:44

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Kent variant transmits up to 70% more easily than original virus

The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the coronavirus variant which emerged in Kent is “a common variant comprising a significant number of cases” and transmits up to 70 per cent more easily than the original virus.

He said: “We think it transmits between 30 and 70 per cent more easily than the old variant. We don’t yet understand why that is the case.

“It doesn’t have a difference in terms of age distribution … it can affect anybody at any age, similarly to the original virus.”

He added that among people who have tested positive for Covid-19, there is “evidence that there is an increased risk” of death for those who have the new variant compared with the old virus.

Sir Patrick cautioned, however, that this is based on evidence which is “not yet strong” and there is “no real evidence of an increase in mortality” among those hospitalised by the variant.

“These data are currently uncertain and we don’t have a very good estimate of the precise nature or indeed whether it is an overall increase, but it looks like it is,” he added.

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:34

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South African variant ‘reduces vaccine efficiency by 50%,’ Hancock reportedly says

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said “there is evidence in the public domain” that the South African coronavirus variant “reduces by about 50 per cent” vaccine efficacy.

In what is reportedly a recording of an online webinar with travel agents this week, obtained by MailOnline, he said: “There is evidence in the public domain, although we are not sure of this data so I wouldn’t say this in public, but that the South African variant reduces by about 50 per cent the vaccine efficacy.”

He added: “We’re testing that and we’ve got some of the South African variant in Porton Down, and we’re testing it. We’ve got a clinical trial in South Africa to check that the AstraZeneca vaccine works.

“Nevertheless, if we vaccinated the population, and then you got in a new variant that evaded the vaccine, then we’d be back to square one.”

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:25

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Covid patients in hospital up 78% compared to first peak

Boris Johnson said the 38,562 Covid patients in hospital is 78 per cent higher than in the first peak in April.

The prime ministersaid: “It’s more important than ever that we all remain vigilant in following the rules and that we stay at home, protect the NHS and thereby save lives.”

He added: “All current evidence continues to show that both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:19

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‘Some evidence’ UK variant of virus is more deadly, Boris Johnson says

There is “some evidence” the UK variant of coronavirus is associated with “a higher degree of mortality,” Boris Johnson has said.

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:07

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Boris Johnson is now hosting a Downing Street press conference, alongside England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Samuel Osborne22 January 2021 17:02