Politics

UK Covid live: Boris Johnson to hold press conference after spokesperson quits and Omicron fears grip country | Politics









Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, will be appearing with the PM at the Downing Street press conference at 6pm.

UK Prime Minister
(@10DowningStreet)

Watch this evening’s press conference on COVID-19 live on our channels from 6pm. pic.twitter.com/KkDuyhFNPJ


December 8, 2021

There’s too much news for one person today, and my colleague Matthew Weaver will be taking over the blog now to cover the press conference, and the reaction to what gets announced.






















No 10 says Johnson to hold press conference at 6pm

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DfE permanent secretary accepts she faces potential disciplinary action over Gavin Williamson party last December

Susan Acland-Hood, the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education, has admitted that she faces potential disciplinary action as a result of the investigation into Whitehall parties announced by the prime minister today.

Acland-Hood told MPs on the public accounts committee that she was present at the staff “gathering” in the DfE canteen last December, revealed by the Daily Mirror, in possible contravention of rules on social events in force at the time.

Acland-Hood was questioned by Ric Holden, the Conservative MP for North West Durham who until the last election was education secretary Gavin Williamson’s special adviser at the DfE.

After the permanent secretary had repeated the DfE’s line that the event was a “work-related” gathering, Holden asked:


Ms Acland-Hood, you say it was work-related but it’s pretty clear from the restrictions at the time that work couldn’t be used as an excuse for socialising. Is that why the department is not denying that the rules were broken at the time?

Acland-Hood said:


What we have said is that we accept that it would have been better not to have gathered in that way at that particular time.

Holden pressed Acland-Hood over the organisation of the party, with the permanent secretary blaming Williamson, the then education secretary, for wanting “to say a few words” to thank staff. “You’re saying it was instigated by the secretary of state [Williamson]?” asked Holden. “Yes,” Acland-Hood replied.

Holden then asked: “What steps are you taking to investigate whether the rules were broken?” Acland Hood said:


I’ve spoken to the cabinet secretary and the gathering that was held will be part of his consideration, as part of the investigation that was announced at PMQs.

Acland-Hood said that a “mixture of grades” were present, with “about two dozen” staff attending.

Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, asked: “Whose idea was it for everyone to gather in the canteen with a glass of wine?” Acland-Hood replied: “I’m afraid I don’t know.” She then agreed that “if rules were broken, it would” mean she also faces potential disciplinary action as part of the investigation.

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With talk of a plan B for England being instituted, the National Education Union has asked that schools also be included. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU said that more than 200,000 pupils were absent for Covid-related reasons at the end of last month, with the Omicron variant likely to cause further disruption. He said:


Our children need the government to act to keep absences of staff and pupils as low as possible. But the government has so far failed to follow even measures on masks and isolation that are in place in Scotland.

So, the NEU is calling for the government to introduce a plan B for schools and colleges now. They must urgently increase the level of mitigations to slow the spread of Covid in our schools.

The NEU wants face coverings to be mandatory in secondary school classrooms and communal areas, and for staff in primary school communal areas. It also wants children to self-isolate and be tested if their siblings or other family members have Covid, and for the government to invest in classroom air filtration units and allow teachers to receive boosters during working hours without loss of pay.

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Stratton offers ‘profound apologies’ for remarks that ‘seemed to make light of [Covid] rules’





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