Millions face childcare crisis after Sadiq Khan calls for ALL schools to close from TODAY

Millions of London parents face an anxious wait to see if schools are shut early after a Labour council backed by Sadiq Khan asked headteachers to shut their gates at the end of today because of rising coronavirus cases in the capital.

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has been accused of ‘an appalling lack of leadership’ after announcing his decision on Twitter last night amid fears London’s 20 other Labour councils could follow suit.

But Cllr Thorpe, a former teacher supported by Britain’s teaching unions, did not specify on what scientific basis officials had reached the decision, leading to accusations he was putting scoring political points above the education of children.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he wants all London secondary schools and colleges to shut before the end of term on Friday – in defiance of the government’s instruction to keep them open – blaming rising Covid-19 cases. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls and said: ‘We want to keep schools open’. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned yesterday that schools who do not stay open face legal action – but it is not clear what ministers can do to make sure schools stay open until the end of the week if headteachers decide to close.

Panicked parents scrambling to find childcare with just 24 hours notice amid growing concerns schools could remain closed in January. Some families said the decision had left their children in tears.

It came as London looks certain to move into Tier 3 when Boris Johnson reviews the situation on Wednesday, with people hitting the shops and pubs over the weekend because most are likely to be shut by the end of the week.

Critics said Greenwich Council has no power to shut the borough’s more than 100 schools, but some headteachers in the area have already informed parents they will end the term early today.  Greenwich, which has 290,000 residents, has seen an average of one death per week since in March and 5,500 positive tests in total since the pandemic began nine months ago. 

It is possible that the Department for Education will compel Danny Thorpe to reverse his decision. One free school in the borough, Ark Greenwich Free School, said it had not had a case since October and would ignore the council’s request to shut early. Greenwich residents speculated others schools in the borough may follow suit.  

One school worker in the borough said: ‘This has created a huge amount of confusion for parents. Schools will have 100’s of emails & calls to deal with tomorrow morning, adding to their already high workload and pressure’. Another wrote: ‘This is a disaster for families in Royal Greenwich. Schools should be the last thing to close. Please could you provide the evidence you have used to come to this awful decision?’

Historic Greenwich is one of the busiest tourist spots in the capital, and is a magnet for shoppers and drinkers.

One critic said: ‘Massive double standards at play. The pubs have been open all w/e – zero social distancing in Greenwich town centre…… then a Sunday evening ‘tweet’ to shut schools early within 24hrs’. Another parent said: ‘Some of us cannot master magic childcare over night that is not what we normally use. Not all of us can use family right now either’.

It comes as: 

  • The UK recorded 18,447 coronavirus cases on Sunday, 1,175 more than last Sunday, as well as 144 new deaths
  • Tens of thousands of residents in low-infection towns and villages had their hopes of ‘decoupling’ from the tiers of surrounding coronavirus hotspots dashed yesterday
  • In a letter to Tory MPs, Matt Hancock said that ‘narrow carve-outs’ of areas with lower rates of infection often leads to them ‘catching up’ or ‘overtaking’ areas with a higher prevalence of Covid 
  • Boris Johnson has called for restraint from families this Christmas, urging Brits to ‘to think hard about how you choose to enjoy that relaxation’
  • Oxford University vaccinology professor said chances of getting its jab by the end of 2020 are ‘pretty high’
Greenwich's council leader Danny Thorpe has told all schools in the south-east London borough to close from Monday evening as he warned its Covid-19 situation was 'escalating extremely quickly'. The infection rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week. Pictured: London infection rates by borough week to December 6

Greenwich's council leader Danny Thorpe has told all schools in the south-east London borough to close from Monday evening as he warned its Covid-19 situation was 'escalating extremely quickly'. The infection rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week. Pictured: London infection rates by borough week to December 6

Greenwich’s council leader Danny Thorpe has told all schools in the south-east London borough to close from Monday evening as he warned its Covid-19 situation was ‘escalating extremely quickly’. The infection rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week. Pictured: London infection rates by borough week to December 6

Despite London's growing Covid-19 rate, there are warnings not to put the capital under Tier 3 restrictions, amid fears it could be 'catastrophic' for businesses in the run up to Christmas

Despite London's growing Covid-19 rate, there are warnings not to put the capital under Tier 3 restrictions, amid fears it could be 'catastrophic' for businesses in the run up to Christmas

Despite London’s growing Covid-19 rate, there are warnings not to put the capital under Tier 3 restrictions, amid fears it could be ‘catastrophic’ for businesses in the run up to Christmas 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls and said: 'We want to keep schools open'

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls and said: 'We want to keep schools open'

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls, backed by Sadiq Khan, and said: 'We want to keep schools open'

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls, backed by Sadiq Khan, and said: 'We want to keep schools open'

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today blasted the Labour-led calls, backed by Sadiq Khan, and said: ‘We want to keep schools open’

Parents are up in arms over the last minute decision - and some said their children were left in tears because they won't finish the term

Parents are up in arms over the last minute decision - and some said their children were left in tears because they won't finish the term

Parents are up in arms over the last minute decision – and some said their children were left in tears because they won’t finish the term

Sadiq Khan has called for all London to be closed from Monday in defiance of the government’s vow to keep them open, and despite warnings that shutting down the capital will deliver another economic hammer blow to Britain. 

Rural areas CAN’T be ‘decoupled’ from neighbouring Covid hotspots go into a lower Tier even if they have much lower infection rates 

Tens of thousands of residents in low-infection towns and villages had their hopes of ‘decoupling’ from the tiers of surrounding coronavirus hotspots dashed yesterday.

In a letter to Tory MPs, Matt Hancock said that ‘narrow carve-outs’ of areas with lower rates of infection often leads to them ‘catching up’ or ‘overtaking’ areas with a higher prevalence of Covid.

It comes ahead of a review of the tier system on Wednesday. The Health Secretary’s comments are set to disappoint Tory MPs in areas that come under stringent Tier Two or Three restrictions because of high infection rates elsewhere in their county.

They will also dismay several London boroughs that were hoping to remain in Tier Two, with the whole of the capital now almost certain to enter Tier Three.

Boris Johnson had raised hopes that Wednesday’s review would be done on what he described as a more ‘granular’ basis than a fortnight ago, suggesting some areas could be spared.

But health leaders are continuing to pile on pressure against easing tier restrictions, warning of the ‘risk of a third wave’ when the NHS is at its busiest. Officials last night confirmed that London will be treated ‘as a whole’ rather than on a borough-by-borough basis, indicating its nine million residents will soon be plunged into the strictest measures.

Latest figures show the capital’s infection rates have climbed to an average of 224 new cases per 100,000 people, rising in 21 of the 32 boroughs. However, rates in Greater Manchester dropped below the UK average to 151.3 per 100,000 people, for the week ending December 8.

The turnaround has led Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to call for the two cities’ positions to be reversed, for the sake of ‘equal and fair treatment’.

He said: ‘If London and Manchester don’t move, it would tell me it’s not based on the evidence. I don’t wish anything on London, but we have to have equal and fair treatment here.’

Business leaders have warned shutting the capital down before Christmas will devastate its economy, forcing many pubs and restaurants to close.

It comes as the number of daily deaths from Covid fell to 144 yesterday, down from 231 a week ago.

Only a handful of areas are expected to move down the tiers during the first review since the second lockdown, including Lincolnshire and North Somerset. 

 

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Mr Khan’s demand follows a unilateral announcement by the Labour leader of Greenwich council that he would close all schools in his borough tomorrow – leaving parents dashing to find four days of child care before the term ends on Thursday. 

The move puts Greenwich on a collision course with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson who warned that schools who do not stay open face legal action by the government – and it will also fuel teaching unions who arguing that schools should be shut across the country. 

It adds to fears that a decision on Wednesday to plunge London into Tier 3 restrictions looks ‘inevitable’ despite reports Health Secretary Matt Hancock was considering splitting the capital to impose tough restriction on outer boroughs with high infection rates while keeping the West End open.   

But Khan also called that move impractical and a morning briefing today between MPs from London and its surrounding areas will address the city’s infection rate, which puts it ahead of regions such as the West Midlands, which are already in Tier 3.

Mr Khan’s spokesman told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The mayor is backing the early closure of schools and would like the Government to consider shutting schools from Tuesday. He wants Monday to be the last day at school.’  

London’s infection rate per 100,000 people stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week. A source said London being thrust into the Government’s highest tier of lockdown rules is ‘inevitable’.

Tier 3 rules would see all bars, pubs and restaurants close. Hotels would also have to shut under top-tier rules – but may be able to reopen between December 23 and 27 when families are able to form a ‘bubble’ with two other households.  

MPs are urging the Prime Minister to spare the capital because shutting it down would hurt not just Londoners, but ‘people across the nation’ who depend on the ‘wealth and prosperity generated by our great city’.

A decision on whether to plunge London into the highest lockdown before Christmas was going to the wire this weekend, with a row brewing with Ministers after police and local councils objected to plans to divide London into different tiers.

With the capital’s businesses saying tier 3 would deliver a £3 billion hit to the economy, Ministers including Michael Gove have suggested that only the outer London boroughs with the highest infection rates should go in to the top tier.

In a pre-emptive strike ahead of a review of the capital’s restrictions, six senior Conservatives signed the letter, organised by Harrow East MP Bob Blackman, which warned that many London Tory MPs could vote against the Government’s Covid approach when it is reviewed next month if the city is plunged into tier 3.

The MPs’ letter highlighted the Government’s own estimate last month that 550,000 jobs would have been at risk if London had been put in tier 3 last month. 

They warned: ‘It would be a false choice to pit lives against livelihoods when it comes to deciding which Covid restrictions should apply in London.

‘We believe the Government can both protect lives and livelihoods with a more measured approach of keeping our capital open while also bearing down on this terrible virus.’

Parents have reacted with fury over Greenwich's call for schools to close with 24 hours notice

Parents have reacted with fury over Greenwich's call for schools to close with 24 hours notice

Parents have reacted with fury over Greenwich's call for schools to close with 24 hours notice

Parents have reacted with fury over Greenwich's call for schools to close with 24 hours notice

Parents have reacted with fury over Greenwich’s call for schools to close with 24 hours notice

Yesterday, Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe told all schools in the south-east London borough to close four days before the Christmas break, warning the local Covid-19 situation was ‘escalating extremely quickly’. 

All schools will close this evening, with Cllr Thorpe’s open letter failing to explain whether the closure would continue when pupils return in the New Year.

It states: ‘Although London is currently in Tier 2, this is being reviewed by the Government who will advise us shortly about the decisions they make.’ 

No other London borough has followed suit as yet, but some councils are urging pupils and their families to get tested – while Islington said it would announce a ‘range of extra measures’ later today.

Sunday’s announcement came after it was revealed the Government could force schools to remain open in the run-up to Christmas by applying for a High Court injunction.

Cllr Thorpe’s statement on Sunday read: ‘I have today been briefed by colleagues from Public Health England that the pandemic in Greenwich is now showing signs that we are in a period of exponential growth that demands immediate action. 

‘We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown).

Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe published an open letter yesterday warning the south-east London borough's Covid crisis 'demands immediate action'

Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe published an open letter yesterday warning the south-east London borough's Covid crisis 'demands immediate action'

Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe published an open letter yesterday warning the south-east London borough’s Covid crisis ‘demands immediate action’

‘It is absolutely essential that everyone understands this is NOT an opportunity to extend Christmas celebrations in any way, and I’m asking for this to happen to reduce the risk of transmission.’

The latest data shows there were 715 new coronavirus cases recorded in Greenwich in the seven days to December 9 – the equivalent of 248.3 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up from a rate of 158.0 in the seven days to December 2.

Cllr Thorpe apologised for the closure, but warned families to get tested for Covid-19 as he said they face an ‘extreme risk,’ due to climbing cases.  

Other boroughs have stopped short of closing schools, but Labour-run Islington council leader Richard Watts said the local authority will be announcing ‘a range of extra measures’ to support residents later today. 

Havering has the worst Covid-19 infection rate in the capital, with 470.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Yesterday the local council ran out of tests at one of three new testing centres. 

Conservative leader of the council Damian White told the BBC on Sunday: ‘Whilst we’re in Tier 2, we’re being treated as if we were in Tier 3, so we’re being given additional resources from the Government and support from across London and the region to make sure we can lower the amount of transmissions.’

Cllr White has urged all non-symptomatic secondary school staff, pupils and their families to get tested. 

Speaking on Friday, he said: ‘We are aware that rates in young people have been increasing particularly quickly.

‘I urge those groups who do not have symptoms to step forward and get a test this weekend.’

New powers introduced through the Coronavirus Act allow the Government to issue ‘directions’ to headteachers around education provision during the pandemic.

Should schools fail to comply after being directed to remain open, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson can apply for a High Court injunction forcing them to do so.

It is understood that directions under the act would only be used as a last resort, while a court order would be sought if they were not followed.

The powers came to light after a headteacher in Ware, Hertfordshire, was sent a ‘minded to direct’ letter from schools minister Nick Gibb warning that the emergency powers could be used.

Presdales School had planned to switch to online learning for the final week of term to ensure staff and pupils did not have to self-isolate on Christmas Day, Schools Week reported.

But it was said to have scrapped the plans after receiving the letter.

Speaking about the decision to close Greenwich schools, Cllr Thorpe said: ‘This is honestly one of the most difficult questions I have wrestled with during all my time as leader.

‘The Department for Education are clear this isn’t their position and indeed have issued directives to some schools.

‘However, I cannot in all good conscience stand by whilst the numbers are doubling so quickly.

‘If the numbers are indeed doubling every 4 days, they would do so again by this Thursday, exposing more people to risk.’

The Government has powers to issue a High Court injunction to keep schools open, but Greenwich has gone ahead and closed classrooms for the last four days of term amid 'exponential growth,' in Covid-19 cases. The closure comes as shoppers continued to flock to Oxford Street in London on Sunday, with little room for social distancing

The Government has powers to issue a High Court injunction to keep schools open, but Greenwich has gone ahead and closed classrooms for the last four days of term amid 'exponential growth,' in Covid-19 cases. The closure comes as shoppers continued to flock to Oxford Street in London on Sunday, with little room for social distancing

The Government has powers to issue a High Court injunction to keep schools open, but Greenwich has gone ahead and closed classrooms for the last four days of term amid ‘exponential growth,’ in Covid-19 cases. The closure comes as shoppers continued to flock to Oxford Street in London on Sunday, with little room for social distancing 

London already has a higher case rate than other parts of England living under Tier 3 restrictions. The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week

London already has a higher case rate than other parts of England living under Tier 3 restrictions. The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week

London already has a higher case rate than other parts of England living under Tier 3 restrictions. The case rate per 100,000 people in the capital stood at 191.8 on December 6, up from 158.1 the previous week

 

With London teetering on the edge of Tier 3 restrictions, local authorities have urged families to get tested for Covid-19, while Islington Council said it was going to announce a 'range of extra measures' to protect residents on Monday

With London teetering on the edge of Tier 3 restrictions, local authorities have urged families to get tested for Covid-19, while Islington Council said it was going to announce a 'range of extra measures' to protect residents on Monday

With London teetering on the edge of Tier 3 restrictions, local authorities have urged families to get tested for Covid-19, while Islington Council said it was going to announce a ‘range of extra measures’ to protect residents on Monday  

Teaching unions have previously called for remote learning in parts of the south east.

The National Association of Head Teachers and Association of School and College Leaders urged the government to consider ‘immediately moving secondary schools and colleges to remote learning,’ while a mass testing programme is carried out in parts of London, Kent and Essex.

A Department for Education spokesman said yesterday: ‘It is a national priority to keep education settings open full time and it is vital that children remain in school until the end of the term.

‘Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted and our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues.’

The DfE did not confirm whether or not it planned to send a ‘minded to direct,’ letter to the council. 

The announcement comes after MPs and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions would be ‘catastropic’ for the capital, causing ‘untold damage’. 

He tweeted: ‘This weekend we’ve increased testing capacity in the worst hit areas – we now need Govt to support this across the capital too.’ 

In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, the MPs urge the Prime Minister to spare the capital because shutting it down would hurt not just Londoners, but ‘people across the nation’ who depend on the ‘wealth and prosperity generated by our great city’.

A decision on whether to plunge London into the highest lockdown before Christmas was going to the wire this weekend, with a row brewing with Ministers after police and local councils objected to plans to divide London into different tiers.

With the capital’s businesses saying tier 3 would deliver a £3 billion hit to the economy, Ministers including Michael Gove have suggested that only the outer London boroughs with the highest infection rates should go in to the top tier.  

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said yesterday: ‘Londoners have made monumental sacrifices this year in order to keep each other safe and protect our NHS. While the rollout of the vaccine this week may feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel, my message is clear – we still have a long winter ahead of us and we must all continue to play our part to keep ourselves and others safe.

‘Nobody wants the capital to face Tier 3 restrictions – it would be catastrophic for our pubs, bars, restaurants and culture venues – but with cases rising we are now at a tipping point, which is why we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to get on top of the virus by following the rules.’

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be 'catastrophic,' amid claims Health Secretary Matt Hancock could split the worst-hit parts of the capital off into Tier 3 but leave the majority in Tier 2

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be 'catastrophic,' amid claims Health Secretary Matt Hancock could split the worst-hit parts of the capital off into Tier 3 but leave the majority in Tier 2

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned Tier 3 restrictions in the run-up to Christmas would be ‘catastrophic,’ amid claims Health Secretary Matt Hancock could split the worst-hit parts of the capital off into Tier 3 but leave the majority in Tier 2

Britain recorded 18,447 Covid cases on Sunday, with Boris Johnson warning the country to 'err on the side of caution,' rather than have a 'big blow-out with multiple households'

Britain recorded 18,447 Covid cases on Sunday, with Boris Johnson warning the country to 'err on the side of caution,' rather than have a 'big blow-out with multiple households'

Britain recorded 18,447 Covid cases on Sunday, with Boris Johnson warning the country to ‘err on the side of caution,’ rather than have a ‘big blow-out with multiple households’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also understood to be considering splitting the worst-hit parts of the capital off into Tier 3 but leaving the majority of the city in Tier 2. 

It would mean restaurants and other hospitality businesses in London’s West End could stay open, while those in suburban areas would close.

Yesterday, Boris Johnson admitted in a virtual fund-raising event for Conservative party members that people needed to be cautious over the festive period.

In messages revealed on Sunday, he said: ‘My message to everybody is we do have this period of relaxation of measures at Christmas, but I really urge people to think hard about how you choose to enjoy that relaxation. I really would urge people to err on the side of caution rather than, I’m afraid, have a big blow-out with multiple households.

‘I know the rules say three households, but there is ample scope alas for further increases in this disease during tough winter months.’

NHS executive Chris Hopson has urged Mr Johnson to exercise ‘extreme caution’ before putting any region into a lower tier as any relaxing of rules ‘will trigger a third wave’.

There were 144 new Covid-19 deaths recorded on Sunday, but there was added hope as an Oxford University professor said the chances of its vaccine being rolled out by the end of the year are 'pretty high'

There were 144 new Covid-19 deaths recorded on Sunday, but there was added hope as an Oxford University professor said the chances of its vaccine being rolled out by the end of the year are 'pretty high'

There were 144 new Covid-19 deaths recorded on Sunday, but there was added hope as an Oxford University professor said the chances of its vaccine being rolled out by the end of the year are ‘pretty high’

He instead insisted that areas such as London – which sees 211 cases per 10,000 people each week – should be moved up to Tier Three to get numbers under control. He also said Essex, Kent and Lincolnshire have shown worrying figures.

Mr Hopson – the chief executive of NHS Providers which represents trusts across the country – said the current rise in cases is ‘worrying’, especially as it came towards the end of the England’s second nation-wide lockdown.  

Mr Johnson’s warning came despite the welcome news that the chances of Oxford University’s vaccine being being rolled out by the end of this year are ‘pretty high’.

The vaccine from Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is yet to be approved for use in the UK –  with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) still reviewing trial data.

The Government has secured 100 million doses of the vaccine, with four million ready for key workers once approval is given.

Oxford University vaccinology professor Sarah Gilbert said the chances of getting the jab – which is 90 per cent effective and costs just £2 per dose – before the end of 2020 ‘are pretty high’.

Rural areas CAN’T be ‘decoupled’ from neighbouring Covid hotspots go into a lower Tier even if they have much lower infection rates

Tens of thousands of residents in low-infection towns and villages had their hopes of ‘decoupling’ from the tiers of surrounding coronavirus hotspots dashed yesterday.

In a letter to Tory MPs, Matt Hancock said that ‘narrow carve-outs’ of areas with lower rates of infection often leads to them ‘catching up’ or ‘overtaking’ areas with a higher prevalence of Covid.

It comes ahead of a review of the tier system on Wednesday. The Health Secretary’s comments are set to disappoint Tory MPs in areas that come under stringent Tier Two or Three restrictions because of high infection rates elsewhere in their county.

They will also dismay several London boroughs that were hoping to remain in Tier Two, with the whole of the capital now almost certain to enter Tier Three.

Boris Johnson had raised hopes that Wednesday’s review would be done on what he described as a more ‘granular’ basis than a fortnight ago, suggesting some areas could be spared.

But health leaders are continuing to pile on pressure against easing tier restrictions, warning of the ‘risk of a third wave’ when the NHS is at its busiest. Officials last night confirmed that London will be treated ‘as a whole’ rather than on a borough-by-borough basis, indicating its nine million residents will soon be plunged into the strictest measures.

Latest figures show the capital’s infection rates have climbed to an average of 224 new cases per 100,000 people, rising in 21 of the 32 boroughs. However, rates in Greater Manchester dropped below the UK average to 151.3 per 100,000 people, for the week ending December 8.

The turnaround has led Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to call for the two cities’ positions to be reversed, for the sake of ‘equal and fair treatment’.

He said: ‘If London and Manchester don’t move, it would tell me it’s not based on the evidence. I don’t wish anything on London, but we have to have equal and fair treatment here.’

Business leaders have warned shutting the capital down before Christmas will devastate its economy, forcing many pubs and restaurants to close.

It comes as the number of daily deaths from Covid fell to 144 yesterday, down from 231 a week ago.

Only a handful of areas are expected to move down the tiers during the first review since the second lockdown, including Lincolnshire and North Somerset. 

 

Of the 315 local areas in England, 179 have experienced a rise in case rates, 135 have seen a fall, and one is unchanged.

Swale in Kent has the highest rate in England, with the equivalent of 630.3 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Medway, at a rate of 599.5.

Basildon in Essex also has some of the highest rates, having increased from 333.9 to 508.5 cases per 100,000.

Local leaders have argued that there are strong cases for splitting counties, with widespread variations in case numbers.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex, said it would be ‘ludicrous’ to place his constituency in Tier Three when it had far fewer cases than other parts of the county bordering London. He argued that the city of Leicester had been successfully locked down while Leicestershire remained free of restrictions, proving it ‘is possible’.

He told Times radio: ‘Schools are going to close next week because it’s the school holidays – by far the biggest spreaders of the virus are the education settings. Hospitality is a relatively low risk.

‘The one thing that really, really isn’t Tier Three is hospitality. I don’t think this is sensible, not in the run-up to Christmas.’ Any new restrictions imposed this week will only last six days before they are then relaxed over the Christmas period.

Between December 23 and 27, the rules will pause to allow families to form ‘Christmas bubbles’ with up to three households.

This has stoked fears among experts of a third wave, heaping more pressure on the NHS at its busiest time of year.

Yesterday NHS Providers, which represents the 216 NHS acute, ambulance, community and mental health trusts in England, wrote a message of warning to the Prime Minister. While stopping short of backing calling off Christmas celebrations, it said it was ‘vital’ the public understood the risks of extra social contact during the festive period.

Sarah Gilbert, leader of the Oxford University vaccine team, also warned it could prompt a surge similar to that seen in the US following Thanksgiving celebrations, with deaths there totalling more than 3,000 a day.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she said: ‘If we have that kind of thing happening over the Christmas holidays in this country, with very high transmission rates possible in January, it’s going to take so much longer to get things back to normal.

‘Because partly, all the vaccination clinics will be disrupted. It’s not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there’s a very high transmission rate affecting people’s ability to come to be vaccinated.

‘I think what we do over the next few weeks is really going to have a big impact on how long it’s going to take to get back to normal.’

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