Demand for rail travel has plummeted since the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus strain, PA Media reports. PA says:
Passenger numbers were at 53% of pre-pandemic levels on Monday, according to preliminary statistics from the Department for Transport.
That is down from 61% a week earlier, and 68% on Monday December 6.
People in England have been advised to work from home since Monday 13 December, bringing the country in line with the rest of the UK.
Rail travel has also been hit by hundreds of services being cancelled this week due to pandemic-related staff shortages.
Bus use in Britain outside London was at 62% of pre-virus levels on Monday, down from 78% a week earlier.
Road traffic has remained relatively stable in recent weeks.
Here are some more lines from Gillian Keegan’s interviews this morning.
- Keegan, the social care minister, would not rule out the government imposing some form of “circuit breaker” lockdown in England after Christmas. The Sun today claims “New Year’s Eve looks doomed” because further restrictions are likely. Asked if there was any chance of avoiding a circuit-breaker lockdown, Keegan said:
We are waiting for data on the severity, we’ll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can’t really say, you know.
What we’ve said is up to Christmas we’re fine looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment, but, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data.
I can’t tell you in advance of getting that data, but you should be cheerful because we’re doing a lot more than we could last year. We’re able to see our families.
I’m looking forward to receiving it. But we haven’t received that officially yet.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the data and that’s one of the things we’ve been wanting to hear more on.
- She said that hospital doctors and care staff would be able to take advantage of the new rule saying self-isolation only has to last seven days, not 10, for people who test negative on a lateral flow test. She said hospital doctors were subject to strict testing regimes anyway, and she said care staff would keep doing lateral flow tests. But the new regime would “relieve some of the pressure” caused by staff absences in this sector, she claimed.
The Department of Health and Social Care has this morning announced that it has signed contracts to buy another 4.25m courses of antivirals to protect patients from Covid. In a news release it says:
The two new contracts are for 1.75m additional courses of Merck Sharp and Dohme’s (MSD) molnupiravir (Lagevrio®) and 2.5m additional courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir (Paxlovid™) from Pfizer, which will be available from early next year and are both expected to be effective against Omicron.
The 4.25m courses are in addition to the procurement of 480,000 courses of molnupiravir and 250,000 courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir announced in October this year …
Molnupiravir has shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk, non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 by 30%. PF-07321332/ritonavir reduced the relative risk of Covid-19-associated hospitalisation or death by 89% in those who received treatment within three days of symptoms appearing.
DHSC is also encourage people over 50, or with an underlying health condition, who test positive for Covid to take part in a study to test the impact of these drugs. You can sign up here.
Rail travellers have been advised to check services before they travel over Christmas because staff illness is causing cancellations. Seb Gordon, director of external communications at the Rail Delivery Group, told the Today programme this morning:
We think that, at the moment, that in the Christmas week, when people are trying to get away – fewer people than in a normal year but lots of people still trying to get away – we think it’s important to prioritise running as many trains as we can even if that means there’s a few more of those frustrating short-notice cancellations.
But obviously, as we get further into this wave of the pandemic – we hope will not materialise in the way that people are anticipating – it may be that we decide actually we need to prepare for a lower level of staffing over a longer period of time and we will reduce the timetable.
Obviously the government’s announcement today of the reduced isolation period is going to really help.
Good morning. In autumn last year Boris Johnson briefly started talking about how mass testing would be the “moonshot” that would provide a path back to normality. At a news conference he said this might help bring life “much closer to normal before Christmas” and a leaked document talked about mass testing delivering 6m tests per day.
At the time this was seen as one of the wilder examples of Johnson’s boosterism, and some of his claims were well off the mark. (At the time Johnson was talking about avoiding a second lockdown; in the event, there were at least two more to come.) But more than a year on some aspects of this vision have materialised. The government is now sending out 900,000 lateral flow kits (with seven tests per kit) per day. They are being very widely used. And last night the government announced that people who test negative with a LFT can reduce their Covid self-isolation period from 10 days to seven. My colleague Andrew Gregory has the details here.
Gillian Keegan, the social care minister, has been giving interviews this morning and she told Times Radio that the new rules would enable some people who would have been isolating on Christmas Day under the old system to spend it with loved ones instead. She explained:
If you work it out, if you were confirmed as positive or first showed symptoms on Saturday, the 18th and now – assuming, you get a negative lateral flow test on day six and day seven – you’ll be able to enjoy your Christmas lunch.
I will post more from her interviews shortly.
Keegan had little to say one the key question for many people: will further restriction be imposed in England after Christmas? In UK terms, England is an outlier because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all either announced tighter Covid rules for the post-Christmas period, or are set to do so. We will be hearing more about what is happening in Wales and Northern Ireland today.
Here is the agenda.
9.30am: The Department for Transport publishes weekly transport usage figures.
11am: The Northern Ireland executive is expected to meet to consider new Covid restrictions. Afterwards Paul Givan, the first minister, and Michelle O’Neill, the deputy first minister, are expected to hold a news conference.
12.15pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, holds news conference to announce new Covid restrictions.
1.30pm: Drakeford makes a virtual statement to the Senedd about the new Covid rules for Wales.
I will be mostly covering UK Covid developments here, but for global developments, do read our global live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com