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Covid news: Cases and holidays cause ‘perfect storm’ for NHS, as testing scheme extends to more sectors

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UK Covid-19 vaccinations: Latest figures

A scheme allowing key workers to avoid Covid self-isolation in England has been expanded following criticism it did not go far enough, a report suggests.

Police, fire, Border Force, transport and freight staff will now be able to join a daily workplace test scheme, whether they are vaccinated or not, the BBC has said.

Some 10,000 supermarket depot and food factory workers will also be eligible, with testing expected to start next week It comes after several sectors warned of staff shortages in recent days, due to the so-called “pingdemic”.

It comes as the NHS warned it is experiencing a “perfect storm” as Covid hospitalisations, high infection rates and record-breaking demand for A&E collide with the holiday season, health leaders have warned. Admissions to England hospitals for Covid patients have risen by more than 30 per cent over the past week, while sites are now being told by NHS England to prepare for a difficult period ahead as the summer crisis worsens.

Key Points

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Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. You can follow here for rolling updates on the latest news and statistics.

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 07:55

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BMA calls for ‘urgent rethink’ of government’s Covid strategy

The British Medical Association, the top trade union for doctors, has called for an “urgent rethink” of the government’s Covid strategy, arguing that it is “not working” and leading to rising pressure on health services, our science correspondent Samuel Lovett reports.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, said Downing Street should never have abandoned restrictions amid soaring infections in the UK, adding that the situation will “continue to worsen as a result”.

He also questioned the mounting focus on the “excessive pinging” of the NHS app, which is the direct result of the government’s decision to allow the virus to “let rip” throughout the nation, at the risk of endangering thousands of more lives and fuelling a long-Covid crisis.

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 07:56

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Boris Johnson urged to bring forward isolation exemption for double-jabbed

In a bid to prevent staffing crises, industry leaders and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have written to Boris Johnson to urge him to bring forward plans to exempt double-vaccinated people from self-isolation by 16 August.

Amid rising coronavirus cases, Mr Khan teamed up with UKHospitality, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the capital’s branch of the Federation of Small Businesses to demand change.

“The summer months are crucial for many businesses’ recovery and their ability to recover must not be put in jeopardy,” they said.

“We are therefore calling on you to ensure that the necessary testing is in place to enable people who have been double vaccinated for longer than two weeks and pinged by the NHS Covid app, to immediately return to work, following a negative PCR test, rather than having to self-isolate.”

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:07

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Government expands workplace testing programme for frontline emergency services

The government has expanded its workplace testing programme to an initial 200 testing sites for frontline emergency services personnel, amid criticism of its self-isolation policy.

Some police, firefighters, Border Force staff and transport workers were already eligible for a self-isolation exemption, but only if their employers specified their names and they were double-vaccinated.

But on Saturday the government said in a statement that an expected initial extra 200 testing sites would be opened so that daily contact testing could be “rolled out to further critical workplaces in England”.

The expansion came after the government on Thursday announced its programme would allow thousands of workers at up to 500 sites in the food sector to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case, and instead take daily Covid tests.

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:12

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While some 600,000 people are thought to have been told to isolate by the NHS Covid app in the week to 14 July, hence the disruption already felt in some sectors, here are some of the underlying figures:

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that Covid-19 cases have risen to the extent that around one in 75 people in England were infected at the most recent estimate.

The estimate of the number testing positive – 741,700 – in the week to 17 July is the highest since the week to 30 January.

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:17

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Travel industry crisis as airports expect as few as 20% of normal passenger numbers

The scale of Britain’s travel industry crisis has been laid bare by figures showing the country’s major airports will have only a fraction of their normal passenger numbers on what should be one of the busiest weekends of the year, our travel correspondent Simon Calder reports.

Manchester airport will handle less than 40 per cent of the flights of two years ago, while Gatwick – once the world’s busiest airport of its kind – will have a fifth of its usual number of travellers in August.

Industry bosses blame uncertainty caused by the government’s botched traffic light plan, as exclusive polling for The Independent shows just 12 per cent of Britons still intend to go abroad this summer.

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:21

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Government plans to stem pingdemic food shortages ‘worse than useless’

Some 10,000 workers in the food sector are expected to be included in the government’s plans to exempt some vital workers from self-isolation if double-jabbed.

But British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow has raised concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others such as in supermarkets.

“It shows that yet again government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?” he told the PA news agency.

“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:39

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‘Summer of venue closures’ ahead, hospitality chief warns

The country faces a “summer of venue closures” as a result of the government’s self-isolation rules, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has warned.

Calling for a “more pragmatic solution”, Ms Nicholls said: “We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.

“Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 08:43

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New Covid variant under investigation in the UK

A new coronavirus variant – known as B.1.621 – has been designated a variant under investigation, Public Health England has said.

Sixteen confirmed cases have been identified across the country so far, most of them linked to overseas travel without any current evidence of community transmission in the UK.

My colleague Clea Skopeliti has the details:

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 09:09

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Cornwall airport ‘very much affected’ by staff shortages, boss says

Cornwall Airport Newquay is “very much affected” by staff shortages due to isolation orders and its boss has said he is not optimistic over discussions over exemptions with the Department for Transport.

“We’ve been told to expect exemptions in very small numbers of people, in ones and twos, rather than large numbers of staff,” managing director Peter Downes told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“When we have between a quarter and a third in some cases of individual teams being pinged by the system in one go, and as soon as you get people back you’re often losing others to fresh notifications, we don’t believe that the scheme is going to cater for that.”

Andy Gregory24 July 2021 09:18

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/covid-pingdemic-isolation-shortages-latest-b1889748.html