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The Government is ending all covid restrictions in England, starting from today

   News / 20 Jan 2022

Published: 20 January 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


The Government is ending all covid restrictions in England, starting from today, when advice to work from home, if possible, no longer applies, and children will no longer be forced to wear masks in classrooms. From next Thursday, 27th January, all other restrictions will be lifted. This means mandatory mask wearing will not be required in any public space, nor will social distancing. The covid ‘vaccine passport’ is also being scrapped, although venues will be able to keep checking customers' status on a voluntary basis if they wish. Prime minister Boris Johnson also said the government intended to end the legal requirement for people who test positive for Covid to self-isolate and replace it with advice and guidance. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is continuing with restrictions, saying people should continue to work from home for now, but that talks would be held with businesses about "a return to a more hybrid approach from the start of February". In Northern Ireland, ministers are asking employers to support home working "where possible". In Wales, guidance says staff should not be "required or placed under pressure to return" to the workplace unless there's a clear business need. The covid passport schemes already in place in all three devolved nations is to continue. Just under 36% of workers in Britain did some work from home in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and in the last week of November 2021, just seven in 10 travelled to work at least once. In the same week, one in seven said they had been working at home and travelling to work.
 
Health Secretary Sajid Javid admitted for the first time yesterday at a Downing Street press conference that the numbers of people reported as dying of covid are wrong because of the way they have been counted, with any death within 28 days of a positive covid test included. Javid also admitted daily death figures are not reliable: “We estimate that around 40% of the people with Covid in hospital are there not because they’ve got Covid, but they happen to have Covid, so it’s what you might call an incidental infection,” he said. There were 359 deaths reported in Britain yesterday, but Javid said that “many” “would not have necessarily died of Covid”. His comments came after death data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a large discrepancy in weekly death registrations compared to the figures released on the Government dashboard. For the week ending Jan 7, the UK Health Security Agency reported 1,282 deaths of people who had died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. However, ONS data show there were just 992 death registrations with Covid mentioned on the death certificate in that week. For deaths where Covid was the primary cause, the difference is even starker, with just 712 registrations, meaning that 44 per cent of the Government’s daily reported figures in that week may not be true Covid deaths, the BBC reports.
 
Bank of England (BoE) governor Andrew Bailey has said he is concerned that inflation might get worse given surging energy costs and signs that cost pressures are feeding into wage demands. He told MPs on the Treasury select committee yesterday that financial markets do not now expect energy prices to start easing back until the second half of 2023. He also highlighted growing wage expectations, saying the Bank's regional agents are reporting seeing some evidence of second-round inflation effects on wages because of a "tight" jobs market. Inflation rose faster than expected to a near 30-year high of 5.4% in December, intensifying a squeeze on living standards and putting pressure on the BoE to raise interest rates again.
 
UK house prices are continuing to rise, the Royal institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says, because new listings are still failing to keep up with demand. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) meanwhile says property prices in Britain rose 10% to an average of £271,000 in the year to November, gaining £25,000 when compared to the previous year. The ONS credits cheap mortgage rates, the return on high loan-to-value mortgages, and a change in working habits to the increase. In England, average house prices increased by 9.8% over the year to hit £288,000. In Scotland, the average house price hit a record level of £183,000 in November, where property values increased by 11.4% over the year. In Wales, they climbed by 12.1% to £200,000 and in Northern Ireland they were up 10.7% to £159,000. The slowest regional growth was a 5.1% annual increase in London.
 
FTSE-250 housebuilder Crest Nicholson reported revenue of £786.6m in its preliminary results yesterday, up from £677.9m year-on-year, which it put down to strategic progress and the underlying strength of the housing market. The company completed 2,407 houses in the year, up from 2,247 in the prior year, and reported adjusted profit before tax of £107.2m from £45.9m year-on-year, including a £16m contribution from the sale of Longcross Film Studio.Included in the accounts was an exceptional charge for combustible cladding materials of £28.8m, up from £0.6m in 2020, with £42.6m of remaining provision, growing from £14.8m.
 
Following yesterday’s news that 5G signals could interfere with radio altimeters, the cockpit instrument that measures aircraft height, British Airways (BA) has cancelled Boeing 777 flights from London Heathrow to New York JFK, Chicago and Los Angeles. The UK flag carrier said: “Safety is always our priority and although we had to cancel a handful of services, we’ve done everything we can to minimise inconvenience for our customers. We’ve changed the aircraft operating some of our flights and rebooked those on cancelled services onto alternatives. “We’re disappointed that, like other airlines, some of our customers’ travel plans have been disrupted.” American 5G networks operate on a radio frequency close to those used by aircraft altimeters. In the UK and Europe, 5G uses a lower frequency less likely to interfere with cockpit instruments. BA is not alone in acting: Emirates has cancelled all flights between Dubai and nine US destinations – save for routes being serviced with the Airbus A380 – and Air India has stopped flights between Delhi and New York JFK, Chicago and San Francisco, as well as from Mumbai to New York's Newark airport
 
The Wetherspoons’ pub chain, run by chairman and founder Tim Martin, yesterday hit out at the “hypocrisy” of No. 10 Downing Street in a trading update critical of the “partygate” scandal, saying: “the public was prevented from seeing friends and family, while the same rules were not observed at 10 Downing Street.” The update claimed there would have been a number of “advantages for the nation” if pubs had been open on 20 May 2020, the date on which Prime Minister Boris Johnson attended a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of No 10, among these the fact that staff in Wetherspoon’s pubs “would have easily dealt with the ‘high jinks’ alleged to have occurred at No 10” and that CCTV in central London pubs would have helped “subsequent inquiries” into the parties. It added Wetherspoons said like-for-like sales for the 12 weeks to 16 January 2022 were 15.6% down on the same period a year ago, as the government’s response to Omicron infections ruined the second Christmas period in a row for British hospitality businesses. Like-for-like sales dropped by 11.7% and total sales by 13.3% year-on-year in the 25 weeks to 16 January, the Guardian reported. The business warned it would make a loss in the first half of the current financial year.
 
Unilever says it has abandoned its £50bn pursuit of GlaxoSmithKline Plc’sconsumer products division after the British drugmaker rejected its approaches; Unilever’s share price plunged; and the firm faced what one major investor called a "torrent of criticism" which sparked questions over the credibility of Unilever CEO Alan Jope. Ratings agencies also warned about a possible downgrade of Unilever’s credit rating if it went ahead with a takeover.  A deal for the Glaxo brands would’ve been Unilever’s largest ever takeover and was intended to anchor the company’s pivot to focus on consumer health-care.
 
GlaxoSmithKline meanwhile has lost its chief scientific officer Hal Barron, the ‘superstar scientist’ CEO Dame Emma Walmsley headhunted in 2017 on a salary higher than her own (£8,2m for 2020, compared to her £7m). Barron has quit Glaxo to join Altos Labs, a biotech start-up reportedly backed by Jeff Bezos, that is attempting to reverse disease and the ageing process. He will be replaced when he leaves on 1st August by Tony Wood, senior vice-president and head of medicinal science and technology. Barron will remain on Glaxo’s board as a non-executive director and support the company's research and development plans.
 
More than half of WH Smith’s investors have rebelled against a back payment of a £550,000 bonus to CEO Carl Cowling despite the retailer benefitting from more than £70m in government pandemic relief monies. Just over 53% registered their dissent on the remuneration report (including abstentions) and just over 45% voted against the firm’s renumeration report at the annual shareholder meeting yesterday. A spokesperson for the company, which the Guardian says has long been known for chunky executive payouts, including handing former boss Kate Swann £9m after her final year - said there were no plans to alter its pay award for Cowling, who has led the retailer since November 2019. He is therefore in line to receive the £550,000 bonus on top of his £550,000 salary, as well as benefits and pension payments worth £85,000, according to WH Smith’s latest remuneration report, a total of £1.18m. From April, Cowling’s pay will rise to £600,000 with the potential to earn an annual bonus of £960,000 on top. At yesterday’s meeting, WH Smith also said that revenues remained 15% below pre-pandemic levels in January, when it took a small hit from Omicron fears, but forecast a full recovery of its outlets at train stations, airports and hospitals. The update showed group revenues reached 90% of 2019 levels in November but slipped back to 87% in December.
 
Primark is cutting some 400 jobs in an overhaul of its retail management team. The fashion retailer, owned by Associated British Foods, says the move aims to “provide clearer accountability, greater flexibility and more management support on the shop floor”. The chain employs 29,000 staff in total across 191 stores in the UK and revealed it had seen a hit to recent trading because of concerns about the Omicron variant of coronavirus keeping shoppers away. Like-for-like sales were 10% lower in the 16 weeks to January 8 when compared with pre-pandemic levels two years ago, AB Foods said, although adding that shopper numbers and trading had since improved, and total group-wide Primark sales were 36% ahead year-on-year.
 
Sweden's Stena Line and Associated British Ports have entered into a £100 million agreement to develop a new freight terminal at the Port of Immingham. The huge investment is expected to create hundreds of jobs.
 
One of Britain's top financiers is to be handed a powerful new role by the BBC in an attempt to grow its commercial revenues amid the threat of a real-terms cut to its funding. Sky News has learnt that Sir Damon Buffini, who co-founded the private equity firm Permira, is being lined up to become chairman of the corporation's commercial arm. Sir Damon, who began a three-year term on the main BBC board earlier this month, is expected to take on the dual role in April.


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