UK Covid live news: rail union boss claims there is ‘utter confusion’ over exemption from isolation rules
Here are the main lines from Sir Keir Starmer’s LBC phone-in.
Starmer suggested he would oppose limiting access to major sporting events to the fully-vaccinated. He said that he favoured Covid-status checks, but he thought that getting people to show proof of a negative test was more valuable than getting them just to show they had been fully vaccinated. He said Labour would be “pragmatic”. But he went on:
I think that [vaccination] passports on their own aren’t enough because, as we know, sadly, you can be double jabbed and still get the new variant. So it’s got to be passports plus testing. And that would be for sporting events etc.
The government is already encouraging the organisers of events where large numbers of people congregate, like large sporting events, to use the NHS Covid pass, which allows people either to prove that they have been fully vaccinted or that they have recently tested negative. But at the weekend the Sunday Telegraph reported that, from October, the government may require people attending Premier League matches to be fully vaccinated – implying proof of a negative test on its own would not be enough. The government has already said that from September it wants to limit access to nightclubs to people who are fully vaccinated.
Starmer also said that he did not want to see vaccine passports used “on an everyday basis” for access to critical services. He said:
What I don’t want to see, just to be very clear about this, is I don’t want to see vaccine passports used on an everyday basis for access to critical things like health, dentistry, food, etc.
So, for sporting events, I’ll look at what the government puts on the table. I want to be pragmatic because we all want all business sectors and sporting sectors to return as quickly as possible. But not for everyday use, because I don’t want to see people denied health, dentistry, food they haven’t got a vaccine passport.
In this passage it sounded as if Starmer was talking about not just vaccine passports, but Covid-status certificates too, and saying neither should be used to deny people access to basic services. The government has no plans to use either to deny people access to things like shops.
Starmer said that if the schemes to allow some fully-vaccinate workers to use testing as an alternative to isolation are successful, the government should extend this to everyone before 16 August. That is the date when the scheme is meant to be coming in for all fully-vaccinated people. But, referring to the problem caused by people having to isolate, he said: “The sooner we can sort out this mess, the better.” He said he hoped the various schemes launched by the government to make some workers exempt (see 9.29am) would work. He went on:
So, if that works – data not dates – then we should support it, look again at the 16th of August, which is the day when the rules are supposed to change.
He also described the current system as “chaos”. He said:
I’m hoping we can do something because at the moment it’s absolute chaos, as you will know, in terms of keeping the economy going.
He said it would have been better if the government had taken more steps to keep case numbers down, such as keeping the requirement for people to wear masks in shops and on public transport.
He said he thought isolation rules should distinguish between people asked to isolate because they live with someone who has tested positive and people asked to isolate because they have been in contact with someone testing positive. He is isolating at the moment because his son has coronavirus, and he said he did not think someone in his position should be allowed to use daily testing as an alternative to isolation.
No I don’t think that’s the right way.
I think that if it is possible to show that, with a double vaccination and a negative test, critical workers can go back to work, I would support that.
Obviously we need to keep an eye on how safe it is, we need to be cautious.
But we need to keep our critical sectors working and I think we should support exemptions that allow us to do that.
Starmer said Boris Johnson was a “master of untruth”. He said the Labour MP Dawn Butler was right when she called him a liar in the Commons last week. But he also said the temporary deputy Speaker Judith Cummins was right to order Butler to leave for what she said, because Cummins was only enforcing parliamentary rules. Asked about the incident, he said:
I agree with what Dawn had to say. I think the prime minister is the master of untruth and half truths. Dawn was simply giving some examples of that. I think there’s a lot of people that feel that it’s the person who’s not telling the truth rather than the person who’s calling it out that ought to be on the hotspot. So I agree with Dawn on that.
But, in fairness to the temporary [deputy] Speaker, Judith Cummins, who was there, she did the right thing, she followed the rules, because parliament doesn’t allow you to call other parliamentarians liars in the chamber. So I don’t criticise the deputy Speaker for what she did. She was following the rules.
Of course have a system where victims get information, they’re consulted, they’re engaged. I’m absolutely in favour of that, I would actually put that in law.
This is just a gimmick by the prime minister – yet again, he loves soundbites, he loves slogans, he loves gimmicks – but every time you look beyond it, there’s nothing there. This one won’t work, it won’t improve [things], if anything it will make things worse because individual officers work shifts, they’re doing investigations, they’re off duty. It will actually slow things down. It’s an ill-thought-through gimmick.
Starmer said the proposed 3% pay rise for NHS was “not fair”. But he would not say what pay rise they should get. Asked if 15%, which is what some unions are demanding, would be appropriate, he replied:
I think it would have to be negotiated – 15% is high – but I think what the unions are doing now is right.
Asked if he would support strike action, he said: “Nobody wants to see strike action in the NHS.”
Ministers have confirmed they could force students in England to be double vaccinated to attend lectures in person or stay in halls of residence, setting the government on a possible collision course with a number of its own MPs, my colleagues Peter Walker and Jane Clinton report.
Starmer says he hopes the police will investigate the anti-vaxxer former nurse who suggested at a rally that medical staff who administered vaccines should be hanged.
And that’s it. Starmer’s Q&A is over.
I will post a summary shortly.
Starmer says he supports Dawn Butler, the Labour MP, in what she said about Boris Johnson being a liar in the Commons last week.
He says Johnson is the master of untruths and half truths.
But he says he does not criticise the deputy speaker who ordered Butler to leave. She was only enforcing the Commons rules, he says.
Starmer says that is high. The figure would have to be negotiated. But he supports the unions in their decision to consult their members.
Q: And would you support them if they wanted to strike.
Starmer says no one wants to see health workers go on strike.
But the fact that it is being talked about shows how “shoddily” health workers have been treated.
Q: Does that apply to Wales? Mark Drakeford, the Labour first minister, is also offering them 3%.
Starmer says the anger and frustration in the NHS is a result of the UK government proposing a 1% rise.
Sir Keir Starmer is holding his LBC phone-in.
Q: Do you think people who are fully vaccinated should not have to isolate if pinged?
Starmer says the best solution would be to keep cases down. Labour would have kept face masks mandatory, he says. It would also have told people to keep working from home, and done more on ventilation.
He says the government has introduced some measures to allow people to use testing as an alternative to isolation.
He suggests that, if that works, the date for introducing this for everyone – 16 August – could be brought forward.
But at the moment there is “absolute chaos”, he says.
Good morning. Ministers are meeting today to consider extending the arrangements that will allow some workers to use daily testing as an alternative to isolation if they are pinged by the NHS Covid app, or contacted by test and trace, because they have been in contact with someone testing positive. But quite what the news arrangements will be is not yet clear and this morning a rail union boss described the situation as “utter confusion and chaos”.
To recap, at the end of last week the government announced two separate schemes to address this problem: workplace testing for the food supply industry, with about 10,000 people covered by the scheme; and possible exemptions for workers in 16 key industries, but only for named members of staff (the most vital ones) subject to their employees agreeing these names with the relevant government department.
On Saturday the government announced that workplace testing would be extended, with 200 testing sites opening so that frontline emergency service staff – some police, firefighters, Border Force staff and transport workers – would be able to use testing as an alternative to isolation.
But this morning Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT rail union, said that it was “completely unclear” what was happening. He told the Today programme:
We’ve been trying to find out over the weekend exactly what’s happening. At the end of last week we had this very restricted exemption programme put to us where individuals had to be named. Then over the weekend we had this breaking news that it was going to be a more generalised exemption process.
I’ve tried to contact the employers to find out what they know that they know. They know as much as I do, which is very little. As far as they’re concerned, the only update they’ve had from the Department for Transport and the authorities is that it’s the limited exemption that we heard about for a limited number of signallers and people in control rooms last week.
So it’s utter confusion and chaos. Nobody knows what’s going on, and the authorities are simply not telling the employers, the trade unions, the workers, or the authorities what they should be doing.
No doubt things will get a little clearer as the day goes on.
Lynch also expressed concern that rail workers who did use testing as an alternative to isolation could be posing a risk to colleagues.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Sir Keir Starmer holds his regular LBC Call Keir phone-in.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
1pm: Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome foundation and a member of Sage, speaks at the Institute for Government about his new book about the pandemic.
2pm: The Northern Ireland executive meets to consider further lockdown easing.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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