University students could be told to self-isolate for a fortnight so they can return home for Christmas, according to reports.
Education chiefs are considering asking students in high infection areas to isolate for two weeks at the end of this term, even if they are not showing Covid-19 symptoms, the reports say.
Ministers hope this will help prevent the spread of the virus from university areas, some of which are currently under lockdown, to other parts of the country, The Times reports today.
It comes as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is today expected to call on universities to adopt a proportionate response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of students across Britain are now self-isolating for a fortnight after more than 500 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed across at least 32 universities.
University students (pictured left and right: University students who are self-isolating in Manchester) could be told to self-isolate for a fortnight so they can return home for Christmas, according to reports
It comes as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) is today expected to call on universities to adopt a proportionate response to the coronavirus pandemic
Thousands of students across Britain are now self-isolating for a fortnight after more than 500 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed across at least 32 universities. Pictured: A sign made from sticky notes says ‘Help Us’ at a halls of residence in Manchester
Mrs Williamson is expected to the MPs today MPs that students should not face further restrictions.
Education watchdog backs tuition fee refunds for students in lockdown if the quality of their course drops
Students at universities hit by coronavirus should seek tuition fee refunds if the quality of their course slips, the higher education watchdog said last night.
At least 40 universities have recorded virus cases – around one in four – leaving thousands of students locked down in halls.
They have complained of ‘disgusting’ conditions as they are essentially sealed off from the outside world.
The situation has caused growing anger over the prospect of no face-to-face learning despite fees of up to £9,250 per year.
The Office for Students (OfS) regulator has now urged students who feel the quality of their education has been affected to complain, warning universities not to take a ‘blanket policy’ against refunds.
Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: ‘Students have a right to good quality higher education – whether that is taught online, in-person or a mixture of the two.
‘Where they feel this is not happening they can raise concerns with their university, escalating complaints to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where a resolution cannot be found.
‘They can also inform the OfS, and we can and will investigate if we believe that universities have not taken all reasonable steps to protect standards or where quality is slipping for groups of students.’
She added: ‘In considering whether to make partial tuition fee refunds, we would expect a university to consider the circumstances for each student rather than to adopt a blanket policy that refunds are not available.’
He is also expected to reveal plans to reduce the risk of transmission when the current term ends in December – one of which is the rumoured two-week self isolation proposal.
Up to 4,000 students are currently self-isolating for two weeks following outbreaks at universities across the country.
University of Exeter students living in the city have been told to self-isolate for the next two weeks – as the government insisted locked down freshers would be able to visit their families over Christmas.
The Government yesterday said all students in isolation at university should be allowed home for the festive period amid a growing row over coronavirus lockdowns on campuses.
The University of Exeter became the latest to lockdown its students yesterday, ordering them to stay indoors and only mix with people within their household.
It is believed that more than half of the cases confirmed in Exeter over the last week can be traced back to the university.
Elsewhere, 1,700 students are under lockdown at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) campuses of Birley and Cambridge Halls.
All lectures, seminars and classes for first-year students at the university will now be online for the next 14 days.
Yesterday, MMU’s vice-chancellor said its isolating students will be given financial compensation of more than a week’s rent and a care package including ‘basic food’.
The National Union of Students has received reports of security guards outside blocks, universities telling students they will deliver food and then it not arriving and others left ‘wondering where the next roll of toilet roll is coming from’.
And lawyers have encouraged students in isolation to seek their help for free, with Levins Solicitors of Liverpool tweeting: ‘To the MMU students at Birley campus and Cambridge halls: get in touch and we will do our best to help, pro bono.’
But amid fears over what will happen by December, a Downing Street spokesman said today: ‘We would expect all students to be able to go home at Christmas.’
Meanwhile the University of Aberdeen has asked private landlords to report students caught breaching coronavirus restrictions and warned students caught breaking the rules would face ‘robust’ disciplinary action.
(Left to right) Mia Winrow, 19, Natasha Kutscheruk, 18 and Niamh Morrow, 19, of Manchester Metropolitan’s Birtley Hall, pictured today. The students have been locked down since Friday
Five of the 1,700 students under lockdown at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) campuses of Birley and Cambridge Halls speak to Sky News yesterday following the outbreak
First-year students pose from behind fencing at a campus of MMU on Saturday evening
NUS president Larissa Kennedy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: ‘I’m hearing from some students across the country where there are security guards outside of these blocks where students are being kept, stopping people from leaving, coming and going, where students are being discouraged from getting deliveries and told by the university that they’ll deliver food and that delivery has not arrived and so they’ve gone for the day without food.
‘I’ve heard from other students who, they’ve turned up with an amount of toilet roll, told with no notice that they’re going to be locked down and wondering where the next roll of toilet roll is coming from.
Lawyers offer free help to freshers fighting campus lockdowns
One legal firm has encouraged students in isolation to seek their help for free amid concerns over those stuck at two Manchester Metropolitan University campuses.
Levins Solicitors of Liverpool tweeted: ‘To the MMU students at Birley campus and Cambridge halls: get in touch and we will do our best to help, pro bono.’
Lectures and classes for first-years at MMU will all be given online for the next 14 days, with the situation to be reviewed at regular intervals.
Supt Chris Hill, of Greater Manchester Police, said that ‘to our knowledge’ officers had not been deployed to enforce the rules on students.
He said the campus self-isolation was ‘not a policing issue’.
Manchester’s Director of Public Health David Regan also confirmed that the lockdown was currently optional.
‘It just feels like these are disgusting conditions for students to have been trapped in.’
The number of students trying to get a shopping delivery means some say they are starting to run out of food, with parents turning up to halls with bags of shopping.
Recruitment worker Tina McKenzie, whose daughter is currently isolating in Edinburgh tweeted: ‘My daughter is in quarantine in her halls in Edinburgh.
‘They said they would deliver food – she advised she is vegan. The University of Edinburgh sent a Mars bar and croissant.’
MMU student Phoebe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’ve had a test back and I’m actually positive, which is quite scary. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve got corona from this place. Before the isolation would be the period when I would have got it.
‘There’s just been non-stop parties, no social distancing, no wearing masks in the corridors, which would all contribute to the spread.’
Another MMU student, Tasiana, 18, told the New Statesman: ‘No one was in the flat when I arrived. I know a girl that lives in another block that didn’t meet her flatmates for days after moving in.
‘The majority of everyone’s time is spent in their rooms, attending online seminars. It’s hard to speak to my flatmates because a lot of them have eight-hour days of classes on Zoom, so people hardly leave their rooms. One of my flatmates still hasn’t come out of her room yet. We aren’t sure if maybe she is a bit nervous about social distancing.’
As thousands prepared to start the new term, at the University of Aberdeen, sanctions for those breaking the rules include a fine of up to £250 as well as possible suspension or expulsion, with private landlords urged to report ‘any incidents of a breach’ to the university.
Lawyers have encouraged students in isolation at university to seek their help pro-bono
A student gives a thumbs up at the window of a flat at Birley student halls in Manchester today
But third-year student Jack Boag, 20, said students have been ‘sold a lie’ and ‘treated like the problem’ – despite being encouraged to come back to university.
Compensation plans for Manchester Metropolitan students who are self-isolating
Students stuck in self-isolation at Manchester Metropolitan University will be given financial compensation of more than a week’s rent, its vice-chancellor has said.
Professor Malcolm Press said ‘a significant amount of money’ would be given, on top of a care package that includes ‘basic food’, to ensure students felt ‘protected and cared for’.
Speaking to Sky News he said: ‘It will be a package that I think students will appreciate, that allows them to rest assured, while they’re in this situation, they don’t have any particular financial worries as a consequence.’
Prof Press said details were being discussed with students, but added that ‘a financial package means hard cash’, with it representing ‘more than an actual week’s rent’.
‘Students will be receiving financial compensation to ensure that they feel protected and cared for during this period of self isolation,’ he said.
His comments came after Glasgow University said it will refund all students in halls of residence one month’s rent, along with a £50 payment for food, amid an outbreak of coronavirus cases there.
Over the weekend fears were raised among a number of students at Manchester Metropolitan University that they were being falsely imprisoned in their accommodation, with human rights lawyers questioning the legality of security staff enforcing a 14-day isolation period.
Students described being scared and confused as their accommodation was locked down on Friday, after 127 people tested positive for coronavirus.
They were later told the decision, made in conjunction with Public Health England and Manchester City Council, was ‘deemed necessary’ to prevent the spread of the virus to other students, staff or the community.
But Prof Press told Sky News today: ‘We were asked to ensure (students) would self-isolate because there had been an outbreak of Covid into halls of residence.
‘We’re advising students on the rules, what they should do, we’re supporting them, but the idea that they’re not able to leave is just not true I’m afraid.
‘Students are free to go should they wish to and a small number of students have gone home in a Covid-secure way.’
Prof Press also said there had been some ‘miscommunication’ within the university over students being asked to remove posters.
‘We’ve retracted that information, students are very free to put posters up and we obviously value freedom of speech, and it’s just regretful that there was a message sent out in error,’ he said.
Mr Boag said: ‘In terms of the lockdown, I live in a private flat quite far away from the Covid hotspots, so it comes across as closing the stable doors after the horse has bolted.
‘We were told it would be a blended learning experience, and obviously that hasn’t happened. Coming up to Aberdeen from my home in Fife has been completely pointless.
‘We’ve been consistently told to come back to campus, we’ve been consistently told that it would be a blended learning experience, and now that we’re here it feels as if we’ve been sold a lie and treated as if we are the problem.
‘For first years who have just moved into halls with people that they’ve never met, that’s hard. My main concern is that landlords could quite easily take advantage of this.
‘The landlord/tenant dynamic is not an equal one, so it could become a tool for blackmail, essentially. I’m a private renter so they’ve been talking to my landlord, and while I can understand the university isn’t taking any chances, it’s worrying.
‘It seems when other universities are easing back, Aberdeen is doubling down and emphasising the punishments and what will happen if you breach regulations.’
Mr Boag, from Fife, said while he doesn’t have plans to move back home, he understands why many other students might feel differently.
He said: ‘I would have to go back to my grandparents who are vulnerable or my dad who is a key worker, so for me it’s not really an option, although I can see why it would be attractive for others.’
Ms McKenzie said she ‘followed up multiple times and sent a few dead salads’, adding: ‘I’ve sent her parcels and she has ordered takeaway. Lucky she has the money unlike less fortunate others.’
Labour even called for a delay to the start of the English term until the chaotic testing system can meet soaring demand.
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m extremely worried about these young people.
‘Some of them will be vulnerable to mental ill health, and for some of them it’s the very first time away from home.
‘So I think that the very first thing that needs to happen is that universities need to be given the support to identify which students may be particularly vulnerable.
‘The second thing is there needs to be an assessment of which young people want to stay at university and which ones may not want to stay there.’
She added: ‘If young people want to be returning at some point between now and Christmas, there needs to be a plan that the Government works up with universities so that we have a managed Covid-secure return of those young people to home.
‘Because what we can’t have is for those young people to be moving in the same numbers at the same time that they were at the start of term, but doing that at Christmas time.’
Health minister Helen Whately told Radio 4 that the Government could not rule out the prospect that university students may be unable to return home at Christmas.
She said: ‘We want them to be home for Christmas. Everybody wants to come home and spend Christmas with family. We want that very much to be the case.
A note left in the window of a flat at Birley student halls of residence in Manchester today
‘Christmas is some time off yet and it is down to all of us to get this under control so we can spend Christmas with our families.’
Pressure mounts for universities to refund tuition fees
Pressure is mounting on universities to refund tuition fees as thousands of students face lockdowns, online-only courses and the prospect of Christmas confined to their halls.
Tory MPs said it was ‘madness’ that the country’s universities were charging the same fees for ‘second-rate’ learning.
As students face the prospect of being confined to their halls of residence over Christmas because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses, 3,000 students have already been locked down in their rooms after cases at 36 universities, including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.
Last night Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the education select committee, said students must be compensated for the lack of face-to-face learning.
The Department for Education said students who wanted refunds should appeal to their universities.
Mr Halfon told the Daily Mail: ‘If we have 3,000 students in lockdown now, it could be 6,000 next week, so ministers need to come up with a plan on testing and tracing. And we need to ensure students are back by Christmas, because a lockdown over Christmas would cause anguish for them and their families.
‘The Government needs to seriously consider a discount, because when you pay for a product you should expect to get that product, and if not, you should get some money returned.’
Tory MP George Freeman said yesterday it was ‘madness’ that students were locked in halls of residences by universities ‘still happily taking their money’.
He said on Twitter: ‘How do I think universities make up the losses from offering student discounts? Well, not from fleecing students! Maybe from vice-chancellors’ £300,000 salaries?’
In Manchester, the 1,700 students have been told they cannot leave the campus to visit the local testing centre, leading to fears the outbreak will spread.
Labour education spokesman Kate Green said today that the Government should ‘step up’ testing capacity to help ensure university students can return home for Christmas,
She told Sky News: ‘Students will desperately want to be able to go home to be with friends and family at Christmas. And, of course, it’s right that we all have a part to play in keeping distance and keeping safe.
‘But the real key to this is getting the mass testing rolled out so that students can be tested, we can know if somebody is testing positive and make sure that they are isolated and don’t travel.
‘But it would mean the other students would be able to get back home for Christmas and that’s why the Government needs to step up too and make sure that that testing capacity is available.’
She also said the Government should support universities’ efforts to test for coronavirus, adding: ‘One thing that I think particularly in relation to students: much more effort could be made to support those universities that are already developing their own testing capacity, like Leicester, for example, or Cambridge.
‘And the Government could be really working much more closely alongside them to get that additional capacity that would relieve pressure elsewhere in the NHS and other pillars of testing.
‘And it would mean that students could be tested on campus, so could university staff.’
Ms Green argued this would help make universities ‘much safer places’.
Last night Ms Green called on ministers to stop students from returning to university for the start of the academic year – affecting 2.3 million in the UK.
She said they should either delay the start of term or ‘pause’ the return of students to university campuses where courses had not started.
Backing Miss Green, NUS president Larissa Kennedy told The Guardian the union was demanding ‘a functional test-and-trace system in place on campuses and adequate funding to tackle the student mental health crisis’.
She added in a tweet: ‘Government and universities are gambling with students’ lives.’
Ms Kennedy added on Good Morning Britain today: ‘First and foremost, we are of course encouraging people to do the right thing for public health and to follow that guidance.
Students post a message in their window at MMU yesterday complaining about the situation
A sign on a closed gate at the Birley student halls of residence in Manchester this morning
Bottles of alcohol lined up in a window of the Birley student halls in Manchester this morning
‘But we are questioning whether this is legal, in terms of making sure that students get that access to the basic amenities that they need – to food, to toiletries and to all the things they need just to survive lockdown – and in cases where that hasn’t been the case, whether it has been legal to keep them cooped up in that way without that access to the things that they need.’
Morrisons cashes in on students trapped in campus lockdowns
Morrisons has today revealed an SOS ‘Serve our Students’ food delivery service aimed at those in lockdown on campuses.
The supermarket said students will be able to choose from the food boxes of £35 meat essentials; £35 vegetarian essentials; £30 easy meals for the week; and £25 big night in.
An example of the food packs Morrisons will be delivering to isolating students
Its delivery service will launch at the lockdown-hit Birley and Cambridge Halls at Manchester Metropolitan and will then expand to other universities.
Students can email firstname.lastname@example.org to place their order today and it will be delivered to them tomorrow between 5pm and 7pm.
Morrisons chief executive David Potts said: ‘Students have asked for our help and that’s why we are making sure they can safely access affordable food at this very difficult time. We’re playing our full part in feeding the nation so that no one is left behind.’
The company hopes students will soon be able to place their order by 2pm for delivery that evening. If successful, the service will be rolled out to other universities across the country.
But outgoing University of Buckingham vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon said: ‘We must have a sense of perspective. Universities have gone to huge lengths to plan for this and many are coping.’
And the Department for Education rejected Labour’s call, insisting it was ‘working closely with universities to support them to keep staff and students as safe as possible’.
Niamh Thripleton, a new zoology student at Reading, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: ‘We’re obviously not allowed to go out. Freshers is all online.
‘We’re, we think, only meant to socialise with our flat, but they haven’t really been enforced or been made clear.
‘It’s just been a lot quieter, it’s been harder making friends. Turning up and realising everything is going to be online is a bit of an anti-climax.
‘You’d think it (a zoology degree) would be quite a lot of lab work, and it’s quite worrying how I’m going to do that online.
‘I just think the way Manchester Met and other places have been locked down, being on your room on your own for two weeks with now freedom there, I don’t I’d be able to cope with that, so it’s kind of worrying.’
Her stepfather Chris Taplin told the programme: ‘I do feel she’s certainly been robbed of the experienced I had at university.
‘It is also really scary when you read things about the Christmas threat, not coming home, when it is the first time they’ve moved out and we basically feel we’d be some kind of law breaker if we went there and busted her out. But it’s been the first thing for a sort of mental trauma, really.
‘Certainly my wife has been saying, ‘don’t worry we’ll get you out’ (if she’s locked down in halls at Christmas), but I think that’s obviously not a very sensible position to go and do that.
‘But I think we’re both making sure we get food to her and keep talking to her as much as possible.’
Meanwhile the Prime Minister has been urged to ensure online tuition at universities ‘becomes the norm’, amid concern over the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on students.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, the University and College Union (UCU), accused some institutions of adopting a ‘stubborn position’ over requiring in-person teaching because they depended on rent from student accommodation.
An ‘HMP’ sign has been put up in one of the windows of the Birley student halls this morning
A sign reading ‘help’ is left in a window of one of the flats in Manchester this morning
Signs in windows of the Birley student halls of residence in Manchester this morning
In her letter to Mr Johnson, Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said the union which represents academics and university staff was ‘not prepared to take chances with the health of students, our members and the communities they serve’.
University asks private landlords to report any students caught breaching Covid rules
A top university has asked private landlords to report students caught breaching coronavirus restrictions.
The University of Aberdeen has warned students of the consequences facing them if they breach national Covid-19 related guidance.
In a statement emailed last night, university bosses said students caught breaking the rules would face ‘robust’ disciplinary action.
Sanctions include a fine of up to £250 as well as possible suspension or expulsion.
And private landlords around the city have been asked to report ‘any incidents of a breach’ to the university.
The statement read: ‘Given the events of the last few days I want to emphasise that any breaches will not be tolerated, and those found to be breaking the rules will face robust action.
‘Sanctions include a fine of up to £250 as well as the potential for further action – including suspension and/or expulsion – under our Code of Conduct on Student Discipline (non academic).
‘Regardless of whether you live in University provided accommodation, a private flat or in student accommodation from a private provider, we will still look to take the same appropriate disciplinary measures against any student that fails to follow the requirements that are currently in place to protect everyone in Scotland.
‘We are in contact with landlords and have asked that any incidents of a breach of our Covid Campus Pledge and Guidelines and the national guidelines are reported to the University, to enable the matter to be investigated in the usual way.’
‘It is clear that remote learning should be the default for campus life while we are in this precarious position with the virus,’ she said.
‘However, what we are seeing on the ground is university employers hiding behind the Government’s current sectoral guidance, with all the ambiguities associated with the term ‘blended learning’.
She added: ‘Whilst other sectors are being encouraged by the Government to work from home to help control the spread of the virus, universities are requiring staff to travel across their local regions to work on-site and in-person with any number of students.
‘Considering the known risks associated with in-person teaching and students living in close quarters, why did the Government not insist on minimising in-person teaching and students travelling to universities?
‘We have concerns that universities are taking this stubborn position because they depend on rents from student accommodation – and because your own Government refuses to step in and underwrite universities’ lost income for the duration of the pandemic to ensure they are not negatively impacted and jobs are not lost.’
The Government is under pressure to guarantee young people are not confined to their halls of residence over the Christmas period because of Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses.
Ms Grady said students should be allowed to leave their accommodation and return home ‘without fear of financial penalty’.
‘We cannot have students forced to quarantine in halls of residence with no familiar support network, or staff forced to carry out work on site that could be conducted more safely from home,’ she said.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England, said it would be ‘looking very closely’ at the quality of education being provided by institutions.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said institutions must be clear with students on what teaching conditions they can expect and if this changed.
‘What we can’t have is a situation where students don’t know what’s going on, that they’re locked in their halls of accommodation, and can’t get hold of food,’ she said.
She said students had ‘legal rights as consumers’ and could raise complaints with their university and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
Students at Manchester Metropolitan have been left unimpressed by the cost of studies
Students look down from outside their window at MMU while in lockdown yesterday
Asked if students should receive a refund of tuition fees she said it was ‘a question for government’.
The 1,700 MMU students in lockdown yesterday complained of feeling abandoned – with some already plotting their escape.
After 127 positive tests for Covid-19 on Friday, the shocked students – many of them freshers living away from home for the first time – were ordered to self-isolate in their halls of residence for a fortnight.
Desperate undergraduates said supplies of food and toiletries were low and complained of students holding all-night parties likened to ‘prison riots’.
A student waves through the window of accommodation at MMU behind a sign yesterday
Some tried to ease the boredom by putting up signs in their windows with slogans including ‘send drink’ and ‘f*** Boris’.
‘Don’t fine students for partying – refund their fees’: Oxford professor urges UK to follow Sweden and PAY infected freshers to trace their contacts
A Oxford professor has urged universities in the UK to follow Sweden and pay infected freshers to trace their contacts as at least 32 report Covid cases.
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University told the Times newspaper the Government had helped every sector but had ‘clamped down’ on students.
The professor said that the UK should pay students to trace their contacts if they become infected and said students should be trusted to behave like responsible adults instead of being locked on campus over Christmas.
He added: ‘We should waive student fees. We have asked people to go back to university and at the first sign cases are going up, we are clamping down on people.’
As some students in lockdown likened the university to a prison by labelling it ‘HMP MMU’, with security guards blocking them from leaving, legal experts claimed their incarceration could amount to false imprisonment.
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street chambers in London, wrote on Twitter: ‘False imprisonment is detention without lawful authority.’
Hours later, university vice-chancellor Professor Malcolm Press conceded it could only ‘expect’ students to follow the self-isolation rules – designed to avoid spreading the infection to their home towns.
While many students pledged to stick it out, others were preparing to flee the city.
Tilly Thompson, 19, said she felt like a ‘caged animal’ and was waiting for her mother to take her home to Wolverhampton.
Students claimed some of those under restrictions had been ignoring the rules and throwing parties.
One boasted the quarantine would be ‘a two-week p***-up’, saying he had ‘200 cans of lager’ and ‘it’s going to get messy’.
A student called Tom told BBC Radio 5 Live that people had been running past their flats shouting: ‘Open your doors, we’ve got coronavirus, we want to give it to you.’
He added: ‘It was insane… parties going on everywhere, loud music… It was like a prison riot.’
Martyn Moss, of the University and College Union, said he had warned MMU chiefs that their plans for the ‘mass return of students would inevitably see institutions become Covid incubators’.
He added: ‘Universities should have spent the summer following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis.’
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Wales reviews ‘trolley police’ ban on shops selling non-essential goods
Wales is today reviewing its ‘trolley police’ ban on shops selling non-essential goods during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown after a massive backlash.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said he recognised that people were ‘fed up’ as he hinted at a rethink on the draconian move, saying ‘common sense’ was needed.
Welsh ministers have been embroiled in damaging rows about the restrictions for days, with bewilderment that alcohol is seen as ‘essential’ but school uniform, vacuum cleaners and hairdryers are not.
Supermarkets have actively taped off shelves of ordinary goods, blocking off entire aisles or covering them in plastic.
Critics have branded the move ‘madness’ and said the only person to benefit will be Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, as shoppers will just buy things online instead.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said he recognised that people were ‘fed up’ as he hinted at a rethink on the draconian move, saying ‘common sense’ was needed
Labour leader Mr Drakeford has been facing criticism over the ban on non-essential sales during the ‘firebreak’ lockdown, and tweeted last night admitting people were ‘fed up’
Items such as carbon monoxide detectors and extension leads had been covered up ‘in line with government guidelines’ at a Tesco store in Cardiff yesterday
Non-essential or essential? What we know about what goods are banned in Wales’ lockdown firebreak
First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that non-essential items should not be sold during the country’s firebreak lockdown.
So far the Welsh government has not published a public list of what these goods include.
The supermarkets have also not responded on whether they have been given specific instructions on what they cannot sell.
But it appears these items cannot be sold during the 17 days of restrictions:
- Other kitchen goods such as microwaves and toasted sandwich makers
- Phone chargers
- Electrical products
- Scented candles
- Children’s toys
- Towels and cushions
- Wrapping paper
The Welsh Government was also unable to provide clarity over what goods counted as ‘essential’, with one minister instead saying that he hoped retailers would have a ‘grown-up understanding’.
Yesterday more than 34,000 people signed a petition calling on the Welsh Government to reverse the ban, which it described as ‘disproportionate and cruel’.
And last night Mr Drakeford tweeted: ‘Thank you for all your efforts over the last 24 hours to stay at home. We know people are fed up.
‘It’s not easy, but we all have a responsibility to stop the virus spreading.
‘We’ll be reviewing how the weekend has gone with the supermarkets and making sure that common sense is applied.
‘Supermarkets can sell anything that can be sold in any other type of shop that isn’t required to close. In the meantime, please only leave home if you need to.’
His tweet followed a statement from the Welsh Government earlier on Saturday, which insisted the ban was ‘not for the sake of being difficult’.
A spokesman confirmed that items found in other essential shops – such as stationery and greetings cards – could still be sold in supermarkets during the lockdown.
Guidance previously published by the Welsh Government said certain sections of supermarkets must be ‘cordoned off or emptied, and closed to the public’ during the two-week period.
These include areas selling electrical goods, telephones, clothes, toys and games, garden products and dedicated sections for homewares.
Supplies for the ‘essential upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the household’ – such as batteries, lightbulbs and rubber gloves – can be sold during the lockdown.
Images posted on social media showed aisles selling products such as children’s clothes, greetings cards and book blocked off, with plastic sheeting placed over items to prevent shoppers from accessing them.
The petition calling for the ban to be reversed immediately states: ‘We do not agree that this is a prudent or rational measure, and will create more harm than good.
‘We do not agree for example that parents should be barred from buying clothes for their children during lockdown while out shopping.’
Paul Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said he had written to the presiding officer of the Welsh Parliament calling for members to be recalled to discuss the ban.
He described the popularity of the petition as a ‘clear sign’ that people in Wales want the rule ‘scrapped immediately’.
One video posted on social media appeared to show a man ripping down plastic sheeting that was covering clothing aisles in a supermarket.
Vacuum cleaners: The products are among the items which supermarkets have deemed ‘non-essential’ after the Welsh Government’s imposition of a 17-day lockdown. Retailers have been ordered to sell only essential goods and so many supermarket aisles were roped off and products covered up
Bedding: Also apparently considered a luxury item as duvets and sheets were seen taped off at a Tesco store in Pontypool
Children’s toys: Including a mock ride-on lawn mower, were also taped off after being deemed ‘non-essential’ by staff at this Tesco store in Cardiff
This week police revealed extraordinary plans to patrol the Anglo-Welsh border to stop families from crossing over for a half-term holiday as Wales was plunged into a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
Officers said they would try to stop caravans sneaking into England from Wales and deter Welsh motorists defying Mr Drakeford’s ‘power-mad’ orders from making ‘non-essential’ journeys.
Gloucestershire Police announced an operation covering routes from Wales into the Forest of Dean where officers would stop motorists travelling into England to find out what they were doing.
Drivers would be encouraged to turn around and head back to Wales if officers ‘are not satisfied with their explanation’, a spokesman said. If they refuse, police will tell forces in Wales so they can issue fines.
But drivers were later seen crossing the border on the A494 at Queensferry and on the A5445 between Chester and Wrexham in a breach of the new restrictions.
Children’s toys: Toys which parents cannot buy for their children also include a build-your-own toy digger and a ‘Little People’ ride-on toy car
Clothes: Something many parents would put near the top of a priority list for their kids, were also taped off after being deemed non-essential at this Asda store in Cardiff
Mr Drakeford has threatened to use number plate recognition cameras to fine English drivers crossing into his country.
His call was echoed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who threatened to roll-out a similar travel ban across Scotland to stop people travelling from virus hotspots in England.
But the Police Federation of England and Wales has revealed the ban is ‘unenforceable’, adding policing which is ‘already over-stretched due to the pandemic’ would be complicated by the measure.
Wales was plunged into a draconian ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm yesterday and it is expected to wreck the Welsh economy.
Under the measures, which will last 17 days, people will be asked to stay at home and to leave only for a limited number of reasons, including exercise, buying essential supplies, or to seek or provide care.
MPs have hit out at the extreme restrictions, with MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tom Tugendhat, blasting the Welsh Government for ‘destroying’ jobs on the high street.
He took to social media and wrote: ‘This is how you destroy jobs on the high street and push them online. What shops can’t sell, Amazon will deliver.’
Meanwhile, supermarket staff covered up kettles and phone chargers on shelves as Mr Drakeford banned the sale of ‘non-essential’ items.
Tesco and Lidl workers became Wales’ first ‘trolley police’ as they were seen hiding shelves of ‘non-essential’ products behind plastic sheets to stop customers buying them ahead of the start of the restrictions, which came in earlier yesterday.
Plastic barriers and stacks of drinks crates were also set up to block off certain aisles while other items were taped off by staff as part of efforts to follow the draconian new rules.
At other major supermarkets, Sainsbury’s said staff have been working ‘around the clock’ to put changes in place, while Waitrose said it was reviewing government guidance and Asda claimed it had been given ‘very little time’ to implement the new rules.
Four members of staff at a Tesco store in Pontypool could be seen inspecting the cover-up for a 20-minute trial run ahead of the latest restrictions coming into force, with witnesses admitting they’d ‘never seen anything like it’.
Mr Drakeford described stopping supermarkets from selling non-essential products during the firebreak lockdown as ‘a straightforward matter of fairness’.
Wales’ Labour leader could not hide his frustration as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which are now in force for 17 days. He said they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
Clothes: As well as children’s clothes, adults’ shirts were also seen taped off at the same Cardiff Asda store on Friday
Clothes: Underwear and women’s shirts, dressing gowns and even bras were off-limits to customers at this Tesco store in Wales
Toasted sandwich makers (pictured above in an Asda store in Cardiff) are also now considered a banned item in Welsh shops after the imposition of a 17-day lockdown.
Birthday cards: Anyone with a birthday coming up might be disappointed this year because cards have also been deemed non-essential. Pictured: These cards were seen fenced off at a Cardiff Asda store
He told a press conference in Cardiff on Friday that any suggestion that the ban, which was announced on Thursday, was based on his own politics was ‘nonsensical’.
He said: ‘We are requiring many hundreds of small businesses to close on the high street right across Wales.
‘We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.
‘And we are looking to minimise the amount of time that people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.
‘This is not the time to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
Microwaves: Also considered a luxury item, although there is nothing to stop shoppers looking online to buy kitchen goods
Kettles: Also covered with plastic sheeting in an effort to deter customers from putting them in their trolleys
Scented candles: Also on the banned list. This picture was taken at a Tesco store in Pontypool on Friday
Cushions and towels: Christmas-themed cushions, as well as towels, are also considered a non-essential item and were seen fenced off at this Tesco store in Cardiff on Friday
Plates: Decorative plates were also off-limits at this Tesco store in Cardiff as shop staff sought to direct customers to products considered ‘essential’
HOW HAVE INFECTIONS IN WALES CHANGED?
Wales has pulled the trigger on a 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown after average daily infections more than tripled in a month.
The rolling seven-day average, considered the most accurate measure of outbreaks because it takes into account day-to-day fluctuations, was 238 on September 23.
It currently stands at 894, analysis of Public Health Wales figures reveal.
The weekly rate of infections per 100,000 in Wales has also jumped by nearly a quarter in a week.
It currently stands at 199.2, having risen from 160.6 last Friday.
The rate of 199.2 per 100,000 is considerably higher than Scotland’s 161.2 but still below England’s 213.6.
Northern Ireland – which has the smallest population in the UK, at 1.8million – has the highest rate of the home nations, at 378.6.
To get a sense of how fast Wales’ crisis has been growing, it was recording just 3.7 cases per 100,000 a week in August, the lowest in the UK.
The nation’s 761 new cases today takes the number of confirmed cases to 40,253.
A quarter of these were recorded in the last fortnight.
Since September 11 there have been 10,625 cases – though the true figure is thought to be much higher because so many people are asymptomatic or do not get tested.
He said trying to find exceptions to the rules was ‘just the wrong’ approach and called on people in Wales to not use the firebreak to do things that they do not have to.
‘It is a straightforward matter of fairness – we are in this together here in Wales,’ he added.
He was slammed for the stance by TV host Kay Burley who argued that her hairdryer was a necessary item, despite the Welsh leader claiming it classed as a ‘non-essential’ item.
Supermarket customers in Wales yesterday claimed the sale of duvets, bedding and electricals had been stopped by Tesco staff who covered the shelves in plastic.
Tesco customer Jamie Cole, 31, said the aisle containing kettles and phone chargers was also ‘completely closed off’ despite them being ‘needed’ as temperatures nationwide begin to drop.
Mr Cole said: ‘I was shocked, it’s quite bad. Bedding should be available for kids and mothers. We’re coming up to winter, it’s cold outside, I couldn’t believe it.
‘I don’t have kids of my own but my friend and my sister have kids, she’s quite shocked too. They rely on Tesco as it’s the only supermarket in our town.
‘This was today at 10.49am, the restrictions don’t come into effect until 6pm and all the other supermarkets are fine. The staff are only following orders, It’s happened so quickly. They only announced it at about 7pm last night.
‘I’m 30-odd and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. You abide by the rules then they do this, it’s quite intimidating. There was another aisle that was completely closed off too, that was the stationery aisle and electricals.
‘If you needed a kettle or phone charger, that aisle was completely closed off. I’ve done a bit of homework and there’s no list of essential items on the Wales Government website.
‘I guess it’s the supermarket that decides what items are essential.’
A spokesperson for Tesco confirmed to MailOnline: ‘Our colleagues across Wales will be working incredibly hard today so we can comply with the Welsh Government’s ban on selling ‘non-essential’ goods to our customers from 6pm this evening.’
It came after Mr Drakeford snapped as he was roasted over his ban on the shops selling the items in his lockdown.
The Labour First Minister could not hide his frustration as he was repeatedly questioned on the restrictions, which came into force at 6pm for 17 days.
He insisted they were ‘fair’ and crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
Wrapping paper: Even though Christmas is fast-approaching, wrapping paper is also considered a luxury item and was seen taped up at this Tesco store
MPs have hit out at the extreme restrictions, with MP for Tonbridge and Malling, Tom Tugendhat, blasting the Welsh Government for ‘destroying’ jobs on the high street
But when he was challenged over whether it was ‘essential’ for parents to buy new school trousers if their children ripped them, Mr Drakeford moaned: ‘It is just the wrong way to approach this whole business.
‘We are back to the ”how do you we get round the rules” approach to coronavirus.’
He added tetchily: ‘There is a bigger prize at stake here than whether you need to buy a candle or not.’
Mr Drakeford insisted that allowing supermarkets to keep selling clothes and other products while smaller retailers were shut would be unacceptable.
‘We’re all in this together here in Wales,’ he told a press conference in Cardiff.
‘This is not a period to be browsing around in supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.’
However, anger rose as Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething made clear alcohol does count as a key item under the confusing new rules – but insisted hair dryers do not.
He also conceded that a ‘line by line’ list of what can be sold would be ‘unusable’, saying they were hoping retailers will have a ‘grown up understanding’.
There are fears it will mean a return to the scenes witnessed at the beginning of the pandemic when there were rows over the contents of people’s shopping trolleys.
Mr Drakeford said this afternoon that local restrictions had succeeded in stemming the spread of the virus, but were not ‘turning it back’.
He compared the progress in place like Torfaen favourably with areas in England like Oldham. But he said the ‘short sharp shock’ of a lockdown was now essential.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Boris Johnson will need all his skills to reunite our fractured kingdom
National crises usually bring us together. As a country we are famous for our unity in times of peril.
But this crisis is pulling us apart.
One of the most distressing effects of seven months of lockdowns, restrictions, working from home and travel bans has been the sharpening division of this once United Kingdom.
As the coronavirus crisis pulls the United Kingdom apart, Boris Johnson must consider an alternative approach in which we can live with the virus without wrecking our society
For the first time since the launch of the great experiment in devolution, the governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh have had the full freedom to act independently from London.
It is hard not to suspect that Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have seen this as an opportunity to show their paces and to emphasise the differences between their nations and England.
Ms Sturgeon seeks at all times to reopen the issue of independence, and her tactical skill in this has certainly succeeded in worrying some members of the Westminster government.
Sometimes it has seemed as if London has taken its lead from Edinburgh, for fear of allowing too large a gap to open up.
Like most concessions to nationalism, this has fed rather than soothed the separatist cause.
The radical closedown in Wales has led to informal police checks between England and the principality, which we hope are not the first spectral signs of a future frontier.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s own skills at raising the issue of independence has some members of Government worried in Westminster
Even in long-devolved Northern Ireland, with its own difficulties, the Stormont government has faced pressures to act in concert with Dublin nearly as much as with London.
There are special problems in living just across a wholly open border with an independent nation.
But there have been new divisions within England itself. North and South have been shouting at each other over the ferocity of lockdowns and the readiness of London, far away in the South East, to compensate those affected.
The old trans-Pennine rivalry has also flickered into life with Manchester’s Andrew Burnham making a fierce stand against the Premier, and Sheffield negotiating an amicable agreement.
But the splits are not just geographical.
Those who can work from home have felt the crisis far less than those who must be physically present to do their jobs.
Those who have benefited from the furlough scheme are separated from those who are not.
Public sector workers, safe from the cold winds of the market, do not fear for their pay and pensions, and certainly have little understanding of the plight of small, independent businesses.
Those who live in comfortable houses with gardens can endure isolation and curfews far more easily than families crammed into highrise apartments or living in treeless terraces far from open space.
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, brought in a ‘fire break,’ lockdown on Friday that have led to informal police checks between England and the principality
Those who already have their school and college years far behind them are barely aware of the damage done to young lives by the closures of schools and the severe limitations now placed on university courses and student life.
There have been many very separate lockdowns, and a beautiful summer intensified the differences between them.
But now winter approaches and with it the huge economic and health consequences of the Government’s policies that face us all.
We must hope that, as we have repeatedly urged, Boris Johnson will at last consider an alternative approach, through which we can learn to live with this virus and to fight its dangers without wrecking our society and our economy.
We also trust that he can use his undoubted talents to reunite a fractured kingdom as he rebuilds and repairs it.
We can all agree on the noble goals of health, prosperity and freedom
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
FIVE of Mike Pence’s aides test positive for COVID
Chief of staff Marc Short’s diagnosis was first reported on Saturday night by Bloomberg – the outlet that broke the news of Hope Hicks’ infection on September 29.
Short’s infection was then confirmed by Pence’s office – with the fact that the White House did not announce the news raising eyebrows.
On Saturday night the New York Times reported that two people briefed on the matter said that the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public.
Marc Short (right) tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, while Pence (left) was negative. File photo
From left: Marc Short, Mike Pence, Scott Walker and Pence adviser Marty Obst on October 7
Marty Obst, pictured in June with Mike Pence, has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19
‘Today, Marc Short, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, tested positive for COVID-19, began quarantine and assisting in the contact tracing process,’ said Devin O’Malley, Pence’s press secretary.
‘Vice President Pence and Mrs Pence both tested negative for COVID-19 today, and remain in good health.
‘While Vice President Pence is considered a close contact with Mr Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the Vice President will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.’
On Saturday Pence held two campaign rallies in Florida – one in Tallahassee, and another in Jacksonville.
Short, 50, did not travel with Pence.
On Sunday Pence will be in Kinston, North Carolina, for a MAGA event in the evening.
Obst is an outside adviser and not a government employee, and his infection has not been officially confirmed.
Obst has worked with Pence since 2016
The New York Times then reported that three more people were infected, taking the total to five.
Pence’s speechwriter Katie Miller became infected in May.
She returned to work three weeks later.
A significant number of White House staff have fallen ill since a September 26 ‘super-spreader event’ at the Rose Garden, to announce Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Among those to subsequently test positive were the president and first lady, their 14-year-old son Barron, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany plus several members of her team, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, and adviser Chris Christie.
It was unclear whether Short or Obst or the other three were suffering from any symptoms.
Short, who like his boss is an evangelical Christian, first worked in the White House as the Director of Legislative Affairs.
He left in the summer of 2018, but then returned to the administration as Pence’s chief of staff in the spring of 2019.
He is considered one of Pence’s most important aides, regularly appearing on camera to defend the vice president’s positions.
Obst first worked for Pence in the spring of 2016, during his re-election campaign for governor of Indiana.
When, in July 2016, Trump named Pence as his running mate, Obst became his campaign manager and director of operations.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
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