Tuesday briefing: Expect delays on route out of lockdown

Tue, 16 February 2021, 6:32 am

<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/.HsBbcLcrT.joQj3Gj_VuQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/rZKg5969jH5Sd2_fX8szJg–~B/aD02MDA7dz0xMDAwO2FwcGlkPXl0YWNoeW9u/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/cebc2ad999306ef94efbec403b52adc6&quot; alt="<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Top story: Cummings’ role in hiring of friends’ firm

Hello, Warren Murray here, and we can’t fit it all in, therefore careful choices have been made.

Boris Johnson has declared coronavirus case rates will have to be “very low indeed” before England enters a “cautious but irreversible” easing of lockdown restrictions. The emphasis on infection rates is likely to inflame tensions with Conservative MPs who see it as overturning commitments given by Matt Hancock, the health secretary. Anti-lockdown MPs argue case rates will matter less once vaccinations take effect. The prime minister confirmed he would set out a roadmap for ending restrictions on Monday 22 February, including possible dates. “If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”

Dominic Cummings was instrumental in a Covid contract going without tender to a company called Public First that was run by his friends, according to court documents. The not-for-profit Good Law Project has brought a judicial review about the granting of the contract for holding focus groups. “I am a special adviser and as such I am not allowed to direct civil servants,” Cummings in a witness statement submitted to the high court. “However, as a result of my suggestion I expected people to hire Public First.” An official at the Cabinet Office wrote in an internal email at the time that it was a case of “Tory party research agency tests Tory party narrative on public money” – the author later claimed it was meant lightheartedly.

The WHO has approved the Oxford vaccine, clearing the way for its rollout via the Covax system that aims to bring vaccinations to poorer countries. For further updates would you ever head to our global live blog.