Covid briefing: Seven things you need to know as Boris Johnson faces new claims over ‘Abba-themed’ party

The coronavirus morning headlines for Wednesday, February 2, as Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure over lockdown parties in Downing Street.

This morning two newspapers have claimed he was in his flat on the night of an ABBA-themed event which is being investigated by police. He also reportedly attended two other leaving dos.

The Daily Telegraph reported that he was seen heading up to his flat on the night of a gathering there which the Met is investigating.

The Prime Minister is also said to have spoken at two more leaving dos which are the subject of Scotland Yard inquiries.

The reports are likely to fuel claims by opposition parties that Mr Johnson was well aware of the so-called “party culture” in Downing Street and parts of Whitehall at that time.

In her “update” on Monday, Sue Gray, the senior official who has been investigating the allegations, disclosed there were 12 events between 2020 and 2021 that are currently being investigated by the police. Read the full report here.

She was unable to publish her full findings because of the police inquiries.

The gathering in the Downing Street flat took place on November 13, 2020 – the night Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, left No 10 amid the acrimonious fall-out of an internal power struggle. On Monday, the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to say if he was there.

However in an online question and answer session, Mr Cummings said it was clear there was a party going on and he accused Mr Johnson of lying.

“I’ve talked to people who were in No 10 on 13/11 who could hear the party in No 10 after I’d left – the press office is below the flat,” he said. “If cops talk to people there that night, there’ll be witnesses who say ‘we could all hear a party with Abba playing’.”

The Telegraph also said a gathering on December 17, 2020 for an official who was leaving was for Captain Steve Higham, then one of Mr Johnson’s private secretaries, who advised on defence and national security issues. The Prime Minister was reported to have attended the event and to have given a speech.

He was also reported by both the Telegraph and the Guardian to have been present at a leaving do for two No 10 private secretaries on January 14, 2021.

One of the officials was said to be a senior policy adviser who was moving to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Again, Mr Johnson was reported to have made a speech thanking the official for their work while some guests drank prosecco.

The two papers also said that another event under investigation in the Cabinet Office on June 18, 2020 was for Hannah Young, a senior official who was leaving No 10 to become deputy consul general in New York.

Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary who organised the notorious “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden, was said to have been present.

Downing Street said it could not comment on the latest reports due to the ongoing police investigation.

Yesterday, a Cardiff University student spoke of her “frustration” after being taken to court following a house party with 17 people during lockdown and threatened with a £2,000 fine.

Speaking about reports of the lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties, International relations student Eloise Calodoucas, 21, told WalesOnline: “In light of recent circumstances it’s frustrating but that’s all I have to say really.” Read more here.

Read more:All the latest coronavirus news from Wales and the UK here

Latest infection rate for Wales

Wales has recorded no new deaths from Covid-19 but the seven-day infection rate has risen once again, it has been revealed.

The data from Public Health Wales, published on Tuesday, February 1 and covering a 24-hour period, shows 1,635 new positive cases to bring the total to 780,519.

The overall number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive in Wales remains at 6,823.

The latest infection rate based on tests, for the seven days up to January 27, now stands at 553 cases for every 100,000 people – up slightly on the 551.9 recorded on Monday. It is the eighth day in a row that the infection rate is reported to have risen.

The highest infection rate in each Welsh local authority for the seven days between January 21 and January 27 was Newport with 896.1 cases per 100,000, followed by Carmarthenshire with 676.5 and Torfaen with 668.4. Cases for your area here.

The number of coronavirus patients in Wales needing the highest form of treatment in intensive care is now at its lowest level since July last year. Read more about the Covid situation in hospitals across Wales right now here.

Teacher says they have been ‘scapegoated’

School leaders are due to tell MPs in England that they have been scapegoated for UK Government failures during the pandemic instead of receiving praise for working on the frontline during a time of national crisis.

Diana Ohene-Darko, an assistant headteacher and acting deputy headteacher at two London primary schools, will tell MPs on Wednesday that instead of being “hailed as heroes”, teachers had been “unfairly criticised to hide Government failure”.

Ms Ohene-Darko, who sits on the NAHT national committee, will call for the teaching profession to be “given back the credibility it deserves”.

“My colleagues and I are working against a backdrop of a lack of professional agency, autonomy and independence,” she will say in a parliamentary briefing attended by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

“Instead of being hailed as heroes for working on the frontline in recent times we have been unfairly criticised to hide Government failure.”

She is expected to point out that while recently she would have referred to herself as an aspiring headteacher, she now has to “reflect” on this.

“A decade-long, real-terms pay freeze, along with headteachers becoming scapegoats for Government failure during the pandemic, has meant that school leaders are thinking twice about progressing all the way to headship,” she will say, adding that some may even question staying in the profession at all.

MPs will hear how research published by NAHT last year showed that over half of school leaders who are not currently headteachers do not aspire to headship, compared with 40% in 2016.

Most leaders surveyed said that concerns about their personal wellbeing was the biggest factor in why they did not aspire to headship, and 93% said that the Government had not supported their wellbeing during the pandemic.

White House say Spotify can ‘do more’ in coronavirus misinformation row

The White House says “more can be done” by Spotify to stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus ‘misinformation’ on its platform.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said the streaming giant’s introduction of content advisory warnings was a “positive step” but that all major platforms needed to be “responsible and vigilant”.

It comes as Spotify faces fallout from scientists and musicians on its platform over its hosting of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, which has been known to air anti-vaccination views.

Artists including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash have called for their own catalogues to be pulled from the site over the spread of “false information”.

On Sunday Spotify boss Daniel Ek issued a statement saying the platform was working to add a content advisory to any podcast episode that includes a discussion about Covid-19.

At a press briefing Ms Psaki said: “Our hope is that all major tech platforms — and all major news sources, for that matter — be responsible and be vigilant to ensure the American people have access to accurate information on something as significant as Covid-19. And that certainly includes Spotify.

“So, this disclaimer – it’s a positive step. But we want every platform to continue doing more to call out misinformation while also uplifting accurate information.

“Ultimately, our view is it’s a good step, it’s a positive step, but there’s more that can be done.”

Grammy-winner Nash, 79, became the latest musician to request his music be removed from Spotify in protest of its hosting of Rogan’s content.

He followed fellow artists Young, Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren who announced their intentions to remove their music from the site last week.

Following the controversy Rogan has said he will try to “balance out” the opinions expressed on his show.

Anniversary of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s death

Captain Sir Tom Moore’s daughter has said she can still “see and feel” her father “in everything” a year after his death.

The Second World War veteran inspired hope during the first national Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, raising £38.9 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday.

He died on February 2 last year with coronavirus. Before his death, he and his family set up the Captain Tom Foundation to support causes close to his heart.

His family are continuing with this, and there will be a first Captain Tom Day in June which aims to empower older people.

Reflecting on the anniversary of her father’s death, Hannah Ingram-Moore said: “When we first asked my father to live with us, it was so he wouldn’t be by himself. What we didn’t expect was the richness of living in a multi-generational household.

“We all really valued his opinion and would constantly ask for his thoughts on everything from business decisions to questions about schooling for the children or how to mend the lawnmower.

“Quite a lot in the past year I’ve thought ‘I wish I’d asked him that!’. Or ‘He would have known how to sort this out!’

“Because he became the world’s grandfather, I can continue to see and feel him in everything.

“That has been magical. On the other hand, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about and miss him.”

Tonga goes into lockdown as Covid-19 reaches disaster-hit nation

Tonga will enter a lockdown on Wednesday after finding coronavirus infections in two port workers helping distribute aid arriving in the Pacific nation following a volcanic eruption and tsunami.

The urgent announcement by Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni appeared to confirm fears that accepting the aid following the disaster last month could usher in a second disaster by bringing Covid-19 into a nation that had been virus-free.

The volcanic eruption and tsunami last month tainted drinking water, severed communications and left dozens homeless. Three people died in Tonga and two in Peru after the tsunami crossed the ocean.

An area damaged on the island
(Image: AP)

Ships and planes from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Britain and China have been delivering aid. Those nations had promised to drop off their supplies of fresh water and medicine without coming into contact with anybody on the ground in Tonga, which usually requires incoming travellers to spend three weeks in quarantine.

But the threat was underscored when dozens of sailors aboard the Australian aid ship HMAS Adelaide reported infections after an outbreak. Crew members aboard aid flights from Japan and Australia also reported infections.

News site Matangi Tonga reported that the positive test results came after officials tested 50 front-line workers at the port. The lockdown was open-ended, the site said, with updates expected from health officials every two days.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga had previously reported just a single case of the virus when a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints missionary returning from Africa tested positive in October after flying home via New Zealand.

Tonga and several other small Pacific nations, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, were among the last places on the planet to have avoided any virus outbreaks, thanks to their remote locations and strict border controls.

But that has changed in the last few weeks as their defences appeared no match against the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The lockdown in Tonga comes as many homes and businesses remain without internet access after the tsunami severed the sole fibre-optic cable that connects the country to the rest of the world. Officials are hoping repairs will be completed within a week or two.

About 61% of Tonga’s 105,000 people are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

France eases Covid curbs

France will begin to lift some Covid-19 restrictions on Wednesday, including mandatory outdoor mask-wearing.

Audience capacity limits for concert halls, sporting matches and other events will also be removed, and although homeworking will no longer be mandated it will still be recommended.

The move begins a two-part relaxation of curbs announced at the end of January – despite the country hitting record levels of daily cases last month.

France “will be able to lift most of the restrictions taken to curb the epidemic in February” thanks to the new vaccination pass, which replaced the health pass, prime minister Jean Castex said in January.

The second stage of the curb-lifting will see nightclubs, shut since December, reopen on 16 February and standing areas will again be allowed at concerts, sporting events and bars.

Paris has not made the easing of restrictions conditional on the progress of the health situation. Authorities view the threat of the Omicron variant as limited and less dangerous than previous strains of the virus, even though it is more contagious.

An average of 322,256 cases were recorded over the previous seven days, according to latest figures, compared with 366,179 a week ago.

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