Expanding shielding scheme 'not actively being considered'

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy

Doubt has been cast on reports of fresh draconian new lockdown restrictions for London and talk of asking millions of people to shield was “just speculation”.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the reports which surfaced in Sunday newspapers were "just speculation".

His comments came after reports surfaced that Boris Johnson had ordered officials to work up a plan for avoiding a second national lockdown.

The Times reported the prime minister held a “war game” session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday to run through possible options for averting another nationwide lockdown that could stall any potential economic recovery.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick denies the reports:

Mr Johnson was said to be considering asking a greater number of people to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March, the Telegraph reported.

It could even see those aged between 50 and 70 given “personalised risk ratings”, said the Times, in a move that would add to the 2.2 million who were deemed most vulnerable and asked to shield themselves from society during the spring peak.

Cabinet minister Mr Jenrick suggested the mooted increase in shielding was “not something that is being actively considered”.

Mr Jenrick, when asked about whether new age-related measures were likely, told Times Radio: “This is just speculation.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

“You would expect the government to be considering all of the range of options that might be available.

“That’s not something that is being actively considered.”

He also said there was “no plan, as far as I’m aware” to bring in travel controls and restrictions on where Londoners could stay as part of efforts to avoid any increased transmission rate in the capital from spreading to the rest of the country.

It has been suggested that, should the R-rate escalate in the capital, the M25 would act as a travel border for London residents and people would be banned from staying the night at houses other than their own.

The Prime Minister has reportedly asked for officials to draw up plans on how to avoid a lockdown like that seen in the spring Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

It comes after Mr Johnson was forced to announce a slowdown of the lockdown easing last week, with planned relaxations for the leisure and beauty sectors delayed after a rise in Covid-19 cases was recorded, with prevalence in the community thought to be rising for the first time since May.

Meanwhile, former England midfielder Paul Scholes has been accused of holding a party at his Oldham home to celebrate his son’s 21st on the same day lockdown measures were reimposed across parts of England’s north-west.

The Sun cited phone footage as showing revellers ignoring social distancing “as they drank and danced” at the seven-hour party, with the paper citing Tory MP Andrew Bridgen criticising Mr Scholes for “reckless behaviour”.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Greater Manchester Police have been approached for comment over the alleged incident.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said people in his area “on the whole” had been brilliant and that he rejected “efforts to blame some for breaking lockdown rules”.

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Burnham criticised the government's decision to lift shielding measures, such as food and medicine deliveries, for vulnerable people in Manchester and other areas now under tougher lockdown restrictions.

The former Labour MP branded the decision "cruel and inhuman".

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, speaks to ITV News:

He continued the move was "contradictory" that measures to shield the clinically vulnerable were coming to an end when coronavirus cases in some areas were rising.

"Now is not the time for penny-pinching," Mr Burnham added.

He continued that shielding measures have remained in place in Leicester and Blackburn which have both seen a tightening of lockdown measures in the last few weeks, adding this should be put in to place in other areas under tougher measures.

He continued that more needs to be done to supporter lower paid workers so that they are financially able to self-isolate and stop the spread of coronavirus.

The 50-year-old said he supported the government's decision to impose tougher measures in a bid to "possibly avoid something more severe",

In related news, opposition MPs have accused the government of deserting the elderly “entirely” following reports ministers had abandoned their pledge to test all care home residents regularly throughout the summer.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) admitted there had been issues with meeting its July 6 deadline for testing all asymptomatic care home residents, with testing of older people and those with dementia now pushed back two months until September 7, the PA news agency understands.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

According to the Times, Professor Jane Cummings, the Government’s adult social care testing director, has written to local authority leaders to inform them that “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being altered because of “unexpected delays”.

Liberal Democrat social care spokeswoman Munira Wilson MP said: “The decision to drop the pledge to test all care home residents regularly would be a decision to desert care home residents entirely.

“The government has made clear right throughout the coronavirus crisis that protecting those in our care homes is not a priority for them – from the beginning of the crisis ministers failed to equip care homes with sufficient testing and PPE, whilst discharging patients with the virus into their homes.”

A DHSC spokesperson said: “It is completely wrong to suggest care homes were deliberately deprived of testing resources and any care home resident or member of staff with symptoms can immediately access a free test.

“We continue to issue at least 50,000 tests a day to care homes across the country and prioritise tests for higher-risk outbreak areas.

“A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity.”

DHSC said it would not comment on leaked documents when asked about Prof Cummings’ memo.