Greater Manchester and Lancashire are to receive a “strengthened package of support” to tackle a rise in the Delta coronavirus variant, Matt Hancock has announced – with residents told to minimise travel.
Addressing the Commons, the health secretary said: “I can tell the House that today, working with local authorities, we are providing a strengthened package of support based on what is working in Bolton to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire tackle the rise in the Delta variant that we are seeing there.”
On the government’s website, the ‘minimise travel’ page has also been updated to include areas in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
It states: “In the areas listed above, wherever possible, you should try to meet outside rather than inside where possible, keep two metres apart from people that you don’t live with (unless you have formed a support bubble with them) – this includes friends and family you don’t live with, minimise travel in and out of affected areas.”
The support package announced on Tuesday includes:
• Rapid response teams
• Extra testing
• Military support
• Supervised in-school testing
Mr Hancock told the Commons: “I want to encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer.
“We know that this approach can work. We’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases and this is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and in Lancashire.
“And of course, it is vital that people in these areas as everywhere else come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible because that is our way out of this pandemic together.”
Other areas where the new COVID-19 variant is spreading include Bedford, Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.
As with residents of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, people in the areas above are advised by the government to try and meet outside, keep two metres apart and minimise travel.
Individuals are also advised to continue to work from home if they can and to get tested twice a week.
Mr Hancock announced the update in the Commons after briefing the relevant MPs on Tuesday morning.
It comes less than two weeks before 21 June, the government’s proposed date for the next relaxation of restrictions.
Responding to the announcement made by Mr Hancock in the Commons, the PM’s official spokesman said: “We want to provide the package of support that has been effective in Bolton to a wider area to tackle the cases of the Delta variant.”
At the weekend, Matt Hancock told Sky News the Indian variant of coronavirus makes the decision about lifting lockdown restrictions on 21 June “more difficult”.
The new COVID-19 variant, also known as the Delta variant, is 40% more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) strain, the health secretary said, leaving the easing of social distancing in the balance for the original target date.
It comes as government figures released on Tuesday show nearly a third of secondary school pupils in Bolton were absent for COVID-related reasons on the week before half-term.
In the North West of England, Covid-19 related pupil absence was 4% on May 27, compared to the national average of 1.8%, according to the statistics,
This was predominantly due to an increase in cases of coronavirus in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis said.
Rishi Sunak scraps government taskforce aimed at saving energy and lowering bills
A government taskforce intended to help people save energy and lower their bills has been disbanded after just six months.
The Energy Efficiency Taskforce was set up by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in March to boost uptake of insulation and boiler upgrades in homes and commercial buildings.
It included Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, along with bosses of banks, housing developers and behavioural experts – aiming to drive a 15 per cent reduction in energy usage by 2030.
The group had four meetings but were yet to make any formal recommendations. Energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan wrote to them yesterday to say their work would be incorporated into the work of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Jess Ralston, an energy analyst at non-profit group the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told Sky News: “This appears to be yet another u-turn that could lead to higher bills just like the prime minister’s decision last week to roll back landlord insulation standards that could leave renters paying an additional £8bn on energy bills.”
One figure familiar with the taskforce discussions blamed the Treasury for not being willing to consider radical measures to incentivise families and businesses to take up the measures. One idea suggested was stamp duty reform.
The person said: “The Treasury spent £40bn last winter on energy support payments but wouldn’t spend £1-2bn on energy efficiency incentives which would save people money on their bills. It’s short-sighted”.
A Treasury source rejected this, and said: “Our commitment to energy efficiency has not changed one iota”
They added the decision to close the taskforce had been taken by the Department for Energy and Net Zero, created in February this year.
The taskforce was chaired by Lord Callanan and the former NatWest Group chief executive Alison Rose who resigned from the bank in July in a row over the closure of Nigel Farage’s account. It was intended to stimulate private sector investment and identify barriers in the market.
PM overhauls climate policies
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the taskforce was being disbanded and said: “We would like to thank the Energy Efficiency Taskforce for its work in supporting our ambition to reduce total UK energy demand by 15% from 2021 levels by 2030.
“We have invested £6.6bn in energy efficiency upgrades this Parliament and will continue to support families in making their homes more efficient, helping them to cut bills while also achieving net zero in a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”
It comes after the prime minister made a speech this week rowing back on parts of the green agenda pursued by his predecessors – with targets relaxed for phasing out petrol and diesel cars, upgrading boilers and for landlords to make their properties energy efficient.
The oldest housing stock in Europe
Insulating homes is key to meeting the UK’s net zero target in 2050 – which remains in place. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe with millions of draughty, poorly insulated homes.
It had been estimated six million homes would need to be insulated by 2030 to reach the government’s target of reducing energy usage by 15%.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, criticised the move.
“Every family is paying the price in higher energy bills due to 13 years of Tory failure on insulating homes.” he said.
“After Rishi Sunak’s track record as chancellor with the disastrous Green Homes Grant, this is another short-sighted decision that will cost families money.”
Energy efficiency in England’s homes has increased since 2010, when just 14% were in the highest efficiency bands A to C. By 2020, it was 46%, according to the English Housing Survey. For homes that were improved to a Band C level, the annual energy saving was £282 per year.
Coinbase CEO warns against AI regulation, calls for decentralization
Brian Armstrong, the CEO of crypto exchange Coinbase, expressed his stance on artificial intelligence (AI) regulation in a recent post on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter).
On Sept. 23, Armstrong explained that he believes that AI should not be regulated. According to the Coinbase CEO, the AI space needs to develop as soon as possible because of reasons such as national security. In addition, Armstrong also noted that despite the best intentions of regulators, regulation “has unintended consequences,” arguing that it kills innovation and competition.
Count me as someone who believes AI should not be regulated
We need to make progress on it as fast as possible for many reasons (including national security). And the track record on regulation is that it has unintended consequences and kills competition/innovation, despite best…
— Brian Armstrong ️ (@brian_armstrong) September 22, 2023
The Coinbase executive cited the internet as an example. Armstrong believes there was a “golden age of innovation” on the internet and software because it was not regulated. The Coinbase CEO suggested the same should be applied to AI technology.
Furthermore, Armstrong also presented an alternative to regulation in terms of protecting the AI space. According to the executive, it would be better to “decentralize it and open source it to let the cat out of the bag.”
Meanwhile, various jurisdictions across the globe have either started to regulate AI or express concerns about its potential effects. On Aug. 15, China’s provisional guidelines for AI activity and management came into effect. The regulations were published on July 10 and were a joint effort between six of the country’s government agencies. This is the first set of AI rules implemented within the country amid the recent AI boom.
In the United Kingdom, the competition regulator studied AI in order to identify its potential impact on competition and consumers. On Sept. 18, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority concluded that while AI has the potential to change people’s work and lives, the changes may happen too fast and could have a significant impact on competition.
Rishi Sunak considering banning cigarettes for next generation – reports
Rishi Sunak is considering a recommendation that would effectively ban cigarettes for the next generation.
The prime minister could introduce some of the world’s toughest anti-smoking measures by steadily increasing the legal age for consuming tobacco, according to The Guardian, citing Whitehall sources.
The paper said it also understood Mr Sunak’s leadership pledge to fine people £10 for missing a GP or hospital appointment could be under consideration once more.
Downing Street did not deny Mr Sunak was considering adopting a more stringent approach to smoking.
Last year a major review led by Dr Javed Khan backed England following New Zealand’s plan to impose a gradually rising smoking age to prevent tobacco being sold to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.
Dr Khan recommended “increasing the age of sale from 18, by one year, every year until no one can buy a tobacco product in this country”.
If implemented by 2026, it would mean anyone aged 15 and under now would never be able to buy a cigarette.
However, health minister Neil O’Brien appeared to reject adopting that approach in April, when he said the government’s policy for achieving a smoke-free nation by its 2030 target would focus on “helping people to quit” rather than applying bans.
But it is now understood Mr Sunak is looking at different policy advice on how to reach England’s smoke-free target.
In his government-commissioned report published in June 2022, Dr Khan said without urgent action England would miss the 2030 target by at least seven years, with the poorest areas not meeting it until 2044.
He put the annual cost to society of smoking at about £17bn – £2.4bn to the NHS alone.
‘Smoking is a deadly habit’ – government
A government spokesperson said: “Smoking is a deadly habit – it kills tens of thousands of people each year and places a huge burden on the NHS and the economy.
“We want to encourage more people to quit and meet our ambition to be smoke free by 2030, which is why we have already taken steps to reduce smoking rates.
“This includes providing one million smokers in England with free vape kits via our world first ‘swap to stop’ scheme, launching a voucher scheme to incentivise pregnant women to quit and consulting on mandatory cigarette pack inserts.”
The legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products in England and Wales is 18, having been raised from 16 in 2007 by the previous Labour government.
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