Tories in revolt over Boris Johnson’s Covid tiers

Boris Johnson faces a humiliating Tory revolt over his new tiers system on Tuesday after he was accused of refusing to publish any forecast of the impact it will have on the economy.

Scores of backbenchers are expected to rebel when the tiers are put to a vote, saying they were not being given the full picture and were being asked to back "a pig in a poke".

On Monday night, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, announced that he would tell his MPs to abstain in the vote, meaning the size of the Tory rebellion will be thrown into even sharper focus.

Although the tiers, which come into force on Wednesday, are still expected to be approved by Parliament, the absence of Labour votes will hugely diminish the winning margin and draw attention to the split in the Tory ranks.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on Monday night said the Government had "got this virus back under control" after infections fell by 30 per cent and the reproduction rate, or ‘R’ number, fell below one.

However, speaking at a Downing Street press conference Mr Hancock insisted that harsh restrictions had to continue in order to avoid the risk of a third national lockdown.

The tier system, which replaces the current lockdown, will leave 99 per cent of the country in the two highest levels.

Mr Johnson said he understood the "frustration" of people who "think that they are in the wrong tier" and acknowledged that the new restrictions – expected to last until April – are "tough". He added that while a vaccine might be available "in a few weeks", until then "we can’t afford to take our foot off the gas, we can’t afford to let it out of control again".

However, the leader of the Tory rebels said the "wheels are coming off the Government’s arguments" after an official assessment of the impact of the new tiers was ridiculed by Tory MPs. Upwards of 40 are expected to rebel in Tuesday’s vote.

The 48-page analysis of the health, economic and social impact of the tiering system was drawn up in response to demands from the rebels, who said ministers needed to explain the detrimental effects, as well as the benefits, of the Covid restrictions.

The analysis acknowledged that there were "knock-on implications" of restrictions but said it was "not possible to know with any degree of confidence" what would happen to the economy in different scenarios.

It said the new controls will have a "significant" impact on the economy but that allowing the virus to run unchecked would be "much worse" for public health. Failure to maintain strong measures would lead to the NHS being overwhelmed and result in an "intolerable" loss of life.

The "rushed" document, which contained typographical errors and sections which were lifted wholesale from an Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) document published last week, was denounced by many senior Tories.

One senior source suggested Mr Johnson could have published an economic forecast but had chosen not to "because it would have come up with the wrong answer".

Which Covid tier will I be in from December 2?

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tory backbenchers, said: "The Government’s analysis seems to be collapsing under the glare of scrutiny.

"Before the current lockdown, incorrect death and hospital capacity modelling was leaked into the public domain to justify it. We have asked repeatedly for the information that vindicates these hospital projections and it has not been forthcoming.

"We are now seeing that, once again, the wheels are coming off the Government’s arguments."

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said that without more information on the impact of the tiers MPs "are being asked to vote for a pig in a poke", adding: "The one thing this is not going to do is persuade Conservative MPs to vote with the Government. If anything, this will have made it worse."

Anne-Marie Morris, the Tory MP for Newton Abbott, said: "There is nothing new in this document – it’s just a rehash of data that has been published before. No attempt has been made to model the impact on the economy in the way that they have modelled the impact the tiers will have on Covid infections.

"I cannot support the Government in tomorrow’s vote, and everyone I know who has read the document is saying the same."

The Government document cited the OBR’s forecast of an 11.3 per cent slump in gross domestic product this year, but said: "It is not possible to know with any degree of confidence what path the economy would take if restrictions in place were not sufficient to prevent exponential growth or in the absence of restrictions entirely." It said the alternative of allowing Covid-19 to grow exponentially "is much worse for public health".

The document contained mistakes including a sentence which was interrupted with the words "Error! Bookmark not defined", which MPs cited as evidence that it had been "cut and pasted" from the internet and existing documents.

Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East and an executive member of the 1922 Committee, told The Telegraph: "It’s going down like the proverbial lead balloon. It seems to be making the situation worse. We’ve been asking for the data for months. Everyone knows the pandemic has crashed the economy. The issue is are you creating a problem that is worse because of this tiered system and, crucially, how do you revise this tiered system."

Sir Keir was personally briefed by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, on the latest coronavirus data

Credit:  UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

On Monday night Sir Keir, who was personally briefed by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, on the latest coronavirus data, announced that his MPs will abstain in Tuesday’s vote.

He said: "I remain deeply concerned that Boris Johnson’s Government has failed to use this latest lockdown to put a credible health and economic plan in place."

A Downing Street spokesman accused him of "playing politics in the middle of a global pandemic".

Mr Johnson is expected to announce tens of millions of pounds in extra funding for pubs struggling to stay afloat under the toughest tier restrictions. The Prime Minister will respond to the concerns of backbench MPs who have warned that thousands of pubs and restaurants will face closure in the hope of lessening the scale of the rebellion.

Number 10 said it would "continue to engage, listen and work with MPs who have concerns".

Ethnic minorities could be prioritised for rapid Covid testing after lockdown

Ethnic groups could be prioritised for rapid coronavirus testing as part of Government plans to help local areas to move out of the toughest Tier 3 restrictions.

Under the new community testing plan, which will come into force after lockdown ends on Wednesday, local officials will be entitled to single out specific groups, areas or types of employee in order to crack down on asymptomatic spread.

They can also offer people discounts to local shops and businesses as a means of incentivising those who may feel healthy to get tested.

The new rules additionally make provision for so-called "freedom passes", whereby those who have received two negative tests results could be allowed into pubs and restaurants and to sporting and cultural events, even though their area remains in Tier 3.

Announcing the new measures in Downing Street, General Sir Gordon Messenger, the head of operations for the new programme, said the strategy was no longer about "mass testing".

General Sir Gordon Messenger

Credit: PA 

"This is about community testing," he said. "It’s about tailoring to the needs of the local area, and that might be geographically specific or it might be ethnic community specific."

Despite Sir Gordon’s comments, the new framework also allows authorities to embark on whole population testing of all non-symptomatic individuals over 11 years old.

However, the real advantage of the new lateral flow tests, which give a result in under one hour, could be to focus intensively on specific geographic areas with high prevalence, as well as types of industry.

It follows a summer of localised outbreaks, such as in Leicester, where transmission was traced to certain types of workplace.

Although Tier 3 areas will be entitled to apply for the community testing support from the end of lockdown, Sir Gordon said limited manpower and resources meant many were likely to have to wait until January.

Deciding who gets the support first will be based on infection rates, how long the area has spent in Tier 3 and the quality of local plans to deploy community testing.

Sir Gordon also said that the level of military support seen to carry out the successful community testing pilot in Liverpool would not be possible everywhere. "I can say with confidence that cannot be replicated around the country," he said.

The framework encourages local leaders to come up a set of incentives to encourage the population to take up testing.

"Examples of such initiatives could include discount schemes with local businesses, partnerships with community organisations or local employers, or door-knocking campaigns," it says.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: "By expanding our testing to include people showing no symptoms, we are finding more positive cases more quickly and breaking chains of transmission.

"Up to a third of people have coronavirus without symptoms, so it is incredibly important to be testing those who could be infecting others unknowingly.

"When more people come forward for regular community testing, we have a much greater chance of driving down prevalence of the virus and saving lives."

Sir Philip Green’s retail empire Arcadia collapses into administration

Sir Philip Green’s stricken retail empire crashed into administration on Monday evening, leaving thousands of pension savers at risk of a brutal hit to their retirement income and putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

Administrators at Deloitte were formally appointed after last-ditch efforts to save the business failed in the most high-profile corporate collapse to hit the British high street since Covid-19 struck.

Experts warned that an estimated 10,000 savers could lose up to a fifth of their income if Arcadia’s pension scheme is forced into an industry lifeboat as a result of a funding shortfall.

The collapse could spark a bidding war for the firm’s most valuable brands. Sir Philip’s longtime rival Mike Ashley is thought likely to make an offer, with industry sources claiming that online retailers Boohoo and Asos are also interested in parts of the stricken company.

Administrators at Deloitte were waiting in the wings after the retailer failed to secure an emergency loan of £30m. The firm also rejected a £50m lifeline from Mr Ashley on Monday afternoon. 

Ian Grabiner, the chief executive of Arcadia, said it was "an incredibly sad day for all of our colleagues". 

He added: "Ultimately, however, in the face of the most difficult trading conditions we have ever experienced, the obstacles we encountered were far too severe."

There were no immediate redundancies and stores will continue to trade while insolvency consultants seek a buyer for all or some of the brands. Online orders made over the Black Friday sales weekend will be delivered.

Matt Smith at Deloitte said: “We will now work with the existing management team and broader stakeholders to assess all options available for the future of the Group’s businesses. It is our intention to continue to trade all of the brands, and we look forward to welcoming customers back into stores when many of them are allowed to reopen.

“We will be rapidly seeking expressions of interest and expect to identify one or more buyers to ensure the future success of the businesses. As Administrators we’d like to thank all of the Group’s employees, customers and business partners for their support, at what we appreciate is a difficult time.”

The collapse could bring the curtain down on Sir Philip’s 53-year career in which he  was first lauded as one of the greatest retailers of his generation and then criticised for extracting more than a billion pounds from his companies and selling department store BHS to former bankrupt racing driver Dominic Chappell.

Arcadia has a pension deficit of £350m. Labour MP Stephen Timms called on Sir Philip to dip into his own pocket again to fund its pension scheme, three years after the tycoon agreed to pump £363m into the BHS retirement pot.

Baroness Ros Altmann, the former pensions minister, has warned that Arcadia’s pension scheme is more likely to enter the Pension Protection Fund lifeboat — reducing most savers’ income by between 10pc and 20pc.

She said this would be an added blow to the thousands of workers who may also lose their jobs. Lady Tina Green, the company’s ultimate owner and Sir Philip’s wife, previously agreed to pump £100m into the schemes over three years while Arcadia said it would inject a further £75m.

Arcadia’s board is understood to have met twice on Monday to discuss the insolvency plans, which are believed to have been sped up because of a rule change due to come into effect on Tuesday that would move HMRC up the pecking order of creditors. The taxman could now miss out on many millions of pounds which are distributed to other creditors instead.

Mr Timms, who is chair of the work and pensions committee, asked the Pensions Regulator to do "everything in its power" to ensure that Arcadia’s 10,000 pension scheme members are protected.

He said: "There is unquestionably a moral case for the Green family to do the right thing and guarantee Arcadia’s hardworking staff what is rightfully theirs, whatever happens this Christmas.

What happens to the Arcadia pension scheme if it goes bust?

"But the Pensions Regulator must also ensure that it is doing everything in its power to fight the corner of the pension scheme members.

"This is a crucial moment for the Regulator to show that it has learned the lessons of previous corporate collapses, such as those of BHS and British Steel. While staff will be worried about possible job losses, the Pensions Regulator must take firm and decisive action to protect them from fraudsters."

Arcadia’s sales were badly hit after it was forced to shut its 550 stores, but the company’s chains have struggled in recent years after failing to adapt to the shift to online. Increased competition from Primark, Zara, H&M, Asos and Boohoo have lured shoppers away from Arcadia.

Arcadia group key numbers

Chris Wootton, Frasers’ finance chief, wrote to Arcadia’s board on Sunday afternoon to offer the cash after Arcadia failed to secure a £30m loan to address some of its cash-flow difficulties. Mr Wootton had urged the retailer to "carefully consider" the offer during a 24-hour window. 

Mr Ashley’s Frasers group said that its unsecured loan was turned down without "any reasons" and "any engagement" from Arcadia. 

A break-up of Arcadia is likely to spark a bidding war, with Sports Direct owner Mr Ashley saying he is interested in taking over all eight brands.

There are also fears Arcadia could become “the Carillion of retail” after it emerged the retail empire may go bust owing over half a billion pounds to pension scheme members and suppliers.

Around £250m worth of invoices from suppliers could go unpaid should Arcadia collapse, according to estimates from insurance firm Nimbla.

Arcadia swings to a loss

Last year Arcadia went ahead with a company voluntary arrangement that led to store closures and rent reductions on property, and struck a deal with the pensions watchdog to put cash into the company’s pension schemes.

WHO urges countries to consider ‘very’ carefully whether they allow ski resorts to open at Christmas

The World Health Organisation on Monday told countries to consider “very, very carefully” whether ski resorts should be allowed to open over Christmas, amid fears that large gatherings would lead to a surge in coronavirus infections.

“We would ask that all countries look at the ski season and other reasons for mass gatherings and look very, very carefully at the associated risks,” said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert.

The problem was not so much having skiers on the slopes, where they are out in the fresh air, but the airports, trains and buses which transport them to the mountains, as well as queues at ski lifts and apres ski gatherings in bars and restaurants, he said.

The governments of Italy, France and Germany have said allowing skiing this winter would stoke the spread of Covid-19, but that has put them at odds with Switzerland and Austria, which have indicated that they want their resorts to open up.

Amid calls for EU unity, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said that letting the ski season get underway would undermine anti-virus measures.

Italy’s northern regions put forward a proposal that would allow the partial opening of ski resorts at Christmas and New Year.

The Zugspitze ski resort near Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany is closed due to coronavirus restrictions 

Credit: Shutterstock

The regions suggested that the pistes be opened to people who have holiday homes in ski resorts and those who stay for at least one night in a hotel or chalet.

That would exclude large numbers of day-trippers, reducing the danger of overcrowding and the spread of the coronavirus, they said.

The suggestion was put forward by the regions of Veneto, Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Sud Tirol, where most of Italy’s ski resorts are located. 

“The solution that we are proposing would allow a gradual opening up of the winter season,” regional authorities said in a letter to the coalition government in Rome.

“We would be able to apply health protocols and put them to the test. The government needs to listen to us and allow us to open under these criteria.”

Ski resorts say they face financial ruin if they are not allowed to open at Christmas, New Year and beyond.

But the government has indicated that it is against such an opening, fearing that queues at lifts, skiers squeezed into cable cars and gatherings in restaurants and bars could spark a third wave of infections.

The government is due to issue a new decree of anti-Covid 19 measures this week.

Many of the current restrictions, including the closure of secondary schools and a nationwide 10pm-6am curfew, are likely to remain in place.

Italy continues to deal with tens of thousands of new Covid-19 cases each day, as well as hundreds of deaths. On Monday, Italy registered 672 more deaths and more than 16,000 new cases.

“We need to give breathing space to the health system,” said Pierpaolo Sileri, the deputy health minister. “There are still too many intensive care units and hospital wards that are full.” 

Florida boater rescued after clinging to capsized vessel 86 miles off coast

A mariner was found clinging to his capsized boat after being missing for two days off Florida in what Coast Guard officials called an "incredible" rescue.

Stuart Bee, 62, disappeared off the state’s Atlantic coast on his 32ft motorboat Stingray after setting out on Friday.

Following a search he was eventually spotted, on Sunday, 86 miles off shore, by the crew of a 225ft container ship called Angeles.

Photographs taken by an Angeles crew member showed Mr Bee holding on for dear life to the last remaining part of his vessel’s hull that had not been submerged.

Stuart Bee climbs aboard after being rescued

He was desperately trying to remain still as it teetered and looked set to sink completely.

After a flotation aid was thrown out he swam for it, and then scrambled on board the Angeles.

The first thing he did was make the sign of the cross, and ask his rescuers the date.

Missing sailor

Lacruiser P. Relativo, one of the Angeles crew, wrote on Facebook: "Before I could start questioning, he first asked me ‘What day it is today?’, ‘November 29!’, I responded.

"By the look on his face, I saw his teary eyes as he made sign of the cross. He was drifting in the open sea for days, maintaining his stance at the top of his capsized boat, to not make any single move as it may trigger his boat to sink fully.

"As Mr. Stuart made sign of the cross, I knew that faith can move mountains. It made me whisper: God, I praise you in the storm."

Mr Relativo added: "We offered him dry clothes and hot meals. I choose to give him my ‘lucky shirt’. I could give him a new one but this one is my favourite."

The mariner swims to safety

A Coast Guard crew brought Mr Bee from the Angeles back to shore.

Mr Bee told the Coast Guard his boat had been disabled on Saturday after being beset by mechanical problems.

He went to sleep as he waited to be spotted but, some time after midnight, water poured into the cabin and forced him to climb out of the hatch into the ocean.

He then managed to cling on to the hull of his upturned boat. As the sun rose on Sunday, he saw the Angeles in the distance and began desperately waving his shirt.

Captain Mark Vlaun, commanding officer of the US Coast Guard’s Jacksonville sector, said: "Saving lives at sea is our highest calling.

"This is a truly incredible outcome that demonstrates the bond among all mariners and our community."

Mr Bee, dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, had left Cape Marina in Port Canaveral at 4pm local time (9pm UK)  on Friday, November 27.

Fellow sailors knew he did not stay out on his boat overnight and raised the alarm when he failed to return that evening. Mr Bee’s brother called the Coast Guard.

Mr Bee after being rescued

A C-130 Hercules aircraft was sent out, along with a US Customs and Border Patrol aircraft, and vessels in the area were asked to look for Mr Bee.

David Micallef, a US Coast Guard spokesman, said: "It’s an amazing story. We’re just very thankful for the Angeles and their entire crew, for keeping a sharp lookout.

"And we’re just very thankful, especially during this holiday season, that we can bring this man home to his family."

The Angeles, a Liberian-registered vessel, was heading from Puerto Barrios in Guatemala to Wilmington, Delaware in the United States when its crew spotted Mr Bee waving.

Nicolas Sarkozy slams ‘six years of smears’ in combative first remarks of landmark corruption trial

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday rejected “six years of smears” against him in combative first remarks at his landmark trial for corruption.

Mr Sarkozy has faced a raft of investigations since losing his immunity from prosecution after his botched 2012 re-election campaign and has been charged in two other probes.

The 65-year old Right-winger became France’s first modern head of state to appear in the dock last week, going on trial on charges of corruption and influence peddling.

However, the trial was adjourned over health concerns of one of the defendants, who failed to show up.

Mr Sarkozy is accused of offering judge Gilbert Azibert a plum retirement job in exchange for inside information on an inquiry into his campaign finances.

"I don’t accept any of the smears levelled at me over the past six years," said Mr Sarkozy, who was France’s head of state from 2007 to 2012.

He risks a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of €1 million (£895,000) if convicted.

Mr Azibert and Mr Sarkozy’s lawyer Thierry Herzog are also on trial, which resumed on Monday after the court threw out a request by Mr Azibert’s lawyers to have it postponed on medical grounds.

His defence argued the 73-year-old had health problems that made public appearances risky during the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, a medical exam ordered by the court determined he was fit enough to attend his trial.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy faces a ten-year prison term an €1m fine 

Credit: IAN LANGSDON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Prosecutors argue Mr Sarkozy and Mr Herzog tried to bribe Mr Azibert with a job in Monaco, in return for information on an inquiry into claims the ex-president received illicit payments from late L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt during his 2007 presidential campaign.

Judges bugged a private line between Mr Herzog and Mr Sarkozy — who used a secret phone bought under the alias of former classmate "Paul Bismuth”. They purported the conversations revealed the two men making plans to get Mr Azibert to help sway the inquiry.

Mr Azibert was a senior advisor at France’s highest appeals court at the time. He never got the job in Monaco.

Mr Sarkozy was later cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bettencourt affair.

His lawyers on Monday called for the current case to be dismissed due to “serious” and “repeated” breaches of the rights of the defence.

They argued that eavesdropping conversations between lawyers and their clients was illegal. They also said that financial prosecutors’ unsuccessful bid to find out whether a “mole” had informed Mr Sarkozy and his lawyer that their calls were being bugged had led them to search through the phone records of numerous other lawyers in breach of their rights.

“This investigation is a stain on the justice system and a stain on the entire proceedings,” said defence lawyer Jacqueline Laffont.

Prosecutors dismissed such protests as delay tactics and asked the judge to stick to the main accusations in the case.

The trial continues.

Mr Sarkozy faces other legal woes in the coming months.

Investigators are still probing allegations that he received up to £50 million in funding from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 election campaign. Last month, Mr Sarkozy was charged with "criminal conspiracy" over the affair, meaning he could face trial on four counts.

He he is also accused of fraudulently overspending on the 2012 race. The so-called Bygmalion affair is due to go on trial on March 17. He denies the charges. 

Missing British hiker’s boyfriend joins search in Pyrenees as hopes fade of finding her alive

Missing British hiker Esther Dingley’s partner was on Monday “alone” scouring the Pyrenees where she vanished a week ago, mountain gendarmes confirmed, as they sent reinforcements to the area in a last-ditch bid to find her.

As the search for the 37-year-old entered its fifth day, French investigators said they were keeping all lines of inquiry open, including death in suspicious circumstances.

Ms Dingley vanished while hiking alone from the Porte de la Glere to the Port de Venasque, along the border between France and Spain.

Prior to that, she had been travelling with her partner Dan Colegate on a six-year campervan tour of Europe but for the past month she had opted to hike in the Pyrenees while he stayed put in a farmhouse in Gascony.

The pair, from Durham, last spoke on WhatsApp on November 22 when Esther sent a selfie from the Pic de Sauvegarde mountain, and a day earlier she posted a series of pictures on Instagram with the caption: "I’m in heaven…. The snail is on the move again and loving it."

On Saturday, Mr Colegate said on the couple’s Facebook page: “I’m broken. Shattered to report that my beloved Esther, the person who taught me how to feel, is missing. “Search and rescue teams have so far found no trace of her.”

On Monday, French authorities sent 16 people up the mountain, the largest team to date, with national police experts joining two gendarme units.

Esther Dingley, 37, and partner Dan Colegate, had been travelling around Europe in a campervan for six years

Credit: Facebook

“Her partner is up looking for her too,” said Pierre Gaillard of the PGMH mountain gendarmes in Luchon.

“However, he prefers to walk alone.”

“He has good experience of the mountains and we are in regular contact with him. He is in a zone that is not too exposed. He has already retraced her route as it’s not a difficult path. Now he is on another area. He’s involved, he’s trying to understand and doesn’t want to stay down in the valley waiting.”

He added: “He’s obviously very worried. He knows the mountain, he has seen for himself that this is a zone where it’s difficult to see anything.”

On his Facebook page, Mr Colegate’s father, Mick, said: “We’ve spoken son and you know that I will be on the first available flight when you come down from the mountains … you don’t have to be strong and face this all alone … love you son.”

A search is also underway on the Spanish side of the border.

A Spanish Civil Guard spokeswoman told the Telegraph: "We have a specialised team of 10 mountain rescuers and a helicopter searching for Ms Dingley on the Spanish side of the border. This zone can be difficult for climbers or walkers. It is quite varied territory.

"We started the search as soon as we found the camper van and we were advised by French authorities that she was missing."

The Spanish are not currently considering any criminal involvement, she added. "We do not think there is any hint of criminality. We believe she may be hiding out in some kind of refuge.

"We have had cases like this in the past where people have been lost for days."

Mr Gaillard said the prospect of finding Ms Dingley alive at this stage was diminishing.

“To be frank, hopes are fading,” he said. “It’s been more than a week since her last contact a week Sunday, so we’ve reached the limit. Given the amount of time and the fact that this was someone who posted quite a lot on social media, she would have sent some sign of life if she had returned to a zone with coverage.”

Esther Dingley was last seen alive on November 22 in the Spanish Pyrenees

Credit: ESTHER & DAN via REUTERS

He said this was perhaps the last major search expedition on the French side unless new leads were uncovered. 

“We will start winding down the search in the coming days because we cannot dedicate this much manpower for long given our other duties,” he said.

“She had dark clothes and grey rucksack, which easily blend into the surrounding rocks and vegetation so it’s very hard. Given the type of terrain, the search can last a long time. It already snowed a bit on Thursday night. We are expecting snow on Tuesday night, which would make it harder still.”

Ms Dingley started walking from Benasque, Spain, on November 21. French police said all trace of her was lost at 4pm on Sunday November 22.

Jose María Ciria, a hotelier in Benasque, said: "Walking from here is very dangerous. There is snow on the mountains and ice. It seems an atrocious idea at this time of year." 

Mr Ciria said he had not seen the missing hiker and that the village was virtually empty because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Spanish authorities were reportedly alerted on November 25 of her disappearance and alerted their French counterparts the following morning. They found her vehicle parked on the Spanish side of the border. 

Her probable itinerary would have taken her to the Port de Venasque, a mountain pass on the border between the two countries where there is an unmanned refuge open all year round. 

“We still don’t know whether she actually stayed there,” said Mr Gaillard. “All data use of her phone stopped on Sunday afternoon and if she had her own cooking utensils and sleeping bag, we can’t say for sure if she passed through.”

The paths she was taking were marked, well-indicated on maps and pretty well-frequented in normal times, he said. “Several witnesses saw her on the Spanish side on the Sunday and spoke to her,” he added.

“She should have crossed over into France if she had respected her likely itinerary but we don’t know for sure whether she changed her mind and stayed on the Spanish side.”

Dingley and her partner Colegate with their campervan

Credit: Facebook

He said that gendarmes had not ruled out suspicious circumstances “as a matter of course”. 

“We are mountain gendarmes, not just rescuers, so [we] also have investigative powers. We are keeping all lines of inquiry open until we can close doors," he said

"She could have had an unfortunate encounter. We don’t even know yet if she managed to get back to her vehicle,” he added, saying the Spanish were looking into this.

Spanish police have put out an appeal on Twitter appealing for any information that could help locate the missing British hiker. 

Ms Dingley’s hike was forbidden under Spanish and French lockdown rules.

"She should not have gone into this area of the mountain as it has been closed off for months to stop the spread of Covid-19," a Spanish Civil Guard spokeswoman told the Telegraph.

Mr Gaillard added: “I know that has been the subject of controversy on social media but this is not an issue for us."

Mr Colegate was expected to cross via the Vielha tunnel into Spain tomorrow to continue his search.

Biden names economic team to address U.S. pandemic recovery; two more states confirm vote | Reuters

5 Min Read

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden named several women to his top economic policy team on Monday, including former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary nominee, setting the stage for diversity and a focus on recovery from the pandemic.

The advisers, several of whom would need to be approved by the U.S. Senate, come from liberal research organizations and worked in previous Democratic administrations. Their aim will be to set policies that can help people and businesses recover from the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 267,000 people in the United States and cost millions of jobs.

“This team looks like America and brings seriousness of purpose, the highest degree of competency, and unwavering belief in the promise of America,” Biden said in a statement. “They will be ready on day one to get to work for all Americans.”

Biden is expected to formally introduce the new economic team members on Tuesday, the transition team said.

Arizona and Wisconsin completed their state vote confirmations on Monday, undermining President Donald Trump’s attempts to dispute his loss to Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election by making unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Arizona certified its election results in favor of the Democrat and Wisconsin’s elections commission chair said recounts in two counties confirmed Biden won the state.

The Trump campaign is pursuing long-shot legal cases that seek to overturn Biden’s victories in Georgia, Michigan and Nevada, while others have been dismissed or withdrawn in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona. None have scored significant gains for Trump.

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Biden taps Yellen for Treasury, announces other members of economic team

PUSH FOR EARLY YELLEN HEARING

Yellen, 74, was head of the U.S. central bank from 2014 to 2018 and had served as the chair of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers.

On Twitter, she underscored the challenges facing the United States: “To recover, we must restore the American dream — a society where each person can rise to their potential and dream even bigger for their children. As Treasury Secretary, I will work every day towards rebuilding that dream for all.”

Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said Yellen’s confirmation hearing should occur before Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, as it did for Steve Mnuchin, the present treasury secretary.

“When millions of workers are unemployed through no fault of their own and sectors of the economy are struggling mightily, there is no excuse for delay,” Wyden said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who like many top Republicans in that chamber has not yet acknowledged Biden as president-elect, did not respond to questions about pre-inauguration hearings. His colleagues have signaled that Biden’s appointees may face a rough road to confirmation.

Control of the Senate — and the power to confirm or block Biden’s Cabinet appointees — will be determined by a pair of runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

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The Electoral College, which selects presidents based on state-by-state vote totals, meets on Dec. 14. Biden has 306 electors to Trump’s 232.

ECONOMY PICKS

Biden said he would nominate Wally Adeyemo as Yellen’s deputy at Treasury. Adeyemo was a deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, and was later the president of the Obama Foundation, which is overseeing the planning for the Democratic former president’s library.

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Neera Tanden, chief executive of the Center for American Progress, would head the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden helped the Obama administration create the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare overhaul popularly known as Obamacare, which Republicans have tried to dismantle.

Republican U.S. senators voiced few concerns about Yellen, with Senator John Cornyn telling reporters he didn’t “have any problem with her.”

He was more concerned about Tanden, calling her the “worst nominee so far.”

She would be the first woman of color to lead the OMB if she is confirmed.

Biden selected Cecilia Rouse, an economist who is dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. She was a member of the council under Obama from 2009 to 2011.

Heather Boushey, an economist who is the co-founder of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and is focused on economic inequality, will serve on the council.

Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Wilmington, Delaware, additional reporting by Brad Heath, Trevor Hunnicutt, Simon Lewis, Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Scott Malone, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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The Government’s Covid tiers impact assessment: What it does – and doesn’t – say

The Government’s impact assessment of the new lockdown tiers was lambasted as a "rehashed document" offering scant fresh analysis by the head of the Commons treasury committee on Monday.

Mel Stride said he had repeatedly asked Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and officials for an economic analysis of the new tiers about to be imposed on England but was "frustrated" by the 48-page document published on Monday.

It "offers very little further in economic terms other than that which the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] published last week", he said, stressing that he had wanted an examination of the tiers’ impact on specific sectors and regions. 

Downing Street rushed out the assessment in a bid to stave off a rebellion by scores of Tory MPs when the new measures go to a vote on Tuesday. Conservative backbenchers clamouring for greater scrutiny had argued that the economic, social and health costs of the system must be considered alongside the benefits it offers in terms of curbing Covid.

The document offered some analysis of those three areas, but appeared to have failed in its bid to quell the revolt as Tory critics derided it as a "cut and paste" job that drew heavily on existing analyses and omitted key data and estimates. They also said it was strewn with errors.

Which Covid tier will I be in from December 2?

Health impact assessment
What the document says:

If coronavirus is "left unchecked, new critical cases would overwhelm hospital capacity" and result in more preventable deaths from both Covid and non-Covid causes, the Government’s analysis says.

Breaching health service capacity would not only entail more coronavirus patients dying but also see other emergency care patients failing to receive urgent treatment, "resulting in many further deaths". Cancer screenings could be cancelled and thousands of elective procedures cancelled or delayed, the document claims. Some of these impacts would start to occur before capacity was breached.

This scenario would also lead to longer term challenges and delays from which the NHS would need "a significant period of time to recover, jeopardising plans to tackle existing backlogs and future investment plans".

The document says the stronger restrictions are needed because the UK’s previous approach to tiering, while successful in reducing Covid infection rates in some areas, was "not sufficient to stem the continued overall growth across the country". 

Change in lockdown tiers either side of national lockdown

It concludes that the revamped system delivers "very high health benefits" when compared with the counterfactual of allowing Covid infections to grow exponentially. However, it acknowledges that the health impact of a range of factors entailed by the restrictions, ranging from social distancing measures to increasing deprivation, is "likely to be mixed".

In the short term, it estimates that negative health impacts of the Covid restrictions will include higher alcohol use, lower physical activity, worse child and maternal malnutrition and more instances of anxiety, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse and home accidents.

Positive health impacts in the short term are estimated to include lower drug use, less air pollution, fewer occupational injuries, fewer road injuries, fewer infections from other diseases, lower rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and less interpersonal violence.

The assessment notes that, in order to mitigate the risk of Britons engaging in lower physical activity, the Government has prioritised enabling exercise and keeping gyms open in all tiers. It adds that permitting greater social interaction in larger "bubbles" over the Christmas period is intended to support mental health. 

What it doesn’t say:

The assessment contains no concrete numbers estimating the increased deaths and morbidities that it says would be caused by eschewing the tiers. 

It argues that, since NHS surge capacity has not been breached to date owing to the social distancing measures enforced so far, the Government lacks data on how many patients with Covid or other critical conditions would die if they were unable to be treated in intensive care. 

It says: "It is clear that it would be a much higher proportion. The precise size and duration of a breach in capacity are not possible to predict as they will depend in part on the extent to which behaviour and policy changes in the face of such an outcome."

Crucially, the document does not examine any potential approach to curbing the virus other than the tier system. It does not, therefore, consider any alternative to avoiding tiers than the "disastrous" scenario in which the NHS is overwhelmed by soaring Covid cases.

Economic impact assessment
What the document says:

The economic impact of the regional tiers system is impossible to quantify, but coronavirus restrictions have clearly delivered a "significant" blow, the analysis says. In an omission that risks fuelling a growing backbench Tory rebellion, it fails to set out the regional cost to businesses.

The document borrows heavily from the recent forecasts made by independent financial watchog the OBR. It points to an estimated 11 per cent decline in GDP this year, more than £270 billion of borrowing since the outset of the pandemic, and unemployment reaching 7.5 per cent next year.

It also highlights that sectors such as food services, accommodation, entertainment and retail suffered major declines in output during the first lockdown, with national output due to fall again by seven per cent in November. However, it adds that, due to the fast-evolving nature of the pandemic, it is "not possible to know with any degree of confidence" what path the economy would have taken if the restrictions had not been imposed. 

The document goes on to say that allowing the virus to spread unchecked would affect consumer spending because people would choose to adopt "voluntary social distancing" and stay indoors. On the other hand, it acknowledges that "fewer or no restrictions" would allow "many people and businesses to operate as normal". 

It also suggests that the future impact of the virus could be worse than forecast by the OBR. The watchdog had assumed that restrictions would be on the same level of severity as before the second lockdown, whereas 34 million people are now under tougher measures. 

"To the extent that average restrictions proposed by the Government and the Devolved Authorities in the UK are stricter than this, the associated short-term economic costs are likely to be greater than forecast in this scenario," the document says.

"Equally, to the extent that average restrictions proposed by the Government and the Devolved Administrations are less strict than this, the associated short-term economic costs may be less than forecast in this scenario. If the roll-out of a vaccine is earlier than expected, then the short-term economic costs may be less than forecast in this scenario, and vice versa."

What it doesn’t say:

The document falls far short of the detailed economic analysis demanded by Tory MPs as a condition of their support when the latest restrictions are put to a vote. 

It also fails to set out any alternative approach, such as the impact on the economy, if sectors such as hospitality were subject to less draconian restrictions.

On Monday night, multiple Conservative MPs voiced frustration about the lack of detailed economic analysis provided. It was pointed out that Boris Johnson reportedly decided against placing London in Tier 3 when he was told that 500,000 jobs would be at risk if he did.

MPs said they had wanted granular data on the jobs at risk for all areas of the country placed in tiers two and three.

Social impact assessment
What the document says:

The strengthened tier system will have an impact on "everybody’s lives", the analysis says. Despite acknowledging that the new restrictions will have wide-ranging effects on society, the assessment argues that the ability to form "bubbles" will address concerns over social isolation and loneliness.

The Government document carries research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) opinions and lifestyle survey, which found that levels of anxiety are 20 per cent higher than pre-pandemic. The research also reveals that 70 per cent of the population are either somewhat or very worried about the impact of coronavirus on their life, while 27 per cent have reported feeling lonely.

The analysis argues that moving between different tiers will have different implications for society.

How England's population has moved into the new lockdown tiers

In one example, it says that an "improvement in mental health through increased social contacts may be offset by an increase in road traffic accidents" as more travel is permitted in lower restriction areas.

The document cites a recent study from University College London, which found that an increasing number of people are worried about their finances. One in three now are now concerned about their financial wellbeing, up from one in four over the summer.

One in six are concerned about unemployment, while one in 12 are worried about access to food. However, there is no analysis of how the strengthened tier system will impact on such concerns.

The Government reports that there was a reduction in theft and the overall number of victims of crime during the first national lockdown, but domestic abuse-related incidents increased.

However, the document claims there had been an increase in abuse-related offences before the pandemic "due to improvements in the recording of these offences". It says it is "hard to determine" whether the increase can be attributed to the pandemic.

The analysis admits that closing schools in the first lockdown had a "significant impact on educational outcomes", as well on parents’ ability to work, and says keeping educational settings open across all tiers is a priority.

However, the Government will be setting out an "updated contingency framework" in the coming days to outline how further restrictions to educational facilities could be enacted. The analysis says ministers will do everything possible to avoid bringing in such "contingency measures".

The document says keeping educational settings open across all tiers is a priority

Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

What it doesn’t say:

The assessment argues that the impact of the tiered system on crime is "unclear". While domestic-abuse related incidents increased, it finds that it is "hard to determine" whether this can be attributed to the pandemic.

There is also no mention of the impact of the tiered system on relationships and marriage breakdown. Recent ONS data found that, of those who said their wellbeing was affected by coronavirus, almost one third said a strain on personal relationships had affected their happiness in the past seven days.

The document does not contain information on how schools will be impacted under the strengthened tier system, saying only that the Department for Education will update its guidance "in the coming days". The impact on childcare is not addressed. Many parents have struggled because of a reduced pool of informal childcare options throughout the pandemic.

There is also no mention of the impact of the tiered system on charities and volunteering. A recent survey found that one in 10 UK charities are facing bankruptcy by the end of the year, and recent research found that volunteering dropped by 50 per cent in the second lockdown.

Macron’s party backtracks on plan to curb filming of police officers | Reuters

3 Min Read

PARIS (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party agreed on Monday to completely rewrite a draft plan that would have curbed the freedom to share images identifying police officers, after large protests over the weekend against police violence.

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More than 133,000 people, including 46,000 in Paris alone, demonstrated against the draft bill and in favour of free speech on Saturday.

The rallies followed the publication of video footage of a Black man being beaten up by three police officers inside his own music studio earlier this month that Macron has branded “shameful” for France.

A provision in the draft law known as article 24, a key plank in Macron’s plans to court right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order ahead of his 2022 re-election bid, had sparked outrage in the media and on the left of his own party.

“We propose a new version of article 24 and a new version will be submitted,” Christophe Castaner, head of Macron’s Republic on the Move (LaRem) party in the lower house of parliament, told a news conference.

Article 24 did not ban outright the sharing of images of the police, but made it a crime — punishable by a year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($54,000) fine — to share them with an “obvious intention to harm”.

“DOUBTS”

French journalists and even the government’s own independent ombudsman on human rights said the article was too vague and could have a chilling effect on people wanting to expose police brutality.

The footage showing the violent arrest of Michel Zecler in his studio, which prompted international criticism, made it even less tenable for Macron to press on with article 24, French officials said.

“We acknowledge that there are doubts, that some people consider that the right to inform is under threat… That is why it is necessary to clarify it,” Castaner said.

His statement came after Macron held an emergency meeting on the bill at the Elysee palace earlier on Monday with leaders of his parliamentary majority and his tough-talking interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, a former conservative.

Many of Macron’s more centre-left followers have expressed dismay at what they see as the president’s “conservative turn” in recent months.

The stated aim of the broader “general security” bill is to provide better protection for French police officers, whose unions said were under heavy strain after months of violent “yellow vest” protests.

A new version of article 24 will be submitted at a later date, officials said, although it remained unclear when, since the bill, approved last week by the lower house, has now been sent to the upper house, where the conservatives, and not Macron’s party, have a majority.

($1 = 0.8371 euros)

Reporting by Geert De Clercq, Michel Rose and John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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