Early evening summary
Government rules out refunds on railcards not used during lockdown
The government has this evening ruled out giving refunds to people holding railcards they have been unable to use – or granting a time extension – despite ongoing travel restrictions in place as a result of coronavirus.
There are an estimated 5.1m railcards in circulation in the UK, typically triggering discounts of about a third on ticket prices, and valid for a year.
But restrictions brought in to contain the coronavirus mean that train services have been cut and only essential journeys made by key workers, so it is unlikely many cards have been used. There are seven cards, including senior railcards for the 60-plus age group and a 16 – 25 card for younger travellers.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which administers the scheme, said:
After careful consideration, the government has confirmed to us that railcards will remain non-refundable and will not be extended.
We understand that this decision may not be the news our customers had been hoping for. Refunding or extending railcards for over 5.1m customers would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer at a time when the focus must be on maintaining rail services to support the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
The news will be a disappointment not only to railcard holders but also to the passenger group Transport Focus which had been calling for either an extension or a discount on renewal.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said:
Passengers bought railcards in good faith and will be disappointed by the decision not to extend them or offer a discount on renewal to make up for the period when we were encouraged not to travel.
While the Government continues to provide high levels of support to make sure the day to day railway keeps operating, it seems a pity some slack could not be given on this issue to encourage people back to rail travel.
The Rail Delivery Group has created an FAQ page here.
‘Things definitely heading in wrong direction’ – Summary of Johnson/Whitty/Vallance press conference
Here are the main points from No 10 press conference.
- Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the figures were “definitely heading in the wrong direction” in the fight against coronavirus. His phrase summed up the main message of a press conference intended to reinforce the need for the restrictions already in place and counter any public complacency. Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, presented eight slides showing the extent to which the virus is spreading. He said there was a “significant rise” in test positivity in the north-east and north-west of England, and Yorkshire and Humber. “This increase is accelerating quite rapidly in some of those areas,” he said. And he said hospitalisation was rising, particularly in hotspots, though the figures remain “in a much lower level than at the beginning of April”. Whitty summed up:
We are pointing out that the direction of travel for both hospitals and intensive care is going in the wrong direction, particularly in these areas that have seen rapid increases in cases.
And Vallance said: “Things are definitely heading in the wrong direction.”
- Whitty said the NHS could soon be under pressure if case numbers were not contained.
- Boris Johnson said he would not hesitate to order further measures if necessary. But he stressed that he hoped he would not have to. He said:
I have to be clear, that if the evidence requires it, we will not hesitate to take further measures that would, I’m afraid, be more costly than the ones we have put into effect now.
But if we put in the work together now, then we give ourselves the best possible chance of avoiding that outcome and avoiding further measures.
- Johnson and Whitty both said it was possible that the next wave of the epidemic might be more localised. Johnson said:
We are seeing some very clear local peaks, just as there were local peaks in Italy and other countries. It’s too early to say, but it may be that this is a more localised phenomenon this time, in which case all the more reason for us to concentrate on these local solutions as well as these national solutions.
And Whitty said:
If you look around Europe during the first wave that happened here, the UK was actually an outlier in having an epidemic that was almost uniform in shape, although not absolutely in size, across the whole country. If you look at Italy and Spain, for example, [they had] significant epidemics, but highly concentrated.
Now it is possible that in this next stage of the epidemic here we will have a pattern more like that, where it is more highly concentrate in certain areas, lower rates in the others. But it is far to early to say that. We have got a long winter ahead of us, and a lot could happen in that time.
But later Johnson said he did not want people to get the wrong idea from this. Towards the end of the press conference he said:
Listening to this, I realise there is a slight danger of people getting the wrong message from this, in the sense, yes of course it is more acute in these particular local areas, but it is vital to stress that this remains a national threat and a national challenge, and we all have to fight it together.
- Johnson said he would be providing regular press conferences to update people on the fight against coronavirus.
While the press conference was taking place, MPs voted by 330 to 24 – a majority of 306 – to renew the powers in the Coronavirus Act.
That’s it. The briefing is now over.
I’ll post a summary soon.
Johnson says he is worried people might be getting the wrong message. He says he wants to stress that coronavirus is a problem everywhere.
Q: A recent survey showed that only 20% of people are self-isolating when asked to. Why is that? And are you saying the government’s plan is to come down hard on the north of England to spare London and the south?
Johnson says the government just wants to bring the R number down by stamping on where cases are highest. If people are in any doubt, they should check the rules on the website.
Vallance says it would be wrong to say this is just a problem in some areas. It is worse in some areas. But it is a problem everywhere.
Self-isolation is vital, he says. If people circulate, they will give the virus to others.
Vallance says more recent figures might suggest better compliance. The survey a few weeks ago referred to intent to self-isolate, he says.
(But there are also studies, like this one, showing a very low proportion of people actually self-isolating when asked to.)
Q: Do you accept many people are not wearing masks?
Johnson says people should wear masks. Fines will be imposed on people who don’t.
Vallance says case numbers are going up. Adherence to the rules is crucial, he says.
Johnson and Whitty say Covid outbreak may be ‘more localised’ now than in spring
Q: There were 71 deaths just before the full lockdown. There are 71 deaths now. What is the difference?
Johnson says it is possible that there is a difference in the way the disease is expressing itself in the country. There are local peaks. It may be “more localised” this time.
Whitty says Italy and Spain had significant epidemics that were highly concentrated.
He says it is possible that this might be happening here. He says it may be “more localised” this time.
As for the comparison with March, he says the doubling time at the moment is slower than in March, when it was three to four days.
Initially they underestimated how quickly the virus was doubling then.
But the small number of deaths now does not mean that we could get to larger numbers of death quite quickly.
Vallance says things are heading in the wrong direction. There is no room for complacency.
We need to reduce contacts in certain environments, in particular indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated.
Q: What are the chances of more restrictions everywhere?
Johnson says we know we can drive down the virus, because we did it before.
He says a package of measures is in place, a combination of national rules and local ones. And there is tougher enforcement.
He says he hopes that, if people follow the guidance as before, then we can get the spread down.
He wants to do that while keeping the economy open and young people in education, he says.
Success will be judged in the days and weeks ahead, he says.
Q: Your presentation last week was controversial. Do you still think cases are doubling every week?
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said he was trying to get across three messages in his presentation last week.
He says he wanted to make the point that more cases could lead to more deaths, that case numbers were growing already, and that cases could double very quickly.
He says cases are going up, and the number of deaths is rising.
But he says it is much more likely that in April and March there were over 100,000 cases per day. So you cannot make a like for like comparison between the published figures then and the published figures now (which are higher).
Q: How are enforcement agencies going to stop people travelling from lockdown areas to non-lockdown areas?
Johnson says people should look at the rules on the website.
But he does not want to go back to a national lockdown where people are told to stay at home, he says.
Johnson is taking questions from members of the public.
Q: What support is in place for young people?
Johnson says there is a package of support. He thanks students for how they are behaving. He says the Kickstart programme will help young people into work.
And he wants to help young people retrain, as he set out yesterday, he says.
Whitty says his NHS colleagues wanted him to stress that the NHS is open for patients.
Johnson underlines that point.
Whitty is now showing an animation illustrating how coronavirus spread in the spring, how it went down over the summer, and how it is coming back.
And Whitty says this slide shows hospital admission rates by region.
The final slide shows admissions to intensive care. In some areas they are rising sharply, he says.
But he says there is no danger of the NHS being overwhelmed.
Whitty says this slide shows hospital admission rates.
Whitty says this slide shows positivity rates for under-21s.
Amongst the very young, rates are not rising. But amongst older people in this group, they are.
Whitty: proportion of people testing positive is going up
Whitty says some people think there are just more cases because more people are testing positive.
But this slide shows that is not the case, he says. It shows the positivity rate – the proportion of people testing positive. They are going up, he says.