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London politics latest news: Boris Johnson eased restrictions to avoid party headlines, Welsh minister claims

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Ireland drops almost all Covid restrictions

Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin has confirmed that almost all Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted from 6am on Saturday. The only rules which will remain in place will be face masks, self isolating after testing positive for the virus and Covid passes for international travel.

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Northern Ireland health minister ‘cautiously optimistic’ on Covid

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is cautiously optimistic about Covid.

Earlier this week the Stormont Executive announced a swathe of relaxations of the restrictions.

From Friday rules on table service in pubs and restaurants were relaxed and the requirement to provide exemptions on wearing face masks was removed.

“I have always taken the decision at the time in regards to the advice that was put forward via my chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, so February 10, while it will be a key date, let’s make sure we get there safely and as collectively as we can,” Mr Swann told reporters at Dunsilly, Co Antrim.

“I would still encourage people to follow the guidance, follow the regulations that are still in place and take the opportunities to come forward and get their vaccines and their boosters.

“There are three weeks to go and I want to keep the trajectory of this virus going in the same direction as it has been, and that’s downwards.”

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PM: Let London’s recovery begin now

Boris Johnson and Mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday hailed the start of a “Great Return” into London as Tube figures showed more commuters already heading back to the city centre, writes Jonathan Prynn, Nicholas Cecil and David Bond.

Mr Johnson told the Evening Standard: “As we begin to put Plan B restrictions behind us, it’s brilliant to see London getting back on its feet.

“This Government’s booster plan, aided by one of the biggest testing programs in the world, has allowed us to be one of the most open economies in recent months and thanks to the millions who stepped up to get their third dose we can now go even further.”

He talked of “bustling high streets” and the “West End alive again”, adding: “We now have real cause to hope that brighter days lie ahead for our great city.”

Mr Khan was also upbeat about the recovery but was keeping mask wearing as a condition of travel on Transport for London services.

He said: “As Covid restrictions ease, I’m encouraged to see the ‘Great Return’ beginning — with people getting back into central London to experience everything the capital has to offer, from catching up with colleagues in the office to enjoying our world -class culture and hospitality industries.

“The lifting of working from home guidance in particular is welcome news to businesses who have experienced a devastating decline in footfall after already being hit so hard by this pandemic.”

Read our full story here.

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‘Half a million’ daily Covid cases each day over Christmas

New cases of Covid in the UK averaged nearly half a million a day during the week after Christmas, almost three times the official figures, new analysis suggests.

An average of 173,400 new cases of coronavirus per day were recorded from December 26 to January 1, according to the Government’s Covid-19 dashboard.

But the true number of cases was likely to be nearer 479,100 a day, according to estimates by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS figures are based on analysis of nose and throat swabs taken from a representative sample of more than 150,000 people in private households.

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Isolation and masks to remain in Wales

Masks and self-isolation rules will remain in Wales despite being lifted in England, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed today.

“The next review of the coronavirus regulations, including all the protective measures we have in place, will be in three weeks’ time,” he said.

“The arrival of the Omicron wave at Christmas was another unpleasant twist in this long-running pandemic.”

He would not give a date for when restrictions would be lifted, saying: “I’m the First Minister of Wales not a horoscope writer for a daily newspaper.

“It’s simply impossible for anybody to peer into the future with coronavirus with the sort of definiteness.”

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Dimbleby: Council tax hike could help fund BBC

David Dimbleby has suggested the BBC license fee should be linked to council tax to make it fairer.

His comments come days after the Government announced the license fee funding model could be scrapped by 2027.

A number of alternatives to funding for the license fee have been floated, including an opt-in subscription service similar to that used by streaming giants such as Netflix, the introduction of advertising, or a broadband levy.

Former Question Time host Mr Dimbleby told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “The license fee is something that I absolutely believe in; I don’t think you can have public service broadcasting without paying for it through the public purse in that way.

“But what I do think is the BBC should acknowledge that £159 paid by the poorest as well the richest is just unfair, it’s inequitable.

“And there’s a simple way in which the BBC can get on the front foot, which is by suggesting the license fee figure, the gross figure of £159, should not be paid flat rate by everybody but the richest should pay more and the poorest less.

“And the simple way of doing it would be to attach an element of the license fee to the council tax band.”

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France introducing Covid pass from Monday

France will introduce a Covid vaccination pass from Monday after the government’s plans were approved.

Everyone over the age of 16 will need a vaccine certificate to enter public places like restaurants and cinemas.

One condition was that the pass would not be required to attend political meetings.

It was ruled that it should end as soon as it is no longer necessary. Up until now, unvaccinated people could enter public venues with the results of a recent negative Covid test.

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Wales passed Omicron peak, says first minister

Wales has passed the peak of the Omicron wave, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Measures to slow the spread of Omicron are being eased in Wales on Friday, with thousands of fans set to return to sporting stadiums.

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England’s R number has fallen

England’s R rate has fallen since last week and is currently estimated to be between 0.8 and 1.1.

It is down from last week when it was thought to be between 1.1 and 1.5.

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Major incident stood down in London

The major incident declared in London last month as Omicron spread across the capital has been stood down.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan took the decision on December 18 to declare a major incident due to the spread of the variant, a rise in patients in London hospitals and the impact of staff absences in frontline services.

Mr Khan said he is standing down the major incident status but warned the city will remain on high alert.

The mayor’s office said the decision comes following the gradual improvement in the number of cases in the capital, the pressures on critical services delivery reducing to manageable levels and a significant improvement in staff absences.

Mr Khan said: “Our NHS and emergency services have gone above and beyond during an extremely testing period for our city.

“Everyone who wore a mask, took a lateral flow test or followed the advice to work from home where possible, has played their part in reducing the pressure they faced and enabled us to stand down the ‘major incident’ in London today.

“But the virus and the Omicron variant is still with us and daily infection rates are still too high.

“That’s why we must all remain vigilant and continue to do the things that have allowed our city to reopen safely.”

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