Latest updates on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Oxfordshire. This is a rolling story and it will be updated with any significant developments.
11.15am on 03 January
The prime minister has warned that regional restrictions in England are “probably about to get tougher”, to curb rising coronavirus infections.
Boris Johnson told the BBC tougher measures may be required in parts of the country in the coming weeks to stem surging COVID-19 rates, including the possibility of keeping schools closed, although this is not “something we want to do”.
Amid concerns about pressure on the NHS, Mr Johnson said that ministers had to be “realistic” about the spread of the new variant of the virus.
Asked whether it may be necessary to introduce tougher “tier 5” restrictions in the near future, Mr Johnson told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr show on Sunday that his government was “entirely reconciled to doing what it takes to get the virus down”, and he warned of a “tough period ahead”.
11.00pm on 02 January
The National Education Union (NEU), the UK’s biggest teaching union has called for all schools in England to be shut for two weeks after the Christmas break due to a surge in coronavirus.
The call came after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that all primary schools in London would not open on Monday, rather than only those in some boroughs. He had previously announced closures that only affected primary schools in some boroughs rather than across the entire capital.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint head of the NEU which has more than 450,000 members, called for all primary and secondary schools to be closed, saying “what is right for London is right for the rest of the country”.
9.30pm on 31 December
It’s expected that all primary schools in Oxfordshire will reopen on 04 January as planned. Secondary schools will reopen on 11 January for exam years (Years 11 and 13), and the following week (18 January) for other years.
Hundreds of primary schools in 50 coronavirus hotspots across England will remain shut to all but key workers’ and vulnerable children until 18 January (following a review on 13 January). The areas affected are 23 boroughs of London, 11 boroughs in Essex, 9 boroughs in Kent, two in East Sussex, four in Hertfordshire, and Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
All schools in England should be open again “at the earliest possible moment”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says. Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said that closures should be “as short as possible”, and stressed that the government was closing primary schools and secondary schools to pupils “on public health advice”.
Remote learning will be “mandatory” from the week commencing 11 January for all secondary students other than Years 11 and 13, who will return to school.
5.30pm on 30 December
In a Downing Street press briefing, and referring to the new tier measures announced earlier by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has said that “No-one regrets these measures more bitterly than I do, but we must take firm action now.”
He added that the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is a “fantastic achievement for British science” which will allow the UK to vaccinate more people more quickly. He urged the public to “…follow the rules where you live tomorrow night and see in the new year safely at home…”.
The prime minister went on to spell out that the early months of 2021 were still going to be fraught with anxiety, disruption and the disease as the vaccination programme is rolled-out and scaled-up.
Echoing the PM, Professor Powis, NHS England’s national medical director said: “Stay at home, mark the new year with just nearest and dearest within the rules. Covid loves a crowd, so please leave the parties for later in the year.”
The priority is to vaccinate more people at least once, and there will be over 1,500 local vaccination centres across the country, to support the roll-out.
4.30pm on 30 December
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has confirmed that the “overwhelming majority” of primary schools will open as planned on Monday 04 January, and secondary schools and colleges by 11 January for those in exam years, and a week later for everyone else.
He added that “In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest, we will implement our existing contingency framework, such that only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face.”
Secondary schools and colleges in areas of England with very high rates of coronavirus infection rates will not open to all pupils in January. This is because the coronavirus infection rate is particularly high among this age group.
For those areas affected, face-to-face education will continue for only exam-year pupils, vulnerable children and children of critical workers. Remote education will be given to all other students., and there will be a review after two weeks.
The list of areas will be published later on the government’s website.
Universities are being asked to reduce the number of students who return to campus at the start of January, prioritising students who require practical learning to gain their qualifications. All students are to be offered two rapid tests on return to campus.
You’ll find Gavin Williamson’s address on the gov.uk website.
4.00pm on 30 December
Officials from Oxfordshire County Council have said that steep rises in COVID-19 cases in Oxfordshire have continued with people being strongly urged enter the New Year strictly abiding by the new tier 4 level of restrictions that came in to force on Boxing Day.
Tier 4 is the highest alert level in the national four-tier system, and it means that Oxfordshire residents must stay at home, except for a limited number of purposes. These include essential work that cannot be done from home, buying food, taking exercise, or getting medical treatment. In tier 4, you cannot meet other people socially indoors, unless you live with them or are part of a support bubble.
Ansaf Azhar, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Public Health, said: “We have had some good news with the new Oxford vaccine being approved and we know that a number of people in Oxfordshire have now begun the process of being vaccinated. However, we cannot allow this to tempt us into relaxing – we still have tough Winter weeks ahead of us before the vaccines will start to have an impact.
“Unless we all take personal responsibility as individuals and families in the early weeks of 2021, we will create a deeply deteriorating situation in January. This means putting even more pressure on our NHS at its busiest time of year.”
3.30pm on 30 December
As expected, more areas of England will be moving into the Tier 4 restrictions from midnight.
The Midlands, North East, parts of the North West and parts of the South West were among the areas escalated to Tier 4, with almost all remaining areas escalated to Tier 3. It is now the case that more the 75% of the population is under Tier 4 restriction, and there’s barely any area left in the first two tiers.
Oxfordshire will remain in Tier 4 until the next government review on 13 January. You’ll find just about all you need to know about what you can, or cannot do, in Tier 4 here. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will be setting out plans for start of school term in England later today.
11.30am on 30 December
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to make an announcement on the Tier system today as part of the government’s fortnightly review of the COVID-19 Tier system.
It is thought that more areas could move into the higher levels of restrictions as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. It is also thought that the Tier 4 restrictions could get tighter, for example with schools not opening, because cases are rising even where there are current Tier 4 restrictions in place.
In particular, it is expected that Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, will set out new plans for the start of the school term in England in the Commons, amid growing pressure for keeping schools in England closed for two extra weeks foolowing the Christmas break.
This comes on the back of the news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in the UK.
11.30am on 30 December
The government figures below show the number of new cases and change in the rates for this week (up to 25 December) compared to the previous week (up to 18 December) across the county.
Additional data can be found at the Oxfordshire County Council’s COVID-19 dashboard.
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