United Kingdom

Chief Rabbi condemns 'shameful' lockdown-busting wedding at Orthodox Jewish girls' school

The Chief Rabbi condemned a lockdown-busting wedding at an Orthodox Jewish girls' school where principal died from coronavirus in the first wave, branding it 'shameful'. 

Police raided the wedding inside Yesodey Hatorah Girls' Senior School in Stamford Hill, north London, which is being used as a coronavirus testing centre, on Thursday night.

Prominent members of the Jewish community condemned the wedding, with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis calling the event 'a most shameful desecration of all that we hold dear'.

He said on Twitter: 'At a time when we are all making such great sacrifices, it amounts to a brazen abrogation of the responsibility to protect life and such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community.'  

The organiser, who detectives are now searching for, is facing a £10,000 penalty and five others, thought to include the bride and groom, were stung £200 after officers busted the address at 9.14pm following a tip-off. 

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called the event at Yesodey Hatorah Girls' Senior School in Stamford Hill, north London, on Thursday night 'a most shameful desecration of all that we hold dear'

The organiser of a wedding attended by around 150 people on Thursday is facing a £10,000 fine, the Metropolitan Police (pictured during the raid) said

The building's windows had been covered to stop people seeing inside and many of the guests fled as the police arrived and avoided being fined.

Downing Street today condemned the 'selfish' illegal gathering which took place hours after Priti Patel announced a police crackdown on rule-breakers.

The Home Secretary said people attending illegal house parties will face £800 fines from next week, doubling for each offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

Speaking on Friday about the latest Covid restriction breach in Stamford Hill she said: 'This is deeply insulting to the vast majority of people doing the right thing by staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

'The Metropolitan Police acted quickly to take robust action against this unacceptable breach which has put the health of all of us at risk.'

Jewish leaders blasted the wedding - which costs about £750 at the venue - with the Chief Rabbi branding it 'a most shameful desecration of all that we hold dear'.

Yesodey Hatorah was run by Rabbi Avrohom Pinter until he was struck down and killed by coronavirus in April last year. 

No10 rowed in behind the police and supported them in doling out fines.

Yesodey Hatorah Girls was being held as a coronavirus testing centre for people in Hackney, opening on Sundays between 12pm and 3pm

The school was run by Rabbi Avrohom Pinter until he was struck down and killed by the infection in April last year

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'Large gatherings such as this pose a health risk not just to those who attend themselves but to those they live with and others who may come into contact with them.

'We fully back the police in taking action against people who flagrantly and selfishly break the rules.'

Yesodey Hatorah Girls' School was being held as a coronavirus testing centre for people in Hackney, opening on Sundays between 12pm and 3pm.

In recent years it has made huge sums of money renting out the school hall.

The school is regularly hired out for cut-price weddings at a cost of around £7,495 including hall hire, caterers, flowers, band and photographer. 

A freedom of information (FOI) request revealed in 2012 it made more than £75,000 in the year, having charged about £750 per event.

In documents released in an FOI in 2014, it showed that the school had a lettings hire contract with a subsidised wedding scheme called Simchas Nissuin, a Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) project.

Five other people, thought to include the bride and groom, were handed £200 fines after police were called at 9.14pm to a large gathering at Yesodey Hatorah Girls Senior School in Stamford Hill, London

Yesterday the UOHC denied any knowledge of the wedding. It is not known whether the agreement was still in place at the time of Thursday’s wedding or who organised it.

The Metropolitan Police originally said about 400 people had gathered inside the building for the lockdown wedding, but later said the number was closer to 150. 

The local mayor said the incident was not the first time people have flouted the rules at the venue during the pandemic.

Philip Glanville told the BBC: 'It's a deeply disturbing incident at a time when in Hackney we have seen the largest number of deaths reported since last April.

'Unfortunately, similar events have taken place even at this venue before and we need to be really clear how unacceptable it is.'

But he added: 'I think that would get very complicated to introduce some sort of penalty or blame for people for catching Covid.

The building's (pictured yesterday) windows had been covered to stop people seeing inside, the force said

'Obviously attending events like this is simply unacceptable, but if someone went home and brought that virus home and then the breadwinner in the household then has to take the time off work, I don't think plunging a family into poverty is the answer.' 

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the breach 'goes against Jewish teaching that preserving life is of the highest value'.

'The reckless and dangerous behaviour of those behind this event does not represent the attitude of the vast majority of British Jews, including from within the Strictly Orthodox community, who are fully aware of the terrible toll of this pandemic.

'At the latest count, 740 members of the Jewish community were among the more than 90,000 UK fatalities from Covid.'

Hackney and Tower Hamlets have become hotspots for lockdown flouters, with more than 140 fines totalling £39,000 dished out in the two boroughs last weekend.

Cases remain high there, with 1,819 new infections recorded in the seven days to January 17 at a rate of 625.4 per 100,000 people. 

Coronavirus infections in London are shown on this graph released by the government

Coronavirus deaths in the capital are shown on this graph released by the government

This map shows most of London - including Hackney where the wedding was - has a high seven–day rolling rate of new cases up to January 16

The school has distanced itself from the wedding, saying it was 'absolutely horrified' at the news.

A spokesman said: 'We are absolutely horrified about last night's event and condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

26 British 'gap-year students' are quarantined at a French ski resort after 16 tested positive

A group of 26 British skiers is in isolation in a French resort after 16 tested positive for Covid.

Villagers in the tiny commune of Vallorcine, in the Chamonix Valley, have branded the party 'irresponsible' for escaping UK lockdown to go skiing.

The Brits, described as gap-year students who paid £8,900 each for the ten-week ski course, arrived in France by road, air or train between January 13 and 17.

Some were delayed after they were stopped from boarding a Eurostar train at London St Pancras in breach of coronavirus restrictions and were forced to find other means of travel or forgo the trip.

The students, mostly aged 18 to 20 years old, were booked on a British Association of Snowsport Instructors course with Peak Leaders in Verbier, Switzerland.

But due to a ban on people entering Switzerland from the UK, organisers claimed to have found a legal loophole and arranged instead for the group to travel to France.

The plan was for the party to spend the first 10 days in Vallorcine, a hamlet of 400 people near Chamonix that sits on the French-Swiss border, to remove the need to quarantine on arrival in Switzerland.

However on Tuesday one of the students 'felt a bit tired and run-down' and had a Covid test which proved positive.

The rest of the group was tested the following day.

'We lease our hall to an external organisation which manages all lettings and, as such, we had no knowledge that the wedding was taking place.

'We have terminated the agreement with immediate effect. We are investigating how this shocking breach has happened and have no plans to re-lease the premises to any third party.

'We deplore the actions of anyone in any community breaking the law and risking people's lives in this way.'

Under current lockdown rules, weddings and civil partnerships can only take place with up to six people.

Government guidance states they should only go ahead in exceptional circumstances, such as where one partner is seriously ill. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett, central east BCU commander, slammed the party in Stamford Hill as 'completely unacceptable'.

He said: 'This was a completely unacceptable breach of the law, which is very clearly in place to save lives and protect the NHS.

'An NHS that is under considerable pressure at a time when Covid-19 has killed nearly 100,000 people.

'This is a deadly and very dangerous disease. We can all see that and we must act responsibly.

'People across the country are making sacrifices by cancelling or postponing weddings and other celebrations and there is no excuse for this type of behaviour.

'My officers are working tirelessly with the community and we will not hesitate to take enforcement action if that is required to keep people safe.'

He later added: 'Given the seriousness of this breach and the number of people who were in attendance, I have asked my local officers to conduct a post-incident investigation.

'This wedding broke the law and put lives in danger and I am determined to take action to identify all those responsible for organising the event and ensure they are held to account.'

Elsewhere, the Met said the owner of a makeshift nail salon operating from a garden outbuilding in Croydon, south London, is facing a £1,000 fine.

Two women found having treatments there on Monday could get £200 fixed-penalty notices.

Police have given seven people who had gathered to watch television and eat together at a home in Romford, east London, last Sunday, penalties.

Flanking Ms Patel at the press conference last night, NHS England chief for London Dr Vin Diwakar compared breaking the rules to turning on a light in the Blitz.

As part of the Home Secretary's new crackdown, adverts have been produced with an image of partygoers covered in yellow tape which warns of the £800 penalty

Government 'is already in talks with hotel chains' amid plan to force UK arrivals to quarantine at airports

Ministers are in talks with hotel chains over plans to force UK arrivals to quarantine at airports, it was claimed today.

Travellers could be prevented from using their own accommodation under the proposals being put together by the government. Using GPS tags to ensure compliance is also believed to have been considered.

The draconian 'quarantine hotel' system, similar to that used in Australia and New Zealand, is a prospect amid rising fears about the spread of Covid variants around the globe.

Arrivals would potentially have to pay for their stays while they self-isolate for 10 days, or even a fortnight. There are reports today that negotiations are already taking place with hotel chains, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was in favour.

The powerful Covid O Cabinet sub-committee is due to discuss the ideas over the coming days - although a final decision is not likely until next week.

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary George has refused to rule out even more drastic action, with foreigners barred from coming to the UK altogether.

Asked about the possibility, Mr Eustice told Sky News: 'We always keep these things under review. And it has been considered.

'There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains.'

Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry and put the holiday plans of millions at risk.

'This is the biggest health emergency to face this country since the Second World War,' Dr Diwakar said.

'For me and my colleagues in the NHS breaking the rules in the way that's been described is like switching on a light in the middle of the blackout in the Blitz.

'It doesn't just put you at risk in your house, it puts your whole street and the whole of your community at risk.'

Ms Patel told the press conference: 'These fines will apply to those who attend illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in homes.

'The science is clear: such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health. Not only to those in attendance but to our wonderful police officers who attend these events to shut them down.'  

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said officers had had to deal with several dangerous parties this week, including one with 150 people in Hertfordshire and another with 40 people in Brick Lane in London's East End. 

He said large gatherings such as house parties are 'dangerous, irresponsible, and totally unacceptable'.

'I hope that the likelihood of an increased fine acts as a disincentive for those people who are thinking of attending or organising such events,' he said.

'When we see people that are putting themselves and others in danger, we will not waste time trying to reason with them. They are demonstrating no regard for the safety of others, or even for themselves.'

Meanwhile the Crown Prosecution Service revealed that assaults on emergency workers were the most common Covid-related crimes.

The CPS said it charged 1,688 people for assaults against emergency workers between April 1 and September 30, following the UK's first national lockdown.

Many of these involved police officers being 'coughed and spat on' and others being 'kicked, bitten and hit with heavy objects'.

Director of public prosecutions Max Hill said the attacks were 'particularly appalling' and incidents were still taking place, adding: 'I will continue to do everything in my power to protect those who so selflessly keep us safe during this crisis.'

At the Downing Street briefing, Ms Patel said breaches of lockdown rules were 'costing lives'.

The number of people developing Covid-19 every day appears to have halved in a fortnight from 70,000 on January 8 to 34,000 today, according to the Covid Symptom Study, which uses self-reported symptoms through a mobile app used by around a million people

The ONS report today said the number of people likely to test positive for coronavirus came down from 1.122million on January 2 to 1.023million on January 16

NHS Test and Trace data shows 330,871 people tested positive across the country in the week ending January 13. For comparison, the figure stood at 389,191 the week before

Official statistics from Public Health England show coronavirus infections dropped in every region of England in the week to January 17. Above is the graph showing the sharpest drop in London

And infections are also thought to have declined in every group except toddlers, the latest PHE data suggests

She said: 'We are clear that the majority of the British public are following the rules.

'You've heard, quite frankly, some pretty shocking examples (of rule breaches) from Martin (Hewitt) - I hear examples like that every single day from police and it is really just very disturbing to hear examples of the grievous breaches.

No10 and Treasury slam Matt Hancock's 'bonkers' plan to PAY people who test positive £500 Covid handouts

Matt Hancock faced a furious backlash today after 'bonkers' plans surfaced to give everyone testing positive for Covid £500.

The proposal, which would cost up to £450million a week, is aimed at encouraging more people to undergo swabs and self-isolate to stop the virus spreading.

Detailed in an official policy paper, it is said to be the 'preferred position' of Mr Hancock's Department of Health.

Officials fear that too many with Covid symptoms fail to take a test in case knowing a positive result stops them working.

However, it appears to have blindsided Downing Street, with sources making clear No10 was had not seen the blueprint before it was leaked and warning it would create 'perverse incentives'.

Treasury officials said it was 'not going to happen' and swiped that they had 'zero idea' how Mr Hancock allowed it to get traction. 'Just bonkers. The whole country will suddenly develop a dry cough,' one said.

In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice refused to rule out the plan entirely, saying ministers were looking at reasons why people avoid self-isolating with Covid symptoms.

But he stressed that 'no decisions' had been taken and the government was 'always keeping multiple policies under review'.

'The majority of the British public who are complying with the rules will want that assurance, they want to know that when it comes to policing that those who are breaking the rules are being fined.

'These grievous breaches are costing lives.'

The UK recorded another 37,892 infections yesterday, but that was down more than a fifth on last Thursday.

There were another 1,290 deaths but that was up just 3.4 per cent on the same day last week, suggesting the rate might be slowing.

Dr Diwakar said: 'The situation in our hospitals in the NHS remains really precarious.

'In London, more than half of all patients in hospital are being treated for coronavirus and sadly over 1,000 patients died in hospital in London just last week, every single one a tragedy.

'Nationally, there are 34,000 people in hospital and pressure remains intense on our staff.

'We do have hope now with an increasing amount of people vaccinated but we must remain vigilant. Stay home, follow the guidance and help us to save lives.'

Elsewhere Government officials reportedly launched talks with hotel groups over the possibility of hosting incoming travellers following their arrival in the UK.

The move is said to be part of the Government's effort to prevent the spread of mutant Covid strains in Britain - with officials fearing the variants could be resistant to the current vaccines.

The UK on Thursday recorded its worst daily coronavirus death toll, with 1,820 fatalities.

Under such a scheme, arrivals could be forced to stay in designated hotels for up to 14 days. Food would be provided by the hotel or ordered in via a local takeaway service.

The Home Secretary said it is 'far too early' to speculate on restrictions, when asked whether people should be booking a foreign holiday for this summer.

Asked whether Britain could keep its borders closed to people outside the UK until the autumn, she said: 'Our focus of course, with regards to borders and travel, people should not be travelling (now) unless of course it is absolutely critical and essential.'

She said the Government's focus remains on delivering the vaccine.

She added: 'We have stringent measures (at the border) for a very good reason because we want to protect the health of members of the public and also we want to make sure that we can deliver and safeguard this world-leading vaccine rollout programme.'

'We stand ready to strengthen our border policy,' he said. 'If there is anything further we need to introduce ... we will take action.' 

Similar systems have been used in Australia, which recorded just 204 new Covid cases in the last 14 days, and New Zealand, which recorded just 81 cases in the last fortnight.

If the UK does follow in the footsteps of Australia, it could be the traveller who foots the bill for the hotel stay.

Ms Patel was accompanied by Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council, and Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England regional medical director for London.

She faces scrutiny over her attitude to the border, after revealing this week that she clashed with Boris Johnson last March, saying the borders should be immediately closed.

Tony Blair calls for 600,000 people to be vaccinated EVERY DAY 

Tony Blair has called for 600,000 vaccinations to be carried out each day to enable almost all Covid restrictions to be lifted by mid-May, four months earlier than currently planned.

The former prime minister said an accelerated rollout, as vaccine production is stepped up, could see the country move back to Tier Three restrictions in late February and Tier One as soon as early April. 

Most remaining restrictions could be lifted as soon as around 70 per cent of adults have been vaccinated – mid-May under Mr Blair's plans.

The accelerated rollout could also save 3,000 extra lives and around £50billion in lost economic activity, says a report by the Tony Blair Institute. 

The intervention comes amid growing concern that Britain's vaccine roll-out is slowing down and that the pledge to vaccinate the most vulnerable by mid-February is under threat.

The report by the Tony Blair Institute said that with rates of manufacture set to grow rapidly in coming weeks, new modelling shows just how much there is to gain if the UK can be ready for accelerated rollout.

It lays out plans for an accelerated rollout plan which would grow to average 600,000 vaccines per day in March.

The plans include working with manufacturers to speed up production as well as opening more vaccine centres.

In the foreword, Mr Blair said: 'The UK government is ramping up vaccination, and this is excellent news. There is acceptance that the only constraint should be the supply of vaccines.

The Prime Minister only this month introduced plans to make all arrivals, UK and foreign nationals, prove they had tested negative for coronavirus on arrival.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said yesterday the Home Secretary may have broken the ministerial code by advocating border closures against Government policy.

As a Secretary of State, Ms Patel must abide by the principle that ministers maintain a united front on positions after they have been agreed.

'She may have broken the ministerial code but that is secondary. The issue that matters here is has the Prime Minister, has the Cabinet, taken the measures necessary to secure our borders.

'People are much more interested in that question than whether somebody has broken the ministerial code.'

It came as Covid cases dropped 15 per cent during the first week of England's lockdown, according to official figures that offer more evidence that the blanket measure is working.

NHS Test and Trace data yesterday showed 330,871 people tested positive for coronavirus across the country during the week ending January 13. For comparison, the figure stood at 389,191 in the first week of 2021.

It is the first week-on-week fall since the beginning of December, when cases dipped as England emerged from its second national lockdown.

But last week's fall was not down to fewer tests being carried out — an extra 400,000 swabs were analysed in the most recent seven-day spell and the number of positives still dropped. It is another promising sign that the third lockdown, which began on January 5, is bringing England's outbreak under control.

Although cases are high with tens of thousands more cases every day, infections have stopped rising at the rate they were in December when the virus was out of control.

But the figures come after a shocking study yesterday suggested England's third lockdown isn't working. Imperial College London's REACT-1 mass-testing project estimated 1.58 per cent of England's population had coronavirus in the first 10 days of lockdown, sparking fears that the current restrictions aren't tough enough.

Dismissing the fears that even tighter measures are needed, scientists said the Imperial study does not prove that infections are rising because it missed out a drop from the second wave's likely peak in December.

Researchers behind the study, which could be used to pile more pressure on Boris Johnson, hoped further testing in January would show infection numbers come down as the effects of lockdown properly set in.

Other studies tracking the Covid outbreak suggest more optimistic trends. Even Department of Health statistics show daily infections have plunged since the start of the lockdown, from an average of almost 60,000 to closer to 40,000.

Cambridge University estimates show that the R rate of the virus is likely below one, while Public Health England last week claimed cases dropped in all age groups. King's College researchers also say cases have fallen 'steadily' since the New Year.

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