GP surgeries are “ready to go” on the vaccine rollout but don’t have the supplies amid concern from some over-80s that they are yet to be called up for their jabs.
Helen Salisbury, who runs a GP practice in Oxford, said that there is a “problem with supplies”, and told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “What I’m hearing more and more is we’re ready, we just don’t have the vaccine. It is a problem with supply.
“It’s not that we order and we get what we ask for, we get what we’re given. There’s lots of practices ready to go, but we don’t have the supply yet.”
Follow the latest updates below.
Africa’s COVID-19 death rate now higher than global rate
Africa’s coronavirus case fatality rate stands at 2.5%, higher than the global level of 2.2%, a trend that is alarming experts, the head of the continent’s disease control body said on Thursday, reports India McTaggart.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head John Nkengasong told reporters that earlier in the pandemic, Africa’s death rate had been below the global average.
“The case fatality rate is beginning to be very worrying and concerning for all of us,” he said.
The number of African nations with a death rate higher than the current global average is growing, he added.
There are 21 countries on the continent with a death rate of above 3%, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.
Over the past week, cases decreased by nearly 7% compared to the previous week while deaths increased 10%, according to Africa CDC data.
Africa has recorded 3.3 million coronavirus infections and 81,000 deaths as of Thursday, it says.
The continent reported 207,000 new cases in the past week, with South Africa alone reporting 100,000 of those new cases, Nkengasong said.
Fire at Oxford vaccine factory
A fire has broken out at the Serological Institute of India, which is making both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and local Covshield vaccines, reports Ben Farmer.
We’ll bring you more as soon as we have it, but early local reports say vaccine production is not affected.
Almost 9m borrow money because of Covid
Nearly nine million people had to borrow more money because of the coronavirus pandemic by December 2020, new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.
The data, published on Thursday, also showed the proportion of people borrowing £1,000 or more had increased from 35% to 45% since June 2020.
The ONS said the “labour market shocks” associated with the pandemic had been felt more by young people and the lowest paid, with those aged under 30 and those with household incomes under £10,000 were around 35% and 60% respectively more likely to be furloughed than the general population.
Of those who have not been able to work – either because of being on furlough or for another reason – more than half (52%) of people in the top income quintile continued to be paid in full, compared to 28% of those in the lowest.
Current lockdown measures may not be enough if people don’t stop mixing with others
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said experts working on the college’s React study are looking at whether current lockdown measures are enough to tackle the more transmissible variant of Covid-19, writes India McTaggart.
Professor Riley said there is “overwhelming” evidence that restricting social contact brings infection numbers down.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said both people’s behaviour and the transmissibility of the virus are contributing to the patterns of rising infections.
He added that he is “extremely concerned” about high infection rates in community transmissions, and that the number of people being treated in hospital is “astronomically high”.
He warned that infections could continue to rise if people’s behaviour in the current national lockdown in England stays the same.
Asked what he would say to lockdown naysayers, he said: “People changing their physical mixing directly affects the way that the virus transmits.
“And the observed decline in infections (in the first lockdown) that was linked to that change in behaviour is, in my view, scientific evidence that the behaviour and the transmission it is linked to is absolutely overwhelming.”
Schools need help with reopening
The Children’s Commissioner for England said she is pleased that the Government has adopted a “last to close, first to open” approach to schools, but said they need help with reopening, reports India McTaggart.
Anne Longfield told Sky News: “Schools don’t just open by themselves magically when infection rates get to a certain level.
“We need to make sure schools have all the measures in place to make sure they are safe to reopen and my hope is that certainly primary schools will be able to open after half-term when we believe the risks to children … and adults are much lower.”
Ms Longfield added that she wants politicians to “take poverty out of that too difficult box” and commit to plans to “turn around the life chances for much of the population”.
Williamson: Hopes schools will reopen before Easter
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he hopes schools in England can fully reopen before Easter.
“I would certainly hope that that would be certainly before Easter,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Any decision to open schools to all children is based on the best health advice and the best scientific advice.
“The reason that we were placed in the position to close schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children was down to the mounting pressure on the NHS.”
Is Education Secretary up to the task?
Asked about his own personal ability as Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said it was more important to talk about new Government initiatives to help those in need.
“I know journalists love to talk about ourselves an awful lot but I was actually rather hoping to talk about the 50% of youngsters who don’t go to university … a new programme that we’re launching to help address the skills gap,” he said.
Would you sack Williamson?
Speaking on Times Radio, he added: “This is about millions of youngsters, making sure they get the right skills in order to be able to move into work, making sure they’re not taking courses that are not leading them into a job.
“We want to make sure that a person of any age can access really high quality training.
“It may be fascinating to talk about politicians but I think it’s more important to talk about the actual millions of people whose lives that we believe that we can change.”
Parents will get ‘good notice’ when schools open
Gavin Williamson said that the Government would give parents and teachers “good notice” of when schools would reopen in order to give them time to prepare.
“We had to close schools, it was a national decision … to relieve pressure on the NHS and reduce movement, but we do want to see all schools open,” the Education Secretary told Times Radio.
“My enthusiasm to see them open will ensure that if we can get schools open at the earliest moment, then that is what we’ll be doing.
“We’ll give teachers and parents time to prepare … and give them good notice of it. But we want to see school children back.
“We’d aim to give teachers, pupils and parents two weeks’ notice so they’re able to get ready and we’ll always be looking for how we can get schools open for all at the earliest possible moment.”
Hopes daily testing at secondary schools will continue
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he hopes the daily testing of pupils and staff in secondary schools for coronavirus will be able to resume.
The programme was “paused” on Wednesday on the advice of Public Health England over concerns about the new variant of the virus.
Mr Williamson told BBC Breakfast: “With the emergence of a new variant what we have been asked to do by Public Health England is that they wanted to look at more detail as to how that was working with the new variant.
“We very much hope that we will be able to restart that programme that worked so well.”
Tory MP calls for schools to reopen, citing Telegraph story
Robert Halfon has been reading our Education Editor Camilla Turner‘s work this morning.
Middle-class children ‘spend more time learning’ in lockdown than poorer peers
Children from middle-class families are spending more time each day learning during this lockdown compared with their poorer peers, a survey suggests.
Schools are better prepared in delivering remote learning this time round, the report by the Sutton Trust suggests, with 23 per cent of primary school pupils doing more than five hours of learning a day, up from 11 per cent in late March.
But socio-economic gaps still remain as 35 per cent of the poorest households report that their children still do not have access to sufficient devices for online learning, compared to 11 per cent of high income households.
Two in five children in middle-class families are spending more than five hours a day on schoolwork, compared to 26 per cent of those in working-class households.
Schools ‘clear’ on ‘absolute minimum’ on remote education
Mr Williamson added that he had “made it clear to schools” what was the “absolute minimum” on remote education and had shared the details with parents.
“We’re making sure there’s that ultimate safety net because there are youngsters that may have a laptop but actually due to the area they live in, due to poor internet connection, aren’t able to access the level of services or aren’t in a situation where they are able to have that type of access.”
Laptops and tablets being sent to disadvantaged pupils
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that a further 1.3 million electronic devices would be distributed to help with remote learning as schools stayed shut.
He told Times Radio that provision of laptops, tablets and routers were “the ultimate safety net” for disadvantaged pupils.
“In terms of laptop and tablet provision, there’s already an existing stock within the school system of 2.9 million laptops and tablets,” he said.
“We’re obviously topping that up, another 750,000 have already been dispatched over the last couple of weeks (and) another 50,000 this week.
“We’re going to be taking that up to 1.3 million.”
Welsh government asked to reopen sport facilities
Labour Member of the Senedd John Griffiths has urged the Welsh government to reopen sports facilities in Wales.
I want schools to reopen as soon as possible, says Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he wants schools in England to reopen at “the earliest possible opportunity”.
Mr Williamson said one of the “key criteria” for reopening schools would be whether the pressure on the NHS was lifting.
He brushed off calls by the opposition to resign following a series of policy U-turns.
“My real focus is making sure that children get back into school at the earliest possible opportunity,” he told Sky News.
“Schools were the last to close and schools will very much be the first to reopen.”
Schools to get two weeks notice before they reopen
Schools will get two weeks notice before they reopen, Gavin Williamson has said, as he appeared to suggest a delay to mid-February plans.
The Education Secretary, who is under fire for constant U-turns and last minute decisions, told Sky News: “We have been wanting to give people as much notice as possible.”
Asked if that meant an announcement would be forthcoming next week, to be in time for the end of February half-term, he hinted this would not be the case.
“One key criteria is as to whether the pressures on the NHS have started to lift,” he said, adding it was “a decision very much in the national interest”.
He added: “Schools were last to close and will be very much first to open”
Dubai suspends non-essential surgery as infections surge
Dubai has suspended non-essential surgery for a month and live entertainment in hotels and restaurants until further notice as coronavirus infections surge.
Dubai’s health regulator said in a circular published on its website on Wednesday that the decision, which takes effect on Thursday and could be extended, was aimed at ensuring the preparedness of health facilities to manage Covid-19 cases.
Similarly, Dubai’s tourism department issued a circular, seen by Reuters, suspending entertainment in hotels and restaurants after recording an increase in violations.
The daily number of infections in the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, crossed the 3,000 threshold on Jan 12 and has continued to climb, hitting 3,506 on Wednesday.
Emergency application submitted for use of vaccine in Philippines
India’s Bharat Biotech submitted on Thursday an application for the emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines, Food and Drug Administration chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said.
Bharat Biotech, which has developed COVAXIN with the Indian Council of Medical Research, is the fourth vaccine maker to apply for emergency use in the Philippines.
Panasonic developing special containers for Pfizer vaccine
Japanese electronics maker Panasonic Corp. says it is using its refrigerator technology to develop special boxes for storing the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which must be kept at ultracold temperatures.
The company said Thursday that samples will be ready in March, with a product to follow a month or two later.
The box will use dry ice to maintain the temperature at the minus-70 degrees Celsius required for the Pfizer’s vaccine. It does not need to plug in.
Cases in China rise despite new restrictions
China reported a rise in new cases despite a flurry of recent measures to contain the latest outbreak in the northeast, with Heilongjiang province recording its biggest daily increase in new patients to date.
Tens of millions of residents in Hebei province surrounding Beijing, the northeastern Jilin province and Heilongjiang have been put into lockdown in recent weeks amid what is the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.
Authorities are asking people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays in February as part of the efforts to prevent another debilitating outbreak.
A total of 144 new cases were reported on Jan 20, the National Health Commission said on Thursday, matching the total reported on Jan 14 and marking the highest number of daily infections since March 1.
Call for travel ‘bubble’ after Australia records no cases for fourth day
Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country’s most populous state to call for a special travel “bubble” with Pacific island nations.
New South Wales has reined in an outbreak in mid-December that prompted a strict lockdown in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, while broader social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing were imposed for the rest of the city.
Signalling those restrictions were set to be eased next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the federal government should consider establishing a travel arrangement with the Pacific.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t aim to travel to New Zealand or some of the Pacific Islands well within the next 12 months,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Hong Kong reportedly set to approve Pfizer vaccine
Hong Kong is set to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the week, with a warehouse in the financial centre being selected to store the vials, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee is set to approve use of the vaccine this week, clearing the way for the first round of one million inoculations after Lunar New Year, the report added, citing a government source.
Lockdown having ‘little impact’ on Covid rates, researcher warn
A third pandemic lockdown appears to be having little impact on rates of Covid-19 in England, researchers warned on Thursday, with prevalence of the disease “very high” and “no evidence of decline” in the first 10 days of renewed restrictions.
Until rates of Covid-19 are reduced substantially, health services “will remain under extreme pressure” and the number of deaths will continue to rise rapidly, researchers leading Imperial College London’s REACT-1 prevalence study said.
“The number of Covid-19 in-patients (in hospital) is extremely high at the moment, and we can’t expect that to drop unless we can achieve lower levels of prevalence,” said Steven Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics who co-led the work.
“The fact that (prevalence) is not going down has potentially serious consequences.”