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Coronavirus latest news: No guarantee England will end restrictions on June 21, Boris Johnson warns

Boris Johnson has warned there are no guarantees that all Covid-19 restrictions will lift in England on June 21, as he unveiled plans for a Government review into using vaccination certificates to unlock hospitality and entertainment venues.

Speaking at a school in south London, the Prime Minister said that while he is “very optimistic” measures will be lifted come summer, “obviously, nothing can be guaranteed”. 

He added that Michael Gove has been tasked with leading a review to thrash out the “scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical” question of whether to introduce vaccination certificates.

Mr Johnson said such initiatives will almost inevitably “come on the international stage”, but argued that using a similar scheme to facilitate the re-opening of entertainment and hospitality venues is more complex. 

“This is an area where we’re looking at a novelty for our country, we haven’t had stuff like this before, we’ve never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theatre,” he said.

“There are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, and ethical issues about what the role is for Government in mandating or for people to have such a thing or indeed in banning from people doing such a thing.

“We can’t be discriminatory against people who for whatever reason people can’t have the vaccine,” the Prime Minister said.

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4:03PM

Northern Ireland’s CMO rejects calls for schools to reopen en mass 

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has said he remains convinced that schools should return in a “stepwise process”.

His comments come after the nation’s politicians began to squabble over whether they should move in time with England, which is reopening all schools from March 8. 

But Dr McBride made it clear he had not provided the Executive with any update to his recommendations last week, when ministers backed a phased return to the classroom.

“I have not provided further advice to the Executive in the last number of days,” he said.

In his weekly media briefing, Dr McBride said it was important that children returned in phases so the impact of their return on Covid-19 infection rates could be assessed.

“We all want children back to school, children need to be back in school and my advice is that we just do that cautiously and carefully,” he said.

3:52PM

Germany battling third wave of Covid-19, says Angela Merkel

Germany is in a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in her conservative party, two sources at the meeting told Reuters today.

“We are now in the third wave,” they quoted her as saying and said she warned that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until March 7 would have to be done carefully and gradually.

The closure of all non-essential businesses and border controls with Austria and the Czech Republic, where there have been outbreaks linked to a more infectious variant of the virus, have helped Germany bring down new daily Covid-19 infections.

But a slow vaccination roll-out and the risk of major outbreaks of fast-spreading variants already identified in Germany could make any easing of restrictions more difficult.

“We cannot afford ups and downs,” Merkel told participants, suggesting she wanted any return to normal life to be done carefully to avoid having to reintroduce lockdown measures if infections start to rise again.

A health worker tests a person at a free of charge Covid-19 test center in Naumburg in eastern Germany

A health worker tests a person at a free of charge Covid-19 test center in Naumburg in eastern Germany

Credit:
RONNY HARTMANN/AFP

3:42PM

How 11 months in lockdown has impacted you

Here’s a roundup from our features desk about how lockdown has impacted groups including children, hair dressers and music venues:

3:31PM

Students may head back to University post-Easter with small graduation ceremonies this year

Students could be offered face-to-face lessons after Easter and they may graduate with classmates in small ceremonies, a vice-chancellor has said.

Professor Adam Tickell, the University of Sussex’s vice-chancellor, said he is hoping to bring students back in the summer term and offer them a “meaningful package” of on-campus learning and activities when they return.

Speaking on an online panel of university leaders, Prof Tickell said thousands of students had already returned to the university’s own accommodation despite the majority of teaching remaining online since December.

His comments come after the Government announced that university students on practical courses in England will be able to return to campus for in-person teaching from next month.

But for all remaining students, the Government said it will review options for pupils to return to face-to-face lessons by the end of the Easter holidays.

When asked whether in-person graduations could be on the cards amid the Government’s plans to remove all restrictions on June 21, Prof Tickell said: “We may have small school-based or subject-based graduations.

“I don’t think we’re going to be in a position where we can have large graduation ceremonies because I don’t think it will be safe enough to do that.

3:22PM

Compare Covid to measles rather than flu, says Nicola Sturgeon 

Nicola Sturgeon has said the better disease to compare Covid with is measles rather than flu.

The First Minister said you had to “aim” for elimination as much as possible, noting that Covid and Long Covid can be quite severe. 

She warned against “being complacent about it “, now that the vaccination programme was progressing, saying the aim should be to “keep it suppressed” and stamp out outbreaks where they occur.

“But what is our goal? Our goal is to get back to normal life,” she added.

Related: Covid eradication is unlikely… the future of the virus is more likely to follow the flu or measles

 Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seen at the Scottish Parliament to make a statement on the coronavirus restrictions

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seen at the Scottish Parliament to make a statement on the coronavirus restrictions

Credit:
Russell Cheyne – Pool / Getty Images)

3:12PM

Sweden preparing to tighten restrictions as infectious variant spreads

Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in Covid-19 cases as the coronavirus strain first detected in Britain spreads rapidly, the architect of Sweden’s pandemic strategy has said.

Sweden has avoided lockdowns throughout the pandemic. But health statistics agency figures on Tuesday showed 10,933 new coronavirus cases had been registered since Friday, a rise from 9,458 in the corresponding period the previous week.

“The British variant is increasing very fast,” Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a news conference. “This variant will with fairly high probability be the dominant one within a few weeks or a month.

“We have a package (of national measures) being readied that will be presented tomorrow,” he said, giving no details.

The British variant is thought by scientists to be a more infectious strain. Cases of the South African and Brazilian strains have also been detected but are not spreading quickly, Tegnell said.

3:00PM

Analyis: 118 days until ‘so-called normal’ – the lockdown roadmap will be too slow for some

2:52PM

Three cases of South Africa variant found in Northern Ireland

The first confirmed cases of the variant of Covid-19 first found in South Africa have been detected in Northern Ireland, health minister has confirmed.

Robin Swann said a detailed health protection risk assessment and contact tracing response have been deployed and the risk of transmission has been judged to be low. Three cases of the variant, known as 501Y.V2 or B.1.351, have been identified.

“I have previously been clear that identification of a confirmed case or cases of this variant in Northern Ireland was inevitable at some point,” said Mr Swann.

“This development does not mean that this variant is going to become the most prevalent, or the dominant strain in Northern Ireland. However, it does underline once again the very real need for continuing caution in relation to Covid-19.”

There are currently no international flights arriving directly into Northern Ireland. People who do enter the region from Great Britain or the Irish Republic are asked to self-isolate for 10 days.

2:42PM

India insists variants are not responsible for resurgence of Covid

Away from Scotland, Indian officials have insisted coronavirus variants are not responsible for an upsurge in cases in two states, a potential relief for a country where mask-wearing and social distancing have largely disappeared.

Maharashtra in the west and Kerala in the south account for 75 per cent of India’s current active cases of about 147,000, and both states have seen a sudden rise in new infections in recent days, raising calls for a faster roll-out of vaccines.

India has reported a total of more than 11 million cases – the most in the world after the United States – and about 156,000 deaths. Actual infections have inched closer to 300 million in the country of 1.35 billion people, according to a random study of antibodies done by the government.

A top government health official confirmed the long-time presence of two mutants – N440K and E484Q – in those two states as well as elsewhere in the country and abroad. Authorities have also found the UK variant in 187 people in India, the South African one in six and one case of the Brazilian mutant.

But Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a government committee on vaccines, told a news conference today: “There is no reason today for us to believe, on the basis of scientific information, that these are responsible for the upsurge of the outbreak.”

2:31PM

‘We can now see a firm route out of this’, says Sturgeon

“I know how hard this is after 11 long months of the pandemic,” Nicola Sturgeon says as she concludes outlining details of the Scottish Government’s plans to ease restrictions.

“As we do all of this we can keep each other safe, protect the NHS, while giving the vaccination programme time to work… The restrictions are working, the vaccination programme is motoring and we can now see a firm route out of this.”

She adds that she can now say “with confidence” that Scotland has brighter times ahead. 

2:25PM

Regional restrictions to be introduced in Scotland in late April

Before launching into details of the framework – Nicola Sturgeon says there are hopes to reopen much of the economy by late April – she stresses that Scotland has limited room for manoeuvre as case numbers remain high and the R value hovers around 1. 

“It we are to sustain our progress we must exercise care and caution,” she says, adding that the Government aims to get Covid-19 numbers low and keep them there. “Maximum suppression is important for our chances of getting back to normal.”

She says the new strategic framework emphasises the importance of both travel restrictions and the contact tracing system as Scotland exits restrictions. Here are the key points of that plan:

  • By the end of April, Scotland will move to a level system – meaning that restrictions can be tightened and loosened regionally. Introducing this, hopefully on April 26, is reliant on wider vaccine roll out. More details will be set out in mid-March about the data that will determine which area is in which tier. 
  • From the last week of April non-essential retail, including gyms and hair dressers, are hoped to be open.
  • There will be an interval of at least three weeks between easing different measures,
  • The priority is on schools – the process of returning to the classroom started yesterday, when the youngest children went back to school. The Government hopes the rest of primary school year groups will return to school on March 15, as well as more secondary school children.
  • From early March care home restrictions will be also eased. Outdoor mixing will be expanded to four people from two households and outside sport for children will be allowed.
  • From April 5, the stay at home order will be lifted. 
2:12PM

Nicola Sturgeon unveils Scotland’s road map out of lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon is laying out plans to ease restrictions in Scotland in Holyrood – you can watch live at the top of this blog, we’ll also bring you the key elements here and our Catherine Neilan is live blogging over on the politics blog. 

Sturgeon starts the briefing by going through the latest stats – she says there have been 655 cases in the last 24 hours, and 1,465,241 people have had their first dose of coronavirus vaccine.

This means almost a third of the adult population in Scotland has now received at least one jab, Sturgeon said. She adds that the Scottish government aims to vaccinate every adult in Scotland by the end of July – rather than the end of Scotland. 

2:06PM

Labour demands apology for procuring ‘duff’ PPE 

Labour has called on Matt Hancock to apologise over awarding health contracts to companies during the pandemic which provided “duff” personal protective equipment (PPE).

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged ministers to “commit to recovering every penny piece of taxpayers’ money” from companies which provided inadequate face masks and gowns.

It comes after a judge ruled Mr Hancock had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details within 30 days of contracts being signed.  

Mr Hancock told his counterpart: “Of course where a contract isn’t delivered against we do not intend to pay taxpayers’ money, but of course, also, we wanted to make sure that we got as much PPE as we could into the country.

“And whilst of course there were individual instances that we all know about and that highlight how important it was to buy PPE, there was, as the National Audit Office has confirmed, no national level shortage and that was because of the incredible work of my team and the amount of effort they put into securing the PPE and doing the right thing.”

This comes as polling from Savanta ComRes found 36% of adults in England say Mr Hancock should resign after a court ruled that he had “breached his legal obligation” by not publishing details of the contracts and 37 per cent said he should not. 

1:56PM

Israel shows how the UK could soon be using ‘vaccine passports’ for pubs and gyms

It hardly takes a moment for the Israeli 28-year-old to present his ‘vaccine passport’ and slip into the gym, James Rothwell reports.

Jalal Jamal, a make up artist, shows the receptionist at Jerusalem’s YMCA sports centre his ‘green pass’ on his phone – a cheery logo of a family strolling through a park, lit up in green. 

After a quick check the amateur bodybuilder is allowed through for a long awaited session on the weights. 

As Britons once more dream of returning to their favourite activities following the release of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, this tiny gesture could soon become part of normal daily life. Read more here or watch the video below:

1:46PM

Brazil approves Pfizer jab – but has no doses to use

Brazil has fully approved a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the health regulator Anvisa announced today, although it remains to be seen if Brasilia and Pfizer can end a dispute and agree a supply deal.

The Pfizer/BioNTech shot is the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus to receive full approval in Brazil. Other vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac Biotech have only been approved for emergency use so far.

The approval is good news for a country whose immunisation campaign has been plagued by delays and political squabbling. But it is unclear whether the definitive approval of the vaccine will pave the way for a supply deal of a highly effective shot that is already being applied globally.

President Jair Bolsonaro has criticised the terms of a deal proposed by Pfizer, saying it is overly onerous on Brazil as it exempts the US firm from potential liability for unforeseen problems. Pfizer has said other countries, including neighbours in Latin America, have agreed to the terms.

1:39PM

No 10 remains confident in vaccine supplies – despite fall in daily doses

Downing Street has insisted it remained confident in vaccine supplies despite falling numbers of doses being administered in recent days.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists: “We continue to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people each day receive the vaccines.

“As we said from the start, there will be daily fluctuations in the number of people who receive it day-on-day but you are aware of our target to vaccinate all those within the first phase by mid-April and we are confident in our supply to be able to do that.”

That means offering a first dose to 32 million people across the UK by April 15.

The spokesman added that the Moderna vaccine will be available in the UK “in spring”, alongside the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs, to ensure that all adults can be offered a dose by the end of July.

1:30PM

Flourishing anti-vax movement threatens to derail immunisation campaigns in Africa 

Fake news and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines are flourishing in Africa as a second wave of infections hits the continent hard and immunisation campaigns struggle to take off.  

Fake news circulating on social media include claims that two children died in Guinea after being vaccinated against Covid-19; an Indian company supplied South Africa with an ineffective Covid-19 vaccine that was near its expiry date; and former US president Barack Obama warned Africans not to get vaccinated.   

Health officials across Africa are concerned this “infodemic” could further complicate lagging vaccine campaigns on a continent that has historically been pro-vaccines.  

“It is a huge concern and something that needs to be very strongly addressed so people understand the facts,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s director for Africa, told reporters earlier this month.  

Anna Pujol-Mazzini has more details here.

1:22PM

Lobby latest: No 10 dodges questions on potential road map delays

During a briefing with journalists this lunchtime, Downing Street declined to give details on how long each stage of the four-step plan could be delayed if the evidence suggests that any further easing would push up infections.

“As we set out yesterday in the road map, there is a five-week period between each of the steps,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said. 

“As the chief medical officer said yesterday in the press conference, that will allow us to look at the impact that lifting the restrictions, as part of each step, has had. And it will give us the time to inform people of the next step and the next stage of the road map.

“We will look at the four tests to guide where we are in terms of the pandemic and it will be based on those four tests that we seek to continue.

“But of course, as we look at that data, we will look as we have done throughout at the latest situation and we will take advice from scientists.”

1:14PM

Israel to give surplus vaccines to countries including Palestine and Honduras

Israel is giving a “symbolic” amount of surplus Covid-19 vaccines to the Palestinians and to several countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has announced.

An Israeli official said Honduras was among the recipients. The Central American country said last year it intended to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem, a diplomatic gain for Israel.

Israel has been importing Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. According to the Health Ministry, it has administered at least one Pfizer dose to almost 50 per cent of its nine million population as well as to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

But it has come under foreign criticism for not providing similarly for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

This month the Palestinians received an initial shipment of Moderna vaccines from Israel and have also begun administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines in Gaza and the West Bank.

The statement from Netanyahu’s office said the vaccines donated by Israel were a surplus built up over the last month. Describing the donations as symbolic, it said they would be used by the foreign recipients’ medical personnel.

1:06PM

Matt Hancock urges care staff to listen to Chris Whitty’s call to get vaccinated as ‘duty’ 

Matt Hancock has urged care staff to listen to Professor Chris Whitty, who said they have a “professional responsibility” to get vaccinated.

Asked about the progress of the vaccine programme in care homes and when people will be able to have access to second doses, Mr Hancock told the Commons: We want to support the ability of more and more people to access the vaccine and that includes care home staff.

“So now if you work in a care home, you can go onto the national vaccinations site and book yourself an appointment or of course, when we go to give the second dose to residents, then of course any staff who haven’t yet taken up the opportunity of the vaccine will have the offer of getting going on the programme.

“I hope that care home staff and NHS staff across the board will listen to the words of the chief medical officer who said it is the professional responsibility of people who work in care settings to get vaccinated. It’s the right thing to do.”

12:54PM

Michael Gove ‘not the right person’ for vaccine passport review, says senior Tory 

Boris Johnson’s decision to put Michael Gove in charge of the review into vaccine passports is coming under fire from some of his backbenchers, Catherine Neilan reports.

One former minister – who backed the cautious roadmap announced yesterday – told the Telegraph the idea of setting up a system by which people could access certain services through a digital certificate was “a nightmare”. 

The senior Tory added: “I would be avoiding it if I were in government – let the private sector lead on it.”

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was “not the right person” to lead the review “as it will all be too clever by far and no one will be able to understand it – even if it is brilliant,” the MP added. 

Follow all the latest political news over on our politics liveblog.

12:49PM

Covax launches first and only global vaccine compensation scheme 

Covax launches first and only global vaccine compensation scheme Individuals who suffer rare side effects to vaccines offered under the Covax scheme will now be able to apply for compensation under the first and only global vaccine injury scheme, Jordan Kelly-Linden reports.

“The No-Fault Compensation fund is a massive boost for Covax… by providing a robust, transparent and independent mechanism to settle serious adverse events, it helps those in countries who might have such effects [and] manufacturers to roll out vaccines to countries faster,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, one of the co-leads on the vaccine equity scheme.

The Covax Facility aims, by the end of 2021, to deliver at least 2 billion doses of vaccine across the world. The new insurance programme will operate until 30 June 2022 in the 92 low- and middle-income countries signed up to the facility.

12:46PM

Pandemic in pictures

Chimaltenango, Guatemala:

School children wearing face masks attend the start of classes ceremony at the Ramona Gil School in Chimaltenango, 60 km west of Guatemala City

School children wearing face masks attend the start of classes ceremony at the Ramona Gil School in Chimaltenango, 60 km west of Guatemala City

Credit:
JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP 

Washington DC, United States:

US President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, hold a moment of silence during a candelight ceremony in honor of those who lost their lives to coronavirus on the South Lawn of the White House 

US President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, hold a moment of silence during a candelight ceremony in honor of those who lost their lives to coronavirus on the South Lawn of the White House 

Credit:
SAUL LOEB / AFP

Busan, South Korea:

Members of the police special forces enter a Covid-19 vaccination center during a drill in the southeastern port city of Busan, South Korea. Anti-terror drill was conducted based on a scenario of a terrorist group abducting medical staff and stealing vaccines against the new coronavirus following its commandeering of the center

Members of the police special forces enter a Covid-19 vaccination center during a drill in the southeastern port city of Busan, South Korea.  Anti-terror drill was conducted based on a scenario of a terrorist group abducting medical staff and stealing vaccines against the new coronavirus following its commandeering of the center

Credit:
YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

Santo Andre, Brazil:

Healthcare workers inside a field hospital for Covid-19 infected patients at the Pedro Dell'Antonia sports complex in Santo Andre, Brazil

Healthcare workers inside a field hospital for Covid-19 infected patients at the Pedro Dell’Antonia sports complex in Santo Andre, Brazil

Credit:
Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg

12:30PM

Higher Covid-19 infection rate in Nigeria than reported   

A survey published by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Institute for Medical Research has revealed that the rates of infection from Covid-19 in the country is much higher than previously reported, Antoaneta Roussi reports.

The findings published on 22 February said that blood samples collected from 10,000 individuals revealed antibodies were prevalent in as many as 1 in 5 individuals in Lagos, Enugu and Nasarawa states. Based off of the results, the NCDC said it was clear that the rates of infection were much higher than those detected through the national surveillance system.

Since 14 February, the NCDC has recorded 55 different lineages of SARS-CoV-2 in Nigeria, including the B 1.1.7 variant first recorded in the UK. The diversity of SARS-CoV-2 strains adds to evidence of community transmission in different states of Nigeria, the NCDC said. To date, the country has reported 153,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.

“The risk of mutation is highest with increased transmission, therefore adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions to limit COVID-19 spread is critical to prevent new variants from emerging,” Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the NCDC said.

“It is very important that Nigerians continue to adhere to public health and social measures including regular hand washing, proper use of face masks and physical distancing.”

The study also revealed a higher rate of infection in males than females, in urban compared to rural residents, and most common in people between the ages of 18 to 64.

12:22PM

Senegal begins vaccination campaign – with doses purchased from China

Senegal began its coronavirus vaccination campaign today with 200,000 doses that it purchased from China’s Sinopharm, which it received last week.

The first shots were given to government ministers and health workers at the health ministry in the capital, Dakar.

The West African country is one of the first in the region to start vaccinating its population against Covid-19. It has so far recorded over 33,099 cases and 814 deaths from the disease.

As a lower-middle income country, Senegal is eligible for about 1.3 million vaccine doses for free through the first wave of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covax programme, but it is still waiting for them to arrive.

Senegal’s health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said in a brief speech after receiving the vaccine that, as a sign of solidarity with other African nations, Senegal would give 10,000 doses each of the Sinopharm vaccine to smaller neighbours Gambia and Guinea Bissau.

12:14PM

Wales reports 317 cases, four deaths

Public Health Wales has published the latest coronavirus figures from Wales. A further 317 cases have been detected, taking the total to 202,324.

There have also been an additional four deaths – overall 5,250 people have died in Wales since thte pandemic began.

Here’s a look at the trajectory of the outbreak across the UK:

12:08PM

Vaccine link to roadmap ‘critical’, says Matt Hancock 

Matt Hancock said the vaccination programme is “critical” to the road map out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Conservative MP Richard Holden asked for the Health Secretary to “clarify the link between the vaccine programme and the roadmap” during questions in the Commons this morning. 

Mr Hancock said it was “absolutely right to make this link”. 

He added: “Vaccines are important to keep each individual safe and we’ve seen this wonderful data yesterday about how effective they are at reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

“But it is also the vaccination programme that is critical to the road map out of this pandemic and it’s only because of the success of the vaccine programme that we’re able to set out the road map in this way.

“So the vaccine is good for you, but it’s also good for all of us because by taking a vaccine, you’re helping protect yourself and you’re helping all of us get out of this pandemic situation.”

11:58AM

News in brief

Following on from our UK news update at 11:31am, here’s a roundup of today’s key international headlines:

  • The United States has crossed the milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths just over a year since the pandemic claimed its first known victim in California. 
  • In a proclamation honouring the dead, President Joe Biden ordered the US flag to be flown at half-mast on public buildings and grounds until sunset on Friday.
  • Germany is reworking its strategy to vaccinate the nation as its campaign, which has faltered due to a lack of supply, also faces public resistance to the shot from AstraZeneca.
  • Italy extended a ban on non-essential travel between the country’s 20 regions until March 27.
  • The number of people being treated in intensive care units in France exceeded 3,400 for the first time since early December. 
  • The Philippines will let thousands of its healthcare workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate much-needed coronavirus vaccines, a senior official said today.
  • Afghanistan has started its first Covid-19 vaccinations, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from a sharp rise in violence.
  • The World Health Organization has agreed a no-fault compensation plan for claims of serious side effects in people in 92 poorer countries due to get vaccines via the Covax scheme, resolving a big concern among recipient governments.
  • New Zealand has reported three new locally transmitted cases of Covid, as the cluster in its biggest city of Auckland expanded just days after authorities were forced to impose fresh curbs.
11:46AM

Covid certificates could include past positive test, says professor

Covid certificates could be handed to people who have had the virus in the past, according to a professor.

UCL Prof Jonathan Montgomery said people who have had the virus should be treated in the same way as people who have been vaccinated when it comes to a vaccine passport or a Covid certificate. 

The idea of a domestic certificate to allow entry to nightclubs, gigs  or sports events is being floated, and the professor told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “It’s likely that if you’ve had the virus previously, you have the antibodies, and you may be in a very similar position in terms of the transmission of Covid onto others.

“So if they key question is: ‘Will I transmit the virus onto others?’, it’s probably sensible to be thinking of people who have had it in the past and people who have been vaccinated in similar ways. 

“It won’t be identical, but it’s similar. So that’s why I think that we’re talking about status certification, rather than vaccine passports specifically.”

11:36AM

Europe’s first Covid-19 death may have been 10 days earlier than reported

An interesting study here from Serbia, suggesting the first Covid-19 fatality in Europe was 10 days earlier than thought. 

A 56-year-old construction worker from Belgrade, who had not travelled abroad, was admitted on February 5, 2020 to hospital suffering from fever, cough and shortness of breath. He died within hours and an autopsy showed pneumonia was the cause.

Months later, however, scientists at the Institute for Forensic Medicine of Belgrade’s Medical Faculty, found evidence that the man had died from Covid-19.

Milenko Bogdanovic, a forensic pathologist, said a study by 12 experts, published by the Frontiers in Medicine magazine last week, suggested that Covid-19 was present in Europe long before previously thought.

“Covid-19 was probably the cause of the much-reported pneumonia of unknown origin in January and February 2020,” the scientists who conducted the research wrote.

France reported Europe’s first case of infection with the Sars-Cov-2 that causes Covid-19 on January 24 last year and the first death from the disease on February 15.

11:31AM

News in brief

Just joining us? Here’s a look at the top UK stories so far:

  • Boris Johnson has told broadcasters he’s very optimistic that all Covid-19 restrictions in England will end on June 21, adding that the Government will hold a review of vaccine certificates led by Michael Gove
  • It comes amid suggestions that Covid certificates could be handed to people who have had the virus in the past.
  • Loved ones will be able to hug each other from mid-May at the earliest, Matt Hancock has said.
  • The Health Secretary also issued a renewed appeal for people to get the coronavirus jab this morning, amid warnings that the virus may persist in deprived inner city communities where uptake is low.
  • Airlines and travel firms are experiencing a surge in demand following the road map for how coronavirus restrictions will be eased.
  • But not everyone is happy with the details outlined yesterday – the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Conservatives has claimed the delay on lifting lockdown restrictions in England has been driven by “dodgy” data models.
  • The number of deaths involving Covid-19 registered each week in England and Wales has dropped by nearly a quarter, new figures show.
  • And finally, ONS job loss numbers published today have shown the toll taken by the coronavirus crisis on the jobs market, with 726,000 fewer workers on payrolls since February 2020.
11:21AM

Watch: Public and businesses react to Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap

11:11AM

Boris Johnson ‘very optimistic’ that all restrictions will lift on June 21

Boris Johnson has told broadcasters he’s very optimistic that all Covid-19 restrictions in England will end on June 21, adding that the government will hold a review into of vaccine certificates.

“I’m hopeful but obviously, nothing can be guaranteed … I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to get there,” the Prime Minister told broadcasters this morning when asked about the June 21 date earmarked to end restrictions in a roadmap he unveiled on Monday.

Asked about the issuing of vaccine certificates for those who have received a coronavirus shot, he said: “There are deep and complex issues that we need to explore, ethical issues about what the role is for government in mandating all people to have something or indeed banning people from doing such a thing.”

He added that senior minister Michael Gove would lead a review into the issue, although he added some form of vaccine passport would be “going to come on the international stage whatever” for foreign travel. 

11:08AM

Huge vaccine manufacturer in India rolls out jabs for Covax 

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is providing roughly 240 million vaccines for the Covax scheme by July – a global initiative to ensure that low and middle income countries have access to jabs. Today the first batch have been shipped.

The SII has a generic license agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture millions of doses of the vaccine for developing countries. AstraZeneca will also provide 96 million shots directly, from a manufacturing plant in South Korea (more about that here).

The Covax scheme gained a major boost last week when the World Health Organization granted an emergency license for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which will be the work horse of initial distribution efforts. People are expected to receive the first shots via the scheme within the next week.

10:53AM

British hotel quarantine not strict enough, suggests epidemiologist

A leading Australian epidemiologist has compared the UK’s hotel quarantine system to a sieve with too many holes in a discussion with MPs about lifting lockdown.

Professor Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University in Victoria, said border closure had been one of Australia’s “main tools” in keeping infection rates low and protecting its domestic economy.

Speaking to the All Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, she said Australia had tightened up its hotel quarantine system in response to the new variants, including adding extra testing.

She remarked that the British system of hotel quarantine – which has only just been introduced, is only 10 days long and allows people out for exercise – demonstrates a difference in the way Australia and the UK perceive lockdowns.

“If you’re going to let you have too many holes in the sieve, then why bother with the sieve?” Prof Bennett said.

A woman holds up a sign for the media against the window at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel

A woman holds up a sign for the media against the window at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel

Credit:
 Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

10:42AM

News study finds UK variant makes people sick and infectious for longer

According to a new study, the so-called UK coronavirus variant might be more transmissible because people stay sick and infectious for longer, writes Ben Farmer.

Researchers at Harvard University found that those infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant were on average sicker for five days longer than those who had caught earlier variants.

“The findings are preliminary, as they are based on seven B.1.1.7 cases,” the researchers cautioned in a report posted without peer review on a Harvard University website.

“However, if borne out by additional data, a longer isolation period than the currently recommended 10 days after symptom onset may be needed to effectively interrupt secondary infections by this variant,” they said.

10:32AM

Covid certificate review to consider use for health and social care staff, says Health Secretary

 A review into where vaccine certificates can be used will consider which “areas of life you wouldn’t want it to extend into” – including health and social care – Matt Hancock has said. 

The Health Secretary told BBC Breakfast: “This certification is an important matter to consider, the areas of life you wouldn’t want it to extend to. It is important to consider those matters and have a debate and come forward with a conclusive answer.”

He said there was “clearly an important role for certification for international travel”, and suggested it could be used to help reopen parts of the domestic economy, including large events. 

Asked whether people who work in health and social care may have to use a Covid certificate, he said: “Chris Whitty says he regards it as a professional duty but whether you go a step further and say ‘you can’t work in those settings’ – that is an important question.

“We are not at that point yet but it is important we take all points of view into consideration.”

10:26AM

ICYMI: Watch the Prime Minister’s announcements yesterday in full

Here is the Prime Minister’s entire roadmap out of lockdown announcement to the Commons shortly after 3.30pm on Monday. 

 Here is his Downing Street press briefing in full that came a few hours later.

10:18AM

Loss of smell and taste due to Covid could last five months

Covid-19’s hallmark loss of smell and taste could last as long as five months, Canadian researchers have said.

A team at the University of Quebec tracked health workers who became infected and found that many still reported numbed senses months after their initial infection.

During the initial infection seven-in-10 lost their sense of smell and 65 per cent lost their sense of taste, according to preliminary results from the American Academy of Neurology.

Five months later, 17 per cent still could not smell and nine per cent still could not taste.

Ben Farmer reports.

10:11AM

RFU to work with Government on what community rugby can return

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is going to work with the Government to determine what protocols will need to be put in place in order for amateur rugby to return, writes Gareth Davies.

Before the third national lockdown, a handful of competitive matches were played and a no-scrum and no-maul version of the game was being floated for the derailed 2020/2021 season. 

An RFU spokeswoman told The Telegraph: “The Rugby Football Union welcomes the announcement by the Prime Minister that grassroots team sports including community rugby can return from 29 March and the start of fans returning to stadiums from May.

“This is good news for the game and for players, coaches and volunteers across the country, who will once again be able to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of being involved in team sport.

“We will work with DCMS on the Covid protocols for the community game, including the format of rugby that will be permitted in return to play.  We also look forward to working with Government and other sports on the safe return of fans to stadiums.”

Rory Kockott of Castres during the Top 14 match between Racing 92 and Castres Olympique (CO) at Paris La Defense Arena


Credit:
John Berry/Getty Images Europe

10:04AM

Fall in Covid deaths in all regions of England on previous week

All regions of England recorded a week-on-week fall in the number of Covid-19 deaths registered in the week to February 12, the ONS said.

South-east England saw the highest number of Covid-19 deaths registered: 974, down 31% from 1,415 in the previous week.

Eastern England saw the second highest number: 808, down 26% from 1,098.

9:59AM

Minister for Employment responds to ONS job loss numbers

The Office for National Statistics (ONS)  job loss numbers showed the toll taken by the coronavirus crisis on the jobs market, with 726,000 fewer workers on payrolls since February 2020.

However, the ONS said the number of payrolled workers rose by 83,000 between January and February in the second small monthly increase in a row.

Minister for Employment Mims Davies said: “Today’s figures highlight the challenges people are still facing – but there are glimmers of hope with employment relatively stable, over 600,000 people moving onto payrolls and hours worked up.

“With the Prime Minister setting out the road map to cautiously ease lockdown and the vaccine rollout protecting millions of people, we’re looking ahead to our recovery – our Plan for Jobs is creating new opportunities, boosting skills, and delivering a package of support for people of all ages, getting Brits back into work as we push to build back better.”

9:55AM

Number of Covid deaths in England and Wales down 22pc on previous week

A total of 5,691 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 12 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the lowest figure since the week ending January 1.

The figure is also down 22% from 7,320 deaths in the week to February 5.

Just over a third (37%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to February 12 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

9:48AM

Shipment of syringes for the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines begins

UNICEF has sent 100,000 syringes and 1,000 safety boxes for Covid-19 vaccinations to the Maldives by air freight from UNICEF’s humanitarian warehouse in Dubai—part of the first wave of Covid-19-related syringe shipments to begin rolling out in the coming days.

The 0.5 ml syringes and safety boxes are expected to arrive in Malé, Maldives on Tuesday.  Over the next few weeks, UNICEF will ship more than 14.5 million 0.5 ml and 0.3 ml auto-disable syringes to more than 30  countries.

While the 0.5 ml syringes are meant for use with the Serum Institute of India/AstraZeneca vaccine, the 0.3 ml ones are to be used with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“In this global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, syringes are as vital as the vaccine itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“It is critical to have adequate supplies of syringes already in place in every country before the vaccine arrives so that the vaccine can be administered safely. This would allow immunization to start immediately and help turn the tide on this terrible virus.”

Low dead space syringes fall into a bin on a production line at a Shina Corp. factory in Gongju, South Korea


Credit:
 SeongJoon Cho/ Bloomberg

9:41AM

Higher Covid infection rate in Nigeria than reported

A survey published by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Institute for Medical Research has revealed that the rates of infection from Covid-19 in the country is much higher than previously reported, writes Antoaneta Roussi.

The findings published on 22 February said that blood samples collected from 10,000 individuals revealed antibodies were prevalent in as many as 1 in 5 individuals in Lagos, Enugu and Nasarawa states.

Based off of the results, the NCDC said it was clear that the rates of infection were much higher than those detected through the national surveillance system.

Since 14 February, the NCDC has recorded 55 different lineages of SARS-CoV-2 in Nigeria, including the B 1.1.7 variant first recorded in the UK. The diversity of SARS-CoV-2 strains adds to evidence of community transmission in different states of Nigeria, the NCDC said. To date, the country has reported 153,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.

“The risk of mutation is highest with increased transmission, therefore adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions to limit COVID-19 spread is critical to prevent new variants from emerging,” Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the NCDC said.

9:28AM

Health Secretary explains rationale behind mid May hugging date

Hugging could return from mid May because it is expected the most vulnerable will have received two jabs then, Matt Hancock tells BBC Breakfast. 

9:18AM

May 17 set out as hopeful for people to hug friends and family again

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that while it is “some time off”, he hopes that people will be able to hug friends and family from May 17.

When asked about when people could hug their loved ones, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well I hope that will happen from May 17, that you will be able to go and stay away. That is some time off.

“You and I, both of our parents live in Cheshire, and to be able to go and see them and stay overnight – not before May 17.

“So I appreciate that that is some time, but that is the earliest that we thought it was safe to be able to take that step.”

Carolyn Ellis, left, creator of the hug glove hugs her mother Susan Watts, 74, in her backyard

Carolyn Ellis, left, creator of the hug glove hugs her mother Susan Watts, 74, in her backyard

Credit:
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

9:12AM

Health Secretary defends the coronavirus contracts 

Matt Hancock said it was difficult to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) “in the teeth of a pandemic”, when addressing a High Court ruling over failings in publishing details of coronavirus-related contracts.

The Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This has all been looked into in great detail. It’s only because of the transparency that I support that we can ask questions about these contracts.

“The implication of your question about the specific one that you raised is that people should be barred from taking contracts if they know anybody involved – that would be ridiculous.

“And what’s more, it’s easy to ask these questions, but what is hard is to deliver PPE in the teeth of a pandemic.

“And that’s what my team did. And yes, there were individual challenges in access to PPE, but we never had a national shortage, because of my team.”

9:01AM

Face masks in schools

It emerged yesterday that face masks should be worn in the classroom where it is impossible for secondary students to keep two metres apart, as Education Editor Camilla Turner writes.

Ministers are recommending the use of face masks in “all indoor environments” in secondary schools, colleges and universities – including during lessons – where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Here’s how it looks in Guatemala.

A child wearing a face mask at the Ramona Gil School in Chimaltenango, Guatemala

A child wearing a face mask at the Ramona Gil School in Chimaltenango, Guatemala

Credit:
Johan Ordonez/AFP

Children and parents attend a school year opening event at the Ramona Gil nursery school,

Children and parents attend a school year opening event at the Ramona Gil nursery school

Credit:
Esteban Biba/Shutterstock

8:52AM

‘One-way route to freedom’ is ‘uncertain’, says expert

Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and a member of the Government advisory group SPI-M, said the “one-way route to freedom” was “potentially a little bit uncertain”.

When asked whether the dates for lifting restrictions may change, he told the Today programme: “In terms of the future dates, I think we always need to be aware that the Government needs to be reactive – if we do see a spike in cases or if we see things not going down as fast as we hoped, I think there needs to remain the possibility to hold off for a couple of weeks so we get things in control.

“Particularly if the Government wants to have this one-way route to freedom, which I think in itself is potentially a little bit uncertain.

“It may be that we have to have some measures introduced for a little bit of time in order to prevent these surges of infection occurring so that ultimately we can take virtually a one-way route back to normality.”

8:43AM

Vaccine uptake ‘absolutely on all of us’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “absolutely on all of us” to come forward to accept the vaccine when it is offered.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to see that vaccine uptake go as high as possible.

“But it’s absolutely on all of us to come forward and get the vaccine. It’s the right thing to do.

“I want to obviously offer the vaccine to all adults by the end of July, that’s the target that we think that we can meet, and all over-50s by April 15, and we have been able to bring that forward.

“But we are also, alongside that, working incredibly hard to encourage people to take it if they are unsure.”

8:27AM

Government aiming to get rid of social distancing laws

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the aim was to move to “personal responsibility” rather than having social distancing laws “that get in the way of normal life”.

“Patrick Vallance was clear yesterday that mask wearing in winter is one of the examples of things that might need to stay,” he told Times Radio.

“What we want to do is get rid of the social distancing-type laws that get in the way of normal life and move to personal responsibility, rather than laws dictating how all of us live our daily lives.

“But, it is also clear that eradication is unfortunately not possible with this disease, so we are going to have to learn to live with it. In the same way that for instance we live with flu, but we don’t let flu get in the way of living our lives.

“But we do vaccinate against it every year – in the case of flu we vaccinate those who are most vulnerable – and so I expect to have that vaccination programme as a regular feature of future life.”

8:23AM

Covid may become ‘disease of the deprived’, warns expert

Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and member of the Government advisory group SPI-M, said that he was “concerned” that the virus might persist particular parts of the country.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Covid-19 could remain a “disease of the deprived”, he said: “This is a real concern actually for me and I know a number of other scientists have raised this, that we may end up in a situation where we have the ‘vaccine rich’ and as it were, who are able to access the vaccine who have taken up the vaccine and are at much lower risk.

“And the maybe people in society who have not taken up the vaccine and potentially these individuals could be clustered in particular parts of the country, and there is increased risk there.

“So I think it’s something that we do need to do more about to make sure that the vaccine is available to everyone to take up and so that we minimise the risk of the virus persisting in particular parts of the country, and causing much more harm to those communities.”

8:21AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

A healthcare worker walks at a Covid-19 vaccination drive-thru site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida

A healthcare worker walks at a Covid-19 vaccination drive-thru site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida

Credit:
Chandan Khanna/AFP

A health worker disinfects the court during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 qualifying basketball match between Hungary and Ukraine at Sports Palace in Kiev, Ukraine

A health worker disinfects the court during the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 qualifying basketball match between Hungary and Ukraine at Sports Palace in Kiev, Ukraine

Credit:
Sergey Dolzhenko/Shutterstock

Healthcare workers inside a field hospital for Covid-19 infected patients at the Pedro Dell'Antonia sports complex in Santo Andre, Brazil

Healthcare workers inside a field hospital for Covid-19 infected patients at the Pedro Dell’Antonia sports complex in Santo Andre, Brazil

Credit:
Jonne Roriz/Bloomberg

8:16AM

‘Every job lost is a personal tragedy’, says Chancellor

Responding to the ONS job loss numbers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “I know how incredibly tough the past year has been for everyone, and every job lost is a personal tragedy.

“That’s why throughout the crisis, my focus has been on doing everything we can to protect jobs and livelihoods.

“At the Budget next week I will set out the next stage of our Plan for Jobs, and the support we’ll provide through the remainder of the pandemic and our recovery.”

8:15AM

Sturgeon set to reveal Scotland’s roadmap out of lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon is to set out the Scottish Government’s route map out of the current national lockdown.

The First Minister will set out the revised strategic framework this afternoon and outline how the country will gradually emerge from restrictions.

Immediate priorities will be the return of young people to education, sports activities for young people and limited social interaction for adults, the Scottish Government said.

The plans will set out an indicative order of priority and proposed phases – with periods of at least three weeks between them – to ease current level 4 restrictions and then return to a more geographic tiered system.

Scotland’s route out of lockdown will not be identical to the UK Government’s, but will be “broadly similar”, Ms Sturgeon has said.

8:08AM

Summer holiday bookings surge by up to 600pc after lockdown roadmap announcement

Airlines and travel firms are experiencing a surge in demand following Boris Johnson’s road map for how coronavirus restrictions will be eased.

The Prime Minister said on Monday that a Government taskforce will produce a report by April 12 recommending how international trips can resume for people in England.

Foreign holidays could be permitted from May 17.

Read the full story here.

7:57AM

ICYMI: Boris Johnson’s big announcements yesterday

Here are the key moments of the Prime Minister’s announcement to the Commons shortly after 3.30pm on Monday. 

And here is the best of the press briefing a few hours later.

We will post the full videos for you later on in case you want to catch up.

7:54AM

Having the virus could be your ticket to freedom, suggests Prof

UCL Prof Jonathan Montgomery said people who have had the virus should be treated in the same way as people who have been vaccinated when it comes to a vaccine passport or a Covid certificate. 

The idea of a domestic certificate to allow entry to nightclubs, gigs  or sports events is being floated, and the professor told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “It’s likely that if you’ve had the virus previously, you have the antibodies, and you may be in a very similar position in terms of the transmission of Covid onto others.

“So if they key question is: ‘Will I transmit the virus onto others?’, it’s probably sensible to be thinking of people who have had it in the past and people who have been vaccinated in similar ways. 

“It won’t be identical, but it’s similar. So that’s why I think that we’re talking about status certification, rather than vaccine passports specifically.”

7:47AM

International travel to depend on variants

The review into international travel in the road map will be informed by evidence about vaccine effectiveness against new variants, according to the Health Secretary.

Matt Hancock told Sky News: “We do have to protect against these new variants, and that is a big challenge.

“One of the reviews announced yesterday is a review into international travel.

“And that review will be informed by the evidence that we’re currently collecting on the impact of the vaccine on these, the so-called South Africa and Brazil new variants.

“If the vaccine works well against them, then we can be much more relaxed about international travel. If the vaccine doesn’t work against them, then that will be much, much more difficult.”

7:42AM

Variants in UK ‘fallen quite sharply’, says Health Secretary

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the number of variant cases across the UK had “fallen quite sharply” and suggested that this meant measures at the border were “working”.

“The good news is that the number of new variant cases we’re finding across the whole UK is falling, and has fallen quite sharply over the last month,” he told Sky News.

“In the last week or so, there were just over a dozen new cases, which is far smaller than we were seeing even a couple of weeks ago.

“So the extra measures that we’re taking at the border are working.”

7:38AM

Your one-stop shop for lockdown explainers

If you need to check what is allowed and when, we have got you covered. Just click on the subjects below to open the full articles 

  1. Full roadmap
  2. Schools
  3. Gyms
  4. Hairdressers and salons
  5. Seeing friends and family
  6. Rule of Six
  7. Live sport
  8. Theatres
  9. Holidays abroad
  10. Staycations
  11. Weddings
7:18AM

726,000 fewer people in work since last Feb

The number of UK workers on payrolls increased by 83,000 last month but has fallen by 726,000 since February 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

7:14AM

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Feb 23. 

dt

6:52AM

Egypt receives another batch of Sinopharm vaccines

Egypt received 300,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in the early hours of Tuesday, the health ministry said in a statement.

The new batch from China was the second shipment of the Sinopharm vaccine to Egypt. The country received its first 50,000-dose shipment in December.

The North African country also got 50,000 doses of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca earlier in February as part of its programme to vaccinate health workers.

Egypt began vaccinating frontline medical staff against Covid-19 on Jan. 24 using the Chinese vaccine.

5:19AM

Mexico receives first shipment of Sputnik V vaccine

The first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine arrived in Mexico on Monday night, the country’s foreign minister said.

The delivery of the 200,000 doses of the vaccine come after a recent conversation between Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard added in his statement on Twitter. 

People wait in line to receive the Sinovac vaccine in Ecatepec, state of Mexico

People wait in line to receive the Sinovac vaccine in Ecatepec, state of Mexico

Credit:
Reuters

4:55AM

Oman bans entry from 10 countries to curb spread

Oman will not allow people from 10 countries to enter the country for 15 days to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in particular certain mutated strains, the Gulf state’s coronavirus committee said on Tuesday.

The countries are: Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia. The decision is effective from Thursday.

3:56AM

Austria bets on millions of tests to contain virus

While Austria has struggled to contain the second wave of the pandemic, it is fast emerging as a world leader in testing as a way to reopen schools and businesses.

The small nation with a population of just under nine million tested three million people last week alone, with the mass-testing strategy forming a key plank for getting pupils back into the classroom.

Half of those three million tests were administered in schools, where twice-weekly tests have been mandatory since in-person lessons restarted earlier this month.

Only a tiny percentage of parents have refused to have their children tested under the scheme – and those children are not allowed to return to school.

The other 1.5 million tests were carried out at more than 500 dedicated centres, around 900 pharmacies and roughly 1,000 companies.

A medical worker takes a quick antigen test of a man in a pharmacy in Vienna

A medical worker takes a quick antigen test of a man in a pharmacy in Vienna

Credit:
AFP

3:04AM

Biden says he is ‘heartbroken’ in address remembering 500,000 dead

The US on Monday crossed the staggering milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, as President Joe Biden led a moment’s silence and lit candles for those lost.

In a solemn address to the nation, Mr Biden, who has made tackling the virus a priority for his administration, called the toll “heartbreaking” and said his heart “ached” for the dead.

“On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind,” Mr Biden said in the proclamation from the White House, where he was joined by wife Jill and Kamala Harris, Vice President. “We, as a nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one nation to defeat this pandemic.”

Read the full story

Joe Biden and the First Lady hold a moment of silence and candle lighting during a ceremony to honour lives lost to Covid-19

Joe Biden and the First Lady hold a moment of silence and candle lighting during a ceremony to honour lives lost to Covid-19

Credit:
EPA

1:27AM

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