One in four deaths registered in England and Wales in the week leading to Christmas were Covid-related, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
A total of 2,912 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending December 25 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate – equating to 25.3 per cent of deaths.
It comes as pharmacies are to be included as part of the Covid vaccine rollout, a Government minister has insisted, after The Telegraph revealed their offer to give jabs had been snubbed by ministers.
Covid Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News he was confident that the UK will hit the “stretching target” of vaccinating almost 14 million people by mid-February, and that community pharmacies will play a role.
Mr Zahawi insisted “every sector will play a part in this”, and specifically mentioned pharmacies, saying that after hospitals and GPs surgeries, “the community pharmacies and the independent pharmacy sector [will play a role] as well”.
Follow the latest updates below.
New lockdown rules could stretch to end of March
Lockdown measures will be removed “brick by brick” from mid-February, Boris Johnson has told MPs, ahead of a vote on the restrictions this evening.
Speaking in the Commons this morning the Prime Minister promised that schools will be “the very first things to reopen” when possible, which “may come” after the February half term, although he insisted he remained “very cautious” about the timetable.
Moderna Covid vaccine approved for use in EU by medicine agency
The European Medicines Agency has today approved the Moderna vaccine for use in the EU, writes Sam Morgan.
The agency has granted “conditional marketing authorisation” for the jab, which comes in two doses and should be given 28 days apart.
EMA confirmed Moderna’s claims that the vaccine has a 94.1 per cent efficacy rate.
The EU has an order of 160 million doses on its books but has been criticised for moving more slowly on vaccine approval than others, like the United Kingdom.
A review of the AstraZeneca vaccine is ongoing, but the EMA has not given any indication as to a deadline.
Covid vaccine roll-out will include pharmacies, minister insists
Pharmacies are to be included as part of the Covid vaccine rollout, a Government minister has insisted, after The Telegraph revealed their offer to give jabs had been snubbed by ministers.
Covid Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News he was confident that the UK will hit the “stretching target” of vaccinating almost 14million people by mid-February, and that community pharmacies will play a role.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said there were thousands of high street pharmacies who were “ready, willing and able” to assist in the rollout of the programme, but were being excluded because they had to be able to guarantee they could deliver at least 950 doses per day.
Mr Zahawi insisted “every sector will play a part in this”, and specifically mentioned pharmacies, saying that after hospitals and GPs surgeries, “the community pharmacies and the independent pharmacy sector [will play a role] as well”.
Gareth Davies has the story.
Covid vaccine: ‘No reason’ to think new variants will be vaccine resistant, says PM
Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, says he fully supports the measures and appreciates that difficult decisions are needed.
He asks Boris Johnson for an update on testing at Porton Down which commenced in December to ascertain “within a couple of weeks whether the vaccines worked against the new strain”.
“There is no reason to think that any new strain of the virus is vaccine-resistant,” says Mr Johnson.
Mass lateral flow testing in communities across the country will continue to be rolled out, he says, as the Government still believes in its usefulness.
Boris Johnson: ‘Things will be much better by spring’
Ben Everitt, MP for Milton Keynes North, says that “normal people really do understand the need for this lockdown”.
However he says that he worries about the UK’s economy, jobs, educational attainment and mental health. Mr Everitt asks how “normal people will know that things are getting better”.
Boris Johnson says that “if the vaccine roll-out can accelerate in a way everyone would want, we can reach an important moment on February 15”.
“As I’ve said many times in this House, I believe things will be much better by spring,” he says.
Third lockdown ‘will remove basic liberties’ from Britons, says DUP MP
Sammy Wilson, the DUP MP, says that the Government has “for the third time in nine months introduced a damaging lockdown policy which we know will cause thousands of businesses to go bankrupt, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, damage children’s education, lead the national debt to soar, remove basic liberties from people.
“All because we need to suppress the virus, protect the NHS and protect the vulnerable. Since those objectives were not achieved by the third lockdown , why does the Prime Minister believe they will be achieved this time?”
Boris Johnson says that nobody in the House of Commons “takes any pleasure or satisfaction in what we are being forced to do”.
However he adds that lockdowns have taken place across much of western Europe “because we have to protect our health service and stop it being overwhelmed”, which he says the last lockdowns achieved.
Boris Johnson says that the death toll from coronavirus if it wasn’t for lockdowns would be “unconscionable”.
BTec exams chaos as students left in the dark about whether or not to turn up
BTec exams were plunged into a state of chaos this morning as students were left in the dark about whether or not to turn up to sit their papers, reports India McTaggart.
Vocational students have been told just hours before their exams and assessments were scheduled to take place this morning that they can now be cancelled.
The Department for Education (DfE) announced an about-turn yesterday and said that colleges should decide for themselves whether their vocational and technical exams should go ahead this month as planned.
The January exam series involves more than 100,000 BTec students.
The statement came just one day after the DfE confirmed that these exams should take place as scheduled, even though summer GCSE and A-level exams are set to be cancelled.
Boris Johnson speech hails ‘natural strength of UK economy’
Boris Johnson says that he will make sure the UK “protects its borders from the readmission of the virus”.
“I’m delighted to say that the whole of the UK has benefited from the natural strength of the UK economy to make these commitments, and the mere fact that every part of the United Kingdom has received the vaccine is entirely thanks to our national NHS,” he says in response to a question from SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.
“It is thanks to the strength of UK companies that we are able to distribute a lifesaving vaccine across the whole of the country.”
Boris Johnson: Covid rules will hopefully be ‘substantially relaxed’ before end of March
Tory MP Chris Grayling asks if Boris Johnson will commit to reviewing restrictions before the end of March.
“I hope substantially before the end of March,” Mr Johnson says. “What we’re trying to do is vaccinate the first four cohorts in the JCVI by the middle of February.
“If we can do that, if we think there is no new mutation in the virus and the vaccine programme proceeds as planned, I believe there will be substantial opportunities to relax restrictions, and schools will be our priority”.
Support for self-employed already ‘massive’, says Boris Johnson
Responding to Sir Keir Starmer’s comments, Boris Johnson says that “most people do understand” that the spread of coronavirus has been seen across western Europe and has not been exclusive to the UK.
Mr Johnson says that support has already been given to the self-employed in particular “as part of a massive package of support”.
He says that more clarity will be provided later today on Btec exams, before accusing Sir Keir of “derision” towards the efforts of the Vaccine Task Force at previous Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Not only did this country devise the first effective treatment of Covid, and secure the first statutory approval of the vaccine, and was the first to produce a vaccine that can be used at fridge temperature, the country has vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined.”
Keir Starmer: Current situation ‘darkest moment of the pandemic’
The current situation is “perhaps the darkest moment of the pandemic”, Sir Keir Starmer says, amid rising hospital admissions and deaths.
“In those circumstances tougher restrictions are necessary. We will support them, we will vote for them and urge everybody to comply with the new rules – stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.
However he claims that the Government has been “too slow to act” and says that Test and Trace and the tiered system “didn’t work”.
“The most recent advice about the situation we’re now in was given on December 22, but no action was taken until the Monday of this week,” says Sir Keir.
“These are the decisions that have led us to the position that we are now in, and the vaccine is the only way out. Let’s be the first country to roll out the vaccine programme – but we need a plan to work to.”
He says that the three million people excluded from Government support is the result of an “unforgivable” policy oversight.
Boris Johnson: Stay at home lockdown gives vaccinators ‘biggest head start’
“The miracle of scientific endeavour, much of it here in the UK, has given us not only the sight of the finish line, but a clear route to get there,” Boris Johnson says.
He likens the new lockdown to a sprint and describes it as a “race to vaccinate the vulnerable faster than the virus can reach them.”
“If we’re going to win this race, we have to give our army of vaccinators the biggest head start we possibly can,” Mr Johnson concludes.
“And to do that we must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
End of lockdown will ‘not be a big bang but gradual unravelling’
Boris Johnson says that it will “not be possible or fair” for many exams to proceed as normal this summer, a subject which Gavin Williamson will address later today.
He says: “Many people will ask if the decision on schools could have been reached sooner, and we have been doing everything in our power to keep them open until every other option has been exhausted.
“That’s why schools were the very last thing to close as I promised they would be. And when we begin to move out of lockdown, I promise they will be the very first thing to reopen.”
The easing of the new lockdown may come “after the February half-term”, the Prime Minister adds, but he urges caution on the timetable.
“The emergence from the lockdown cocoon will not be a big bang but a gradual unravelling. That is why the legislation this house will vote on runs until March 31 – not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then, but to allow a steady, controlled, evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis.”
Mr Johnson says that the lockdown legislation will be reviewed every two weeks.
Boris Johnson: School closures justified despite ‘vanishingly small’ risk to children
The Prime Minister says that “we are once again instructing people to stay at home – everyone stay at home.”
He reminds MPs of the limited reasons for Britons to leave their houses – shopping for essentials, work where people absolutely cannot work from home, exercise, medical assistance, to escape injury or harm.
“All the evidence shows that school is the best place for our children and all the evidence shows that schools are safe, and the risk posed to children by coronavirus is vanishingly small,” Mr Johnson says.
“The most dangerous part of going to school – even in a global pandemic – is crossing the road to get there.
“However the data showed that the measures would not be efficient if schools continued to act as a vector – or a potential vector – for spreading the virus between households.”
Boris Johnson: ‘We have no choice but to return to a national lockdown’
Boris Johnson says that he will give the House of Commons “maximum transparency” on vaccinations through daily online updates from Monday.
“As we take this giant leap towards finally overcoming the virus and reclaiming our lives, we have to contend with the new variant, which is between 50 and 70 per cent more contagious,” he says.
He insists that the tiers “were working with the old variant but alas this mutation, spreading with frightening speed and ease, has led to more cases than we’ve seen ever before”.
“When the Office for National Statistics reports that more than two per cent of the population are now infected, and the number of people in hospital is 40 per cent higher than the first peak in April, it is inescapable that the facts are changing and we must change our response,” he says.
“We have no choice to return to a national lockdown in England… so we can control this new variant until we can take the most likely victims out of its path with vaccines.”
Boris Johnson speech: ‘Third lockdown will protect the NHS’ while it vaccinates
Boris Johnson says that the new measures will “protect the NHS whilst it carries out vaccinations that will finally free us from this wretched virus.”
He says that vaccines are “our means of escape and we will use every available second of this lockdown to place this shield around the elderly and the vulnerable”.
“Already, with Pfizer and AstraZeneca combined we have immunised over 1.1 million in England and 1.3 million in the UK.”
The vaccination strategy will “save the most lives in the quickest possible time”, he says, and “within two to three weeks almost one in four of the most vulnerable group will have a significant degree of immunity”.
He reiterates the target he has set the NHS to vaccinate more than 13 million people in the four most vulnerable groups in the UK.
Coming up: Boris Johnson addresses Parliament as MPs prepare to debate lockdown laws
In a few minutes the Prime Minister will address MPs as Parliament is recalled to debate legislation around the nation’s third lockdown.
On Monday, Mr Johnson said in a televised address to the nation: “In England, we must go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.
“That means the Government is once again instructing you to stay at home.”
The majority of MPs will vote virtually on the new legislation, and any rebellion is likely to be much smaller than at the start of the second lockdown.
The Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown sceptics is expected to vote with the Government and only a small number of MPs have so far indicated that they will rebel.
Watch live at the top of this blog, and follow live text updates as the PM speaks.
Netherlands becomes last EU country to begin vaccination campaign
The Netherlands has become the last European Union country to begin its coronavirus vaccine roll-out nearly two weeks after the majority of member states.
Sanna Elkadiri, a nurse at a nursing home for people with dementia, was the first to receive a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass vaccination center in Veghel.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said yesterday that preparations had been focused on the more easily transported Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which has yet to actually be approved in the EU, amid fierce criticism of his premiership for its late start to vaccinations.
“Finally, after 10 months of crisis, today we are starting to end this crisis,” said Hugo De Jonge, the Dutch health minister.
However, he warned that, “it will take a while before we have all the misery behind us. “
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage before it’s used, is the only shot that has been approved so far by the European Medicines Agency.
Almost 12,000 deaths with coronavirus have been confirmed in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic, though the true number is higher because not all people who died with symptoms were tested.
‘Clap for Our Carers’ back with new name
The woman behind the ‘Clap for Our Carers’ initiative of the first lockdown has confirmed that it will return from tomorrow in its old time slot of 8pm on Thursdays.
Annemarie Plas has now widened the message of the gesture to ‘Clap for Heroes’ in order to “acknowledge every hero who has played their part during the pandemic”.
“This time let’s do it for all the heroes,” she wrote. “We are bringing back the 8pm applause – in the third lockdown I hope it can lift the spirit of all of us. Carers, teachers, homeschooling parents, those who shield and all who are pushing us through this difficult time.”
France coronavirus cases ‘two months behind England’
France is “two months behind England” regarding the spread of the new Covid variant, according to a top expert, as the country’s sluggish vaccination rollout was on Wednesday blamed on a woeful lack of logistical foresight, Henry Samuel reports from Paris.
France officially has registered between 10 to 15 cases of the new, more contagious variant that is ravaging the UK.
However, Yazdan Yazdanpanah, a member of France’s scientific council, which advises the government, said: “The true number is probably far higher than the 10 to 15 announced.”
“True carriers are no doubt dotted around the country,” he told Le Figaro, but he said that he didn’t think the variant’s presence was “very high” at present.
French schools all opened on Monday and the country has a curfew in place but no blanket lockdown like in the UK.
Fears of the new variant came as major logistical failings were on Wednesday blamed on France’s slow start to vaccinations.
President Emmanuel Macron has come in for intense personal criticism after it transpired that France had only administered a paltry 516 jabs in the first week.
WHO: No data to back up 12-week Pfizer delay
The second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine should only be delayed for up to six weeks, global health leaders have said.
World Health Organisation (WHO) experts met to discuss policy recommendations for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday.
Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation – also known as Sage but not to be confused with the British Sage group of scientists – said that in “exceptional” circumstances the second dose of the vaccine could be delayed.
The group concluded that it could be delayed for up to six weeks, which was the “outer limit” observed in the clinical trials for the vaccine.
Biggest decline in new car sales since 1943
The number of new cars sold in the UK last year fell by almost a third amid the coronavirus crisis and uncertainty over Brexit, figures show.
New car registrations dropped to just over 1.6 million, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which warned of a “rocky” few months ahead.
The trade organisation said a 10.9% decline in December wrapped up a “turbulent” 12 months, which saw demand fall by 680,076 units to the lowest level of registrations since 1992.
New car sales fell by around 29% on 2019, the biggest year-on-year decline since 1943.
Warning over fraudulent messages about vaccines
People in the UK should be wary of fraudulent messages offering them access to coronavirus vaccinations, trading standards authorities have warned.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) said that text messages had been sent out including links to fake NHS websites that asked recipients for bank details, supposedly for verification purposes.
Such messages were first reported at the end of December on the Western Isles of Scotland, but the CTSI says they are “by no means limited to the region”.
Children under 12 should be able to see friends, says children’s commissioner
The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said that despite them not being in school, efforts should be made to allow children to see friends as much as possible.
“For children, time has a different meaning – they remember that endless period during the first lockdown and how they missed their friends,” she said, speaking on BBC Breakfast.
“We know that children were worried about missing friends but also about the future, what it would mean.”
Longfield added that the Government “really seriously” needed to look at the idea of letting children under 12 see their friends in person, as has been permitted in other countries already. “I want children to have as much contact as they can with their friends,” she said, emphasizing the importance of talking to children in order to reassure them.
Quarter of all deaths in England and Wales in week to Christmas Day involved Covid
A total of 2,912 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending December 25 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is down slightly from 2,986 deaths in the week to December 18, but the ONS said that the number of registrations will have been affected by the Christmas Day bank holiday.
A quarter (25.3%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to December 25 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.
Vaccination rates scenarios
The Government – in tandem with the NHS, GPs surgeries and now pharmacies – need to distribute upward of 2million vaccines a week in order to hit its target of 14million vaccinations by mid-February.
Here is how it might look:
Situation with schools ‘a mess’
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon described the situation with schools as “a mess”.
“Clearly it has been a mess but we are where we are”, the Conservative MP told Sky News.
“We know that in the last lockdown millions of students did hardly any learning at all, despite the individual efforts of many teachers and many schools. We also know that despite hundreds of thousands of laptops going to students from the Government there are still hundreds of thousands of students on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
Halfon emphasized the importance of having an exam system which provides a “level playing field for students” and is “fair to the disadvantaged”.
Watch: Zahawi and Piers Morgan debate border testing
In a heated debate with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the decision not to test people at UK airports.
He said the Transport Secretary was looking at the testing regime.
It’s ‘possible’ UK could emerge from lockdown in mid-February, Sage member says
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the country could emerge from the lockdown in mid-February.
Speaking in a personal capacity, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s possible, I mean that’s obviously a Government decision what they decided to do at what point. But it really depends upon what happens over the next five weeks in terms of the infection rates, it’s much like in March and April.
“We know more now but nonetheless we’re still looking at the the epidemic increasing and looking for that peak and hoping it happens soon.”
Timings for the Commons today
Here is how to set your reminders from our Political Editor Gordon Rayner.
Doctor rubbishes those downplaying seriousness of pandemic
Of comments on social media downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, he said: “I have been a doctor for 22 years, I’m trained in anaesthesia and intensive care.
“I spent my Christmas moving patients around from hospital to hospital trying to find spare beds that we can park them into, and I have been embedded with the Covid-19 response since March.
“So you can believe me that the hospitals are full, or you can believe people who are sitting at a keyboard who’ve never put on a shred of PPE and never seen the inside of an intensive care unit, let alone during Covid-19.”
Intensive care units ‘at full stretch’, says Government adviser
Dr Kevin Fong, consultant anaesthetist and national clinical adviser to NHS England’s emergency preparedness resilience and response team for Covid-19, said things were “pretty tough” in intensive care units.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think my colleagues in intensive care are out at full stretch, they have been for some time now, and this is as hard as I’ve ever seen the teams work. We are grateful that the lockdown has come. It gives us a fighting chance, but I have never seen anything like it.”
He said “staffing is a problem because of isolation – people having to go into isolation because of contacts – people being sick themselves, and just the staff being exhausted really”.
He added: “So yes, all of these pressures are building up in the system.”
Vaccination locations in England
As the Government eye up the target of vaccinating 14million, here are the vaccination sites across the country.
Teachers should be vaccine priority, says Tory MP
Robert Halfon, chairman of the Education Select Committee, called for teachers and support staff to be added to the vaccine priority list alongside NHS workers.
The Conservative MP told Times Radio: “I think there is an argument about supporting one group of workers over another, but my view is that children – educating our children – is the most important thing we can do.
“We are damaging their life chances every day that they are not in school, we’re increasing mental health worries, we know there are safeguarding hazards for children being at home, so the priority must be to get our kids back into school.
“Surely teachers and support staff must be made a priority alongside NHS workers for vaccination.”
Almost all Covid deaths can be reduced by vaccinating, minister insists
Almost all Covid-19 deaths (99%) can be reduced by vaccinating people in the nine categories listed by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), according to the Covid vaccine deployment minister.
Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio that “the average age of a person dying from Covid is about 83 in hospital”, but “there are still people between the ages of 50 and 65 who are needing hospitalisation for two or three days for additional oxygen support before they can overcome this terrible virus”.
He added: “99% of mortality is reduced by protecting those nine categories, the most vulnerable.”
When asked how long it would take to give jabs to those groups, Mr Zahawi said: “I’m very hopeful that by the spring we will get through the nine categories.”
Expect to be fined if you’re not wearing a mask, Met police say
Londoners breaching lockdown are increasingly likely to face fines as the new national restrictions come into force today, Scotland Yard has said.
The Met has issued refreshed instructions to officers to issue fines more quickly to anyone committing obvious, wilful and serious breaches.
In practice this will mean:
- All those attending parties, unlicensed music events or large illegal gatherings, can expect to be fined – not just the organisers of such events
- Those not wearing masks where they should be and without good reason can expect to be fined – not reasoned with
- With fewer “reasonable excuses” for people to be away from their home in the regulations, Londoners can expect officers to be more inquisitive as to why they see them out and about
- Where officers identify people without a lawful reason to be away from home they can expect officers to move more quickly to enforcement
Restrictions next winter will be a political decision, says minister
Asked about the prospect that some measures could be needed next winter to control the virus, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: “I think, as (chief medical officer) Chris Whitty also said, this will be a political decision when we get to that point of inflection between where community transmission is really impacted by the vaccination programme and, of course, by continuing to ramp up the testing infrastructure in the United Kingdom.
“Then the decision for Government, for us, is to say ‘well you know when is it right to begin to lift some of the non-pharmaceutical interventions that we’re having to make’ – like the current lockdown that we are in – there will come a moment when we see where we can basically manage this virus and be able to bring it back under control. And that is a decision for the Government.”
‘Every sector will play a part in this’
National vaccination centres will start to be seen “imminently”, deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said.
Setting out the different routes of vaccination, he told Sky News: “What we did was stand up the hospital first, because when you have a novel vaccine, you want to make sure that as you increase the numbers of people being vaccinated you do it in a careful way where we can observe people.
“The regulator has a what is called a “yellow card system” so that we see how people are reacting to the vaccine, in a very safe way. And then we go to GPs – GPs are the most effective way of getting into, say, for example, care homes.
“Then into national vaccination centres, which you will see imminently. And then into the community pharmacies in the independent sector. So every sector will play a part in this.”
Pharmacies ‘far more effective’ than rehiring retired medics
Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee, said that using pharmacies would be far more effective than recruiting retired medics, as the Government was trying to do.
“Rather than scrabbling around trying to find retired GPs and nurses and anyone who has possibly dated skills, you’ve got an army of thousands of pharmacists up and down the country who administer the flu jab every winter,” he told The Telegraph.
“We’ve been telling the NHS that we’re ready, willing and desperate to help. But we’ve been met by a de facto silence.”
Government accused of ignoring ‘army’ of small pharmacies
The Government has been accused of ignoring an “army” of small pharmacies in the delivery of the coronavirus vaccine.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said there were thousands of high street pharmacies who were “ready, willing and able” to assist in the rollout of the programme.
Ms Gidley said that under the Government plans some larger pharmacies were involved, but they had to be able to guarantee they could deliver at least 950 doses per day.
“We are already used to delivering the flu vaccine. You have got an army of trained vaccinators who are ready, willing and able to play and part,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“There are over 11,000 pharmacies. If each of those does 20-a-day that is 1.3 million-a-week extra vaccines that can be provided, very often to those who are hardest to reach.
“Why would any government not want to do that?”
Policing of third lockdown to be ramped up
Policing of the third lockdown is to be stepped up, with senior officers warning of more fines and less tolerance of any breaches.
Police chiefs said officers would move more quickly to fine offenders under the new tough rules and would no longer accept ignorance as an excuse.
They also anticipate an increase in the number of breaches amid a growing sense of public fatigue and frustration among the public over the extension of bans on household mixing, shopping and most outdoor contacts and sports.
Police said they would continue with a hardline New Year-style approach to flagrant breaches and serial offenders that saw the Metropolitan Police alone break up 58 unlicensed music events on New Year’s Eve, fining 222 people including five for a possible £10,000 each.
Target a stretch, but minister confident ‘we can deliver’
Covid vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said the target to get almost 14 million people vaccinated by next month is a “stretching target” but he was confident it would be delivered.
He told Sky News: “It’s a big target, and I think the Prime Minister is right to set challenging targets… The military are embedded in the team.
“So it is a coming together of the nation to deliver this. It is a stretching target no doubt, very stretching target. But I’m confident that with this plan that the NHS have put together we will deliver this.”
Vaccine programme was ‘Herculean’ effort
Covid vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said the vaccine programme was a ‘Herculean’ effort.
“The NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have got a very clear, delivery plan,” he told Sky News.
“The plan is, as we launched initially with Pfizer, a novel vaccine in hospital hubs, then into what are called Primary Care Networks – so a network of five or six GPS coming together – that has grown massively. We then go to national vaccination hubs that the NHS have got planned. And of course the community pharmacies and the independent pharmacy sector as well.
“They have delivered over 1.3 million doses already – a quarter of those, so one in four 80-year-olds have already had the first vaccination, and in a couple of weeks time, that those 25% of 80-year-olds will be protected, and of course will then get their second job as well, so it is a Herculean effort.”
Italy considers extending state of emergency
Italy is considering extending until July 31 this year its state of emergency over the Covid-19 crisis, Il Messaggeroa national newspaper said on Wednesday.
The emergency, set to expire at the end of January, gives the government greater powers, allowing officials to more easily bypass the bureaucracy that stifles decision-making in Italy.
“The hypothesis, more than concrete is confirmed in the government, is a renewal for another 6 months”, the daily said, without citing sources.
Indonesia ramps up restrictions
ndonesia will impose two weeks of increased coronavirus restrictions in parts of its most populous island of Java from Jan. 11, and in the resort island of Bali, to support hospitals and reduce fatality rates, a minister said on Wednesday.
The chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said some of the measures include changes to opening hours for malls and limited capacity at restaurants and places of worship.
US House Republican Kevin Brady tests positive
US Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House of Representatives tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said on Tuesday that he had tested positive for coronavirus weeks after receiving a first dose of the Pfizer Inc COVID-19 vaccine.
Brady, 65, is the second House member to report testing positive for the virus this week. An aide to Representative Kay Granger, 77, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, announced on Monday that the lawmaker had tested positive.
A nurse in California tested positive for Covid-19 last month, more than a week after receiving the first dose of Pfizer Inc’s vaccine.
Experts say a second dose of the vaccine is needed to ramp up protection against the virus.
Kirin beer executive questions shutdowns of late-night bars
The head of Kirin Holdings’ beer business on Wednesday questioned imposing across-the-board closings of late-night bars and restaurants around Tokyo, saying some establishments had already implemented stringent safety measures.
Tokyo’s coronavirus cases topped 1,500 on Wednesday a new daily record, local media reported, as Japan braces for a renewed state of emergency for the Greater metropolitan area. Residents are expected to be urged to refrain from non-essential outings after 8 pm, and bars and restaurants will be asked to close by that time.
“We don’t yet know the specifics of the new state of emergency… but I do somewhat question taking a sweeping approach, when there are establishments which have taken very strict measures to prevent virus transmissions,” Takayuki Fuse, head of Kirin Brewery Company, said.
Fuse said Kirin would accept any government decision, but added that he was deeply concerned about the impact of a second lockdown on the industry and jobs.
“The restaurant and bar industry is estimated to be worth 26 trillion yen, supporting the jobs of over 4 million people,” he said during a presentation to investors outlining the brewer’s strategy for the year.
S. Korea begins mass prison testing, considers extending UK flight ban
South Korea rolled out mass testing for 52 prisons in the country after a massive prison outbreak and may extend flight suspensions from Britain in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus cases, the health minister said on Wednesday.
Over half of the total 2,292 inmates and personnel in a prison in southeastern Seoul were tested positive after a first cluster infection was reported within the prison last month, Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing.
The justice ministry is separating the confirmed inmates by transferring them to a designated hospital, said Yoon.
Authorities will complete mass testing on some 70,000 prison inmates and staff nationwide, as the number of confirmed cases linked to prisons throughout the country surged to 1,191.
The health authorities will also decide whether to extend flight suspensions from Britain after at least 12 cases of a new strain of the coronavirus had been found, said Yoon.
The country had already extended a ban on direct flights from Britain until Jan. 7, and required any passengers arriving from that country or South Africa to undergo testing before departure.
China shut sections of highway in effort to stave off another wave
Chinese authorities shut sections of highways running through Hebei province that surrounds Beijing on Wednesday and closed a key long distance bus terminal in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang in efforts to stave off another coronavirus wave.
The province, which entered a “wartime mode” on Tuesday, accounted for 20 of the 23 new locally transmitted cases reported in mainland China on Jan. 5, more than the total of 19 cases in the province in the three previous days.
The total number of new mainland cases, including those originating from overseas, fell to 32 from 33 a day earlier. Hebei also accounted for 43 of the 64 new asymptomatic cases.
Georgia confirms case of ‘UK variant’ as country’s death toll climbs
Georgia officials say they have confirmed the state’s first case of the variant that was first seen in the United Kingdom.
The Georgia Department of Health said Tuesday that lab tests found an 18-year-old Georgia man is infected with the variant. It says he man had no travel history and is in isolation at his home.
Cases of the United Kingdom variant have also been reported in Colorado, California, Florida and New York.
The confirmation came as the US broke its own record for the number of daily deaths from Covid-19 yet again on Tuesday, recording 3,936 fatalities in 24 hours, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins university.
The country also recorded 250,173 new cases in the period up until 8.30 pm Tuesday (0130 GMT Wednesday), the Baltimore-based university’s records showed.
That brings the US to more than 21 million cases and 357,067 deaths in total since the start of the pandemic.
Australia-India Boxing Day Test declared possible Covid hotspot
A spectator at Australia’s showpiece Boxing Day Test against India has tested positive for coronavirus, authorities said on Wednesday, warning fans seated nearby that they must get tested and isolate.
State health authorities said the man in his thirties was not infectious while at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground on the second day of play “but there is potential he acquired the virus while there” or at a nearby shopping centre.
“The MCG is being investigated as a potential source for the infection,” Victoria’s Department of Health said. “We’re encouraging anyone who was in The Great Southern Stand, zone 5 of the MCG between 12.30pm and 3.30pm on 27 December, to get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.”
The Boxing Day Test is a centrepiece of Australia’s sporting calendar and just under 30,000 people attended this year, well short of capacity.
Colombia regulator approves Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
Colombia’s food and drug regulator on Tuesday authorised emergency use of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday, joining other countries that have already approved vaccines.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has shown a 95 per cent success rate, was formally approved by the National Institute of Food and Drug Surveillance (Invima).
The country now awaits approval for vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical unit Janssen, Mr Duque said.
Colombia has agreed to buy 10 million doses each of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as 9 million from Janssen. The country has also secured 20 million vaccine doses via the World Health Organisation-backed COVAX mechanism.
Colombia will receive its first delivery of 1.7 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses in February, with vaccinations beginning immediately, according to the minister of health.