Coronavirus latest news: Don’t meet indoors even if vaccinated, warns Boris Johnson

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  • UK regulator identifies 30 cases of blood clot events after AstraZeneca vaccine
  • British taxpayers funded EU factory at heart of vaccine row
  • ​Exclusive: Covid passport trials to begin at UK events within weeks
  • Travel: France escapes UK ‘red list’ travel ban
  • A country in turmoil: Brazil’s countdown to Covid catastrophe
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Vaccinated people should not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100 per cent protection”, the Prime Minister has warned. 

In a Twitter video answering questions from the public, Boris Johnson said the country is “not yet” at the stage where families and friends can meet inside, even if they are immunised. 

“We’re still very much in a world where you can meet friends and family outdoors under the rule of six or two households,” he said. “And even though your friends and family members may be vaccinated, the vaccines are not giving 100 per cent protection, and that’s why we just need to be cautious. 

“We don’t think that they entirely reduce or remove the risk of transmission,” the Prime Minister warned. 

His comments come after the UK started to ease restrictions, with groups of six or two households able to meet outdoors since Monday. 

But the advice contrasts to that in other parts of the world. Last month the United States Centre for Disease Control suggested Americans who have been fully vaccinated can meet each other inside without wearing masks. 

Mr Johnson’s comments come as more than 70 British lawmakers signalled their opposition to the introduction of vaccination certificates, which the government is considering in an effort to help reopen the economy.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

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2:27PM

Afternoon summary

Just joining us? Here’s a quick look at today’s main headlines:

  • Vaccinated people should not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100 per cent protection”, the Prime Minister has warned. 

  • Introducing vaccine passports for everyday life in England would be “dangerous, discriminatory and counter-productive”, according to Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti. 

  • Her comments come as more than 70 British lawmakers signalled their opposition to the introduction of Covid certificates, which the government is considering in an effort to help reopen the economy.

  • According to the latest estimates from the government’s Sage scientific advisors, the R number is currently between  0.8 and 1.0 in England.

  • British regulators said they have identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine but stressed the benefits of the jab in preventing coronavirus outweigh any risks. 

  • Australia is also investigating whether a blood clotting case recorded today is related to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, raising concern in a nation where most people are expected to receive the drugmaker’s shot.

  • Scotland is taking its next gradual steps out of Covid lockdown today, while Wales has set out fresh dates for its own easing of restrictions.

  • Foreign getaway destinations will be ranked under a traffic light system, with fewer restrictions tied to the places boasting the lowest coronavirus rates and high vaccination take-up, it has been reported.

  • Meanwhile in Brazil, Sao Paulo has sped up efforts to empty old graves and make room for a soaring number of Covid-19 deaths as the city hall registered record daily burials this week.

  • Chile has also closed its borders and tightened an already strict lockdown further to stop the influx of new variants as cases climbed past 1 million despite one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates.

  • And the United States may not need AstraZeneca’s vaccine, even if it wins US regulatory approval, according to the nation’s top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci.

2:15PM

Alok Sharma: ‘I have resisted the temptation to tweet a photo with my shirt off’ 

A fun tweet from Alok Sharma, President of COP26, referencing a trend from many politicians to tweet photos of themselves being vaccinated without their tops on (see below for examples..)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab:


Credit:
HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/UKRAINE-PRESIDENT 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis receives a shot of the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech:


Credit:
Yannis Kolesidis/Pool via AP

2:03PM

US employers add 916,000 jobs in March as hiring accelerates

Some good news from across the pond.  America’s employers unleashed a burst of hiring in March, adding 916,000 jobs in a sign that a sustained recovery from the pandemic recession is taking hold as vaccinations accelerate, stimulus checks flow through the economy and businesses increasingly reopen.

The March increase – the most since August – was nearly double February’s gain of 468,000, the Labour Department said today. The unemployment rate declined from 6.2 to 6 per cent.

However, even with last month’s robust increase, the economy remains more than 8 million jobs short of the number it had before the pandemic erupted a little over a year ago, AP reports.

But with the recovery widely expected to strengthen, many forecasters predict enough hiring in the coming months to recover nearly all those lost jobs by year’s end.

The increasingly bright outlook for the labour market follows a year of epic job losses, waves of coronavirus infections and small business closures. Numerous signs suggest that the economy is improving. Consumer confidence in March reached its highest level since the pandemic intensified.

Here’s a look at the trajectory of America’s pandemic:

Copy of Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart – Deaths default
1:51PM

England’s latest R number range estimated at between 0.8 to 1.0

According to the latest estimates from the government’s Sage scientific advisors, the R number is currently between  0.8 and 1.0 in England, meaning that on average every 10 infected people will pass the virus onto between eight and 10 others.

The scientists also estimate that the daily growth rate is between -4 per cent and 0 per cent, meaning “the number of new infections is broadly flat or shrinking”. 

Normally, Sage also provides an estimate range for the UK but has not been able to agree on one this week. Last week, that range was put at between 0.7 and 0.9. 

“As restrictions are lifted independently across the four nations, UK level estimates become less meaningful and do not accurately reflect the current picture of the pandemic,” the Government said in a statement. “The R and growth rates for the devolved administrations and NHS England regions are more robust and useful metrics than those for the whole UK.”

The statement added that rates may vary across the country, and warns that rates may increase as restrictions are eased. 

“The government expects cases will begin to increase as we move through the roadmap, but as we continue with our remarkable vaccination programme we are going to protect the most vulnerable and prevent people from contracting serious illness, while reducing pressure on the NHS.” 

1:45PM

Pandemic in pictures

Kolkata, India:

A worshipper wearing a protective face mask prays at a church during Good Friday, amidst the spread of the coronavirus

Credit:
REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri 

Manila, Philippines:

Dogs atop a pedicab are seen wearing facemasks and face shield in Manilla. The Philippine government has once again put some 24 million people in Manila and nearby provinces under a strict quarantine as cases hit daily records.

Credit:
Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

 Brussels, Belgium:

Police use water cannons to disperse people as they take part in fake festival called ‘La Boum’ organized by an anonymous group of people on Facebook for an April Fool’s joke 

Credit:
STEPHANIE LECOCQ/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

Bangkok, Thailand:

Buddhist monks wearing face masks wait to receive a dose of China’s Sinovac coronavirus disease vaccine at a temple

Credit:
REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa

1:36PM

Austria to give Czech Republic 30,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine 

Austria will provide the Czech Republic with 30,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s office said today, in what it called a display of solidarity after it felt the European Union did not properly address a shortage there.

“We will…support the Czech Republic bilaterally with 30,000 doses of vaccine and believe it is very positive that we have also heard that other European countries are prepared to do the same,” it said.

Kurz previously said an EU deal on Thursday on dose distribution should have given the Czech Republic more. 

1:30PM

Legal action launched to challenge ban on trips for older care home residents 

A ban on care home residents taking trips is facing a legal challenge amid claims they are being treated like “a different species”  and denied “simple freedoms”.

Government guidance, updated on March 9, says trips to see family or friends “should only be considered” for under-65s while national Covid restrictions apply.

Visits out for residents, whatever their age, “should be supported in exceptional circumstances such as a visit to a friend or relative at the end of their life”, it adds – but on returning to the home, the resident must self-isolate for two weeks.

The Government said its current guidance provides a “range of opportunities” for visitors to spend time with loved ones, however, John’s Campaign, which represents those lobbying for extended visiting rights of family carers in hospitals and care homes, argue that the ban is unlawful.

Gabriella Swerling has more details here. 

1:17PM

The Frenchman behind Britain’s vaccine miracle feels the pressure on AstraZeneca 

Pascal Soriot was feeling burnt out, writes Hannah Boland. The 61-year-old Frenchman at the helm of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine effort had for weeks been fielding calls from the early hours of the morning until late at night from his family home in Sydney, Australia.

Yet, for weeks, attacks had been coming from all sides for the Anglo-Swedish company. By the middle of last month, trust in Soriot’s Covid-19 jab was plummeting in Europe, as nation states swerved from halting the rollout of his vaccine to embarking on major immunisation drives.

Elsewhere, a wave of vaccine nationalism swept the globe. Countries including India, a crucial manufacturing hub, moved to shore up their supply of AstraZeneca by imposing vaccine export blocks. 

The last few weeks have been “really hard for Pascal”, says Sir John Bell, a longtime friend and Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine. “He’s been caught in the middle of everything, and he’s just trying to do the right thing. At the moment, there’s just not enough vaccine to go around.”

AstraZeneca’s morale is taking a battering but Soirot remains determined, says Sir John.

Read the full article here. 

Pascal Soriot

Credit:
REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

1:11PM

Don’t meet indoors even if vaccinated, warns Boris Johnson

Vaccinated people should not meet indoors because jabs “are not giving 100 per cent protection”, the Prime Minister has warned. 

In a Twitter video answering questions from the public, Boris Johnson said the country is “not yet” at the stage where families and friends can meet inside, even if they are immunised. 

Watch the video here: 

12:56PM

Recap: Vaccine passports ‘dangerous and discriminatory’, MPs warn

Vaccine passports could be used as a “tool of discrimination, oppression and bullying”, according to Labour peer Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, a member of a cross-party group of politicians warning against their use.

“It’s dangerous, it’s discriminatory, it’s counter-productive,” the former shadow attorney general told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “It seems to me, and many others, that on the one hand, if this level of intrusion into our lives were to be proportionate, then probably it’s not safe to open up the economy.

“On the other hand, if it is safe to open up the economy, to come out of this lockdown and this crisis that we have been living under, if it is safe to do that, why create this tool of discrimination, oppression and bullying?” Baroness Chakrabarti added.

The comments come as more than 70 British lawmakers signalled their opposition to the introduction of vaccination certificates, which the government is considering in an effort to help reopen the economy.

12:50PM

Comment: Get ready for Britain’s post-pandemic boom

Economists  once said only Argentina would be slower to recover from Covid – but the UK will leave the rest of Europe trailing in its wake, writes Jeremy Warner:

Less than two months ago, in its last Monetary Policy Committee report, the Bank of England forecast that the UK economy would shrink a further 4 per cent in the first quarter of this year. It looked a reasonable enough prediction, given renewed lockdown of at that stage indeterminate length.

At the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, they were more pessimistic still. In early December, the OECD warned that recovery from the pandemic would be slower in the UK than any other major economy bar Argentina, with GDP still 6 per cent smaller by the end of this year than its pre-pandemic level.

Fortunately, it is not turning out that way, so much so that it is now entirely plausible that the first quarter of this year could be in positive territory, or only a little down on the preceding three months. In view of where we were, that would be a remarkable outcome. For it wasn’t just another national lockdown the economy has had to contend with; there were also the disruptions of Brexit, which have hammered exports to the Continent. 

Even so, the OECD could scarcely have been more wrong. They wanted to believe the UK was doomed. Instead, the supposed tortoise has turned into a hare, such that it seems entirely possible the economy will be back to pre-pandemic levels of activity by the late summer, leaving European neighbours trailing in its wake.Read the
full article here. 

12:25PM

Russia says 20 manufacturers worldwide have Sputnik V vaccine production agreements 

A quick vaccine related update for you here: Russia has agreements with 20 manufacturers in 10 countries worldwide to produce its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund that markets the shot internationally, said today. 

During a televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Dmitriev said India and South Korea were already producing Sputnik V and that many of the 20 manufacturers would reach full capacity in April.

Our Global Health Security deputy editor, Anne Gulland, explains what we know about the vaccine here:

12:12PM

Analysis: ‘Good news’ on case positivity rates

Prof Kit Yates, a mathematician and member of the Independent Sage group, has put together a handy Twitter thread detailing “good news” for positivity rates in the UK, which are “low and falling or flat across all nations and most of local authorities”. 

Here’s a look:

12:01PM

Greek PM criticises EU vaccine rollout as he pledges to step up campaign 

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has criticised the European Union’s stumbling rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, but insisted Greece would double its vaccinations in the coming weeks and inoculate everyone over 60 years of age by the end of May.

Greece, which coped relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, has been forced to tighten restrictions to combat a surge in cases over recent months, with hospitals in the worst affected areas around Athens struggling to cope.

Mitsotakis expressed appreciation for the joint purchasing of vaccines by the European Commission, which has helped smaller states such as Greece.

“But at the same time it failed in getting the necessary quantities and supplying member states promptly,” he said in a speech to parliament.

With the summer tourist season fast approaching, vital for Greece’s economy, the government is counting on a beefed-up testing campaign, including home test kits, to curb the virus but Mitsotakis said vaccinations would also be increased in the next few weeks.

Greece, with a population of around 10 million, has administered nearly 1.7 million coronavirus shots so far and will complete another 1.5 million by the end of April. Everyone over 60 should have had at least one shot by the end of May, he said.

How many people have been vaccinated in Greece?
11:49AM

Watch: Police use water cannon to disperse crowd at April Fool’s festival

11:38AM

Fauci: US has so many vaccines it might not need AstraZenenca jab

America has bought so many Covid-19 jabs it may not need to use its Oxford-AstraZeneca stocks even if the shot gains US government approval, said Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.

The US has stockpiled large quantities of the jab, but it has yet to be given federal authorisation and in the meantime has become dogged by questions over its safety, Ben Farmer reports.

Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the White House, said the US had enough contracts with other vaccine makers to vaccinate its entire population, and possibly enough for booster shots in the fall.

Asked whether the United States will use the AstraZeneca vaccine doses, he told Reuters: “That’s still up in the air. My general feeling is that given the contractual relationships that we have with a number of companies, that we have enough vaccine to fulfill all of our needs without invoking AstraZeneca.”

Meanwhile attorneys general from many US states have warned tech giants including Twitter and eBay to take action against people offering fake vaccination certificates on their sites .

“It has come to our attention that your platforms are being used to market and sell blank or fraudulently completed Covid vaccine cards bearing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logo,” said a letter from the National Association of Attorneys General.

“The use of your platforms to disseminate the deceptive marketing and sales of fake vaccine cards is a threat to residents of our states.”

11:29AM

Asbo-style bans imposed across UK in police effort to control Easter crowds 

Police chiefs have imposed Asbo-style bans in city and town centres across the UK giving officers extra powers to break up groups of Easter revellers.

The dispersal orders allow officers to require anyone aged over 10 engaged in or likely to participate in “anti-social behaviour” to be banned from an area for up to 48 hours.

They also get powers to confiscate items such as alcohol and anyone in breach of the order by refusing to leave or returning within 48 hours can be jailed for up to three months and/or fined up to £2,500.

The move follows large groups of people gathering in city centres this week to celebrate the easing of lockdown and enjoy the warm Spring weather, leaving police struggling to break them up and huge mounds of litter that council officers have had to clear up.

Charles Hymas has more details here. 

11:18AM

Vaccine passports a way to get people back ‘doing things they love’, says Culture Secretary

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that coronavirus certificates could be a way of getting people back to “doing the things they love”.

“Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is conducting a review, which I am of course participating in, as to whether we could make Covid status certification work,” he told BBC News.

“This is not about a vaccine passport, this is about looking at ways of proving that you are Covid secure, whether you have had a test or had the vaccine.

“Clearly, no decisions have been made on that, because we have to weigh up different factors, the ethical considerations and so on, but it may be a way of ensuring we can get more people back doing the things they love.”

11:17AM

Today in brief – global headlines

Just joining us? Here’s a look at the global developments so far this morning:

  • More than 70 MPs have signalled their opposition to the introduction of so-called vaccine passports that the government is considering bringing in to help reopen the economy.
  • Australia is investigating whether a blood clotting case recorded today is related to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, raising concern in a nation where most people are expected to receive the drugmaker’s shot.
  • British regulators yesterday said they have identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events after the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 25 more than previously reported.
  • New restrictions in France will impact economic growth in 2021 but it is too early to say by how much, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, as the country heads into its third lockdown.
  • Brazil’s Sao Paulo sped up efforts to empty old graves and make room for a soaring number of Covid-19 deaths as the city hall registered record daily burials this week.
  • Chile has closed its borders and tightened an already strict lockdown further to stop the influx of new variants as cases climbed past 1 million despite one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates.
  • The United States may not need AstraZeneca’s vaccine, even if it wins US regulatory approval, according to the nation’s top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci.
  • And finally, authorities in the Japanese city of Osaka will discuss plans with the 2020 Tokyo Games organisers to cancel the western region’s leg of the Olympic torch relay, its governor said, to avert a clash with measures to curb a spate of infections.
11:07AM

Migrant workers rush to leave Mumbai over rumours of second lockdown 

Anxiety among Mumbai’s three million migrant workers has skyrocketed since the city was placed under a night-time curfew on Sunday, after it reported a 400 per cent increase in new infections from February, with further restrictions expected on Friday across the state of Maharashtra.

Typically employed informally, India’s 100 million migrant workers live hand-to-mouth and are dependent on daily cash payments.

They do not receive any compensation if they are off work due to sickness – even in the event of a global pandemic.

During India’s sudden nationwide two-month lockdown last year, which ended on June 1, approximately 400 million Indians were pushed further into poverty as they were unable to work – street stalls were shut, factories closed their doors and work paused on construction sites.

And, in the scorching heat outside Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, it looks like there might be a repeat of last year’s crisis. A drop in consumer spending has meant Mumbai’s tailors have closed their shops, fishermen have defaulted on rent payments on their flats and hospitality staff have been laid off due to a lack of tourists.

Read Joe Wallen’s full dispatch here. 

Stores are shut at Crawford Market in Mumbai during the city’s night-time curfew 

Credit:
Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg 

10:58AM

WHO report into pandemic origins offers new details, but no firm conclusions

Earlier this week, a highly anticipated World Health Organization-led report into the origins of Sars-Cov-2 was finally released. It concluded that a leak from a laboratory, while possible, is “extremely unlikely”.

Instead, the virus was most likely to have been passed from bats via an “intermediate animal host” to humans before sparking an “explosive outbreak” in Wuhan in December 2019.

The report has attracted some critcism, particularly from governments concerned that China withheld data, and the findings do little to change the existing understanding of how Covid-19 emerged. But the study does provide hundreds of pages of new detail about the early days of the pandemic. 

This is a brilliant thread from an American immunologist, with an overview of the key details you should be aware of:

Related: Covid lab leak theory needs further investigation, WHO head says

10:49AM

Watch: Why the French Covid-19 crisis could make or break Emmanuel Macron

10:36AM

Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya and Bangladesh added to UK red list

Travel bans are to be introduced for visitors from the Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya and Bangladesh, the Department of Transport has said.

The countries have been added to England’s so-called red list amid concerns about new Covid-19 variants, such as those first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

From 4am on Friday April 9, international visitors who have departed from or transited through the Philippines, Pakistan, Kenya and Bangladesh in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England.

The DfT said only British and Irish citizens, or those with residence rights in the UK (including long-term visa holders), will be allowed to enter and they must stay in a Government-approved quarantine facility for 10 days. They will also be required to arrive into a designated port.

No direct flight bans from the countries will be put in place but passengers are being advised to check their travel plans before departing for England.

During their stay, passengers will be required to take a coronavirus test on or before day two and on or after day eight, and they will not be allowed to shorten their quarantine period on receipt of a negative test result.

They will also not be able to end their managed quarantine early through the Test to Release scheme.

10:35AM

Austria sparks anger as it pulls out of EU vaccine sharing scheme

Austria has infuriated its EU allies by pulling out of agreement to donate vaccines to other member states struggling to get their jab campaigns going, James Crisp reports. 

After a week of talks in Brussels, a deal was reached between 19 EU countries on how to distribute an early batch of 10 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses with Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia receiving a proportionally large number of doses.

The talks between ambassadors were held after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticised the allocation of shots in the 27-nation bloc, saying that some countries were receiving more than their fair share at the cost of others. 

Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic refused to join the 19-strong alliance because it would mean Vienna getting fewer shots than under the system of distribution on a pro rata basis that is used in the EU’s joint procurement system for vaccines. 

“Vienna lost the argument, lost goodwill and lost friends with its antics,”  one EU diplomat told the Politco website,  “This episode will not be forgotten.”

10:25AM

Philippines: Record high in new cases as country enters lockdown

The Philippines has reported a daily record 15,310 new coronavirus infections, one of the highest reported in the region since the pandemic started, bringing the country’s total to 771,497 cases.

It also announced 17 new deaths, taking fatalities to 13,320 deaths. The Department of Health said the new cases reported on Friday included a backlog of 3,709 cases. The previous record was just over 10,000 new cases. 

It comes as Filipinos marked Good Friday, one of the most solemn holidays in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, with deserted streets and churches following a strict lockdown to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Major highways and roads were eerily quiet after religious gatherings were prohibited in metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces. The government placed the bustling region of more than 25 million people back under lockdown this week as it scrambled to contain an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases.

Coronavirus Philippines Spotlight Chart – Cases default
10:16AM

Belgium: Fake April Fool’s concert ends in injuries 

Belgian mounted police charged about 2,000 people and used water cannon against the crowds in a Brussels park gathered for a fake concert announced as an April Fool’s Day yesterday, James Crisp reports. 

34 people were injured and there were 22 arrests. Projectiles were thrown at police in riot gear in the Bois de la Cambre park on the southern side of the Belgian capital after they moved in to enforce strict Covid-19 social-distancing rules that prohibit gatherings of more than four people outdoors. At least three officers were hurt. 

Belgium on Saturday imposed tighter restrictions aimed at curbing surging Covid infection numbers.

They include closing schools, keeping borders closed, limiting access to non-essential shops and lowering the number of people able to meet outdoors to four.

One participant, Selim Jebira, told AFP that “we were tear-gassed for no reason at all”.

Bystanders and demonstrators are soaked by a Belgian police water canon as police officers surround them at the Bois de la Cambre parc, in Brussels, during a unauthorised rally, for a fake concert announced on social media as an April Fool’s Day prank.

Credit:
FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS/AFP

10:04AM

Pandemic in pictures

Brasilia, Brazil:

Healthcare workers of the public Mobile Emergency Service bring a patient suspected of suffering from COVID-19 to the Base Public Hospital

Credit:
AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Seoul, South Korea:

 Quarantine workers disinfect ballot boxes amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic at a polling station installed inside Seoul Station, one day ahead of two-day early voting for the April 7 Seoul mayoral by-election

Credit:
YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

Amiens, France:

A medical worker moves a patient affected with the COVID-19 in the Amiens Picardie hospital. France is now facing a deadly new surge of the virus that is overwhelming many hospitals.

Credit:
AP Photo/Francois Mori

Kansas City, United States:

Students eats lunch separated from classmates by plastic dividers on the first day of in-person learning Wednesday

Credit:
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

9:53AM

Covid vaccine hesitancy among black British adults halves in a month

Vaccine hesitancy among black British adults has halved in around a month, according to official figures.

Just over a fifth – 22 per cent – reported concerns over having the jab in the four weeks to mid-March, down from 44 per cent in the previous month, the Office for National Statistics found.

It follows an escalating campaign to encourage black people to take up the vaccine and to counter disinformation about its safety and effectiveness.

The progress in black African and Caribbean communities comes amid a broader public positivity towards vaccines. Overall positive vaccine sentiment among the British population has risen to 94 per cent in March from 78 per cent  in December, the ONS figures showed.

Henry Bodkin has the full story here. 

9:40AM

Vietnam asks for foreign support in procuring Covid-19 vaccines  

Vietnam has asked diplomats of several countries for help to access alternative sources for Covid-19 inoculations, as it seeks to secure the 150 million doses of vaccine needed to cover its adult population.

The country has received about 930,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine so far and wants to diversify its procurement from more sources, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson , Moderna, China’s Sinovac and Russia’s vaccine, Sputnik V.

Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long met ambassadors on Friday and asked Japan’s embassy for help with technology transfer for vaccine production and testing in Vietnam, the ministry said in a statement.

A  doctor looks at the vial before receiving a vaccine, as Vietnam starts its official rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, in Hai Duong

Credit:
REUTERS/Thanh Hue/File Photo

Long also asked the US ambassador for help with accelerating domestic inoculations and getting access to vaccines from US drugmakers. He told EU representatives he hoped European pharmaceutical firms would consider more investment in Vietnam.

And on Wednesday he met with Chinese, Indian and Russian diplomats to discuss vaccines.

Vietnam has been praised for its record in containing its coronavirus outbreaks through mass testing and tracing and strict quarantining, which has kept its cases to just 2,617, with 35 deaths.

It aims to immunise 70 per cent of its population and has so far inoculated 51,200 people. The request for help come as some countries express concern about vaccine shortages.

9:29AM

Vaccine passports could ‘scupper things’ for hospitality, industry warns

Introducing vaccine passports could potentially “scupper things” for hospitality venues who are trying to reopen, according to Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association.

On whether life could be made easier for businesses by vaccine passports as it could mean there is no need for them to track and trace, she told BBC Breakfast: “This would be an additional burden put on to the pubs. We are desperate to get back open again. We are desperate to do that.

“We will play our part in test and trace but the additional burden of the vaccine passport could really, really scupper things.

“It could make it feel that we are discriminating against sections of the population that have not been offered a vaccination or are unable to have one like pregnant women or a grandad who is probably going to forget his actual vaccine passport because he does not have it on his smartphone.

“It is a difficult process for us to implement in venue and yet today we have not had a consultation with the Government about how we would do this in pubs.”

Exclusive: Covid passport trials to begin at UK events within weeks

9:21AM

UK unlikely to experience third wave like Europe, health experts say

The UK is unlikely to experience a third wave of Covid-19 on the scale of that which is currently sweeping through Europe, a leading expert in public health has said.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Times Radio: “I think we are in a very different position for two main reasons – the first one is that they are dealing with the B117 (variant) which unfortunately we exported to them and caused us huge challenges – still does – but much more in the winter.”

She continued: “More importantly, 11.6% of citizens in the EU on average have been given their first dose of the vaccine – that’s all people, not just all adults – compared to over 40 per cent of people in the UK, so you can see they are in a different place than we are.”

9:16AM

Seals ‘need space’, new Government campaign urges, after ‘Freddie’ was killed by dog on Thames 

Seals ‘need space’ from humans and drones, a new Government campaign has urged, after a pup named in honour of Freddie Mercury was killed by a dog on the Thames

Britons are being told to keep their distance from the mammals as lockdown eases, with Defra highlighting the risk of seal fatalities from human interactions.

“Seals are one of our most iconic marine mammals,” said George Eustice, the Environment Secretary. “They can be found along our coastline around the UK, and we must do all that we can to protect them.

“I hope that this campaign will raise awareness and act as a timely reminder ahead of further easing of lockdown restrictions and the expected increase of people looking to enjoy outdoor spaces.”

During lockdowns, seals have gradually ventured onto beaches they would normally stay away from because there have been less people there.

Dominic Penna and Helena Horton have the full report here. 


Credit:
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

9:05AM

South America tightens restrictions and closes borders as cases surge 

South America moved to put the brakes on surging coronavirus cases Thursday, as Chile closed all its borders for the month of April, Bolivia shuttered its frontier with Brazil and Peru went into Easter lockdown.

Ecuador also announced a 30-day “state of exception” affecting over a third of its population, with a curfew in force for the next week.

Chile’s government said it would batten down the hatches starting next Monday while it seeks to speed up its vaccination campaign. The measure came as the country recorded its highest daily infection rate since the pandemic began.

Intensive care units are close to capacity, and government spokesman Jaime Bellolio said on Thursday: “We urgently need to make an additional effort, because we are in a very critical moment of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile neighboring Peru entered a four-day national lockdown for the Easter weekend, as it too recorded its highest number of daily confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic with almost 13,000 new infections.

South America has been hard hit by the new pandemic wave, with Brazil at its epicenter, registering more than 66,000 deaths in March alone.

Related: Brazil’s countdown to Covid catastrophe

8:55AM

Just 40 per cent of venues have outside space to reopen, warns industry chief

Only 40 per cent of venues will have the outdoor space to reopen as some restrictions in England are set to ease in April and they will be “loss making”, a hospitality industry chief has said.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told BBC Breakfast that being outdoors will be “a huge restriction on capacity” and the guidance which does not allow payments to be made indoors is a factor which will “complicate how we will serve people in venues”.

Noting that venues have also been asked to do extra collections of test and trace data, she added: “It is an additional burden on businesses at a very sensitive time of their recovery. “

8:45AM

UK regulator identifies 30 cases of blood clot events after AstraZeneca jab

British regulators on Thursday said they have identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events after the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 25 more than the agency previously reported.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said it had received no such reports of clotting events following use of the vaccine made by BioNTech and Pfizer.

The health officials said they still believe the benefits of the vaccine in the prevention of Covid-19 far outweigh any possible risk of blood clots.

Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while others have resumed inoculations, as investigations into reports of rare, and sometimes severe, blood clots continue.

On March 18, the UK medicines regulator said that there had been five cases of a rare brain blood clot among 11 million administered shots.

On Thursday, it put the count at 22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, an extremely rare brain clotting ailment, and 8 reports of other clotting events associated with low blood platelets out of a total of 18.1 million doses given.

8:16AM

Exclusive: Covid passport trials to begin at UK events within weeks

Covid passports are set to be trialled at events in Britain within weeks, The Telegraph can reveal, as the Government pushes ahead with the idea despite a growing rebellion by MPs.

New details of around a dozen pilot schemes for safely opening large events will be announced in the coming days, with plans to trial Covid certification checks. The FA Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final, the League Cup final and the World Snooker Championship are taking part, with the Brit Awards also in discussions.

Read more on this here.

8:06AM

British taxpayers funded EU factory at heart of vaccine row

British taxpayers have invested millions of pounds into a Dutch vaccine factory at the centre of a threatened blockade by the European Commission, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Halix factory in Leiden was equipped to produce doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, approved a major investment last April.

The money – reported to be in the region of £21 million – was meant to secure vital shipments to the UK. But Brussels has threatened to ban exports and on Thursday vowed there would be “no negotiation” with Downing Street, insisting that the doses should be diverted to European nations. 

Read the full article by Bill Gardner, James Crisp and Ben Riley-Smith here.

7:48AM

Australia investigates possible link of blood clot case to AstraZeneca vaccine 

Australia is investigating whether a blood clotting disorder case recorded on Friday is related to the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said.

Australian media reported that a 44-year-old man was admitted to a Melbourne hospital with possible clotting days after receiving the vaccineCovid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine, but investigations are ongoing,” Kidd told a briefing.

He said more details are expected to be known on Saturday.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, the medicine and therapeutic regulatory agency, has said previously the AstraZeneca vaccine was not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots.

It comes after Germany stopped the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in under-60s.

7:42AM

Indian cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar hospitalised with Covid-19

Tendulkar said on Friday he has been admitted to hospital as a precautionary measure after contracting coronavirus last week.

Tendulkar, who will turn 48 later this month, was previously quarantining at home after testing positive following mild symptoms.

“As a matter of abundant precaution under medical advice, I have been hospitalised,” he said on Twitter. “I hope to be back home in a few days. Take care and stay safe everyone.”

He lives in Mumbai, the capital of the Western Indian state of Maharashtra which has been the hardest hit by a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

6:57AM

Brazil’s countdown to Covid catastrophe

The calamity currently unfolding in Brazil is off the charts. In March alone, 66,570 people died of Covid-19 and daily fatalities in the vast country currently account for about a quarter of the global total. 

A highly contagious variant, P1, is now rampant and there are few measures in place to contain its spread, pushing health systems to the brink of collapse.

Not surprisingly a political crisis is also brewing.  The heads of all three branches of the military resigned this week leaving president Jair Bolsonaro – dubbed the Trump of the Tropics – exposed.

There are growing calls for his impeachment and a Bidenesque overhaul of the country’s coronavirus response. 

Read the full story

4:30AM

Moderna gets nod to speed up vaccine output with bigger vials

The US drug regulator gave Moderna clearance to speed up output of its vaccine by letting it fill a single vial with up to 15 doses, with the United States banking on rapid immunisation to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also authorised vaccinators to extract a maximum of 11 doses from the current vials, instead of the ten previously permitted.

In a statement, Moderna said its vaccine can now can be supplied in vials containing 11 or 15 doses, and it expected to begin shipping 15-dose vials in coming weeks.

“Both of these revisions positively impact the supply of Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine, which will help provide more vaccine doses to communities and allow shots to get into arms more quickly,” Peter Marks, director of FDA’s Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said.

However, the regulator also warned that without proper syringes and needles it may not be possible to extract more that 13 doses from Moderna’s 15 dose vials, and more than 10 doses from the current vials.

3:42AM

China vaccine maker Sinovac says doubles production capacity

Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac said on Friday a third production line for its Covid-19 vaccine has been put into use, doubling its annual capacity of the jabs to two billion doses.

Its CoronaVac is one of four domestic vaccines given conditional approval by Chinese authorities, which helps rush emergency drugs to market.

On Wednesday, experts from the World Health Organisation said an interim analysis of clinical trial data from two Chinese vaccines, including Sinovac’s product, showed they demonstrated “safety and good efficacy”, although more data is still needed.

3:24AM

Police issues warning ahead of more Kill the Bill protests

Police have issued warnings against people gathering over the Easter weekend as multiple Kill the Bill protests are expected to take place across England on Friday.

A rally against the Government’s proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been organised for 2pm at Finsbury Park in London, with similar events planned in Leeds, Manchester and Southampton.

Although the protests are lawful providing organisers submit a risk assessment and take steps to ensure the gatherings are safe, the Metropolitan Police warned on Thursday the safety of the wider community is paramount.

The force said: “Enforcement action will be taken, if needed, in the interests of public health.”

Read more: Planning an Easter holiday by the beach? Locals will report you, warns police chief

1:59AM

Police charge Brussels April Fool’s Day ‘party’ crowd

Police on horseback and using water cannon charged a crowd of up to 2,000 people gathered in a Brussels park on Thursday for a fake concert announced on social media as an April Fool’s Day prank.

AFP journalists at the scene saw projectiles thrown at police in riot gear in the Bois de la Cambre park on the southern side of the Belgian capital.

Police said that three officers were wounded, one of whom was taken to hospital, and four people were arrested.

The police, wearing protective helmets and advancing in a line, moved in to enforce strict Covid-19 social-distancing rules that prohibit gatherings of more than four people outdoors.

Teenagers clash with the police during an unauthorised festival called ‘La Boum’ 

Credit:
Getty

1:44AM

US may not need AstraZeneca vaccine, says Fauci

The United States may not need AstraZeneca’s vaccine, even if it wins US regulatory approval, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor told Reuters.

The vaccine, once hailed as another milestone in the fight against the COovid-19 pandemic, has been dogged by questions since late last year, even as it has been authorised for use by dozens of countries, not including the US.

Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the White House, said the US has enough contracts with other vaccine makers to vaccinate its entire population, and possibly enough for booster shots in the fall.

Dr Fauci said: “If you look at the numbers (of doses) that we’re going to be getting, the amount that you can get from J&J, from Novavax from Moderna if we contract for more, it is likely that we can handle any boost that we need, but I can’t say definitely for sure.”

12:53AM

Sao Paulo exhumes old graves to make space for surging burials

Brazil’s biggest city on Thursday sped up efforts to empty old graves, making room for a soaring number of Covid-19 deaths as Sao Paulo city hall registered record daily burials this week.

Gravediggers in the Vila Nova Cachoeirinha cemetery in the city’s northern reaches worked in white hazmat suits to open the tombs of people buried years ago, bagging decomposed remains for removal to another location.

Relocating remains is standard in cemetery operations, said the municipal secretary responsible for funeral services, in a statement. But it has taken on new urgency as Brazil suffers its worse coronavirus wave since the pandemic began over a year ago.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 3,769 new deaths on Thursday, narrowly missing a daily record for a third straight day.

Gravediggers perform exhumations to open space on cement graves in Sao Paulo

Credit:
Reuters

12:27AM

Today’s top stories

  • British taxpayers have invested millions of pounds into a Dutch vaccine factory at the centre of a threatened blockade by the European Commission, The Telegraph can disclose.
  • France and other European tourist destinations have been reprieved from a UK “red list” travel ban, but Boris Johnson will on Monday play down hopes of early summer holidays abroad.
  • Covid passports are set to be trialled at events in Britain within weeks, The Telegraph can reveal, as the Government pushes ahead with the idea despite a growing rebellion by MPs.
  • Google has told staff they must get formal permission to work remotely for more than 14 days a year after the pandemic ends if they want to work internationally, in a sign that major employers are losing faith in the policy.
  • Scots must obey the remaining lockdown restrictions over the long Easter weekend, the Government’s leading medics have urged, as the ‘stay at home’ message is replaced on Friday with an instruction to remain within council areas.