Coronavirus latest news: Facemasks in lessons not compulsory due to pupil anxiety, says minister

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  • Unions threaten school closures if too many pupils fail to wear masks
  • UK must prepare for ‘hard winter’, health expert warns
  • Financial scams have become hidden ‘epidemic’ 
  • Working mothers bearing brunt of mental health problems 
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Secondary school students will not be forced to wear face coverings in classrooms, as some will be “anxious and nervous” about wearing them, an education minister has said.

As millions of pupils in England begin to return to class after months of remote learning, children’s minister Vicky Ford said secondary school pupils should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks.

But the Government has decided against making their use mandatory due to pupil anxiety, Ms Ford said.

The Department for Education (DfE) is advising secondary school and college students to wear face coverings wherever social distancing cannot be maintained, including in the classroom.

Ms Ford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.

“But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that’s why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this.” 

​​Follow the latest updates below.

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1:26PM

EU executive criticises Belgium for Covid-19 travel ban

The European Union’s executive criticised Belgium on Monday for extending its blanket ban on non-essential travel to and from the country despite the European Commission asking it to ease restrictions on movement.

Highlighting how the bloc’s 27 countries struggle to stick to a unified line in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, Germany has equally ignored a call from the Commission in late February to roll back its latest curbs on travel and borders.

In laying out plans for gradually restarting more social and public activities from May, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said last Friday that Belgium’s ban on foreign travel would be extended by more than two weeks to April 18.

“We were rather surprised by the Belgian authorities’ announcement,” said a spokesman for the Commission, which – as most EU institutions – sits in the Belgian capital Brussels.

1:20PM

Education Secretary hopes for fast-tracked return to classes in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Education Minister has expressed hope that plans to return children to classes in the region can be accelerated.

Peter Weir visited a primary school in Belfast on Monday as thousands of P1-P3 pupils from across Northern Ireland returned to classes for the first time since December. Pre-school and nursery children also returned.

Under Stormont’s phased plan for schools, the next pupils to resume face to face learning are secondary school pupils in key exam years, year groups 12-14, on March 22.

The P1-P3, nursery and pre-school children are supposed to resume remote learning on that week to minimise the impact on community infection rates of the secondary school return.

The Easter holidays begin the week after that, but no date has yet been confirmed for the return of the wider school population.

1:11PM

Comment: Schools are still being run in the interests of ministers and teaching unions, not children

The return to class is a moment of joy, but there are clouds on the horizon, writes Molly Kingsley. 

The conversion of school sports halls into field hospitals and the threat of untested or unmasked children in some cases being segregated or excluded makes it hard to not concur with the conclusion of one leading public health expert who has said that children are being treated as “lab rats”.

Secondary school opening has already been staggered to try and help school leaders grapple with the demands of testing. 

Given that children across the UK have so far missed at least 840 million classroom days through school closures, is this really acceptable?

As well as being grim for children, all of this belies a worrying mindset being taken in Whitehall – that the interests of children are still being balanced against those of the health service, the teaching unions, and even ministers whose fear of public backlash has seen them devise a reopening plan that is far too cautious.

Read Molly Kingsley’s full commentary here

1:04PM

EU to get 100mln vaccine doses per month from April

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Monday she expects the bloc to receive 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccines every month from April, giving a boost to Europe’s stuttering inoculation campaign.

Given higher delivery volumes promised by manufacturers, and “because more vaccines are about to be approved,” von der Leyen said the bloc should see a big ramp up in arrivals of the jabs.

The EU will receive “in the second quarter an average of around 100 million doses a month, in total 300 million by end June,” she said.

The 27-nation bloc with a population of 446 million people has received 51.5 million doses of vaccines as of February 26, according to official data posted on the EU’s website. 

The EU has already approved three vaccines – BioNTech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca/Oxford and Moderna – but its inoculation campaign has been hit by delays because of production bottlenecks.

Vaccination rates in the UK and the EU
12:51PM

Greece plans to allow tourists from May

Greece plans to re-open the tourism sector in May ahead of the vital summer season, the government has announced. 

Schools and shops will also be allowed to reopen before the end of March. 

The decision hinges on epidemiological data, a government spokeswoman told reporters.

In the mid-term, as vaccinations progress, the country aims to allow outdoor dining in April and to restart tourism, which accounts for about a fifth of Greece’s economic output and employs one in five people.

How the sector fares will be crucial for the country which is slowly emerging from a decade-long debt crisis but which has seen sees its economy shrink sharply due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Greece, which has suffered 6,758 Covis deaths, was recently forced to extend a lockdown in the wider Athens region to March 16 due to a resurgence in infections. 

12:44PM

Bank of England governor urges ‘cautionary realism’ about post-Covid recovery

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey painted a cautiously optimistic picture for Britain’s economy after the Covid pandemic and did not expect a big jump in inflation, which his chief economist and some investors see as a risk.

“If I had to summarise the diagnosis, it’s positive but with large doses of cautionary realism,” Bailey said in a speech to the think tank Resolution Foundation. 

A slowing of infections and the “huge achievement” of the Government’s vaccine roll out meant there was light at the end of the tunnel, he said.

Last month, the Bank of England (BoE) said Britain’s economy would probably contract by four per cent in the first three months of 2021 before recovering rapidly over the rest of the year to regain its pre-pandemic size by the first quarter of 2022.

Mr Bailey said the expected recovery would be helped by the BoE’s ua-low interest rates and its bond-buying programme, “and in my view it amply justifies our current stance on monetary policy”.

12:37PM

Comment: We must never repeat the disastrous homeschooling experiment

As our children skip away to be with their friends, it’s time for parents to learn the most important lesson of the past year, writes Victoria Lambert. 

We must never again let our schools be closed to all pupils – and not just open for key workers’ families – like this. If the virus should come back in another wave, next Autumn or winter perhaps as some scientists have suggested, then mitigations must take another form.

We cannot experiment with our children as the ultimate circuit-breaker.  

Evidence has been accruing almost from the off that school closures were possibly doing more harm than good. When school closures began last March, experts across the world were warning of the potential impact, of  “detrimental social and health consequences”.  

So why did we keep on with the “experiment”?  

Read Victoria Lambert’s full commentary here

12:29PM

Northern Ireland: Primary school children could return to school before Easter

Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir has expressed hope that all primary school children could return to school before Easter.

Mr Weir visited Springfield Primary School in west Belfast on Monday morning as P1-P3 pupils across Northern Ireland returned to the classroom.

Education Minister Peter Weir talking with pupils at St Joesph's Primary School Carryduff

Education Minister Peter Weir talking with pupils at St Joesph’s Primary School Carryduff

Credit:
Liam McBurney/PA

As it stands those children will return to remote learning on March 22 for the week prior to the Easter holidays. On that date post primary pupils in years 12-14 will go back to school.

No date for the return of other primary and post-primary pupils to classes has been agreed by the Stormont executive.

Mr Weir said: “It would be great for instance if we could get all our primary school children back before Easter, that will ultimately be in the hands of the executive.” 

12:24PM

Italy approves AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s

Italy has recommended the use of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines for those aged over 65, the health ministry said in a statement, overcoming previous doubts that the drug might not be very effective amongst the elderly.

“Scientific evidence that has become available … indicates that, even in people aged over 65, the vaccine is capable of providing significant protection,” the ministry said. 

Vaccine distribution maps by vaccine/region
12:19PM

Singapore Airlines to pilot digital Covid travel pass 

Singapore Airlines will begin trialling a coronavirus digital travel pass developed by aviation’s industry body next week, the company has announced. 

It is the first airline to pilot the scheme as the pandemic-hit sector seeks to recover.

The app, developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), will store information on passengers’ health, including whether they have had virus tests or vaccines, to streamline travel as borders reopen.

Singapore’s flag carrier said it would offer travellers heading from the city-state to London between March 15 and 28 the chance to participate in the pilot if they have a phone operating on the iOS system.

“Our partnership with Singapore Airlines for the first full deployment of the IATA Travel Pass will help get the world flying again,” said Nick Careen from the industry body.

Participants in the pilot scheme will need to take pre-departure Covid-19 tests, and will be able to view their results and whether they are confirmed to fly on the app.

12:13PM

Syria’s President Assad and his wife test positive for Covid-19 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma have tested positive for Covid-19 after experiencing mild symptoms, the presidency announced today. 

“After experiencing mild symptoms that resemble… Covid-19, President al-Assad and first lady Asma Al-Assad took a PCR test, and the result showed that they are infected with the virus,” the presidency said in a statement.

“They are in good health and their condition is stable,” it said, adding that the couple will quarantine for up to three weeks.

Assad is 55 and his wife is 10 years his junior.

Their positive test results came more than a week after Syria started vaccinating frontline health workers using jabs delivered from an unidentified “friendly state”.

The government has recorded 15,981 cases of Covid-19, including 1,063 deaths in government-held areas.

12:11PM

Comment: As a GP, I’ve seen first hand the effect of lockdown on women’s mental health

For many women, the past year has been particularly stressful, but it’s essential to prioritise your mental and physical health, writes Dr Bella Smith. 

For many, it has been a highly stressful time – childcare, home schooling and housework have automatically landed back in the laps of women, in addition to many of them having to work from home. 

In the past few months particularly, I’ve noticed a high number of consultations regarding mental health, with anxiety levels among both adults and children going through the roof.

One 35-year-old woman I spoke to described her home as “a pressure pot with no time, no help, no space, no privacy, with bored, anxious children who are climbing the walls from so much screen time”.

We must not underestimate the knock-on effect this may have for years to come. I spoke to a patient just last week who told me about her mother, who died a year ago from Covid; she had to say goodbye to her on an iPad. 

12:02PM

Deliveroo reports heavy losses of£224m despite lockdown growth

Deliveroo reported heavy losses of £223.7m in 2020 despite lockdown growth, as it formally kicked off the process of going public in what is set to be the biggest float the City has seen in years.

The Amazon-backed food delivery app said the total amount of transactions processed on its platform was up by 64.3 per cent to £4.1bn in 2020 compared to a year earlier. Underlying gross profit nearly doubled to £357.5m.

Its losses narrowed 29 per cent compared to the previous year. Underlying losses before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation fell to £9.6m, compared with a loss of £231.6m in 2019.

The figures have raised questions about the company’s business model, given that it didn’t come closer to making an overall profit in what was a stellar year for food delivery companies.  

James Cook and Matthew Field have the full story here

11:53AM

Israel’s vaccination of Palestinians in West Bank ramps up

Israel today launched a campaign to vaccinate some 100,000 Palestinians in the West Bank who hold permits to work in Jewish settlements in the occupied territory and inside the Jewish state.

A pilot programme involving 700 Palestinian West Bank residents began on Thursday.

A Palestinian labourer who works in Israel receives his first dose of the Moderna vaccine 

A Palestinian labourer who works in Israel receives his first dose of the Moderna vaccine 

Credit:
Oded Balility/AP

The Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in Palestinian territories, COGAT, said the main campaign involving an estimated 100,000 Palestinians would begin this week.

Israel’s emergency medical service, the Magen David Adom, said that it was administering doses of the Moderna vaccine today at spots set up at select checkpoints linking the West Bank and Israel.

Vaccinations were also taking place at centres within industrial areas connected to Jewish settlements in the West Bank. 

Global vaccine rollout – top 10
11:42AM

 How Russia and China are using their Covid-19 jabs to win friends and influence people

The extent of Russia and China’s Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy efforts have been laid bare, as the West struggles to match their initiatives across the globe. 

Russia and China are using vaccines developed by their scientists to bolster relationships with allies and forge new partnerships in countries like Mexico and Egypt, according to data shared exclusively with The Telegraph by the US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). 

The success of efforts so far has reportedly spooked the United States, which is working with Japan, India and Australia on a plan to distribute jabs in Asia, to counter China’s increasing influence, according to the Financial Times. 

Western efforts to get vaccines to poorer countries have so far largely hinged on Covax, a World Health Organisation-led scheme. The first doses distributed through the initiative arrived in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire last week, almost three months after the UK started vaccinating its citizens in early December.  

That short delay has caused huge resentment, particularly when coupled with the so-called “vaccine nationalism” that has seen wealthier nations line up far more doses than they will need to cover their entire populations, squeezing out middle-income nations trying to secure doses of the jabs that have been approved by the WHO. 

Jennifer Rigby has the full story here

11:32AM

In Japan, vending machines help ease access to Covid-19 tests

In Japan, convenience is king and getting tested for Covid-19 can be highly inconvenient.

Eager to conserve manpower and hospital resources, Japan’s government conducts just 40,000  PCR tests a day, a quarter of its capacity, restricting them to people who are symptomatic or have had a high chance of being infected.

A new solution may lie in the humble vending machine.

Vending machines selling test kits offer consumers the option of avoiding crowded clinics or having to wait for an appointment, said Hideki Takemura, director of the Laketown Takenoko Ear Nose and Throat Clinic. 

A vending machine selling Covid-19 test kit is installed in Tokyo

A vending machine selling Covid-19 test kit is installed in Tokyo

Credit:
Issei Kato/Reuters

The clinic has set up seven machines in the greater Tokyo area.

Mr Takemura said: “Japan was conducting a ridiculously low number of PCR tests and as a result more and more people couldn’t tell whether they had a cold or the coronavirus.”

11:22AM

Students take lateral flow tests as they return to school

Teenagers have been self-administering Covid-19 tests as they return to school for the first time this year.

Year 11 students at Archway School in Stroud, Gloucestershire, had to take a rapid lateral flow test, which provides a result in half an hour, before being able to start lessons.

Staff had staggered pupils’ return, with tutor groups of 30 students arriving at 30-minute intervals in order to take the test.

Year 11 pupil Ozzy Deane, 15, conducts a mouth swab during his lateral flow test as he arrives at Archway School sports hall

Year 11 pupil Ozzy Deane, 15, conducts a mouth swab during his lateral flow test as he arrives at Archway School sports hall

Credit:
Ben Birchall/PA

The Government has introduced mass testing to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

All secondary school pupils will be offered three tests on their return before being asked to carry them out twice a week at home.

11:15AM

Americans flock to cinemas, bars and stadiums after winter of worry

From the crack of the baseball bat in Florida to clinking of cocktails in San Francisco bars, the sounds of spring are in the air as Americans start to return to many of the beloved pastimes they were forced to abandon 12 months ago.

With cities and states loosening restrictions as new Covid-19 cases recede and the rollout of vaccines accelerates, people are enjoying a taste of their old lives again.

Over the past weekend, New Yorkers watched movies on the big screen, San Franciscans dined indoors, and baseball fans cheered on their favourite big-league players as spring training resumed in Florida. 

Baseball training resumes at Lakeland, Florida

Baseball training resumes at Lakeland, Florida

Credit:
Jasen Vinlove /USA Today 

 Bartender Dino Keres prepares drinks at Sama's Grill in San Francisco

 Bartender Dino Keres prepares drinks at Sama’s Grill in San Francisco

Credit:
Mike Liedtke 

 President Joe Biden said decisions by the Republican governors of Texas and Mississippi last week to order complete rollbacks of their mask mandates and other Covid-19 mitigation measures amounted to “Neanderthal thinking.”

11:05AM

BP tells office staff to work from home two days a week

BP has told 25,000 of its office-based staff to work from home two days per week post-pandemic as corporate giants prepare for a shift to flexible working. 

The oil titan plans to call time on workers commuting into packed offices five days a week as it pushes ahead with a restructuring and cost-cutting programme that involves axing about 10,000 office-based roles and reducing its property portfolio. 

In a virtual town hall meeting last month, bosses at the FTSE 100 company told staff that new “hybrid” arrangements would apply to more than 6,000 of its workers in Britain, including more than 2,000 in central London.

BP said the change formed part of the modernisation of the company and that the move would offer staff a “more flexible, engaging and dynamic way of working”, The Times first reported. 

The new measures will come into effect from the summer when a gradual return to the office is expected.

Simon Foy has the full story here

11:00AM

Younger people and ethnic minorities shown to have highest odds of vaccine hesitancy

After adjusting for a range of characteristics, including underlying health conditions, housing and parental status, younger age and ethnic minority groups had some of the highest odds of vaccine hesitancy, the ONS found.

The odds were higher for adults of all ethnic minority groups, except those of mixed ethnicity, when compared with white adults.

They were “significantly higher” for parents living with a dependent child aged up to four years, but “no significant difference” was found for parents living with a dependent child aged five or above.

When compared with adults educated at degree level or equivalent, higher odds of vaccine hesitancy were found for all adults not educated at degree level or equivalent, with the highest odds for adults with no qualifications.

Vaccine hesitancy: UK v World
10:53AM

‘It’s going to be tough having masks in classrooms,’ says head teacher

Pepe Di’Iasio, head teacher at Wales High School in Rotherham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m feeling a real mixture of excitement that we’re coming back (to school).

“But also a little bit of apprehension and anxiety as well because we’re going from a situation where many of us have been in our own bubble with our families at home, to a situation where there will be 2000 people back in the confined space of a school.”

Mr Di’Iasio said that testing is providing him “with a sense of confidence” that students can safely return to school, but he expressed concerns over compulsory facemasks.

“I think it’s going to be tough having masks in classrooms. I think we are as a nation becoming used to wearing masks in all sorts of situations, but wearing a mask all day in a classroom is going to be tough for young people.”

Children wearing facemasks during a lesson at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire


Credit:
Danny Lawson/PA

10:39AM

Thailand to reduce quarantine period for vaccinated travellers

Thailand will from next month reduce its mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days for foreigners arriving in the country who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, its Health Minister said on Monday.

Vaccinations must be administered within three months of the travel period and visitors will still be required to show negative Covid-19 test results within three days of their departure, Anutin Charnvirankul told a news conference.

Those not yet inoculated but with coronavirus-free certificates would be quarantined for 10 days, he said.

Thailand’s flight limits, its strict entry requirements and mandatory quarantine for all arrivals have been central to its success in limiting the spread of the virus to just over 26,000 cases and 85 deaths.

Those curbs have decimated its vital tourism sector, however, prompting widespread jobs losses and business closures and contributing to the country’s deepest economic traction in over two decades.

Banana beach, Phuket, Thailand

Banana beach, Phuket, Thailand

Credit:
Travel Wild

10:31AM

New ONS figures on vaccine hesitancy in Great Britain

Among adults in Great Britain aged 16 to 29 years, 17 per cent reported hesitancy towards the Covid-19 vaccine, compared with 1 per cent of adults aged 80 years and over, the ONS said.

The figure for adults aged 30 to 49 is 13 per cent.

“Higher rates of hesitancy in the younger age groups could be driven by the prioritisation of older age groups in the vaccine rollout,” the ONS said.

The estimates are based on those demonstrating hesitancy towards the vaccine, not necessarily a negative feeling, the ONS added.

Adults living in the most deprived areas of England were more likely to report vaccine hesitancy (16 per cent) than adults in the least deprived areas (7 per cent), the ONS also found.

10:24AM

Vaccine hesitancy in Great Britain found to be highest for black adults

More than four in 10 black adults in Great Britain are likely to be hesitant about receiving the Covid-19 vaccine – the highest level among all ethnic groups, new figures suggest.

Some 44 per cent of black adults reported vaccine hesitancy, compared with 17 per cent of mixed adults, 16 per cent of Asian adults, 8 per cent of white adults, and 18 per cent of Chinese adults or adults from other ethnic groups, according to a survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The findings cover the period January 13 to February 7.

The ONS defines vaccine hesitancy as adults who have been offered the vaccine and decided not to be vaccinated; who report being very or fairly unlikely to have the vaccine if offered; and who responded “neither likely nor unlikely”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say” when asked how likely or unlikely they are to have the vaccine if offered.

10:18AM

28 arrested in Scotland as thousands gathered to celebrate Rangers win

Police Scotland have said 28 people were arrested after thousands of Rangers fans gathered in Glasgow on Sunday to celebrate winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in ten years.

Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, divisional commander for Greater Glasgow, said a further seven people were issued with fixed penalty notices or will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.

He said: “Despite the coronavirus regulations and the prohibition of gatherings, our officers were faced with a very difficult set of circumstances as many thousands of supporters gathered to celebrate across a number of different venues.

“Our priority was public safety and this included reducing the risk of disorder, road safety and effective crowd management among the complexities of a vociferous crowd.

“An appropriate policing response was in place throughout the day and officers continually engaged and encouraged compliance with coronavirus regulations.”

Rangers fans gather at Ibrox stadium to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years


Credit:
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Rangers fans


Credit:
Jeff J Mitchell/ Getty Images Europe

10:11AM

Tired NHS workforce is cause for concern, says medical expert

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said he was “most worried” about a tired NHS workforce.

Asked about concerns that hospitals may have to cut services from April 1 if additional support is not provided, he told Times Radio: “The thing that I’m most worried about with the health service is that we have a very tired workforce – that’s right across the whole workforce.

“And one of the concerns is that we will potentially switch from fighting the pandemic – everybody’s been absolutely geared up, working above and beyond to fight the pandemic – that once numbers are down that the focus of the media, Government and everyone will be on keeping the waiting lists down and I’m restoring services, and I’m really quite concerned about our workforce in that.

10:05AM

Pictured: Happy faces returning to school

Five year old Scarlet, a year one pupil at Temple Newsam Primary school in Leeds, Yorkshire

Five year old Scarlet, a year one pupil at Temple Newsam Primary school in Leeds, Yorkshire

Credit:
Andrew McCaren/London News Pictures Ltd

Parents Colin and Dawn Royle cheer as children Isabella, 10, and brother Joshua, 9, leave home for school in Audenshaw, Manchester

Parents Colin and Dawn Royle cheer as children Isabella, 10, and brother Joshua, 9, leave home for school in Audenshaw, Manchester

Credit:
Iain Watts/Mercury Press

Mum Dawn Royle sees her daughter Frankie, 3, off to school in Audenshaw, Manchester

Mum Dawn Royle sees her daughter Frankie, 3, off to school in Audenshaw, Manchester

Credit:
Iain Watts/Mercury Press

10:00AM

Impact of lockdown on children remains unclear, says Professor Viner

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it is not yet clear what harms there will be to children in the longer term.

Asked about the impact of the pandemic on young people, he told Times Radio: “We closed down our children’s lives. The key issues around meeting friends, development socially, learning to trust, learning to be human, learning all of those things, that’s been lost as well as the loss of actual straight-up learning, and many of those things can’t be done online.

“I’ve got a 15-year-old, and I can certainly see he has gone backwards over this online learning time.

“The harms to mental health are very clear. We know that there’s a lot more anxiety and depression and eating disorders around among children and young people.

“The thing we don’t know is how much of this is essentially a superficial flesh wound that will heal when they’re back at school, and how much of it will be lead to longer-term scarring.

9:51AM

When are restrictions lifting?

 As phase one commences and schools reopen, here’s a look at when the other restrictions will start lifting.

Timeline of restrictions – what opens and when
9:46AM

Prime Minister pays tribute to the women leading the UK’s vaccination programme

Boris Johnson used International Women’s Day to pay tribute to some of those involved in the fight against coronavirus.

The Prime Minister praised the work of Professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine, former vaccines taskforce head Kate Bingham, medical regulator boss Dr June Raine, and NHS England’s Dr Emily Lawson and Dr Nikki Kanani.

“This International Women’s Day I want to pay tribute to some of the leading figures in the UK’s vaccination programme,” he said.

“Their ingenuity, dedication and hard work is an inspiration to all of us.”

9:37AM

Don’t ‘relax’ and start mixing because schools are reopening, says doctor

A leading children’s doctor has warned that schools can only open safely if everything else “stays locked down” for at least three weeks.

Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told Times Radio: “Sage has concluded that reopening schools adds probably about 0.2 or thereabouts to the R number.

“We know that reopening schools will increase transmission, but we should be able to keep the R below one – and, as you’ll recall, that’s the key thing to stop the runaway increase of infections.

“And I think the key thing is that children themselves, and parents, don’t think ‘The schools are open, we can relax, we can mix outside of school’ – in a sense, come out of lockdown around the school opening.

“The modelling – and I think the Government has been clear on this – is about we can reopen schools safely if everything else stays locked down over the next three weeks.”

Pupils return to Nottingham High School

Pupils return to Nottingham High School

Credit:
Tom Maddick/SWNS

9:23AM

South Korea finds no link found between deaths and AstraZeneca vaccine

South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and several recent deaths.

Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.

“We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.

South Koreans aged 65 or older were not being given AstraZeneca’s vaccine after health regulators concluded that more data was needed to confirm its efficacy among that age group.

But on Monday, Jeong said an expert panel had now recommended that the shot be given to older people, and that the KDCA would soon make a final decision.

9:16AM

Questions answered about back-to-school testing

What do I need to do?

The test packs come with simple instructions which should be followed step by step.

The test involves taking a swab of the throat and nose, dipping the swab in a solution and then placing two drops on to a piece of kit that looks somewhat similar to a home pregnancy test. The result shows up within half an hour.

What do I do with my result?

People who take the tests are being asked to report the result to NHS Test and Trace on the same day they take it, either by inputting their results online – gov.uk/report-covid19-result – or by calling 119.

What do I do if I test positive?

People with a positive result should self-isolate immediately, get a PCR test to confirm the result and follow the stay-at-home guidance. Pupils, students and staff should also tell their school or college if they test positive.

How do I get my test?

Teachers and staff will get kits provided by their school, as will secondary pupils and college students.

9:11AM

Questions answered about back-to-school testing

Who is being asked to take tests?

Teachers and school staff, secondary school pupils and college students, and the “households” of pupils in school and college – this includes family members, childcare and people in support bubbles.

Primary school pupils are not currently being asked to take tests.

When and where will they be tested?

Twice a week at home – though secondary school pupils and college students are taking their first three tests at their school or college under supervision.

What kind of test is it?

Lateral flow tests are quick turnaround tests, which can be performed without the need for laboratory assessment.

    9:00AM

    Pictured: Back to school in first phase of lockdown easing

    Twins, Summer & Sophia Ellis (8) heading off to school in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, on Monday morning

    Twins, Summer & Sophia Ellis (8) heading off to school in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, on Monday morning

    Credit:
    Ian Burt/Ian Burt Photography

    Children arrive at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire

    Children arrive at Outwood Academy in Woodlands, Doncaster in Yorkshire

    Credit:
    Danny Lawson/PA

    School time traffic builds up on the A3 road into London at Kingston Vale

    School time traffic builds up on the A3 road into London at Kingston Vale

    Credit:
    Peter Macdiarmid/LNP/London News Pictures Ltd

    8:48AM

    Schools reopen as lockdown is eased

    Pupils will return to schools and loved ones will be able to visit care home residents in person as part of the first phase of lockdown easing in England.

    As well as pupils returning to classrooms today for the first time in at least two months, the rules around meeting with a person from another household outdoors will be loosened to permit recreation and not just exercise.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were dangers involved in keeping classrooms shut for too long when asked about the risks of schools returning.

    He said on Sunday: “I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.

    “I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it.”

    His comments came as new research suggests children’s mental health was negatively affected by school closures last year.

    Experts say they found a “significant rise in emotional and behavioural difficulties” among primary school pupils after the spring and summer school closures in 2020.

    The study was led by researchers at the Universities of Essex, Surrey and Birmingham and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation charitable trust.

    A pupil wearing a face mask raises his hand in class


    Credit:
    Anthony Devlin/ Bloomberg

    8:44AM

    Mask-wearing in schools not mandatory, but ‘strongly encouraged’

    Children’s minister Vicky Ford said secondary school students should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, but their use is not mandatory.

    Asked whether schools where there is not much mask-wearing should close, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “No, I think that we should strongly encourage them to wear the masks, I think the vast majority of young people, they get this.

    “But there will be some who will be very anxious and nervous about doing so and that’s why we understand that and that is why we have not made it mandatory but we have strongly encouraged this.”

    She added that a child who tests positive for coronavirus with a lateral flow test but subsequently receives a negative PCR result should not return to school.

    “They should not take the risk, we all want to make sure we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here,” she said.

    8:14AM

    Watch: One per cent pay rise for NHS staff is all we can manage, says Boris Johnson

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the 1% pay rise offer to NHS staff is all the government can manage.

    8:10AM

    Rise of cases with school return ‘inevitable’ 

    Professor Calum Semple said it was “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases” as schools go back, but it was not so important if the reproduction number (the R) rose slightly.

    He said it was more about “the absolute number of cases going to hospital and needing intensive care”.

    The advice for teachers “is going to be wearing face masks, being really careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children,” he told BBC Breakfast.

    He said society needed to learn how to live with the virus, adding: “It’s going to be difficult and it is going to mean some social distancing and face mask-wearing, good ventilation until really late summer when we’ve got the vast majority people vaccinated.”

    Students Ellie Fisher (left) and Beth Hicks (right) take Coronavirus lateral flow tests at Outwood Academy Adwick

    Students Ellie Fisher (left) and Beth Hicks (right) take Coronavirus lateral flow tests at Outwood Academy Adwick

    Credit:
    Danny Lawson/PA

    8:03AM

    Sage member says schools are ‘absolutely’ safe for children

    Professor Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said schools were “absolutely” safe for children and it was safe for schools to go back.

    “The subtle question about transmission and teachers, and bringing it home, well the school infection survey is showing that primary school children are half as likely to have had it and probably half as likely to transmit it,” he told BBC Breakfast.

    “Secondary school children (are) slightly less protected because as they become adolescents they effectively have the biology of an adult, but even there, they’re half to a quarter as likely to have had it and transmit it.

    “So the main driver is not the pupil-teacher relationship.

    “When we talk about schools, it is the fact that the school brings adults together, whether that’s teaching staff, the domestic staff, the catering staff, and it’s an opportunity for mixing.”

    He said the issue was down to “the fact that schools are a place of work”.

    7:44AM

    Mayor of London announces more transport services for school reopening

    Sadiq Khan says that more public transport has been laid on in the capital today to ensure “everyone can travel safely” as pupils return to school on Monday, March 8.

    7:15AM

    Today’s Front Page

    Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, March 8.

    Telegraph front page March 8

    7:09AM

    Labour calls for school breakfast club to help pupils catch up

    To help children recover from 109 days of lost face-to-face learning, Labour is calling for catch-up breakfast clubs before school to help make up for lost time.

    The push comes as leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow education secretary Kate Green prepare to kick-start a “Bright Future Taskforce” on Monday during a visit to a school in Dagenham, east London.

    According to the party, the taskforce will deliver a long-term strategy for children’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

    Marking the day that schools reopen fully in England, Labour said its analysis of Government data indicated that children have each lost an average of 109 face-to-face school days since the first lockdown in March 2020.

    The party said breakfast clubs would allow children extra time to socialise, while also giving schools additional learning periods to provide targeted tuition or catch-up support.

    6:37AM

    South Korea finds no links between vaccine and deaths

    South Korea said on Monday it had found no link between the coronavirus vaccine and several recent deaths, as it ordered nearly 100,000 foreign workers to be tested after clusters emerged in dormitories.

    Health officials had been investigating the deaths of eight people with underlying conditions who had adverse reactions after receiving AstraZeneca’s  vaccine, but said they found no evidence that the shots played a role.

    “We’ve tentatively concluded that it was difficult to establish any link between their adverse reaction after being vaccinated, and their deaths,” Korea Disease Control and Prevention AgencyDirector Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.

    6:12AM

    Business leaders warn Sturgeon of economic firestorm 

    Scotland’s business leaders have pleaded with Nicola Sturgeon to start paying more attention to the economic devastation wrought by the Covid pandemic as she renewed her demands for a second independence referendum.

    Speaking ahead of the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday on easing lockdown, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce  argued the success of the UK’s vaccination programme meant she could allow firms to reopen more quickly.

    Tim Allan, the business group’s president, warned Ms Sturgeon she needs to put out “a fire raging through this country which has burnt up many small businesses.” 

    Read the full story

    5:46AM

    Daily deaths fall below 100 for first time since October 

    The UK’s daily Covid-19 death toll fell below 100 on Sunday for the first time since October 9.

    A further 82 people have died within 28 days of a Covid-19 test, marking the first time in the second wave that fewer than 100 people have died in a day, according to the government’s official statistics. 

    While the case and death data published on Sunday tends to be lower than during the week due to a lag in processing figures, the fall in deaths is an encouraging sign that both the vaccine programme and lockdown are sending the virus into retreat. 

    Read the full story

    UK coronavirus cases showing impact of national lockdown
    5:08AM

    Japan’s inoculation campaign hampered by syringe shortage

    Japan’s Covid-19 inoculation campaign is moving at a glacial pace, hampered by a lack of supply and a shortage of speciality syringes that underscore the enormous challenge it faces in its aim to vaccinate every adult by the year’s end.

    Since the campaign began three weeks ago, just under 46,500 doses had been administered to frontline medical workers as of Friday.

    At the current rate, it would take 126 years to vaccinate Japan’s population of 126 million. Supplies are, however, expected to increase in the coming months.

    By contrast, South Korea, which began its vaccinations a week later than Japan, had administered nearly seven times more shots as of Sunday.

    4:57AM

    Vietnam launches vaccination programme

    Vietnam launched its vaccination programme on Monday with healthcare workers first in the queue, even as the Southeast Asian country looked set to contain its fourth outbreak of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

    Vietnam has been lauded globally for its record fighting the virus. Thanks to early border closures, targeted testing, and a strict, centralised quarantine programme, Vietnam has suffered fewer disruptions to its economy than much of Asia.

    Vietnam has kept the total number of infections in the country of 96 million at around 2,500 and reported just 35 deaths. It crushed a first wave of cases in February last year, and a larger cluster detected among foreign tourists in April.

    A health worker receives the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi 

    A health worker receives the AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi 

    Credit:
    AFP

    3:07AM

    NZ buying enough Pfizer vaccines for entire population

    New Zealand will buy additional Covid-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which will be enough to vaccinate the whole country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

    The government has signed an agreement to buy an extra 8.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate over 4 million people, Ms Ardern said, adding the vaccines were expected to reach the country in the second half of the year.

    “This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” Ms Ardern said in a statement.

    Vaccine distribution maps by vaccine/region
    12:02AM

    Today’s top stories

    • Unions have warned parents that schools could close if not enough pupils wear face masks, raising the spectre that the long awaited return to classrooms could be short lived.
    • Britain should prepare itself for a “hard winter” with the threat of Covid-19 and a flu surge still a possibility, a Public Health England official has said.
    • Financial scams are an “epidemic within the pandemic”, a former investigator has warned, as the number of victims falling for fraudsters impersonating the likes of HMRC, the NHS and Royal Mail doubled last year.
    • Working mothers have been left feeling burned out, exhausted and with deteriorating mental health during the pandemic, exclusive research commissioned by The Telegraph has found.
    • Boris Johnson on Sunday opened the door to rethinking his 1 per cent pay rise for NHS workers by noting it will not be finalised until an independent review body reports back. 
    • Longer school days and shorter holidays have not been ruled out, the Education Secretary has said, despite warnings that it could backfire.
    • Boris Johnson has hailed the “joy and relief” that Monday’s easing of lockdown will bring families as he confirmed a grandparent will be able to see young grandchildren under the new rules.