Coronavirus latest news: Health workers should get proper Covid reward, says NHS England boss

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  • Lockdown exit cannot be speeded up even if the data is good, says Chris Whitty
  • Overseas travel and new variants mean Covid will never be wiped out, Whitty and Vallance tell MPs
  • Nightingale hospitals to close in April as virus recedes
  • Major Covid outbreaks ‘inevitable’ at Channel migrant barracks
  • Jill Kirby: Testing should open up society, not shut it down
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Health workers should “get a proper reward” for their work in fighting the pandemic, the chief executive of NHS England has said.

Sir Simon Stevens’ comments comes amid increasing pressure on the Government over what Labour has described as a “reprehensible” pay offer.

Boris Johnson has been accused of failing to honour his promise to look after health workers fighting Covid-19 by proposing a one per cent pay increase for NHS workers. 

The Prime Minister, who himself was treated in hospital last year when he became severely ill with the virus, said last week Downing Street had tried “to give the NHS as much as we possibly can” but would wait to see the conclusion of a pay review.

“You would expect the head of the health service to want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through – they have been through – over the course of the last year,” Sir Simon Stevens told a parliamentary committee.  

Sir Simon confirmed that plans set out previously had budgeted for NHS pay to increase by 2.1 per cent this year.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

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1:24PM

‘Urgent need’ to give hospitals certainty over Covid costs, says NHS England boss

Hospitals have an “urgent need” to be given certainty over future Covid costs, the head of the NHS in England has said.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee he has an “expectation” that the NHS will be given more money to cope with the bill for caring for people with Covid-19.

Meanwhile, he said cancer care is a “top priority” for the NHS.

Money for the 2021/22 financial year will come from the NHS long-term funding settlement, with additional funding allocated in the November Spending Review to catch up on the backlog of care that has arisen as a result of Covid.

The chief executive of NHS England said the health service has also been provided with the extra costs of looking after Covid-19 patients.

Map of UK’s seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
1:18PM

Covid-19 vaccine batch, that Austria halted use of, went to 17 countries

Austria was one of 17 European countries to receive doses from a batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that Austrian authorities have stopped using while investigating a death and an illness following their use, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

A 49-year-old nurse in Zwettl, a town northwest of Vienna, died as a result of severe coagulation disorders after receiving the vaccine.

Another nurse from Zwettl who is 35 and received a dose from the same batch, ABV 5300, developed a pulmonary embolism and is recovering.

“We informed all European colleagues in the European network as this batch, which amounted to roughly a million doses in total, was sent to 17 European countries,” Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, the head of Austrian public health agency AGES’ medicines market supervisory body, told a news conference.

AstraZeneca has said all batches are subject to strict and rigorous quality controls and that there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”

1:12PM

Sweden records 11,014 new Covid-19 cases

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 11,014 new Covid cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.

The figure compared with 11,804 cases during the corresponding period last week.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 39 new deaths, taking the total to 13,042. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours’ but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns. 

Coronavirus Sweden Spotlight Chart – Cases default
1:04PM

Dutch clubbers turn to cannabis during lockdown

Dutch clubbers used half as much ecstasy, amphetamines and alcohol during the first lockdown in the Netherlands but some smoked more cannabis instead, reports James Crisp. 

3,765 festival-going 16 to 35-year-olds were quizzed about the changes in their drug consumption by the Trimbos addition institute, the Dutch News website reported. 

The April to May lockdown closed festivals, concerts and nightclubs, which had a big impact on drug use. 

During lockdown, four out of 10 clubbers said that they had smoked more cannabis than usual because they were bored. Nione out of 10 said they felt isolated, 

While 83 per cent of respondents said they still met with friends during lockdown and 40 percent had attended at least one illegal house party. 

The institute said the survey’s finding were not representatives of young Dutch people in general. 

1:00PM

Downing St delivers over 33,000 laptops and tablets to help children with remote learning

More than 33,000 additional laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched by the Government to help children with remote learning over the past week.

New figures from the Department for Education suggest 688,317 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since the lockdown began on January 4 – which is an extra 33,544 devices compared to last week.

A total of 1,250,738 laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the pandemic.

1:00PM

Lockdown exit cannot be speeded up even if the data is good, says Chris Whitty 

It is “very unlikely” that lockdown exit will be speeded up, even if data on Covid cases keeps being better than was forecast, the country’s chief medical officer has said.

Prof Chris Whitty said he would “strongly advise” against any move to shorten the timetable for easing lockdown restrictions.

“If you open up too fast, a lot more people die,” Prof Whitty told MPs.

More than 22 million people have now had their first vaccine, and daily cases and deaths are the lowest for five months.

UK coronavirus cases showing impact of national lockdown

Laura Donnelly has the full story here

12:52PM

Overseas travel and new variants mean Covid will never be wiped out, Whitty and Vallance tell MPs 

A Zero Covid strategy is not possible, as the virus will never be eliminated, the Government’s scientists have said.

Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, both ruled out such an approach, saying new variants and overseas travel mean the virus cannot be wiped out.

Sir Patrick told MPs: “I do not think that zero Covid is possible. I think there’s nothing to suggest that this virus will go away, at least any time soon.”  

“I would expect to see more variants emerge,” he told the Commons science and technology committee. “I do not think we will stop new variants emerging.

Meanwhile Prof Whitty said he would love Covid to “magically disappear” but warned this could not happen with a virus which is highly transmissible and spread asymptomatically. 

Laura Donnelly has the full story here

12:49PM

One million people given first vaccine dose in Wales

One million people in Wales have now received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

Public Health Wales (PHW) figures on Tuesday showed 1,007,391 people have received at least their first jab, while 192,030 people have been fully vaccinated after also receiving their second.

The milestone means almost 40 per cent of the adult population now have a level of protection against Covid-19 within the first 13 weeks of Wales’ vaccination programme.

The Welsh Government said an anticipated dip in vaccine supplies over the past three weeks would increase during the next fortnight, with around 200,000 vaccinations possible and around 30,000 a day being administered.

The latest data for Tuesday shows an increase of 9,095 of first doses from the previous day’s figures and a further 8,291 second doses.

Wales coronavirus cases chart
12:42PM

Boris Johnson has not received vaccine, Downing St confirms

Downing Street has said Boris Johnson is yet to be invited for a coronavirus vaccine.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It remains the case I’ve not heard that he’s been invited to have one yet but when he does he will more than happily come forward and take the vaccine.”

12:42PM

Illegal weddings mask sacrifices made by orthodox Jewish community, rabbis say

Illegal weddings hosted during lockdown have unfairly masked the sacrifices made by London’s Orthodox Jewish community in the pandemic, local leaders have said.

Stamford Hill in north-east London hit headlines earlier this year when authorities said around 400 people had gathered inside one of the area’s schools for a wedding.

 Police broke up a wedding party of 150 guests at Hatorah Senior Girls' School, in Stamford Hill last month 

 Police broke up a wedding party of 150 guests at Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, in Stamford Hill last month 

Credit:
Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe

These figures were eventually revised down to 150, prompting anger among some locals.

Levi Schapiro, a founding director of the Jewish Community Council of North London, said circulation of the initial figures by authorities had “damaged” and “created hate” towards the community.

Rabbi Schapiro condemned those who had thrown the wedding, but said their actions were not representative of everyone.

He said: “We are very, very upset with those two families who did that wedding. But as a community, the vast majority of us have sacrificed a lot. We have sacrificed seven or eight different celebrations and holidays.

12:34PM

Hunt for universal Covid vaccine heats up with major cash injection 

The hunt for a vaccine that protects against all Covid-19 variants as well as other coronaviruses is set to heat up with “nine-figure” funding injection, The Telegraph can reveal. 

Around 20 teams around the world are at the early stages of developing vaccines that offer broader protection against a range of coronaviruses, from Covid-19 to Sars.

So-called universal vaccines of this type have long been a holy grail in the fight against infectious diseases, such as flu, and could be important not just for this pandemic but for heading off future threats.  

Now the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), a key player in the development of Covid-19 vaccines, is set to announce a “call for proposals” for researchers working on universal coronavirus vaccines, with hundreds of millions of dollars of funding available. 

Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of Cepi, told The Telegraph: “This is the third coronavirus in the 21st century, and that ought to be the hair-on-fire urgency to take coronavirus off the table.

“So in the next couple of weeks we’ll be announcing a very significant investment in developing broadly protecting or even universal coronavirus vaccine.” 

Jennifer Rigby has the full story here

12:29PM

Pfizer vaccine neutralises Brazil variant, study finds

The Pfizer vaccine is able to neutralise the highly contagious Brazilian P.1 variant, a study has found.

Blood from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was effective against a version of the virus engineered to carry the same mutations as P.1, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccine’s efficacy against the Brazilian variant was roughly the same as against a less infectious strain from 2020, scientists said.

Pfizer has previously found that its vaccine is able to neutralise other highly contagious variants that were first found in the UK and South Africa.

Public health experts have said that the Brazilian coronavirus variant has currently not reached the UK in sufficient numbers to present a major threat to the vaccine roll-out, amid evidence it is up to 2.2 times more transmissible. 

12:13PM

Ireland expects first J&J vaccine by mid-April

Ireland expects to receive its first doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine from mid-April and not early April as initially planned, the head of the country’s health service operator has said. 

J&J’s vaccine, which requires only one dose for protection, is expected to be approved on March 11 for use in the European Union by the bloc’s regulator. EU officials have said deliveries could start in April.

In an updated roll-out plan published last month, Ireland forecast that it would receive 602,000 J&J shots in the second quarter – around 15 per cent of its total quarterly supply – and would start administering the vaccine in the first week of April.

“The assumption on Johnson & Johnson is about 600k over quarter two, but primarily back-ended. Smaller numbers in mid-April,” Health Service Executive (HSE) chief Paul Reid told a parliamentary committee.

Ireland has administered almost 525,000 vaccines among its population of 4.9 million, primarily using the Pfizer-BioNTech , vaccine. Almost 150,000 have also received the second of their two doses

12:04PM

Vaccine failures leave eurozone trailing UK’s economic recovery

The UK will enjoy a faster bounceback than the eurozone from the Covid-19 crisis this year thanks to the success of its vaccination programme, a leading international think tank has said.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s latest interim economic outlook was far more optimistic on the UK’s prospects than three months ago, upgrading its growth forecast this year from 4.2 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

The performance is set to outpace the Eurozone, where the recovery has been hampered by a shambolic vaccine roll-out. The OECD lifted its forecasts by just 0.3 percentage points to 3.9pc for the region this year.

The UK has vaccinated 32 people per 100 since the programme began in December, compared to just nine per 100 in the eurozone.  

Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?

 Simon Foy has the full story here

11:57AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: We cannot stop overseas variants coming in

Asked about the Government’s maintenance of a “red list” of countries with concerning variants, Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs: “There is some logic in thinking about where you have got the highest prevalence of either the virus overall or a particular variant.

“But I don’t think we should dream that you can stop these things coming in or, indeed, evolving within domestic virus transmission.”

11:55AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘Variants likely to arise everywhere’

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs that coronavirus variants people are concerned about “are likely to arise everywhere”.

“Largely they have been detected in countries which have got good sequencing capabilities, so there will definitely be other variants that simply haven’t been detected because they will be in other countries that aren’t sequencing,” he said.

“I would expect to see more variants emerge.”

The process of “convergent evolution” meant similar variants were arising separately in different parts of the world.

“This is something that means we will see those being acquired in this country and is again a reason to keep rates down as low as possible,” he said.

“That’s where I think we should focus our attention.”

11:53AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘Zero Covid’ strategy not possible

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a “zero Covid” strategy was not possible.

“Our focus needs to be on reducing the levels we have here. That is the key point, to keep things under control,” he said.

“As levels come down test, trace and isolate becomes increasingly important, cluster identification – making sure we understand where there are outbreaks and how to deal with them – and of course the vaccine is going to make a huge difference to all of this.

“I do not think that zero Covid is possible. I think there’s nothing to suggest that this virus will go away, at least any time soon.

“It’s going to be there, circulating. It may be a winter virus that comes back over winters with increasing infection rates during that period.”

11:43AM

Nightingale hospitals to close from April 

Nightingale hospitals set up to cope with a spike in Covid-19 cases are to close from April, although the sites in London and Sunderland will stay open for vaccinations.

NHS England said existing hospitals have been able to increase their beds so successfully that the Nightingales are no longer needed.

A network of seven hospitals in England was set up last spring amid fears that the health service may end up overwhelmed, as had happened in some other countries.

The Nightingale hospitals in England were largely not needed and some were stepped down to rehabilitation centres.

In January, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported figures published by minister for innovation Lord Bethell, which put the total cost of the temporary hospitals at around £532 million by the end of the 2022 financial year.

The estimate included costs for setting up the Nightingales, running costs, stand-by costs and decommissioning costs.

11:38AM

Have you reunited with a loved one in a care home? We want to hear from you

As of Monday, March 8, care home residents have been allowed one visitor indoors for the first time in a year.

Up until this point, people have only been able to see their loved ones through windows and screens, if it all. 

We want to hear from you about your first care home visit following the new guidance.

  • How did it feel to visit your loved one inside their care home?  
  • Or has your local authority maintained the ban on indoor visits despite the new rules?
care homes
11:33AM

Head of NHS praises volunteers in vaccination rollout. 

NHS England’s chief executive praised the scores of volunteers he described as the “force multipliers” that have helped the NHS with the vaccination programme.

Sir Simon Stevens also revealed a vaccination hub has opened at Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner in London. 

“If you’ve been to your local vaccination services or centres, you will have seen that as well as the brilliant work that GPs and nurses and other NHS staff are doing, the force multiplier are the volunteers,” he told the Health and Social Care Committee on the health and social care white paper.

“This is a huge community mobilisation across the country and that speaks to the fact that part of the success with uptake here is that this is not just a medical exercise, this is also reaching in communities with community leaders and engaging people.

11:27AM

NHS staff were expecting higher pay rise, says Sir Simon Stevens

NHS staff in England were expecting to receive a higher pay rise than the one per cent proposed by the Government, the head of the health service has confirmed.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, confirmed that plans set out previously had budgeted for NHS pay to increase by 2.1 per cent this year.

It comes as the Government has defended its proposal to give some NHS staff in England a one per cent pay rise.

Labour has accused the Government of “breaking their promise” to health workers.

Sir Simon said that proper recognition for what staff have been through over the course of the pandemic is “entirely right”.

But he called for the independent pay review body to be allowed to do its work without “fear or favour”.

11:22AM

No lockdown planned for Paris despite cases reaching three-month high

France is not planning to put the Paris region into lockdown even though the number of people with Covid-19 in intensive care is at its highest since November, public health director Jerome Salomon has said. 

Medical authorities in the Paris region, which accounts for about one-sixth of France’s population, ordered hospitals on Monday to cancel 40 per cent of their regular activities to make space for critical Covid-19 patients.

Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Boulogne

Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Boulogne

Credit:
Alain Jocard/AFP

But Salomon told RTL radio: “A lockdown in the greater Paris region is not on the agenda.”

“Lockdown is a last resort measure that would be submitted to the government and the president if we were under the impression the hospital system could not cope,” he said.

The number of people treated in intensive care units for Covid-19 in France reached a 14-1/2-week-high on Monday at 3,849. The figure was almost 1,000 for the Paris region.

Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart – Cases default
11:18AM

Sir Patrick Vallance defends ‘big bang’ opening of schools

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance was questioned on the approach being followed to reopen schools in England in a “big bang” rather than in a phased way as in other parts of the UK.

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee

Credit:
PA

Sir Patrick told MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee the Sage scientific advisory panel looked at the “impact or the potential impact of schools opening – with all the uncertainties around that – and then to look at what would happen in single opening versus staggered”.

“In either case you end up in the same place, you end up over a different timescale to get there and, again, you would need to allow enough time in any staggered opening to be able to measure what you do as you go along,” he said.

The advice was “almost certainly the same” across all the devolved administrations, he said.

11:13AM

Chris Whitty: Four weeks of data needed before next lockdown steps

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told MPs it was important to wait for four weeks of data before making a decision on the next step.

Without that gap “it’s pretty doubtful you would be in a position where you are going to be able to say ‘these data look so fantastically better, please take more risks here”‘.

“I think that seems a very unlikely situation, given how large these blocks of activity are.”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance echoed that view, telling MPs: “If you truncate that, you are essentially flying blind.

“You might feel ‘oh, I can smell it going in a certain direction, it looks like this’, but you really want to know.”

11:11AM

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine could be produced in Italy

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 could be produced in Europe for the first time after a commercial deal to produce it in Italy was signed by the Moscow-based RDIF sovereign wealth fund and Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne.

The agreement, which will need approval from Italian regulators before production can be launched, has been confirmed by both RDIF and the Italian-Russian chamber of commerce.

It is the latest evidence that some EU members are not willing to wait for the EU’s own regulator — the European Medicines Agency (EMA) — to grant its approval to Sputnik V.

Scientists said the Russian vaccine was almost 92 per cent effective, based on peer-reviewed late-stage trial results published in The Lancet medical journal last month.

Sputnik V has already been approved or is being assessed for approval in three EU member states – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. 

Vaccine distribution maps by vaccine/region
11:07AM

Excess deaths pass 50,000 since start of pandemic

The number of excess deaths that have occurred in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has now passed 50,000.

Excess deaths are the number of deaths above the average for the corresponding period in the non-pandemic years of 2015-19.

There were 50,810 excess deaths in homes in England and Wales registered between March 7 2020 and February 26 2021, according to the ONS.

Of this total, 7,056 – 14 per cent – were deaths involving Covid-19.

Any death involving Covid-19 is counted as an excess death because Covid-19 did not exist before 2020.

11:00AM

I’ve been vaccinated – so where can I go on holiday this summer? 

How the tables turn. For much of the pandemic, it is the younger generations who have “enjoyed” the meagre silver linings of a bleak era – less prone to the worst of Covid-19, less fearful of the damage it can do, Chris Leadbeater writes.

But as the vaccination process against the virus rolls out, the clouds are starting to part over a more “experienced” set of age groups. Not the twenty- and thirtysomethings who will have to wait their turn for a liberating jab in the arm, but those of a “finer vintage” who are already feeling the benefit of medical science.

Kyra Panagia beach on the Greek island of Karpathos in the Aegean Sea

Greece and its islands have suggested that they will open up to vaccinated Britons in summer

Credit:
Digfoto/imageBroker RF

The Government has said that all UK citizens over 50 will have received at least one anti-coronavirus shot by May, which should be just in time for the holiday season in Europe.

Of course, this is just a first step. There is no guarantee that all borders will be unlocked come summer – but there is hope that foreign holidays may restart by May 17. The tone in Westminster is still foreboding, with non-British travellers from 33 “red list” countries banned from entering the country, and British arrivals from the same places now forced to isolate in allocated quarantine hotels at their own expense. 

Here’s what we know so far about holidays this summer.

10:55AM

Rule of six measures from May 17 involve ‘significant risks’

Professor Chris Whitty suggested the measures pencilled in for May 17, when indoor mixing of up to six people could be allowed, involved “significant risks”.

He told MPs he would “strongly advise” against any attempt to “concertina” the five-week interval between steps.

The rule of six is set to return outdoors from April, and indoors from May

The rule of six is set to return outdoors from April, and indoors from May

Credit:
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

The April 12 measures are “a very big block”, Prof Whitty said, with shops and outdoor hospitality due to open.

  • Covid lockdown: The key dates for restrictions easing
  • PM rules out accelerating any roadmap measures
10:48AM

World playing ‘Russian roulette’ with pathogens 

The world is playing an “ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens” according to a collection of health and environmental groups, writes Sarah Newey.

The Preventing Pandemics at the Source coalition has warned that governments are not doing enough to tackle the root cause of pandemics: the destruction of nature. 

While trillions has been spent, justifiably, on boosting healthcare capacity and the global economy, far less expensive measures to stem deforestation and tackle the illegal wildlife trade have been sidelined. 

The Sars-Cov-2 virus – like diseases including HIV, Ebola and Zika – is thought to have jumped from bats to an as-yet-unidentified animal to humans. As humans and livestock are pushed into ever-closer contact with wildlife, more pathogens with pandemic potential are likely to spillover into people. 

“The Covid-19 vaccines will help rescue us from this current mess, but it won’t do a thing to protect us from the next pandemic,” Aaron Bernstein at the TH Chan school of public health at Harvard University in the US told the Guardian. 

“Only with actions that stop emerging infections where they start can we end our ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens.”

10:40AM

Equitable distribution of Covid jabs the ‘HIV/Aids fight of our lifetime’ 

The co-chair of Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine delivery alliance has described efforts to equitably distribute vaccines across the continent as the “HIV/Aids fight of our generation”, writes Sarah Newey.

Speaking at an event at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last night, Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija said that the rollout of vaccines across Africa is a mammoth task, with “equity the priority”. 

“This is the HIV/Aids fight of our lifetime, and that we must ensure that everybody gets what they need, to the very last mile in Africa,” she said.

Dr Olatunbosun-Alakija added that the World Health Organization-led Covax scheme is a “wonderful initiative” but, if Africa relied solely on it, only 20 per cent of the population would be protected. 

An employee unloads boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, delivered as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative

An employee at Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa airport unloads boxes of Oxford vaccines, delivered as part of the UN-led Covax scheme

Credit:
Amanuel Sileshi/AFP

“If we’re going to vaccinate 60 to 70 per cent or whatever we need, that calculation to achieve our immunity, the Africa union has to procure and purchase vaccines for themselves,” she said. 

“We work hand in hand with Covax… it’s not a competition, it is complimentary.”

Dr Olatunbosun-Alakija added that the African Union has been able to use it’s power as a bloc to secure vaccine deals with manufacturers to ramp up access to jabs. 

To date, the union has secured 300 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as 270 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

10:36AM

Chris Whitty: Keeping schools closed would be ‘significant disservice’ to children

On schools reopening, Sir Patrick Vallance tells MPs that schools are likely to increase the R number and the effects on this have to be closely monitored.

But he says a staggered reopening would have the same overall effect as the widespread return seen in English education yesterday.

“When we look back at the impact of schools opening, in general schools seem to reflect quite closely what’s happening in the community,” Sir Patrick says. “Although we know that spread occurs in schools and of course children can catch it, it still looks like the way in which schools impact on this is largely as a reflection of community spread, rather than as a driver.”

Children, parents, teachers and the wider effects of transmission must all be considered, Prof Chris Whitty adds.

“In the case of children, it’s unambiguous about the effects of education for children for their physical health, mental health and obviously their long-term prospects,” he says.

“If you don’t have children in school you are doing them a significant disservice and I don’t think anyone disputes that, whether it’s health or long-term prospects. The risk to children is extremely small, it’s not zero but it’s extremely small – smaller in fact than for seasonal flu. The risk-benefit is clearly in favour of education.”

10:30AM

Chris Whitty appears before science committee: Key moments so far

  • Professor Chris Whitty told MPs a “significant minority do go on to get significant disease” even after they have been vaccinated
  • Government modelling of a further 30,000 deaths reflects “a surge at some point”, the Chief Medical Officer added
  • While it is “difficult” to work out who is likely to die, the “vast majority” of future coronavirus deaths will be among those who are elderly or have pre-existing health conditions, Prof Whitty said
  • The spread of coronavirus is largely driven by “much younger adults who have not yet been vaccinated”, he said, meaning that a “wave of transmission” would result if lockdown was lifted “too quickly”
  • Prof Whitty warned people who “think this is all over” to look at a rise in cases in Europe: “People should remember that things can turn bad very fast if you don’t keep a close eye on what’s going on”

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee

Credit:
House of Commons/PA Wire

10:14AM

Covid third wave suggested by ‘all the modelling’, says Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty has warned MPs that “all the modelling” suggests another wave of coronavirus in 2021.

“Because it is such as common virus,even if you have a relatively small proportion of people still remaining vulnerable, that still equates to a very large number [at risk],” the chief medical officer told the science and technology committee of MPs.

“All the modelling suggests at some point we will get a surge in the virus. We hope it doesn’t happen soon – it might happen later in the summer if we open up gradually, or if there is a seasonal effect it might happen over the next autumn and winter.

“But all the modelling suggest there is going to be a further surge, and when it happens it will find the people who have not been vaccinated or where the vaccine has not worked. Some of them will be hospitalised and sadly some of them will die. That is just the reality of the situation.”

10:07AM

Chile streaks ahead of Latin America with one of fastest vaccination rates in the world 

Chile has begun administering second doses of Covid-19 vaccines as it presses ahead with an impressive vaccination campaign that has seen the Latin American nation become one of the fastest in the world. 

Thanks to a strong public health network and a long history of effective immunisation campaigns, the government has been able to offer free jabs to almost one-quarter of its 19-million strong population in just over a month.

Alicia Martinez holds up her vaccination card after she was injected with a second dose of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine 

In Santiago, Alicia Martinez holds up her vaccination card after she was injected with a second dose of China’s Sinovac vaccine

Credit:
Esteban Felix/AP Photo

The country’s voluntary inoculations began on February 3 and since then more than 4.5 million people – mostly over-60s – have received at least one shot, giving a vaccination rate of nearly 25 doses per 100 people.

That puts it in the top 10 worldwide, and fifth in terms of countries with significant-sized populations – behind the US, UK, UAE and world-leader Israel. 

John Bartlett has the full story.

9:51AM

Registered Covid deaths fell to two-month in last week of February

Registered coronavirus deaths in the last full week of February dropped by 29 per cent on the previous week, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

 In total there were 2,914 registered deaths with the virus in England and Wales in the week ending February 26.

This is the lowest figure in just over two months, since the week ending December 25. Of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 26, 23.1 per cent mentioned coronavirus on the death certificate.

9:29AM

Autistic teenager thanks NHS staff 1,000 times over

An autistic teenager in Scotland has written more than 1,000 cards to say thank you to front line staff dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

Seventeen-year-old Paddy Joyce, from Glasgow, started to write to healthcare staff at the start of the year to relieve his anxiety as he became increasingly upset amid rising numbers of deaths.

Autistic teenager Paddy Joyce who has sent almost 700 thank you cards to staff at a hospital 

Autistic teenager Paddy Joyce, who has sent almost 700 thank you cards to staff at a hospital 

Credit:
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde/PA Wire

Thanks to the help of staff at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Paddy has sent off 663 individually named cards, and is hoping to have written more than 5,000 by the end of the year.

“I saw how sad and upset they were on the news,” he said. “My mum said I should write to someone, so I asked her to find someone and lots of people wanted one, so I want to write to everyone.”

9:13AM

Nightingale closures ‘important moment’ in Covid recovery, says Matt Hancock

In a video posted on social media, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said the closure of the Nightingale hospitals was an “important moment in our national recovery”.

He said the hospitals were a “monument to this country’s ability to get things done fast when it really matters” and played a “critical role” in the UK’s response to coronavirus.

“Because of [our] progress we’re able to take an important step,” he said. “I want to thank all of those who’ve been involved in this incredible project… coming together as a team in difficult circumstances at an incredible pace.

“You showed what’s best in our NHS and what’s best in our country.”

9:04AM

NHS staff pay rise should be ‘appropriate’, says Justice Secretary

The Justice Secretary has said he hopes NHS staff will be given an “appropriate” pay rise.

Robert Buckland said the Government was only the “beginning of a process” amid criticism of its recommendations that NHS workers should receive a pay rise of one per cent.

“The final recommendations have not yet been made. We have got to remember that in large other swathes of the public sector there will be a pay freeze save for the lowest paid. I don’t think at the moment we are at the end of this process,” he told the BBC this morning.

“I think that we need to see what the recommendations are and I very much hope that the outcome – whilst it might not be an outcome in these difficult circumstances that will result in pay rises that everybody would want to see – that the work that has been done by NHS workers will be recognised in a way that is appropriate, bearing in mind the constraints we are all under.

“It is not for me to start to prejudge what the outcome of the negotiations is. I am simply pointing out that we are at the beginning of that process and we will have to see what the recommendations are.”

9:00AM

New syringe gets seven doses out of Covid vaccine

A Japanese medical equipment firm says it has developed a new syringe that can get seven doses out of each vial of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine – at least one more than accessible with existing syringes, reports Ben Farmer.

The health ministry approved the design on Friday, and Terumo Corp will begin production at the end of March, Reuters reported. The firm hopes to make 20 million syringes this year.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, call low dead space syringes, which cut the amount of vaccine left behind in the syringe after use.

8:25AM

Pfizer vaccine neutralises Brazil variant, study finds

    The Pfizer vaccine is able to neutralise the highly contagious Brazilian P.1 variant, a study has found.

    Blood from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was effective against a version of the virus engineered to carry the same mutations as P.1, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    The vaccine’s efficacy against the Brazilian variant was roughly the same as against a less infectious strain from 2020, scientists said.

    Pfizer has previously found that its vaccine is able to neutralise other highly contagious variants that were first found in the UK and South Africa.

    Public health experts have said that the Brazilian coronavirus variant has currently not reached the UK in sufficient numbers to present a major threat to the vaccine roll-out, amid evidence it is up to 2.2 times more transmissible.

    8:06AM

    Angela Merkel’s party rocked after MPs accused of taking kickbacks for face-mask contracts 

    Angela Merkel’s government has been engulfed in a corruption scandal after two of its backbench MPs were accused of profiteering from the pandemic, reports Justin Huggler.

    In a serious blow less than a week ahead of key regional elections, the MPs were accused of accepting backhand payments to broker government contracts for facemasks.

    Nikolas Löbel resigned as an MP and as a member of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) on Monday after admitting he accepted a commission of €250,000 (£215,000) for arranging a local government contract.

    “I violated my moral obligation with my actions. I would like to apologise to all the citizens of the country,” Mr Löbel said in a statement. 

    A second MP, Georg Nüsslein, denies allegations he accepted backhanders of more than €600,000 (£515,000) to broker facemask contracts for the Bavarian regional government.

    Read more here.

    8:01AM

    Rangers fans condemned for failing to ‘take seriously’ duty to persuade fans to celebrate safely 

    Police Scotland have condemned Rangers Football Club for failing to “take seriously” its duty to persuade fans to celebrate the team’s title win safely after thousands of supporters flouted lockdown rules to hold wild celebrations.

    Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said the behaviour of Rangers fans who congregated at Ibrox and George Square in Glasgow city centre on Sunday was “disgraceful” and had put the public at greater risk of catching the virus.

    In an extraordinary intervention, he “strongly” condemned Rangers for failing to issue the “messages we repeatedly asked them to put out” asking fans to stay home or disperse.

    Rangers fans gather in George Square to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years

    Rangers fans gathered in George Square to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years

    Credit:
    Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

    He said it was “very clear” the club “did not take seriously their responsibilities in terms of seeking to persuade their fans to celebrate safely and responsibly” their first title win in a decade.

    Mr Graham also hit back at widespread criticism of the force’s failure to take stronger action to stop the flagrant law-breaking, or to try and disperse the crowd, saying officers were “faced with considerable danger.”

    Georgina Hayes and Simon Johnson have the story.

    7:44AM

    Long Covid can have worse affect on patients who were not seriously ill

    Long Covid causes different patterns in patients who were severely ill and those who were not hospitalised, Dr Melissa Heightman of University College London Hospitals has said.

    “The symptoms can be more difficult and more long-lasting in patients who were not admitted to hospital,” she told BBC Radio 4.

    “Fortunately in those who were admitted with severe illness, many of them are following a really lovely improving trend with time. And in others the symptoms do tend to be a bit more stubborn, a bit more long-lasting.

    “The virus has different effects in those people. Even in those patients many are still improving in time but the improvement can be quite slow. And this post-viral syndrome that we see probably has a number of quite difficult mechanisms underlying it that is definitely something we need to research quite urgently.”

    Long Covid is treatable through therapy and clinical resources, Ms Heightman said, emphasising that the focus should now be on supporting patients through their recovery process.

    7:36AM

    City of London paves way for building boom despite move to home-working

    The City of London has given the green light to more than 2m sq ft of new office space already this year, paving the way for a building boom despite the impact of Covid-19 on the Square Mile.

    Many large financial companies have signalled a move away from five-day weeks in the office, with several big names planning to move to smaller premises.

    Nonetheless, in the first two months of 2021 the City of London Corporation’s planning committee has approved the creation of nearly 80pc of the total office space that it approved last year (2.6m sq ft). 

     The Corporation has approved the development of more than 2m sq ft of new office space in the Square Mile

     The Corporation has approved the development of more than 2m sq ft of new office space in the Square Mile

    Credit:
    Henry Nicholls/Reuters

    The Corporation has given two approvals to Hong Kong-based developer Tenacity since the start of the year, and one to a major joint venture pursued by British Land. 

    Last month, HSBC announced it would cut office space by 40pc globally, and KPMG said it was also likely to cut space. However, some firms including Arcadis and IPG Mediabrands have sought to relocate to the square mile in recent months. 

    Ben Gartside has the story.

    7:23AM

    Labour calls for ‘germ game’ exercises to boost pandemic preparedness

    The Labour Party has called for regular “germ games” activities akin to 2016’s Exercise Cygnus in order to make the UK more prepared for future pandemics.

    Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said that such drills needed to be “annual and regular in an era of pandemics” amid what he considers to be an increased risk from climate change.

    “I think they do need to be annual and regular,” he said. “In an era, sadly, of pandemics, because of what we’re doing to our environment – this creates the conditions where we’ll see more viruses [and] pathogens jumping from animals to humans”

    “They do present different problems but some of the fundamentals of infectious disease control are the same. You need to isolate sick people, you need to support people to isolate and you need to

    “I would certainly start with the six or so major virus categories that the World Health Organization warn about.”

    Britain should focus its preparations for further outbreaks on different types of coronaviruses and the nipah virus, Mr Ashworth said.

    6:45AM

    China launches vaccination certificates for cross-border travel

    China has launched a digital vaccination certificate for its citizens planning cross-border travels, joining other countries issuing similar documents as they seek ways to reopen their economies.

    The certificate issued by China will have details about the holder’s Covid-19 vaccination information and coronavirus test results, the Department of Consular Affairs under China’s foreign ministry said on its website.

    Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday the aim of the certificate is to achieve mutual verification of information such as nucleic acid testing and vaccination, and contribute to safe and orderly interaction of people.

    It is not immediately clear with which countries China is talking to get its certificate recognised.

    Read more: The countries already rolling out vaccine passports

    6:28AM

    Eleven thousand breast cancer cases may have been missed

    Nearly 11,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer following last year’s drive to “protect the NHS”, new analysis reveals.

    A reluctance to burden the health service during the pandemic’s first wave, coupled with a drop in GP referrals and suspensions of screening programmes is wreaking a “tragic cost”, experts said.

    Research by the charity Breast Cancer Now found there were 10,700 fewer people diagnosed with breast cancer across the UK between March and December last year.

    Read the full story

    In numbers: How Covid impacted NHS treatment in 2020
    5:56AM

    Madrid is showing how the arts can flourish despite Covid

    The British arts sector has been offered a glimmer of hope by the Government’s roadmap, with the potential reopening of venues in mid May heralding a summer of recovery. However, over in Madrid, reopening is old news. Thanks to its comparatively relaxed Covid rules, the Spanish capital has seen thriving cultural activity since last summer when arts venues welcomed back visitors.

    Unlike in the UK, Spain’s Covid response varies dramatically across the country. There are some national measures in place following their March-May 2020 lockdown, including a curfew (from 11pm to 6am) and compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in indoor public spaces, but otherwise prime minister Pedro Sánchez has given sizable decision-making powers to the country’s 17 autonomous communities. 

    Read the full story

    Read more: When will cinemas, theatres and art galleries reopen after lockdown?

    4:37AM

    Japanese company makes special syringe for Pfizer vaccine

    Japan’s Terumo Corp said on Tuesday it has developed a new syringe that can get seven doses out of each vial of Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer, at least one more than accessible with existing syringes.

    The health ministry approved the design on Friday, and Terumo will begin production at the end of March, a Terumo spokesman told Reuters. The Kyodo News agency, which first reported the development, said Terumo is aiming to make 20 million units this year.

    The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, call low dead space, which minimise the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use.

    How does the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine work
    4:16AM

    Indonesia approves AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

    Indonesia has approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use, Penny K. Lukito, the chief of the country’s food and drug agency, told a news conference on Tuesday.

    More than one million doses of the vaccine arrived late on Monday via the COVAX global vaccine-alliance scheme.

    About 38 million doses of a vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech have arrived in the Southeast Asian country so far, some of which have been used in a mass inoculation drive starting in January.

    A medical worker injects a dose of coronavirus vaccine during a vaccination for teachers drive in Palembang, Indonesia 

    A medical worker injects a dose of coronavirus vaccine during a vaccination for teachers drive in Palembang, Indonesia 

    Credit:
    Anadolu

    3:43AM

    Australian PM says vaccination programme on target

    Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he remained optimistic the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive would finish on time by October despite initial delays as it reported zero new local cases for the 11th straight day on Tuesday.

    Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 but missed its targets in the first two weeks as the pace of vaccination slowed after two elderly people were inadvertently given four times the recommended dose.

    Mr Morrison said the vaccination rollout targets will be met as the government looks to ramp up the immunisation drive when Australia begins the local production of vaccine by the end of the month.

    Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?
    3:07AM

    US daily death toll falls below 1,000

    For the first time in nearly three and a half months, the United States recorded fewer than 1,000 deaths in a day from Covid-19 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

    In 24 hours, 749 people died from the coronavirus, far below the peak of 4,473 deaths recorded on January 12.

    The daily US death toll has not been below the thousand mark since November 29, when 822 people died in a 24-hour period.

    That indicates that the slowdown in the epidemic is continuing in the United States, where infection rates and deaths have fallen to similar levels as before Halloween, Thanksgiving and other end-of-year holidays that were marked by travel and larger gatherings that boosted the spread of the virus.

    The slowdown is good news for President Joe Biden, whose colossal $1.9 trillion aid plan successfully passed the Senate on Saturday, and will bolster his large-scale vaccination strategy.

    Read more: Vaccinated Americans can meet indoors under new guidelines

    2:13AM

    Paraguayans pandemic protests build amid impeachment calls

    Thousands of Paraguayans gathered around Congress in downtown Asunción on Monday, marking the fourth day of protests amid calls to impeach President Mario Abdo over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 health crisis.

    The protesters, many wearing soccer jerseys and carrying national flags, chanted “Out Marito” and “Everyone out”, while criticising the authorities for the lack of medicines and intensive care beds amid a spike in cases.

    “In the hospitals there are no syringes, there are no beds,” a young man who identified himself as Dudu Dávalos told local television after travelling from the city of Hernandarias, 340 km (210 miles) east of Asunción.”They had a year to prepare and did nothing.”

    Paraguayans take part in a protest against President Mario Abdo Benitez's health policies and the lack of vaccines

    Paraguayans take part in a protest against President Mario Abdo Benitez’s health policies and the lack of vaccines

    Credit:
    Reuters

    2:07AM

    Today’s top stories

    • Children who receive false positives when tested at school will still be told to self-isolate and will be banned from the classroom for 10 days, the Government has said.  
    • Nightingale Hospitals in England will be shut down next month, the NHS said last night amid dramatic declines in Covid-19 hospitalisations and death and case numbers. 
    • A major outbreak at barracks holding Channel migrants was “inevitable”, says a damning watchdog report, which found it “unfit for human habitation” because it was so cramped and decrepit.
    • Ministers and Whitehall officials should engage in annual “germ warfare” exercises to test the UK’s readiness to cope with a pandemic, Labour’s health secretary is set to warn. 
    • Fully vaccinated Americans can gather indoors and visit ‘low-risk’ people from one other household without face masks, according to new guidance by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.