Coronavirus latest news: Joe Biden says US will have enough Covid-19 vaccines for every adult by May

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  • Data boost prompts calls for faster freedoms
  • Schools accused of ‘blackmailing’ parents into testing consent
  • Search ‘closing in’ on unknown patient with Brazilian variant
  • Covid generation will feel ‘glad’ to have lived through pandemic
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A “World War Two” style collaboration will give the United States enough Covid-19 vaccines for its entire adult population by the end of May, according to President Joe Biden.

Vaccine developer Johnson & Johnson and rival Merck are set to join together to deliver 100 million vaccine doses two months earlier than expected.

The president hailed the deal as “the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War Two”.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said the US leader – who previously targeted late July to amass sufficient doses to inoculate all Americans.

“That’s progress. Important progress. But it is not enough to have the vaccine supply,” Mr Biden said, stressing that a huge effort still lay ahead to administer the vaccines once acquired.

Despite the companies’ fiercely competitive past, Merck agreed to produce Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation, ultimately doubling the US’s ability to produce vaccines.

Mr Biden said he hoped that the United States would be “back to normal” at this time next year, and potentially earlier thanks to the step up in production.

“It depends upon if people continue, continue to be smart and understand that we still can have significant losses,” he said.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

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1:29PM

Theatres can make major contribution to recovery of UK, says charity

Theatres can make a “major contribution” to the recovery of the country, promoting wellbeing and reviving the high street, according to a leading charity.

Theatres Trust, which champions theatres in communities and supports community groups to save their local theatre, welcomed the news that the Chancellor will provide more than £400 million of additional support for the badly-hit culture sector in his Budget.

Rishi Sunak is preparing to hand out £408 million to help museums, theatres and galleries in England to reopen once coronavirus restrictions start to ease in the coming months.

Many theatres have not been able to open their doors since March 2020.

Jon Morgan, director of Theatres Trust, said: “Theatres Trust welcomes not only the Chancellor’s announcement of additional funding for the arts, but also his recognition for the important role culture will play in the country’s social and economic recovery.

The Middlesbrough Empire theatre


Credit:
 LEE SMITH/REUTERS

1:19PM

Universal credit £20 uplift extended for six months

The £20 weekly increase in Universal Credit payments will be extended for six months, the Government has said.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the temporary increase, introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, would remain in place for half a year and “well beyond” the end of the current national lockdown in England.

The increase has been described as a “lifeline” for struggling families.

Charities have been calling for the increase to be kept in place for at least a year.

Mr Sunak said working tax credit claimants will receive equivalent support over the next six months through a one-off payment of £500, due to the way that system works operationally.

Follow live Budget updates on our Politics blog.

1:14PM

New study suggests AstraZeneca has over 80 pc efficacy in elderly adults

The new study led by Prof Finn, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved elderly adults with pneumonia, Covid or another acute respiratory infection admitted to University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) and North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT).

It included 466 adults over 80, many of whom had other health problems and with around 90 percent regarded as frail.

The findings showed that one dose of Pfizer was 79.3 percent effective from 14 days after inoculation at preventing illness severe enough to require hospital admission.

Looking at the same time period, a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine was 80.4 percent effective against the same level of illness in the same group, also from 14 days after vaccination.

“But there are lots of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine available in European countries, and they are not being given to people over the age of 65, in some cases in countries over the age of 55, for lack of data,” Professor Adam Finn said.

“Well, here are the data. There are data from Public Health England and Scotland and now from us, showing that you can save lives in elderly people by giving them a dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

“And those countries need to get on and start doing that as fast as possible.”

1:06PM

EU needs to get on with using AstraZeneca vaccine to save lives, says JCVI member

European countries should “get on” with using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in elderly people to save lives, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said, as a new study found that a single dose gives remarkable protection.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, presented new research on people over the age of 80 which found that one shot of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford vaccine prevented severe disease that would lead to hospital admission.

Urging other countries to use their stocks of the Oxford jab, he told a briefing: “The UK is well forward, this age group have been immunised now, we’re down into people in their 60s, we’ve achieved 90% uptake.

“In the short term, the job’s done in the UK.”

12:43PM

Spring Budget 2021

Rishi Sunak starts the Spring Budget announcement by looking back at his initial response a year ago, saying what was seen once as a temporary disruption has “fundamentally altered our life”.

Much has changed but one thing has stayed the same, he adds. 

“I said I would do whatever it takes – I have done, and I will continue to do so,” he adds. 

“We will recover and this budget meets the moment with a three part plan to protect the jobs and livlihoods of the British people,” he says.

OBR now expects the economy to return to its pre-Covid level by the middle of 2022, six months ealier than previously forecast.

Follow live Budget updates on our Politics blog.

12:34PM

Holidaymakers offered short UK staycation cruises this summer

P&O Cruises will offer a series of week-long UK sailings this summer.

The UK’s largest cruise line has said the sailings will travel around the country’s coastal waters offering a short summer break for customers.

The firm have said the cruises, departing from Southampton, will go on sale later in March, with details about prices and dates to be announced.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow, said: “While holidays here in the UK will be the first to become a reality we will, of course, gradually see the return of international travel but first we want guests to be able to enjoy a proper summer holiday at sea with the best in relaxation, entertainment and dining choice.

“These sailings will leave from our home port in Southampton and sail around UK coastal waters enjoying the summer sunshine.”

P&O cruise ships docked at the Port of Dover in Kent

P&O cruise ships docked at the Port of Dover in Kent

Credit:
 Gareth Fuller/PA

12:24PM

Pandemic school closures see 168 million children miss almost a year of education

At least 168 million children worldwide have missed almost an entire year of school, Unicef has warned, amid concerns that restrictions to tame the coronavirus have triggered a “catastrophic education emergency”.

According to a report published on Wednesday, schools in 14 countries – the majority in Latin America and the Caribbean – have remained largely closed since March 2020.

Overall, children in Panama have missed the most days in the classroom, followed by El Salvador, Bangladesh and Bolivia.

“We do not want shuttered doors and closed buildings to obscure the fact that our children’s futures are being put on indefinite pause,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of Unicef.

“No effort should be spared to keep schools open, or prioritise them in reopening plans.”

Sarah Newey has more details on this story here.

UNICEF unveils Pandemic Classroom at UN Headquarters in New York to raise awareness

UNICEF unveils Pandemic Classroom at UN Headquarters in New York to raise awareness

Credit:
Getty Images North America/UNICEF via Getty Images

12:08PM

Portuguese hotels don’t expect business to return to normal levels until 2023

Portuguese hotels lost 73 percent of total revenues compared last year compared to 2019, the Portuguese Hotel Association said on Wednesday, as the Covid-19 pandemic drastically curbed travel from abroad.

Nearly half of all hotels were closed in December last year, according to a survey by the association conducted in February. The highest number of openings over the year was in September, when 79 percent of hotels were open.

“The impact of these closures…is brutal on total revenues for the hotel industry,” Cristina Siza Vieira, CEO of the association, said in a video presentation. 

The Portuguese Hotel Association says that the majority of Portuguese hotels are not expecting business to return to 2019 levels until 2023.

11:54AM

Global bucked positive trend as new cases rose by 7 per cent last week

New coronavirus infections rose by seven per cent last week, bucking an unprecedented six week decline in new cases, according to the World Health Organization.

According to the UN agency’s latest epidemiological report, 2.6 million new Covid-19 cases were reported last week, a seven per cent increase. 

Of the six WHO regions, four reported a rise in new infections: by 14 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean; nine per cent in Southeast Asia and Europe, and six per cent in the Americas.

“Possible reasons for this increase include the continued spread of more transmissible variants of concern, relaxation of public health and social measures and fatigue around adhering to [these] measures,” the report said.   

The number of new fatalities, though, has continued to decline. Just over 63,000 deaths were reported last week – a fall of six per cent. There was a large spike in new fatalities in Southeast Asia, by 47 per cent, but the WHO said this is largely due to retrospective reporting in Nepal. 

Globally, the United States, Brazil and France remain the countries reporting the most new cases. They are joined this week in the ‘top five’ by Italy and India. 

Read more on this from Sarah Newey here, including a warning from the WHO that the pandemic will not end this year.

11:43AM

Contactless card limit set to double to help high street rebound from pandemic

The contactless payment limit is to more than double to £100.

The changes, being set out in Wednesday’s Budget, will see the legal single contactless payment limit raised from £45 to £100.

While legally in force from Wednesday, the banking industry will implement the new £100 limit later this year.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “As we begin to open the UK economy and people return to the high street, the contactless limit increase will make it easier than ever before for people to pay for their shopping, providing a welcome boost to retail that will protect jobs and drive growth across the UK.”

Pedestrians walk past boarded up shops on George Street in Croydon

Pedestrians walk past boarded up shops on George Street in Croydon

Credit:
 Hollie Adams/ Bloomberg

11:35AM

Ryanair dropping prices for next six to 12 months in bid to get people in the air again

Ryanair hopes to fly up to 70 percent of 2019 passenger numbers this summer, group Chief Executive Michael O’Leary told a British parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

“We would be hopeful that we could fly maybe 60, 70 percent of our normal traffic volumes during the peak summer months… June, July, August and September,” rising to around 80-90 percent in the winter, he said.

He said the airline expected to fly just over 27 million people in the year to the March and said the consensus forecast for the financial year was for a loss of around 850 million euros ($1.03 billion).

He added the airline will be dropping prices for the next six to 12 months in a bid to get people flying again.

11:29AM

EU-wide coronavirus passports at risk as countries break away from bloc’s plan

European Union coronavirus passports could be put at risk if member states continue to break away from the bloc’s vaccines strategy by buying Russian and Chinese vaccines, officials have warned. 

Brussels is set to propose legislation to create an EU-wide Digital Green Pass on March 17. The vaccine certificate will be the first step towards an eventual passport that could help save Europe’s summer season and would be open to tourists from the UK and other non-EU countries. 

But those hopes could be dashed because more and more countries are buying jabs outside of the EU joint procurement scheme and authorising vaccines at national level that have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Read the fully story from James Crisp and Nick Squires here.

11:21AM

Ryanair CEO calls Covid flying regulation rules ‘bonkers’ and ‘nonsensical’

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told the Transport Select Committee that the Civil Aviation Authority is taking “criminal proceedings” against the airline because it carried passengers with pre-departure coronavirus test results written in Italian and Germany.

Government regulations state that test results must be written in either English, French or Spanish.

Mr O’Leary said: “We the airline are facing criminal proceedings for bringing people into the UK, with Italian and German PCR tests validly done because they’re not in the Spanish, French or English language.

“It’s this kind of bonkers, non-joined up regulation which is designed to make bureaucrats at the Department of Health look like they’ve done something.

“Whereas in reality it’s completely nonsensical because it’s confined to three languages. So, regulation is not the way forward.”

A man stands at a Ryanair check-in desk at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat airport


Credit:
 ALBERT GEA/ REUTERS

11:01AM

Ryanair boss hits out Government support for airlines

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said Government support for airlines during the coronavirus pandemic has been “lamentable”.

He claimed there is “much more to be done” to help the industry during the Covid-19 crisis.

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, Mr O’Leary said the furlough scheme is “welcome”, but “the Government has been lamentable in providing other support”.

He went on: “We had to refund over 1.5 billion euro (£1.3 billion) to customers in the last 12 months because our flights were cancelled by government order.

“There has been no support for that. We have received no support.”

He criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak for failing to reduce Air Passenger Duty (APD), which he described as a “ridiculous” tax that “hits the poorest people hardest”.

He said: “No effort has been made by the Government to roll that back, reduce it temporarily, or in fact – what we would call for – abandon it altogether, at least until traffic at UK airports recovers to pre-pandemic levels.”

For more travel updates follow our liveblog here.

10:55AM

What you need to know right now

Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus around the world:

  • The US will have enough vaccines for every American adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden said after Merck & Co agreed to make rival Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation.
  • The first doses of the Pfizer shots to be dispatched to Africa under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme are to arrive in Rwanda on Wednesday, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerate.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected on Wednesday to agree a gradual relaxation of curbs with regional leaders but the rules can be tightened again if infections jump, according to draft plans seen by Reuters.
  • The Italian government ordered the closure of all schools in areas hardest hit and extended curbs already in place on businesses and movement until after Easter amid worries over new, highly contagious variants.
  • A record number of Ukrainians were taken to hospital with coronavirus over the past 24 hours, while the number of deaths remains consistently high, health ministry data show on Wednesday.
10:43AM

French families sue over extensive nursing home deaths

A Paris court is holding a hearing Wednesday in a class-action effort to hold French health authorities and companies accountable after thousands with the virus died in nursing homes, and families were locked out and left in the dark about what was happening to their isolated loved ones.

The hearing is a first step in likely a years-long legal marathon. Families hope it shines a light on what went wrong last year as the virus devastated France’s oldest generation.

It targets several nursing homes, the national health agency DGS, the Paris public hospital authority and others. Plaintiffs include family members of nursing home residents, doctors and associations.

Their complaint focuses on multiple issues during the first half of 2020. Those flaws included mask shortages for residents and staff; testing shortages; the use of a powerful sedative called Rivotril on some residents while homes were locked down; and opaque decisions on which residents received hospital treatment for the virus and which were left to suffer or die in their nursing homes.

The national health agency, the Paris hospital authority and two of the nursing homes named did not respond to requests for comment ahead of the hearing.

10:31AM

Schools accused of ‘blackmailing’ parents into giving testing consent

Secondary schools have been accused of “blackmailing” parents into giving consent for tests after being told their children will be banned from face-to-face lessons if they refuse.

Some headteachers have written to parents explaining that any pupils who do not agree to take lateral flow tests at the start of term will be segregated from their peers.

face masks in schools

Parents have said they are “gobsmacked” by their school’s stance, adding that they feel as though they are being subjected to “coercion bordering on blackmail”.

Read more from our Education Editor Camilla Turner here.

10:14AM

Watch: How Brexit helps EU vaccine crisis 

An increasing number of EU countries are breaking away from the Brussels’ vaccines strategy and, according to The Telegraph’s Europe Editor James Crisp, it represents an embarrassment for the European Commission. 

In a video analysis of the the bloc’s crumbling unity, he said: “They say here in Brussels all the time that the answer to any crisis is always more Europe. 

“What’s embarrassing for the European Commission right now that there’s an increasing number of countries who think that the answer to getting more vaccines quickly is actually less Europe or no Europe at all.”

It will do little to convince countries to hand over more power to the EU, he adds, such as on health policy.

10:06AM

Pandemic cuts sick days to lowest level on record 

Sickness absence from the workplace has fallen to its lowest level on record, new figures reveal.

The pandemic has helped cut absence rates, as people have worked from home or forced to shield, said a report.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the rate fell to 1.8 per cent last year, the lowest level since current records began in 1995.

Around 118 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2020, equating to 3.6 days per worker.

The Covid-19 pandemic may have led to additional sickness absence, but measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes, said the ONS.

Minor illness was the main reason for sickness absence in 2020, including coughs and colds, while since last April, coronavirus accounted for 14 per cent of the total figure.

The highest sickness absence rate in 2020 was in Wales, at 2.2 per cent and 0.4 per cent higher than the UK rate.

London had the lowest sickness absence rate at 1.4 per cent. 

9:53AM

Schools reopening: Everything you need to know

All school pupils in England will return to class from Mar 8, the Prime Minister has confirmed. But the return of students in secondary schools and colleges could be staggered due to the logistics of mass testing.

Boris Johnson confirmed the easing of lockdown restrictions as part of a gradual roadmap for reopening that will see Covid-19 restrictions eased over four steps spread across at least four months.

Breakfast and after-school clubs can also reopen, and other children’s activities including sport can restart “where necessary to help parents to work”.

Mr Johnson also announced a multimillion-pound catch-up programme for children in England who have faced disruption due to Covid-19.

The Department for Education (DfE) said that summer exams will be voluntary and that the exam boards will set a number of questions in each subject for teachers to use for internal assessments if they wish.   

The Education Secretary also confirmed on Feb 25 that face coverings will be worn in secondary school classrooms, stating that it is “a temporary measure” that will be “replaced at Easter”. 

Read more about the new measures here.

9:41AM

Japan to extend state of emergency for Tokyo region

 Japan’s government plans to extend a state of emergency over the coronavirus for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures by two weeks, until March 21, broadcaster TBS reported on Wednesday.

While new coronavirus cases have fallen significantly from a peak in early January, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Tuesday the pace of decline had slowed, expressing concern that it may not be enough to lift restrictions.

People wearing face masks walk along the Takeshita shopping street 

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike the pace of declining cases had slowed

Credit:
Yuichi Yamazaki /Getty Images AsiaPac 

9:24AM

Explosion at Dutch testing centre ‘intentional’ 

Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing centre north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the facility before it opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km (35 miles) north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate. 

The metal remains of the explosive, about 10cm by 10cm (4 inches by 4 inches) in size, were found on the front of the building and “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters.

“We don’t know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said. “What we’re saying is that something like that doesn’t just happen by accident, it has to be laid.”

The region around Bovenkarspel, a rural town, is currently suffering one of the Netherlands’ worst Covid-19 outbreaks, with 181 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with around 27 per 100,000 nationally. 

9:13AM

Kenya receives first vaccine batch of one million doses

Kenya welcomed the arrival of over a million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday in its first batch under a global plan to ensure equitable distribution.

“We have received… machine guns, bazookas, and tanks to fight this war against Covid-19,” Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe exulted as the doses arrived at Nairobi’s main airport.

With fewer resources and tougher logistics than other regions, African nations are racing to secure the hundreds of million of doses needed to inoculate their populations against the disease and allow the safe reopening of economies.

Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe reacts after receiving the first batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe reacts after receiving the first batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines

Credit:
THOMAS MUKOYA /REUTERS

Kenya, which has so far recorded 106,470 infections and 1,863 deaths from the virus, has seen a jump in the number of daily cases in the last two weeks.

The doses which arrived on Wednesday came from the Serum Institute of India and were the first batch of an initial allocation to Kenya of 3.56 million doses by the COVAX facility, the ministry of health said.

8:57AM

Who is next on the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines? 

The Health Secretary has invited people aged over 60 to be vaccinated, after 20 million vaccinations were rolled-out across the UK.

The Government hopes that the 32 million people in the top nine priority groups will be vaccinated by April 15, and will aim for every person aged over 18 will have been offered a coronavirus vaccination by the end of July.

“When the call comes, get the jab,” Matt Hancock said.

Is the UK on track to hit vaccination targets?

People aged between 40-49 will be the first group to be invited to receive a vaccine once the over-50s and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced. 

An estimated 20.3 per cent of people aged 16 to 69 had already received their first jab as of February 21, which equates to one in five adults in England aged under 70, new data suggests.

As of March 2, 20,478,619 first doses have been administered in the UK, and 844,098 people have received a second dose so far. 

Read more here to find out when you could receive your first dose.

8:44AM

Explosive goes off near Covid-19 test centre in Netherlands

An explosion occurred Wednesday near a Covid-19 test centre in the Netherlands, shattering windows but causing no apparent injuries, police said.

“Near the local health service’s testing centre in Bovenkarspel, an explosive went off at 6.55 am. Police are investigating. The perimeter has been sealed off,” the police said in a statement.

A bomb squad was sent to determine whether any explosive material remained at the scene, public television network NOS reported.

In January a Covid testing centre was set on fire in the Dutch village of Urk as protests broke out over the start of an overnight curfew in the Netherlands introduced as part of measures intended to rein in the virus.

The Netherlands suffered several nights of rioting, the most violent the country has seen in decades.

Updates to follow. 

8:13AM

Dolly Parton sings ‘vaccine, vaccine’ Jolene rewrite as she gets  jab

Dolly Parton’s hit ‘Jolene’ has been given a rewrite as the country star received her Covid-19 vaccination and urged others to get theirs.

Ms Parton, 75, sang “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine… I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate… ‘cos once you’re dead, that’s a bit too late”.

Shortly after performing her remix, she was herself injected with the Moderna vaccine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday.

7:52AM

Vaccine certificates needed for haj in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend haj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the haj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” the report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.

7:37AM

Ministers in India opt for Indian-made jab without late-stage efficacy data

Government ministers and officials in India were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made Covid-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the Oxford jab.

India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticised Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.

“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with Covaxin.

Many state officials and doctors have refused to take Covaxin before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.

The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy”. It is seeking to sell Covaxin to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.

COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12% of the 12 million people immunised so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data

7:26AM

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Mar 3.

dt

7:01AM

Merkel poised to agree to easing of restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was poised on Wednesday to agree a gradual relaxation of coronavirus curbs with regional leaders, but the rules can be tightened again if infections jump, according to draft plans seen by Reuters.

Pressure is growing on the government to set out clear plans to restore normal activities after months of pandemic lockdown, even though daily cases have begun creeping up again and the pace of vaccination has been sluggish.

The draft plans say that from March 8 a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet.

Flower shops and book stores, garden centres, tattoo and nail parlours as well as massage salons will also be allowed to reopen on March 8, the draft shows. Hairdressers and some schools have reopened in recent days.

The tally of infections rose by 9,019 to 2,460,030 on Wednesday, an increase of more than 1,000 over last week, while the death toll rose by 418 to 70,881.

However, the number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days fell slightly, to 64 from 65.8 on Tuesday.

6:27AM

Chinese delegates to propose vaccine passports at annual meetings

Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid-19 vaccine passports and recognising such passports globally that they say will restore some normality, boost international tourism and economic exchanges, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.

Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also told the Global Times, published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, that international arrivals could be exempted from quarantine requirements if they have a negative nucleic acid test and a vaccine passport.

Read more: Airlines set to launch international vaccine passport as part of summer holidays plan

new vaccine passport holiday poll
5:12AM

Biden calls for teachers to be prioritised in vaccine rollout 

President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on US states to prioritise Covid-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely, and said every educator should receive at least one shot by the end of March.

Mr Biden also announced that Merck & Co Inc would help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, a partnership similar to those seen during World War Two.

With three vaccines now available, Mr Biden said he was confident there would be enough vaccines available for each adult in the United States by the end of May.

Read more: Can I visit the US? Latest travel advice

3:46AM

Ontario seniors won’t receive AstraZeneca vaccine

The health minister of Canada’s most populous province says Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older.

Mr Elliott says for anyone over that age, it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.

There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunisation said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to “suggested superior efficacy”.

Read more: French doctors slam ‘AstraZeneca bashing’ as France enacts U-turn on jabs

2:42AM

Virus deaths in Brazil hit all-time record high

Brazil registered an all-time record on Tuesday for the number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data.

That surpasses the previous single-day high of 1,595 deaths recorded in late July 2020, as Brazil faces a new peak in cases and the hospital system is pushed to the brink of collapse. 

Read more: Brazil breaks record for seven-day death toll

The Nossa Senhora Aparecida Cemetery, where victims of Covid-19 are buried, in Manaus

The Nossa Senhora Aparecida Cemetery, where victims of Covid-19 are buried, in Manaus

Credit:
RAPHAEL ALVES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

2:00AM

US states begin easing restrictions

Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the US to loosen restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let their guard down yet.

The Lone Star State will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock.

The governors of Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of San Francisco.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Mr Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”

Read more: Texas ‘100pc open’ after governor ends lockdown and mask mandate

Motorists wait in line for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Texas Loop 338 

Motorists wait in line for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Texas Loop 338 

Credit:
Odessa American

1:06AM

Dolly Parton gets taste of her own medicine

Dolly Parton has been inoculated by the Covid-19 vaccine she helped to fund.

The beloved country music star, 75, broke into song while getting the jab and adapted one of her best-known ballads.

To the tune of Jolene, Parton sang: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

Parton was credited with helping fund the Moderna vaccine after donating one million dollars (about £716,000) to Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee.

1:02AM

Australia looks to defence to help ramp up vaccine rollout

Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its Covid-19 immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said.

ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on the planning, logistics and operations support.

Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 with frontline health staff and senior citizens getting the first shots, but missed its dosage target for the first week by nearly half.

New South Wales Police officer Lachlan Pritchard receives the Pfizer vaccine

New South Wales Police officer Lachlan Pritchard receives the Pfizer vaccine

Credit:
News Corp Australia Pool

12:46AM

Today’s top stories

  • The fall in Covid deaths in England is running around three weeks ahead of modelling estimates, figures show, as experts called for lockdown to be eased more quickly. 
  • Secondary schools have been accused of “blackmailing” parents into giving consent for tests after being told their children will be banned from face-to-face lessons if they refuse.
  • Rishi Sunak will announce that the furlough scheme will continue until the autumn, even as data shows that efforts to counter Covid are exceeding expectations.
  • The Covid generation will look back on the past year like evacuees at the end of the Second World War and feel “glad to have lived through it”, a union boss has said.
  • Passengers arriving into Edinburgh Airport who have to quarantine are being bussed to a hotel in Glasgow to serve their isolation period, prompting accusations that SNP ministers are flying in the face of the public health advice. 
  • The hunt for the mystery patient who has contracted a more infectious Brazilian variant of coronavirus has been narrowed down to 379 households, Matt Hancock has said.
  • Cathedral choirs are struggling to survive, amid frustration that the Government’s lockdown plan fails to make clear when singing can safely return.
  • The first digital vaccine certificate is set to be launched by the world’s airlines this month as part of a four-step plan for summer holidays being considered by the Department for Transport.