Kent Covid variant up to 30 per cent more deadly, says Sir Patrick Vallance

The UK variant of coronavirus may be up to 30 per cent more deadly, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has warned.

“There is evidence that there is an increased risk for people who have the new variant, compared to the old variant,” Sir Patrick told a No10 press conference.

Sir Patrick stressed the data was “uncertain”, but suggested that for a man in his 60s, the risk of death with the new variant is 13 in 1000 rather than 10 in 1000.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first identified in London and the South East, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

The new variant, which has now been reported across the UK and in several other countries, is also more transmissable.

The warnings came as Sir Patrick said the variants which had emerged in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to the vaccines that have been developed.

Follow the latest updates below.

06:45 PM

Canada thinking of quarantining travellers in hotels

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned that his government could impose stricter restrictions on travellers at any moment in response to new, likely more contagious variants of the coronavirus – possibly making it mandatory to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense when they arrive in Canada.

Trudeau said at a news conference that such measures could be imposed suddenly and bluntly warned against nonessential trips abroad.

“No one should be taking a vacation abroad right now. If you’ve still got one planned, cancel it. And don’t book a trip for spring break,” Trudeau said.

Canada already requires those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and to present a negative test taken within three days before arrival. The suggested measure would require isolating at a hotel rather than at home.

Recent variants of the virus that emerged in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily and scientists say that will lead to more cases, deaths and hospitalizations. They are also concerned about any potential ability to eventually reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

06:25 PM

WHO to consider two Chinese Covid-19 vaccines next week

The World Health Organization will begin considering China’s two Covid-19 vaccines for emergency approval next week, WHO Assistant Director-General Mariangela Simao said on Friday.

China is promoting two vaccines, made by Sinopharm and Sinovac, and has signed deals to export millions of doses of both of them. Simao said the WHO was also looking into providing emergency approval for AstraZeneca’s vaccine from manufacturing sites in South Korea and India.

06:21 PM

‘It’s like a warzone’: What it’s like at a London hospital amid the second wave

An intensive care unit consultant at a London hospital had a message to those denying the #coronavirus pandemic on social media, saying that working in ICU wards treating Covid-19 patients is like ”working in a war zone.”

Dr. Umeer Waheed spoke outside London’s Hammersmith hospital saying that he would “love to invite those people into these hospitals and show them exactly what’s going on”.

He said healthcare workers are ”stretched” as the number of people hospitalized due to Covid-19 is still rising.

More than 39,000 patients are being treated in UK hospitals, 80 percent more than during the first peak of the pandemic last April as health workers are battling a more contagious variant of Covid-19.

Watch below:

06:10 PM

WHO secure 40m Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

The World Health Organization has announced a deal with Pfizer-BioNTech to secure 40 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine for Covax, a scheme to distribute jabs to low and middle income countries.

The vaccine has already gained pre-qualification from the WHO, meaning it could be ready to be rolled out as early as February for health workers and the most vulnerable.

“In my remarks to the Executive Board on Monday, I called on the international community to work together as one global family to ensure the vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year,” Dr Tedros, WHO director general, said.

“The commitment of the United States to join Covax, together with this new agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech, means that we are closer to fulfilling the promise of Covax.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla added the 40m doses will be sold on a non-profit basis. He described it as an initial agreement, and said more doses could be sold through the Covax programme in future.

During the press conference, live streamed from Geneva, Dr Tedros also said that at least 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will be available for delivery to low and middle income countries in the first quarter of 2021 – pending approval from the WHO.

06:09 PM

Meanwhile: the WHO says it has not yet seen data suggesting UK variant more lethal

Beyond Downing Street, the World Health Organization has said that it has not yet seen data supporting the UK announcement that the B.1.1.7 variant is “more lethal”, as well as more transmissible.

Speaking at a virtual press conference that took place simultaneously to the Downing Street briefing, Dr Mike Ryan – head of the WHO emergency programme – urged people to “remain calm around the issues of these variants”.

“There is a big difference between the lethality of a virus, how many people on average a virus kills, versus the morality of the virus. If I have one million people infected and my lethality is 1 per cent, or two million people infected with a lethality of 1 per cent, twice as many people will die.

“We are not seeing so far, but we will wait to see, that the disease is more lethal. We are seeing that… increasing incidence leads to increasing mortality. If your cases get out of control, your deaths will get out of control as your health system is overwhelmed,” Dr Ryan said.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who is leading the WHO Covid-19 response, added that the UN agency is tracking a number of variants and working closely with countries to evaluate them.

She added she is “encouraged by signs of decreased transmission in the UK”, suggesting that the measures in place are having an impact and bringing the virus – and new variant – under control.

Dr Van Kerkhove reiterated that the WHO has not yet seen data from the UK suggesting that B.1.1.7 is more transmissible.

06:08 PM

What did we learn?

Here’s a quick recap of today’s press conference with Boris Johnson, Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.

  • The number of people in hospital with Covid is 78 per cent higher than it was in the first peak in April.

  • There is some evidence that the new variant of the virus is associated with higher mortality, as well as being more infectious.

  • 5.4 million people across the UK have now received their first dose of the vaccine – although Prof Whitty said it is still not a good idea to mix with others, even if you have had your first dose.

  • Vaccines appear to be effective against the UK variant, but there is concern about their effectiveness against variants from South Africa and Brazil

  • Restrictions will not be lifted until infections have fallen and it is safe to do so, but there are no plans to tighten them, said Boris Johnson.

05:58 PM

Boris Johnson: We will only open up when it is safe to do so

Boris Johnson says “we will have to live with coronavirus for a long while to come” but it is an “open question” how long measures will be in place to restrict public life.

“We will look at things continuously,” he says.

“Obviously we want to do everything we can to open up, but only safely, only cautiously.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m not optimistic about the rollout of the vaccine…but at this stage you’ve really got to be very cautious indeed.

“The first thing we want to open if we make any progress will be schools.”

Sir Patrick Vallance says “we have more vaccines than we could ever have dreamt of” including “ones that we can alter if we need to”.

“There is a very different outlook as we move through the year,” he said, but urged against “getting hooked up on one specific date”.

05:45 PM

No clarity yet on whether vaccine works on South African variant, says Vallance

The Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner asks about a video circulating online that shows Matt Hancock telling travel agents that the vaccine may not work against the South Africa variant.

Mr Johnson says the Government stopped people entering the UK from December 24, and anyone arriving from anywhere else has to show a negative test result and passenger locator report.

He does not address the question about the South Africa variant and the vaccine.

Sir Patrick Vallance says there are “difficult laboratory studies” on the effectiveness of the vaccine and it isn’t fair to extrapolate based on the result of one study – as Matt Hancock did.

He says “it is the case that both the South African and other variants have more differences in shape” but says “we don’t know”.

05:40 PM

New variant does not have higher viral load: Vallance

Sir Patrick Vallance is asked why scientists think that the new variant spreads more.

He says it is not believed the new variant has a higher viral load, meaning people “shed more virus”. He suggests it may be other factors that make it more transmissible.

The new variant may find it more easy to get into cells than the old variant, he says.

05:38 PM

Rate of infection is ‘forbiddingly high’, warns PM

Boris Johnson warned that the rate of infection is “forbiddingly high”, as he suggested restrictions may not be eased on February 15 as planned.

“It remains our intention to look at where we are on the 15th if we can get that JCVI first cohort done,” he said.

“We will look at the state of the pandemic, look at where we are and make an assessment. We make an assessment every day on where we are.

“But currently the rate of infection is forbiddingly high, and I think we have to be realistic about that.”

Boris Johnson - PA Video
Boris Johnson – PA Video

05:33 PM

Death and hospitalisations will continue for some time, say advisers

The BBC’s Hugh Pym asks Boris Johnson whether the daily reported death toll would rise for longer and fall more slowly than expected, since the new variant is more deadly.

Mr Johnson says the “big surge” the UK saw in the Christmas period was “still going on as a result of the new variant”.

He reiterates that the death toll will remain high while the lag in hospitalisations takes place. Prof Chris Whitty says the rate of decrease in case numbers will be “slow from a high base”, and more people may die as a result of the new variant but the shape of the curve will remain the same.

Sir Patrick Vallance casts doubt on “preliminary” information from Israel that suggested the Pfizer vaccine may not be as effective as the clinical trial data suggested.

He says the Government is in conversation with Israeli researchers and more evidence is expected in the next few weeks.

05:29 PM

Can those who have had the vaccine mix safely together?

“Over time, the answer will be yes – but at this point in time the answer will be no,” says Chris Whitty.

He says that – even with the very effective vaccines – there is a period of time straight after a jab “where there is no effect”. He says people won’t see protection for around two to three weeks following their vaccination. Even then “that protection will not be complete”.

He says a large proportion of people in the community have currently got the virus – “so the risk is if you have the vaccine you still have some residual risk”.

Sir Patrick Vallance adds there is uncertainty around the vaccine’s role in preventing transmission of the virus.

05:25 PM

First dose of vaccine gives ‘great majority’ of protection

Will a longer gap between vaccine doses reduce its effectiveness, asks the first question from members of the public.

Chris Whitty, says he is “absolutely clear” that everybody needs two vaccinations. He says the reason for extending the gap between the two doses is to double the number of people who can get the vaccine.

The “major limitation” is the number of vaccines we have to give, he says, rather than how many people they are able to vaccinate.

He says in the case of both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, “we think the great majority of the protection” is given by the first dose and the second dose will top that up and extend that over time.

Once you get protection initially it lasts a reasonable period of time, he says, likely up to 5 months like if you had the virus.

The data will be kept under constant review, he adds.

Chris Whitty - Leon Neal / Getty 
Chris Whitty – Leon Neal / Getty

05:20 PM

Vallance: vaccine likely effective against UK variant

Sir Patrick Vallance says there’s”increasing confidence” that the new UK variant will be susceptible to the vaccines.

On the South African and Brazilian variants, Vallance says there is concern they have certain features that they might be less susceptible to vaccines.

More clinical info is needed to understand the effect and they are of more concern than the new UK variant, he says.

05:16 PM

Vallance: Uncertainty around UK variant mortality data

Sir Patrick Vallance is explaining what we now know about the latest Covid-19 variants.

The are three major variants of potential concern, he says. The one that was first identified in the UK, one identified in South Africa, and one that was identified in Brazil.

The new UK variant is transmitting between 30 and 70 per cent more easily than the old one, he says.

It doesn’t have a difference in terms of age distribution, he says.

On severity and mortality, he says data on patients in hospitals, the outcomes for those with the old and new variants are the same.

However, with anyone who has tested positive, there’s evidence of an increased risk in those who have the new variant compared to the old virus, he says.

He says that – for example – early evidence suggests the difference is between 10 deaths in 1,000 infected with the earlier variant to 13 or 14 in 1,000 infected with the new variant.

The data is currently uncertain, he adds.

Sir Patrick Vallance - PA Video
Sir Patrick Vallance – PA Video

05:13 PM

Whitty: Deaths continue to climb

The number of people who tested positive then died shortly after is continuing to climb due to the delayed effect, he says.

The number of deaths is steadily increasing and the most recent 7-day rolling average is over 1,000 deaths a day – a very high rate that will probably continue to go up and take a while to come down, he says.

05:11 PM

Whitty: Number of people in hospital with Covid still high

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK is increasing all the time, Whitty says.

It’s now at an “extraordinarily high” level, but there is evidence in London and the South East of some reduction, he says.

In parts of the Midlands and the North it is still increasing, he says.

The reduction of cases in hospital will take weeks yet, he says, crediting how hard NHS staff are working.

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK is still very high
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK is still very high

05:10 PM

Whitty: 1 in 55 people in England have the virus

Chris Whitty turns to the slides.

ONS data shows that the estimated number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has “turned a corner” and infections have gone down, he says.

However we’re still at the stage where 1 in 55 people in England have the virus, he adds.

The estimated number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the community in England
The estimated number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the community in England

05:07 PM

PM confirms English variant is more deadly

The Prime Minister has confirmed that the variant first identified in London and the SouthEast may be be associated with a higher degree of mortality.

We reported this earlier (see post at 4:37pm).

Mr Johnson also confirms the latest daily figures:

  • The UK has reported a further 40,261 positive cases since yesterday

  • 38,562 patients are now in hospital – 78% higher than the first peak in April

  • An additional 1,401 deaths have been recorded within 28 days of testing positive

  • 5.4 million people across the UK have now received their first dose of the vaccine

In England, one in 10 of all adults have received their first dose, including 71 per cent of all over 80s, and two thirds of elderly residents in care homes, he says.

First doses have been administered to 151,000 people in Northern Ireland, 358,000 in Scotland, and 212,000 in Wales.

Both vaccines remain effective against both the new variant and the original, he says.

04:45 PM

AstraZeneca informs EU officials about vaccine delivery shortfall

AstraZeneca has informed the European Commission that it will initially not be able to deliver the agreed volumes of its Covid-19 vaccine when it obtains regulatory approval for the bloc, which is expected by end-January, German newspaper Bild reported on Friday, citing company sources.

An AstraZeneca spokesman did not have an immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

Austrian news site OE24 also reported of the looming delivery delays, saying that Astra had told the EU’s vaccination coordinators on Thursday that planned deliveries would be considerably below target during the first quarter.

Without specifying its sources, OE24 reported that Austrian coordinator Martin Auer told regional states in the country that Austria’s allotments for the first quarter had been cut to 500,000 to 600,000 doses from 2 million previously planned.

04:37 PM

Kent Covid variant up to 30 per cent more deadly than original, PM to announce

The new variant of coronavirus discovered in Kent is up to 30 per cent more deadly than the original, Boris Johnson will announce later today.

Prof Neil Ferguson, who sits on Nervtag, the Government’s virus advisory committee, said the latest data showed up to 13 in 1000 people aged 60 who contract the variant strain could die, compared with 10 in 1000 who caught the original variant.

Boris Johnson is expected to address the latest findings in a Downing Street press conference at 5pm.

“It is a realistic possibility that the new UK variant increases the risk of death, but there is considerable remaining uncertainty,” Prof Ferguson told ITV.

“Four groups – Imperial, LSHTM, PHE and Exeter – have looked at the relationship between people testing positive for the variant vs old strains and the risk of death.”

The professor said the data available on the new variant is patchy, but there is a “signal” that there is a “1.3-fold increased risk of death”.

The new variant, which has now been reported across the UK and in several other countries, is also more transmissable.

Our politics blog has more here.

04:24 PM

Vaccine roll-out slowest in some of the most infected areas of England

Some of the most infected areas of England have seen some of the lowest overall rates of vaccinations.

The ten per cent of local healthcare partnerships with the fewest people receiving a first dose have on average seen more than double the rates of infection during the vaccine drive than the top 10 per cent.

Just 3.4 per cent of people living under the East London Care Partnership received their first dose up to January 17 – the lowest in the country – yet the area has also seen the highest rate of new coronavirus infections since the UK’s vaccination program began on December 8 with 117,450 confirmed cases, or 58 per 1,000 people.

In the North West London Health and Care Partnership 3.8 per cent of people have been given their first dose, but the rate of confirmed cases since December 8 is 7th highest in the country – at 42.1 per 1,000 people.

Track the vaccine distribution in your area with our postcode tool

04:11 PM

UK reports, 1,401 additional deaths and 40,000 cases

The Department of Health says a further 1,401 deaths with 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test have been reported today along with new 40,261 Covid-19 cases

03:57 PM

‘Mother of all arguments’ approaching on lockdown restrictions, says Sage prof

Sage’s Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter predicted the “mother of all arguments” among politicians next month as some politicians call for the lockdown to be eased.

The University of Cambridge academic told BBC News: “The one thing I can be absolutely confident about is that by this time next month there is going to be the mother of all arguments.

“Because it’s quite feasible that deaths will have come down considerably, infections should have come down considerably, hospitalisations and ICU will still be under a lot of pressure.

“There will be enormous pressure to loosen things up.

“Loosening it up will inevitably lead to an increase in cases, a resurgence of the pandemic among younger groups and we can see then that does seep through into hospitalisations.

“So, there’s going to be a real battle going on.”

03:48 PM

Germany records first case of Brazilian coronavirus strain

Germany has detected its first case of a newly discovered Brazilian coronavirus variant, feared to be particularly infectious, regional health officials in the state of Hesse said Friday.

The infected person recently returned from a trip to Brazil and lab tests on Thursday confirmed he had caught the new strain, Hessian Social Affairs Minister Kai Klose told reporters.

Experts from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) say the Brazilian mutation is similar to the South African variant, which is seen as more contagious than earlier strains.

03:43 PM

Watch: Antony Fauci ‘liberated’ by Trump departure

Across the pond, Dr Anthony Fauci has said it is “liberating” to be able to let the science speak without fearing “repercussions” as new US president Joe Biden launched a Covid-19 strategy.

Watch a clip of Dr Fauci below.

03:31 PM

Why the government might be trying to hide progress on vaccine roll-out

This pandemic has been littered with broken promises – from the Government’s pledge to create a “world class” test-and-trace system to its guarantees over Christmas and schools staying open.

But when it comes to getting people vaccinated, ministers appear to be taking a more cautious approach in announcing targets or making predictions about the success of the roll-out.

Despite some promising figures, why might they be trying to hide their progress?

Watch the video above for Health Editor Laura Donnelly’s analysis of the numbers and how the government is reporting them.

03:21 PM

England’s vaccine count reaches 5.1m

A total of 5,100,475 Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place in England between December 8 and January 21, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 359,897 on Thursday’s figures.

Of this number, 4,661,293 were the first dose of the vaccine, a rise of 357,563 on Thursday’s figures, while 439,182 were the second dose, an increase of 2,334.

03:06 PM

Couple marry in intensive care while critically-ill with Covid-19

With their lives hanging in the balance, nurses at the Milton Keynes University Hospital had a proposition for #Covid patients Elizabeth Kerr and fiance Simon O’Brien – did they want to get married on the ward while they still had the chance?

“This might be your only chance. Those are words I never, ever want hear again,” Kerr said in a Covid ward in the #hospital, clutching her husband’s hand.

Four hours later the two critically ill patients were married in intensive care.

02:54 PM

‘The lunacy of Covid deniers and anti-vaccine provocateurs is startling’

In a new diary entry from the Covid-19 frontline, a critical care medic fears the dangerous implications of coronavirus misinformation:

If this pandemic is the greatest single crisis of our modern era, ignorance is arguably the second.

One thing that worries me going forward with regards to vaccinating the population, is that while the roll-out at the moment seems to be picking up and we are vaccinating those who want a jab, we will reach a point when it is difficult to get people to turn up to centres because of this pernicious misinformation – ultimately this will affect us all.

There’s also the concern that once people are vaccinated they will feel at liberty to move around and interact normally with their family and friends – which is a complete falsehood.

I’m scheduled for my second vaccine at the end of this month but it won’t change my behaviour at all, as I could potentially still spread Covid-19. The only thing it changes is the likelihood of me getting sick.

The wonderful thing about a vaccine is that once the vast majority of a population have received it, the virus in question struggles to manifest itself sufficiently to continue to be a public health concern – we must have faith in science.

Read more

02:38 PM

How does R compare over time?

The R value has sunk below one for the first time since lockdown was introduced, but how does this compare over time.

We’ve plotted its path below:

02:22 PM

Covid fails to stop Madrid’s party

Madrid nightclub apologises for “isolated” breach of Covid rules after viral video shows revellers dancing in a group without facemasks on.

The video had caused a furore on social media on Friday, making the point that the images were from last night – the same day that Spain registered a new record number of Covid cases.

Teatro Barceló continues to advertise its upcoming dance nights, using posters of women not wearing masks and even kissing, although it claims to have strict protocols in place, including the use of facemasks at all times when people are not seated at tables.

Some regions have closed clubs, but in Madrid they have been allowed to stay open – although the dancefloor is supposed to be off limits.

James Badcock reports.

02:12 PM

Covid-19 outbreak in tiny French village after group of ‘irresponsible’ British skiers test positive

A group of 26 British skiers is in isolation in a French resort after 16 tested positive for Covid.

Villagers in the tiny commune of Vallorcine, in the Chamonix Valley, have branded the party “irresponsible” for escaping UK lockdown to go skiing.

The Brits, described as gap-year students who paid £8,900 each for the 10-week ski course, arrived in France by road, air or train between January 13 and 17.

The plan was for the party to spend the first 10 days in Vallorcine, a hamlet of 400 people near Chamonix that sits on the French-Swiss border, to remove the need to quarantine on arrival in Switzerland.

However on Tuesday one of the students “felt a bit tired and run-down” and had a Covid test which proved positive.

Alexandra Williams has more on this here.

Skiers on the slopes above Vallorcine near Chamonix in France - StockShot / Alamy Stock Photo
Skiers on the slopes above Vallorcine near Chamonix in France – StockShot / Alamy Stock Photo

01:57 PM

Patrick Vallance praises US return to WHO alliance

01:50 PM

Sage scientists warn that R-rate falling cannot bring complacency

Scientists advising the Government said that all regions of England have seen decreases in the R number and growth rate estimates compared with last week, and R is below or around 1 in every region.

However, they warned that despite the reductions, case levels “remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives”.

Sage scientists said: “It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not.

“We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.”

01:48 PM

Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance to join Prime Minister for press conference

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance will appear alongside the Prime Minister at a press conference this evening.

Boris Johnson will be speaking from Downing Street at 5pm.

01:44 PM

R-rate at different levels across England

The rate is an average of below 1 across the UK but some parts of England still have a rate above 1.

London’s rate is 0.7 to 0.9, the east of England 0.6 to 0.9, the Midlands 0.9 to 1.2, the North East and Yorkshire 0.8 to 1.1, the NorthWest 0.9 to 1.2, the South East 0.7 to 1, and the South West 0.9 to 1.2.

It comes as pressure grows on the Government to announce a strategy to exit lockdown, you can read more on the political reaction in our live blog here.

01:35 PM

R-rate falls

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission has fallen and is now estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 across the UK, according to the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

Last week, it was between 1.2 and 1.3.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, it means the outbreak is growing exponentially.

An R number between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 8 and 10 other people.

01:22 PM

‘No plans’ to pay £500 anyone who tests positive, says No. 10

Downing Street has said there are “no plans” to go ahead with a proposal to pay £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus in order to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules.

Ministers have considered a proposal to extend payments to anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England amid concerns of low compliance for self-isolation, but No 10 played down the possibility, insisting the “vast majority continue to abide by the rules”.

Scientific advisers welcomed the suggestion of more financial support but Treasury sources were adamant the plan will not go ahead, with one telling the PA news agency bluntly: “Won’t happen.”

The proposal of extending £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England, rather than just those who are on low incomes and are unable to work from home, is estimated to cost up to £453 million per week.

It is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, according to a leaked document seen by The Guardian, with concerns that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “There are no plans to introduce an extra £500 payment.

“The vast majority of the public continue to abide by the rules and do isolate when they are asked.”

01:15 PM

All care home residents in England to receive first jab by end of Jan

Downing Street said all care home residents would receive their first coronavirus vaccine jab by the end of January.

It comes after NHS England suggested care homes could see a full first-jab rollout by the end of the week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve said that we will vaccinate care home residents by the end of the month and I believe that (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock, I believe yesterday morning, gave an updated figure for care home residents and the over-80s.

“We will vaccinate all care home residents by the end of the month.”

01:10 PM

Put your questions to an expert

Do you have a question about the Covid-19 vaccine and how the new coronavirus variants might impact the jab?

Send your queries to [email protected] and ask an expert in a video Q&A.

01:00 PM

UK imams mobilise to counter Covid vaccine disinformation

Imams across Britain are helping a drive to dispel coronavirus disinformation, using Friday sermons and their influential standing within Muslim communities to argue that Covid-19 vaccines are safe.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) which is leading a campaign to reassure British mulsims, is among those publically advocating that the inoculations are compatible with Islamic practices.

“We are confident that the two vaccines that have been used in the UK, Oxford AstraZeneca and Pfizer, are permissible from an Islamic perspective,” he told AFP.

“The hesitancy, the anxiety (and) concern is driven by misinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news and rumours.”

12:58 PM

Police fine nail salon for being open during lockdown

Met Police have released body-worn footage of the moment they found a nail salon operating in an outbuilding at a private residence.

They fined the owner of the business £1000 and the customers £200 each.

It came just a day after Met Police also found seven people from different households eating and watching TV together in the same house.

South Area BCU commander Dave Stringer, said: “Though police are primarily focusing on the most severe breaches of Covid-violations such as large gatherings, officers continue to respond to reports from the public of non-essential businesses operating illegally and smaller house parties, which are also undoubtedly contributing to the spread of the virus”

12:31 PM

Infection rates fall across UK

The numbers of people infected with coronavirus appears to be falling week-on-week.

An estimated one in 55 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16 2021, the Office for National Statistics said – the equivalent of 1.02 million people, or 1.88 per cent of the population.

That compares with an estimated one in 50 people, or 1.12 million, for the period December 27 2020 to January 2 2021.

Yesterday the Imperial College’s React report suggested that lockdown was not bringing infections down, however during the Downing Street press conference last night, NHS medical director Dr Vin Diwakar said he was seeing a “glimmer of light” in case reductions.

12:20 PM

Welsh vaccine tally tops 200,000

Public Health Wales said a total of 212,317 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 21,882 on the previous day’s figure.

The agency say 415 second doses were also given, an increase of 19.

In total, 30.2 per cent of those aged over 80 have received their first dose of the vaccine, along with 59.9% of care home residents and 69.8 per cent of care home staff.

Health minister Vaughan Gething previously said he expected 70 per cent of the over-80s, care home residents and care home staff to have received their first jab by January 25.

12:11 PM

Hungary to buy 2 million doses of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine

Hungary has agreed to buy 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, enough to inoculate a million people, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Friday after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Szijjarto said an initial shipment would be enough to inoculate 300,000 people, followed by two other batches for half a million and 200,000 people, respectively. He did not say when the first doses would arrive.

11:56 AM

Government considering ‘all sorts of policies’ to enforce Covid-19 lockdowns

The Government is considering “all sorts” of policies to try and help people stick to Covid-19 and self-isolation rules, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said.

It comes as reports suggest ministers are considering paying £500 to everyone who tests positive for Covid.

Health officials are understood to have drawn up the proposals amid concern that just one in six people with symptoms are coming forward for tests because some fear a positive result and self-isolation would cost them too much.

Under the current system, only those on a low income who cannot work from home and are eligible for benefits are entitled to a “support payment” of £500.

11:34 AM

IOC denies claims Tokyo games have been cancelled

The International Olympics Committee says it is “categorically untrue” that the Tokyo games which had been due to be held in 2020 have been called off

11:23 AM

German minister warns against relaxing Covid-19 measures too soon

Germany’s coronavirus infection numbers are encouraging but remain too high, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday, dampening expectations that restrictions to curb the spread of the virus could be lifted.

Spahn told a news conference that new, more transmissible strains of the virus made it imperative to reduce case numbers further.

“It’s like an antibiotic: if you stop too early, stop too soon, resistance can develop,” he said. “We don’t want to be accused of having relaxed too soon.”

Germany, in lockdown since early November, reported over 800 deaths and almost 18,000 new infections on Friday. The 7-day incidence fell to 115 cases per 100,000, its lowest since Nov. 1.

Adherence to lockdown measures meant hospitals have not seen a spike in Covid-19 patients in intensive care due to the Christmas and New Year holiday period, said Gernot Marx, president of the DIVI association for intensive care medicine.

But he warned intensive care units would still need until at least the end of February to deal with the peak of 5,800 Covid-19 patients seen in early January.

11:07 AM

Intention to take up the vaccine increases with age, ONS data shows

The older a person, the more likely they are to intend to take up a coronavirus vaccine, figures suggest.

Around eight in 10 people aged 16-29 (81%) said they would be very likely or fairly likely to take up an offered vaccine, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found.

This rose to 98% of adults aged 70 and over.

Overall, around nine in 10 (89%) respondents said they would be very likely or fairly likely to have the vaccine if offered, and around one in 20 (5%) very or fairly unlikely.

The figures also show that one in 100 people said they had declined a jab, which would be the equivalent of around half a million adults.

The ONS analysed responses from 4,492 people in Britain between January 13 and 17 as part of its Opinions and Lifestyle Survey to understand the impact of Covid-19 on society.

The survey did not include adults living in care homes or other establishments, so does not address vaccinations in these settings.

10:52 AM

Vegetable demand soars as people cook from scratch during lockdown, says grower

Demand for vegetables has soared in the last year as more people cook meals from scratch during lockdown, a grower has said.

The popularity of veganism and plant-based events such as Meat Free Mondays and Veganuary have also contributed to the surge in sales of greens, according to Lincolnshire-based TH Clements.

The company, based near Boston, is one of the UK’s biggest growers of greens such as sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and spring greens and is a supplier to supermarket giant Tesco.

Tesco said that since the first lockdown in March last year, it has seen increases in its sales of vegetables against the previous year, with the highest increase in leeks, with demand up by more than 30%.

It has also seen increases in sales of: cabbage, up nearly 25pc; broccoli, up 20pc; sprouts, up 10pc; kale, up 10pc; and spinach, up nearly 10pc

Vegetable demand has risen during lockdown - Moment RF
Vegetable demand has risen during lockdown – Moment RF

10:46 AM

Northern Ireland records highly weekly death toll during pandemic

Northern Ireland has recorded its highest weekly coronavirus death toll since the pandemic began.

Another 156 fatalities occurred in the week of January 9-15, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) said.

The figure emerged as Stormont ministers decided to extend the post-Christmas lockdown for a further four weeks until March 5.

In a statement, Nisra said: “Two days, the 11th and 7th January 2021, saw the joint highest number of Covid-19-related deaths occurring in any one day since the start of the pandemic.

“Latest figures published today by Nisra show that 156 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred in the week 9th to 15th January 2021, the highest weekly number since the pandemic began.”

The total number of Covid-related deaths up to January 15 was 2,186, Nisra figures show.

10:37 AM

Hong Kong to impose first Covid lockdown, reports claim

Thousands of Hong Kongers will be ordered to stay in their homes for the city’s first coronavirus lockdown, local media reported Friday, as authorities battle an outbreak in one of its poorest and most densely packed districts.

The order bans anyone from leaving their apartment unless they can show a negative test where cases have surged in recent days, and will last until everyone within the designated area has been tested, the reports said.

The South China Morning Post said the measures would come in at midnight Friday into Saturday with some 1,700 police ready to enforce the lockdown covering some 150 housing blocks and up to 9,000 people.

A woman walks past a police cordon in Yau Tsim Mong district of Kowloon - AFP
A woman walks past a police cordon in Yau Tsim Mong district of Kowloon – AFP

10:33 AM

China reports first Covid cases at meat processing plant

China has reported its first cluster of COVID-19 cases among workers in a meat processing plant.

Ten confirmed cases were found in a factory which slaughters 50 million chickens a year in the northeastern city of Harbin and is owned by Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, one of the world’s top poultry producers.

Another 28 workers at the plant and three family members were asymptomatic, officials told a news briefing on Thursday.

The cases have raised fears among local consumers who have until now mainly worried about the safety of imported foods.

While China repeatedly pointed to imported frozen meat and fish as the source of coronavirus cases last year, it has not reported significant clusters in its own food processing sector.

Meatpacking workers in the United States, Brazil and across Europe were among the groups hit hardest by Covid-19 last year, with thousands of slaughterhouse staff infected.

10:18 AM

Wedding organiser faces £10,000 fine after 400 people found inside school

A wedding organiser faces a £10,000 fine after police found hundreds of people packed in a north London school in breach of coronavirus restrictions.

Police were called at 9.14pm on Thursday to reports of a large gathering at a school in Stamford Hill where 400 people were found when officers arrived.

It was established that the group had gathered at the location for a wedding. The building’s windows had been covered to stop people seeing inside.

The organiser of the event will be reported for consideration of a £10,000 fine while five other attendees were issued with £200 fixed penalty notices.

Detective Chief Superintendent Marcus Barnett, Central East BCU Commander, said: “People across the country are making sacrifices by cancelling or postponing weddings and other celebrations and there is no excuse for this type of behaviour.”

10:06 AM

Don’t rely on vaccinated neighbours for Covid protection, scientists warn

Scientists are urging people not to “rely on the fact that your neighbours have been vaccinated” as they warned it is “pretty much impossible” for the UK to reach herd immunity against Covid-19.

Professor Paul Hunter and his colleague Alastair Grant, from the University of East Anglia, have warned that herd immunity cannot be achieved either through natural infection or the programme using the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Prof Hunter told Radio 4’s Today programme that vaccines would allow a return to near-normal life for large parts of society, but those who refuse a jab will not be protected by herd immunity.

He said: “The rolling out of the vaccine is going to make a huge difference and going to enable us to relax many of the restrictions that we’re under at the moment and, certainly, as we’re moving into spring when the better weather comes along, that’ll considerably help.

“I think there are two key issues. The first is that if you are uncertain about whether you want the vaccine or not – and especially if you’re a vulnerable person – you cannot rely on the fact that your neighbours have been vaccinated, so please, please, please make sure you go and be vaccinated yourself.”

09:40 AM

Sir Billy Connolly receives first coronavirus jab

Sir Billy Connolly has received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, his wife has revealed.

Pamela Stephenson shared an image of the 78-year-old wearing a mask as he sat with his sleeve rolled up.

Alongside the image, Stephenson wrote: “Thank God… Billy had his first Covid vaccine today!”

Sir Billy, who lives in the US, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 and retired from live performances five years later.

Sir Billy joins famous faces including actress Dame Judi Dench, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, actor Sir Ian McKellen, Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith and entertainer Lionel Blair in receiving the vaccine.

Sir Billy receiving the jab
Sir Billy receiving the jab

09:25 AM

Less than a fifth of people are self-isolating for full 10 days, SAGE expert says

Only 18pc of people with symptoms are self-isolating for the full 10 days as instructed, a Government adviser has suggested.

Professor Susan Michie, of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There will be people, for example single earners in a household looking after a family where £500 over 10 days, £50 a day, is not enough to pay the rent, to pay all the bills and put food on the table.

“There is a particular group of people who would need more from that £500 but at least the Government is recognising this is a key weakness in the whole pandemic strategy.

“If you have 82pc of people with symptoms wandering around the community it is very very difficult to bring this level down.”

08:48 AM

Hungary becomes first European nation to buy Russian Covid vaccine

Hungary has signed a deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, the first European Union country to do so, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a briefing during talks in Moscow on Friday.

In a live video posted on his Facebook page, Szijjarto told a joint briefing with Russia’s health minister that the vaccines would arrive in three tranches, and that details about the size of the shipments would be released later.

The agreement comes days after Hungary’s drug regulator gave approval for use of Britain’s AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines against the coronavirus, as Budapest strives to lift coronavirus lockdown measures to boost the economy. The EU’s medicines regulator has yet to approve the Russian or AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I am very happy to announce that we have signed an agreement today under which Hungary can purchase a large quantity of Russia’s vaccine in three tranches,” Szijjarto said.

He said this could allow Hungary to lift restrictions to curb the pandemic sooner.

08:29 AM

Vaccine supplies to be redirected to give people “equal access”, NHS chief says

Deliveries of the coronavirus vaccines are to be targeted following varying take up rates across the country, an NHS England chief has said.

Nikki Kanani, a medical director of primary care for NHS England, said it was important “equal access” to vaccines was available across the country.

She suggested supplies could be redirected from northern England where priority cohorts have received their jabs quicker than other parts of the country.

Dr Kanani, who also works as a GP in south-east London, told the Today programme: “We need to make sure it gets to areas not vaccinated.”

She added all 1,200 vaccination sites had received a delivery this week but that some supplies could be targeted to areas where many over 80s and care home staff had not yet received dosages.

08:17 AM

Scotland Yard officer dies after testing positive for Covid

A serving Metropolitan Police officer, who had been shielding at home and working remotely, has died after testing positive for Covid-19, Scotland Yard said.

PC Michael Warren, 37, was attached to the Met’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) but had shielded after being deemed vulnerable to coronavirus. He died on Tuesday morning.

Met Taskforce chief superintendent Karen Findlay said: “He was very much motivated to return to frontline duties, and he regularly spoke about how he looked forward to putting his uniform back on and going out on patrol with his colleagues.

“His death is a bitterly stark and upsetting reminder of the human impact of this virus, I know we will all miss him dearly.”

08:03 AM

£500 coronavirus payment under review, George Eustace says

A new £500 payment for people quarantining after testing positive for coronavirus is under review, a Cabinet minister has said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: “We have always kept it under review.

“We do need people, if they are asked to self-isolate because they have been contacted through our Test and Trace, we do need them to self-isolate.

“And, obviously, we always review the reasons why they might not.”

On the suggested payment, Mr Eustice added: “No decisions have been made on this.”

George Eustice
George Eustice

07:55 AM

“Early signs” Covid cases are dropping, SAGE expert says

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage subgroup the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said there were “early signs” that Covid-19 cases were dropping and said he supported payments to people self-isolating.

He told Times Radio: “One of the key things actually that we need to think about is not necessarily just ramping up the rules if things don’t seem to be working but actually looking at making the rules better that we have in place, and one of the key problems actually is people isolating.

“Some kind of support for people so they can see through their isolation is actually pretty important, so that we really do get on top of these numbers.”

He said it was “pretty unclear how we can tighten restrictions further” but he said there were signs the “lockdown is possibly working in terms of taking the R number below 1.

07:43 AM

Festivals still possible despite Glastonbury cancellation

A festival season is “still possible” this year despite the cancellation of Glastonbury, according to the chief executive of the Association of Independent Festivals.

Paul Reed told BBC Breakfast that if the Government ensures organisers of the music events can access insurance there is still hope that smaller festivals can still go ahead.

“I will say about Glastonbury that it is a different beast to most festivals and most likely ran out of time due to the size and complexity of the event.

“For most festivals the cut-off point is more likely the end of March.”

He added that the cancellation of Glastonbury is “devastating”, especially for those who were planning to work there.

Glastonbury has been cancelled for a second successive year
Glastonbury has been cancelled for a second successive year

07:10 AM

Public sector debt hits £2.13 trillion

Government borrowing hit £34.1 billion in December, from £31.6 billion a month earlier, taking public sector debt to a new all-time high of £2.13 trillion, official figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) believes last month’s borrowing, which does not include state-owned banks, was £28.2 billion higher than the same time a year ago.

Since April, public bodies have borrowed £270.8 billion, pushing the UK’s debt to 99.4% of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest level since 1962.

Most of the borrowing has been spent on measures to help the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.

06:50 AM

Germany’s coronavirus death toll passes 50,000

Germany has recorded more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, the Robert Koch Institute disease control centre said Friday.

It said 859 people died from the virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities to 50,642.

Germany this week extended its partial lockdown until February 14, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has not ruled out border checks to slow the spread of new, more contagious variants of the virus.

06:43 AM

Police Fed chief “pleading” for police officers to be prioritised for vaccine

John Apter, the Police Federation of England and Wales chairman, has reiterated calls for police officers to receive coronavirus vaccinations as a priority.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Mr Apter said: “Let me just put this into context: this is not about elbowing our way to the front of the queue.

“The most vulnerable in society must be vaccinated, and colleagues from the NHS, but my colleagues are vulnerable. They can’t mitigate this virus, they are not immune from this virus.

“Tragically, in this last week alone, we’ve lost colleagues to this virus. Police officers are up close and personal with people, they have to go hands-on, they have to make arrests.

“I am pleading with the vaccination committee to look at my colleagues, as well as teachers and firefighters … my colleagues are at risk.”

John Apter
John Apter

06:35 AM

Hong Kong to impose first lockdowns

Hong Kong will place tens of thousands of its residents in a lockdown to contain a new outbreak of the coronavirus, the first such measure the Chinese-ruled city has taken since the pandemic began, a local newspaper reported on Friday.

South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation, said the new measure will target the Jordan and Sham Shui Po districts which cover a small, but densely populated part of the Kowloon Peninsula.

The districts are home to many ageing, subdivided flats in which the virus could spread more easily.

Health workers patrol on a street where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the Jordan district in Hong Kong - Getty
Health workers patrol on a street where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the Jordan district in Hong Kong – Getty

“Persistently high and spreading infection [in the areas] and sewage surveillance suggest the outbreak is not yet under control, and many silent sources still exist within the area,” a source was quoted as saying.

Health authorities in the city of 7.5 million first isolated four tenement blocks in the area last Friday, stopping people from entering or leaving those buildings to make sure all residents are quarantined.

The government will only lift the lockdown declaration when it is satisfied everyone in the lockdown area has been tested, the paper said.

05:44 AM

Japan remains defiant over Tokyo Games

Japan doubled down on its commitment to host the Tokyo Olympics this year and flatly denied reports on Friday of a cancellation, in a move that is unlikely to temper public fears of holding the event during a global pandemic.

Though much of Japan is under a state of emergency due to a third wave of Covid-19 infections, Tokyo organisers have consistently vowed to press ahead with the Games scheduled to open on July 23 after having been postponed in March last year.

A government spokesman said there was “no truth” to a report in The Times that Japan was now focused on rescheduling the event to 2032. The IOC has already awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 version to Los Angeles.

Read more: Japan insists Games will go ahead as it rejects report of cancellation

04:02 AM

Scottish care homes investigated over deaths

Cases of Covid-linked deaths are being investigated at more than 450 care homes in Scotland, it has been reported.

According to the BBC, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s dedicated Covid-19 Death Investigation Team (CDIT) is probing the circumstances of coronavirus-related deaths in 474 care homes across the country. The CDIT was set up in May after Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said all confirmed or suspected coronavirus deaths in care homes should be reported to the Crown Office, as well as deaths of people who may have contracted the virus at work.

The team had reportedly received 3,385 death reports as of Thursday, with a majority of those believed to be linked to people who lived in care homes.

Scottish Care chief executive Donald Macaskill told the broadcaster the investigations were “wholly disproportionate”.

03:13 AM

Fauci: I can tell the truth about Covid now Trump is gone

The White House’s top adviser on Covid-19 has said he feels liberated now that Donald Trump has left office – because now he can finally tell Americans the truth about the virus.

In extraordinary remarks to reporters at a briefing on the virus, Anthony Fauci said that President Joe Biden’s administration would be “completely transparent, open and honest” with the public rather than “point fingers”, like his predecessor.

Dr Fauci, who often clashed publicly with Mr Trump, also said he felt “really uncomfortable” about things said by the White House as it dealt with the virus that has now killed more than 400,000 Americans, including announcements on hydroxychloroquine – and he said he feared “repercussions” from Mr Trump if he misspoke.

He said: “One of the things that was very clear as recently as about 15 minutes ago, when I was with the president, is that one of the things that we’re going to do is to be completely transparent, open and honest.

“If things go wrong, not point fingers but to correct them and to make everything we do be based on science and evidence.”

Read more: Anthony Fauci: I feel ‘liberated’ now Donald Trump has gone, says US Covid adviser

Fauci said he feared "repercussions" if he contradicted the president - GETTY IMAGES
Fauci said he feared “repercussions” if he contradicted the president – GETTY IMAGES

03:05 AM

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