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COVID-19: All the latest LIVE worldwide updates - today's updates are also on our Portal page, here)

Coronavirus - 17th February 2021

Kitkat
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 10:05

Summary for Wednesday, 17th February

  • The easing of England's lockdown will be based on a "cautious and prudent approach", Prime Minister Boris Johnson says
  • England is still “some way away” from being able to start relaxing lockdown restrictions, the chief executive of NHS Providers says
  • Chris Hopson says a “logical point” to start lifting restrictions would be once the top nine priority groups have had a coronavirus vaccine
  • A further 738 people deaths have been reported in the UK within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test
  • The UK will expose a group of volunteers to Covid-19 in a bid to establish which vaccines and treatments work best
  • Up to 90 healthy volunteers aged 18-30 will be involved in the study, aiming to find out the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection
  • Vulnerable young people should be prioritised when the UK rebuilds after coronavirus, England's outgoing children's commissioner says
  • Anne Longfield calls on Boris Johnson to put children at the "centre stage" of plans to "level up" the nation
  • Research by the think tank Reform suggests hospital waiting lists in England could more than double and hit 10 million by April
  • The Australian state of Victoria and the New Zealand city of Auckland will both exit snap lockdowns on Thursday
  • England is still “some way away” from being able to start relaxing lockdown restrictions, the chief executive of NHS Providers says
  • Work has begun to assess the effectiveness of the coronavirus jab developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca on children
  • Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died this month after raising almost £33m for NHS charities, left "a legacy he could never have imagined", his daughter says


Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a quick summary of the main stories in the UK this morning:


Headlines from around the globe

Here are some of the main stories from around the world today:

  • The Australian state of Victoria and the New Zealand city of Auckland will both exit snap lockdowns on Thursday
  • Former Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra requested and received an early vaccination against Covid-19 out of turn, a doctor has told lawmakers
  • A court in The Hague has told the Dutch government an overnight curfew to reduce the spread of coronavirus should be lifted, ruling that it breaches the right to free movement
  • Japan has begun the rollout of its coronavirus vaccination programme, with 40,000 healthcare workers first in line to receive the jab
  • US President Joe Biden has said all Americans will have access to a vaccine before August. During a CNN town hall meeting with members of the public, he also said teachers should be moved up “in the hierarchy” for vaccines
  • Covid cases in South Korea hit their highest level in nearly 40 days on Wednesday, prompting Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyn to warn against the loosening of social distancing rules.


The papers: 'Ready, test, go' and 'roadmap revealed'


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Many of Wednesday's papers consider the next phase of pandemic restrictions in England.

  • The Daily Mail says ministers and industry leaders are discussing a "roadmap out of lockdown" that would see restrictions in England gradually eased at four-week intervals, with leisure businesses "broadly" back to normal by July.
  • According to the paper, there would be a limited reopening of self-catered holiday lets by Easter; and restaurants and pubs would reopen in May, with two households allowed to mix indoors, and the reintroduction of the "rule of six" outdoors. Venues would be allowed to serve six people indoors by June.
  • The Daily Telegraph reports that lockdown will continue until cases drop below 1,000 a day . It projects this could happen by early April, with a senior Whitehall source telling the paper there's a "real reluctance about committing to specific dates, without knowing what the case numbers are doing".
  • The Times says nationwide "surge testing" will play a big role in any easing, with 400,000 rapid testing kits to be posted each day to homes and workplaces.

Read more from the papers here .

Latest around Europe


  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will try to head off criticism of EU vaccine delays and shortages, with a plan to adapt vaccines to new mutations quickly. The aim is to set up a European testing network and approve "second generation" vaccines against future strains.
  • Dutch appeal judges last night temporarily allowed a nationwide Covid curfew to stay in place 15 minutes before it was due to be lifted. A court had earlier ruled the government was wrong to use emergency laws to impose it. A new curfew law is being rushed before MPs today so it can come into force before the case returns to the appeal court on Friday.
  • Italy’s new prime minister Mario Draghi presents his Covid recovery plan to the Senate this morning. He’s then set to survive a vote of confidence.
  • Slovakia’s pandemic is getting worse and it’s introducing a 14-day quarantine this morning on new arrivals. A negative test can also be given within eight days of arrival from most European countries.
  • There are no plans to tighten health measures in France when the current winter holidays come to an end, according to media reports. President Emmanuel Macron chairs France’s defence council today with infections gradually in decline, and just under 20,000 new cases reported last night. Local elections planned for next month have been postponed until June.
  • The EU’s statistics agency Eurostat says 450,000 more people than average died between March and November last year as the pandemic took its toll. The first peak was in April when 25% more people died than in the previous three years and then in November there was a 40% increase in excess mortality.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 11:34

England still some way off being able to ease restrictions – NHS boss

England is still “some way away” from being able to start relaxing lockdown restrictions, the chief executive of NHS Providers says.
Chris Hopson, who leads the organisation that represents hospitals and other NHS trusts in England, says trust leaders have written to the prime minister urging caution, setting out four tests that need to be passed before restrictions are eased.
These are that case numbers need to come right down, the NHS must have the capacity to treat all the patients it needs to, there must be sufficient progress on vaccinations and there must be strong enough protections to identify and control new coronavirus variants.
He tells BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that once the top nine priority groups have had a coronavirus vaccine – which the government is hoping to achieve by the end of April – this would be the “logical point” to start lifting restrictions.

Former Peruvian president asked for early vaccination, doctors say


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Martin Vizcarra claims he took part in a vaccine trial with his wife last October

Former Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra requested and received an early vaccination against Covid-19 out of turn, a doctor has told lawmakers.
Mr Vizcarra said he and his wife were vaccinated last October as clinical trial volunteers. However Dr German Malaga, who led the vaccine trial, disputed this while testifying in parliament on Tuesday.
Dr Malaga said the former president asked him for two vaccines.
Mr Vizcarra was impeached and removed as president by parliament over separate corruption allegations in November last year.
Now a newspaper report about his early inoculation has embroiled the former president and other government officials in another political scandal.
Read more here
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 11:38

UK volunteers to be exposed to Covid to test jabs and treatments

The UK will begin the world's first Covid-19 human challenge study within a month, following approval from the country's clinical trials ethics body, the government has announced .
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says up to 90 carefully-selected healthy volunteers aged between 18 and 30 years old will be exposed to the virus in a "safe and controlled environment".
The study aims to establish the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.
Interim Chair of the UK's Vaccines Taskforce Clive Dix says: "Our eventual aim is to establish which vaccines and treatments work best in beating this disease, but we need volunteers to support us in this work."
Read more .

More symptoms should trigger virus test, study says

Rachel Schraer - BBC Health Reporter
Researchers want the government to add fatigue, headache, sore throat and diarrhoea to the existing three symptoms which trigger a Covid test.
Currently, anyone with a cough, fever or loss of smell or taste qualifies.
Testing for these additional symptoms could pick up 40% more cases, King's College London and the Zoe Symptom Study app have suggested.
However, there are concerns that if everyone with these symptoms is tested it could overwhelm the system.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said an expert scientific group kept the symptoms of Covid-19 under review and the main symptoms has been "carefully selected" to capture those most likely to have the virus, while not capturing a great number of people who do not.
Read more.

Japan begins first vaccinations

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes - BBC Tokyo correspondent
Today, in a hundred hospitals across Japan, front-line health workers began getting their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine.
But the numbers are still tiny – 40,000 in this first tranche. Japan is far, far behind Europe and America in rolling out Covid vaccinations.
The government here is insisting on going through a separate testing and approval process for every vaccine. For the Pfizer jab that meant a delay of two months.
Medical specialists say this extra testing is scientifically irrelevant – but is designed to reassure Japan’s vaccine-shy population that it really is safe.
The result is over 65s won’t start getting there first shots until April. It also means that even if it can get all the supplies of vaccine it wants, Japan now has no hope of vaccinating the majority of its population before the Olympics is due to open here in the middle of July.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 11:45

Data points to 'earlier unlocking' in England - leading scientist

The current data on vaccinations and hospital admissions is pointing to "earlier unlocking", a leading scientist says.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told MPs on the Science and Technology Committee: "The vaccination rollout is, I think, exceeding most people's expectations, it's going very well."
He added: "The transmission blocking potential is key. But so, of course, is its actual ability to protect against death and disease, and to keep people out of hospital, and those numbers are looking really good.
"My conclusion from that is if you're driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking."
Prof Woolhouse, who is a member of the government's Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, also said he did not expect a surge in cases when schools reopened.
"There is a case, certainly for children under 16 up to 15, that having them in school does not make such a big contribution to the R number that we couldn't consider lifting it in the reasonably near future," he said.

Indonesia launches second phase of vaccination programme

Jedidajah Otte - The Guardian
Indonesia will be targeting the high-density hustle and bustle of traditional markets in the second phase of its inoculation programme that launched on Wednesday and also covers essential workers and public servants.
Reuters reports:
The rollout in the south-east Asian nation worst hit by the pandemic began last month, with nearly 1.5 million medical workers set to receive their shots of CoronaVac, produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech by the end of this month.
The new phase, which started at the sprawling, multi-level Tanah Abang market in Jakarta, saw hundreds of market vendors inoculated on Wednesday, some posing thumbs up next to an “I’ve been vaccinated” banner after receiving their shot.
Health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said nearly 10,000 workers at the market complex would be vaccinated on Wednesday.
Touring the market during the launch, President Joko Widodo said he hoped public workers such as security forces, as well as journalists, athletes and those in the retail sector could soon be inoculated.
With more than 1.2 million confirmed cases and over 33,000 deaths across the country, in the past year traditional markets have emerged as Covid-19 cluster points in Indonesia.
Data from the Indonesian Traditional Market Traders Association shows 1,825 cases have been detected in markets as of 12 February.
Indonesia aims to vaccinate nearly 181.5 million people, or roughly 67% of its 270 million population, within a year to help revive its ailing economy, which last year plunged into its first recession in over two decades.

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People line up to get a Covid-19 jab during a mass vaccination for traders and workers at Tanah Abang Market in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 11:51

Hungary not ready to lift restrictions yet

Hungary’s surgeon general on Wednesday said the time has not yet come to lift restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic, adding the central European country was “very far” from herd immunity.
Wastewater samples, which indicate the likely trajectory of coronavirus infections, show the British variant of the virus was spreading in the country, she added.
The country reported 1,548 new infections on Wednesday, compared to 1,279 a week ago.
The death toll has risen to 13,931, while 299,989 people are considered to have made a recovery.
Most infections have been registered in the capital Budapest (72,796) and Pest County (49,040) so far, Daily News Hungary reports.
The government will keep coronavirus-related restrictions in place until 1 March, and secondary school pupils will continue to be taught remotely.
Shops must close at 7pm, except pharmacies and petrol stations.
Family and private events including birthday celebrations can be held with a maximum of ten people attending, with children not counting.
A new rule stipulates that face masks must be worn in public spaces in localities with more than 10,000 residents, though it is up to local mayors to decide which spaces the rule applies to.
Restaurants are only allowed to sell takeaways, and hotels are not allowed to cater to tourists.

Summary

The Guardian
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments:

  • Israel has permitted Palestinian officials to send the first shipment of 1,000 coronavirus vaccines to the blockaded Gaza Strip . The move came after the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of holding up vital shipments intended for frontline medical workers.
  • Taiwan has suggested China is to blame after a deal for 5m Covid vaccine doses was put on hold. Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said officials were on the verge of announcing the deal in December when BioNTech pulled the plug. He blamed “outside forces intervening”.
  • Japan has begun vaccinating healthcare workers against the coronavirus at the start of a cautious inoculation programme. Tokyo Medical Centre director Kazuhiro Araki became the first person in Japan to receive the vaccine outside of clinical trials.
  • South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has suggested he will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to demonstrate his government’s confidence in the jab.
  • The number of new cases of Covid-19 reported worldwide fell by 16% last week to 2.7 million, the World Health Organization said. The number of new deaths reported also fell 10% week-on-week, to 81,000, the WHO said late on Tuesday in its weekly epidemiological update, using figures up to Sunday.
  • The New Zealand government is ending Auckland’s three-day lockdown at midnight on Wednesday despite reporting three new community Covid-19 cases.
    Two new cases were found on Wednesday after mass testing of students at Papatoetoe high school. A third fresh community case, a family member of one of those students, was announced by the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, later on Wednesday.
  • South Africa said on Tuesday it would offer its doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union after scrapping their use due to efficacy concerns. The country suspended its vaccine rollout – meant to begin with the AstraZeneca shots earlier this month – after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa.
  • A South Korean MP claimed that North Korea attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments. Ha Tae-keung said he had been told during a closed-door briefing by the National Intelligence Service this week that “North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the Covid vaccine and treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack into Pfizer”.
  • Brazil’s environment minister tests positive for Covid. Ricardo Salles is, at least, the 15th member of the Bolsonaro administration to be diagnosed with the illness so far.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 11:58

Former Zanzibar VP dies weeks after contracting Covid


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Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad contracted Covid a few weeks ago

Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice-president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar, has died at the age of 77 - a few weeks after contracting coronavirus.
He had been receiving treatment at a hospital in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania's President John Magufuli has offered his condolences in a tweet .
A few weeks ago the president warned health officials against acquiring Covid-19 vaccines, saying - without giving evidence - that they could harm the population.
Here we wrote in detail about Tanzania rejecting the vaccine.

England will take cautious approach to easing lockdown - PM

The easing of England's lockdown will be based on a "cautious and prudent approach", Boris Johnson has said.
During a visit to a mass vaccination centre in Cwmbran, south Wales, the prime minister was asked whether he agreed with calls for any unlocking to be based on "data, not dates".
In response, Johnson said: "I do think that's absolutely right.
"That's why we'll be setting out what we can on Monday about the way ahead and it'll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way to be irreversible."
He also dismissed newspaper reports about how and when lockdown restrictions could be relaxed as "speculation".
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:00

Inadequate preparations for Covid in Scotland - watchdog

The Scottish government was not adequately prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report by the public spending watchdog.
An Audit Scotland report said ministers had been expecting and planning for a pandemic but had based their preparations on flu.
The watchdog also found the government acted quickly to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by coronavirus.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the report would be considered carefully, adding that it highlighted the rapid increase in intensive care capacity during the pandemic.
Read more .

Cases on rise again in Poland after restrictions eased

Adam Easton - Warsaw Correspondent
On Wednesday Poland reported 8,694 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours - the highest number since 14 January. The number of new infections was 68% higher than the previous day.
On Tuesday, Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski said the epidemic is back on the rise again following the recent easing of restrictions.
On Friday, Poland allowed ski slopes to reopen, with cinemas, theatres and hotels also allowed to open at half capacity.
More than 20,000 tourists flocked to the country’s main ski resort, Zakopane, over the weekend and attended street parties, with many people failing to maintain social distance or wear the mandatory facemasks.
Government officials have said the restrictions would be reinstated if new infections continue to rise substantially.
On Wednesday, Poland reported 279 virus-related deaths, up 42% on Tuesday. The country, with a population of 38 million, has reported a total of 1,605,372 cases and 41,308 deaths.
Poland is among the EU countries with the fastest vaccination rates. To date, 2.23 million people - about 5.9% of the population - have been vaccinated, with 691,380 of those already receiving both doses.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:03

UK variant spreading fast in Germany

Jenny Hill - BBC Berlin correspondent
The UK variant of coronavirus is spreading fast in Germany and is expected to become the dominant strain, the country’s health minister said this morning.
German scientists don’t sequence every positive test result but, in those which were analysed, Jens Spahn said more than a fifth were caused by the variant identified in Kent and the rate appeared to be doubling every week.
Spahn - who has announced that citizens will be able to access free fast tests in chemists and test centres from 1 March - said that the country’s vaccination programme was now gaining momentum.
More than 4.4 million doses have been administered, with 2% of the population having been fully inoculated with a second jab.
In response to reports that some medical staff are refusing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine because of concerns about side effects, Spahn said that all approved vaccines were safe and effective.
He added that similar reactions, which were expected, had been reported with the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

UK nations discuss how to exit lockdown - Johnson

Boris Johnson says the UK Government will continue to have conversations with the devolved administrations about how best to exit lockdown.
Asked whether the four UK nations should ease their restrictions in unison, the Prime Minister says: "We have continuous conversations with Mark Drakeford, with other representatives of devolved administrations, about how to do it, just as we work on the vaccination programme together.
"We try and make sure we concert our approach and our general messages."
Speaking on visit to a vaccination centre in Cwmbran, Torfaen, he said devolution "can work very well, but it depends very much on what the goals are". Read more here.

England's lockdown will be eased 'in stages', says PM

Boris Johnson says easing England's restrictions will be done in "stages" and notes reopening of hospitality was one of the last things to return after the first lockdown.
The prime minister says: "I certainly think that we need to go in stages. We need to go cautiously.
"You have to remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.
"I know there's a lot of understandable speculation in the papers and people coming up with theories about what we're going to do, what we're going to say, and about the rates of infection, and so on.
"I would just advise everybody just wait, we'll try and say as much as we can on that."
A "data, not dates" approach to easing England's lockdown restrictions is "absolutely right", he says.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:07

Bahrain launches digital Covid vaccine passport


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The certificate allows people to show whether they have been vaccinated

Bahrain has launched a digital Covid vaccine passport, the Gulf state has announced.
People will only be allowed to obtain the digital certificate after having two doses and waiting a further two weeks in order to allow antibodies to start developing.
Using Bahrain's BeAware app, the certificate will contain a green “vaccinated” shield and will include the users’ name, date of birth, nationality and which vaccine they received.
Bahrain has already offered free vaccine appointments to the entire population of around 1.5 million, offering all citizens and residents a choice of four different Covid jabs.
With many countries around the world exploring the possibility of a vaccine passport, we have taken a closer look here.

'Crowded beaches not linked to Covid outbreaks'


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There has never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a crowded beach, MPs have heard.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told the Science and Technology Committee: "Over the summer we were treated to all this on the television news and pictures of crowded beaches, and there was an outcry about this.
"There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches - there's never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach ever, anywhere in the world, to the best of my knowledge."
He says that mass gatherings - such as a horse racing event - are an exception because they do not involve social distancing and there are "pinch points" like travel and refreshment facilities.
"I think we do have to understand where the risks are so that we can do as much as possible safely," he added.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:09

Netherlands preparing legislation to keep night curfew


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The 21:00 to 04:30 curfew, which was imposed by emergency law

The Netherlands is preparing legislation that would allow it to keep its night curfew.
It comes after a court in The Hague ruled the curfew should be lifted as it breaches the right to free movement.
A higher court then ruled the curfew could stay in place pending an appeal on Friday.
The 21:00 to 04:30 curfew, which was imposed by emergency law, led to rioting in several Dutch cities.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the country’s top health officials say the curfew is needed to soften a third wave they warn could be on the way.
The legislation has to go through both houses of parliament before an appeals hearing which is scheduled for Monday.
Curfews have been widely used in Europe to restrict movement. France has had a nightly curfew from 18:00 but has stopped short of imposing a third lockdown. Greece has also imposed curfews, as have Spain and Italy.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:11

Trial volunteers exposed to Covid to get £4,500

Volunteers who are deliberately exposed to coronavirus in the world's first Covid-19 human challenge trial will receive around £4,500 to participate in the study.
The compensation covers the 17 days they are required to quarantine, as well as follow-ups over 12 months.
Around 90 healthy, young volunteers are being recruited for the trial, which will begin in the UK in the next few weeks .
Prof Sir Terence Stephenson, chairman of the Health Research Authority, said: "The initial stay involves quite an imposition on a young person - 17 days in quarantine and you cannot be visited by any member of your family or friend or relative.
"For the first £1,500 for 17 days we've got something like £88 a day, which I don't think anyone would sense was a ridiculous coercion or inducement."

Why do we need human challenge trials?

James Gallagher - Health and science correspondent, BBC News
We have hugely effective Covid-19 vaccines already so why do we need human challenge trials, which deliberately expose volunteers to the virus?
First, they tell us things that are almost impossible to discover in the real world.
How much virus does it take to start an infection? How does the immune system mount its initial defence? Can you tell which people will develop symptoms or not?
The trials in the UK will start off by focusing on these fundamental scientific questions.
But there are also new vaccines in the pipeline and the virus itself is evolving.
Later this year it will become almost impossible to run large-scale Covid vaccine trials in the UK because so many people will have been immunised.
But challenge trials involving just a small numbers of volunteers will still give the answer to crucial questions - from how second-generation vaccines compare, to whether vaccines protect against new variants.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:42

UK hospitality sector could partially reopen in May

British pubs, bars and restaurants are set to reopen in some capacity in May, as prime minister Boris Johnson is attempting to pull off a staged exit from lockdown that would see the UK’s $3 trillion economy aiming to be among the first major Western economies to return to some normality.
The Daily Mail newspaper reports that while most office workers will be asked to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, holiday lets and larger hotels will reopen in April.
Outdoor leisure facilities such as theme parks and zoos as well as golf, open-air gyms and tennis could also reopen in April, though a full pub reopening could have to wait until early June.
The Mail said leisure businesses may not return to “broadly normal” until July.

Hospitals is Czech Republic could become overwhelmed in weeks

Hospitals across the Czech Republic may be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients in two or three weeks, forcing the country to seek help abroad and hospitals to select which patients will get treatment, health minister Jan Blatny said on Wednesday.
Reuters reports:
It was the starkest warning yet from the government, which has faced criticism from the opposition and citizens groups for chaotic management and unpredictability, but also growing demands to ease restrictions.
Blatny said the government was considering re-opening retail stores from Monday, hoping that would not lead to an escalation of infections, and allowing more students to attend schools from March 1.
The country of 10.7 million had the most cases per capita in Europe except Portugal on a two-week basis, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s data showed. Deaths have reached 18,596, the second-worst death rate behind the United Kingdom, according to ourworldindata.org.
In two western districts on the German border and a north-eastern district on the border with Poland, hospitals have been forced to repeatedly seek to transfer patients elsewhere.
“If we together don’t prevent further spread at this level, then within two or three weeks the whole country will be likely in the same situation,” Blatny said.
“We are preparing hospitals for launching the system of shortage of resources, prioritising among patients like in the case of a disaster,” he told reporters.
The country had 1,196 Covid patients at intensive and high-dependency care units as of Wednesday morning, just below the peak of 1,200 reported in November.
Hospitals reported 14% available intensive care capacity, for all diagnoses, including 155 beds for coronavirus cases.
Blatny said the country would ask Germany to take in a limited number of patients when the intensive-care bed capacity drops to single digits.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 14:50

Sweden reports 4,223 new infections on Wednesday and 82 new covid-related deaths

Sweden registered 4,223 new Covid-19 infections and 82 deaths on Wednesday, taking the overall death toll to 12,569.
This compares to 4,070 new cases a week ago and 4,702 cases recorded four weeks earlier, on 20 January.
The Swedish government, which has avoided full lockdowns so far, has announced five new coronavirus measures giving it the power to shut down large parts of Swedish society if necessary, as well as a more detailed framework for public gatherings to differentiate between outdoor, seated and indoor events, the Local reports.
Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren warned on Wednesday:
It is worrying that the number of cases has risen, we are observing the development with concern [...] there is a tangible risk of a third wave of infection.
It may be the case that parts of the Swedish society are shut down.
The new measures include the possible closure of all non-essential retail shops, hairdressers and beauty salons, sport facilities, restaurants and private event venues.

Ukraine extends lockdown restrictions

Ukraine will prolong a lockdown until the end of April but will allow regions with fewer Covid-19 cases to ease restrictions, prime minister Denys Shmygal said on Wednesday.
Regions will be put into green, yellow, orange and red zones depending on the scale of new infections, he told a televised cabinet meeting.
Ukraine has so far recorded 26,017 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University, faring better than neighbouring Poland and Romania.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 16:48

Why the caution over easing lockdown?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
Infection rates in the UK are coming down - more quickly than many thought they would given the new more contagious Kent variant.
The vaccination programme is also going well, providing protection to the most vulnerable. And the arrival of spring should be expected to help keep rates low.
So why the caution? While most believe Covid will become seasonal, a bounce-back in the summer is not being ruled out.
And even if rates rebound only a little, there are still large numbers of vulnerable people. Nearly half of hospitalisations have been in the under-70s.
What is more, high levels of infection at a time when vaccines are being rolled out and immunity being built provides the perfect breeding ground for new variants. Mutation may be unavoidable in the long-term, but encouraging them at this point would, many experts believe, be foolish.
It means the government is likely to be more cautious than some would want - and indeed maybe need to be, given the cost of lockdown.
But the judgement being made is it's better to go slowly and surely, rather than having to take any more steps back.

Breaking News 

A further 738 deaths announced in the UK

A further 738 people have died within 28 days of positive coronavirus test in the UK, according to the Government's daily statistics.
It brings the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test to 118,933.
Last Wednesday 1,001 deaths were reported - the 738 today represents a 26% drop since this time last week.
There were also 12,718 new covid infections recorded in the past 24 hours.

US set to pay WHO $200m amid its return

The US is set to pay the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than $200m (£144m) following its return to the body.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has confirmed the move, saying it was part of the US's commitment to the group.
“This is a key step forward in fulfilling our financial obligations as a WHO member and it reflects our renewed commitment to ensuring the WHO has the support it needs to lead the global response to the pandemic,” he says.
Donald Trump pulled the US from the WHO during his presidency, accusing it of not doing enough to stop the pandemic and being too close to China.
Mr Blinken also promised to “provide significant financial support” to Covax, a global inoculation-sharing initiative.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 17:02

Switzerland announces plans for gradual reopening

Switzerland has announced its plans to start reopening the country from 1 March.
The government says it will be a “cautious, gradual opening in order to give more space to social and economic life again.”
From 1 March, zoos, gardens and sports facilities will reopen and private events with up to 15 people will be allowed.
A final decision on the plans will be made on 24 February.
Under the current restrictions, bars, restaurants, museums and theatres are all closed along with non-essential shops. Working from home is also obligatory and private events are limited to just five people.
The country has recorded 544,282 cases and 9,817 deaths since the pandemic began.

Rangers manager 'let down' by players breaching Covid rules


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Rangers football manager Steven Gerrard says he has been "let down" by five players who breached Covid regulations by attending a house party at the weekend.
Gerrard confirmed Bongani Zungu, Nathan Patterson, Calvin Bassey, Dapo Mebude and Brian Kinnear are self-isolating.
The players will be fined and talks are ongoing with the Scottish FA and the Scottish government about the incident.
Following an investigation, the manager confirmed the players breached lockdown rules after a party was broken up by police in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Read more.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 17:07

Instagram ban for Australian celebrity chef over Covid misinformation


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Pete Evans was a judge for 10 seasons on Australian show My Kitchen Rules

Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans has been banned from Instagram just weeks after his Facebook page was removed for repeatedly sharing misinformation about Covid.
Evans, who had about 1.5 million Facebook followers and some 278,000 Instagram followers, had shared a range of debunked theories about the severity of the virus, mask-wearing and vaccines, as well as incorrect claims about 5G telecom networks.
The chef was a judge for 10 seasons on the Australian show My Kitchen Rules.
Aside from his comments on coronavirus, he has also promoted pseudo-science about diets and cancer cures.
Read more here.

'Self-isolation cost my family £700'


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Tracy Moore and her husband Jason lost hundreds of pounds when they were told to isolate

Self-isolation is costing people who do not qualify for financial support hundreds of pounds in lost income.
Most applications to Wales' £500 self-isolation grant scheme have been rejected.
Under the existing system, applicants must stand to lose income by isolating, and be on at least one of a range of benefits.
The Welsh government announced on Wednesday it was expanding the scheme to include people not on any benefits but with a personal income of less than £500 net per week or on basic statutory sick pay.
Tracy Moore, from Flintshire, saw her household income fall about £700 last month, and told BBC Wales Live the way the support system worked was "wrong".
Her husband and son work for a Tarmac company and shared their van with someone who tested positive the following day.
They called 111 and were advised to isolate for 10 days - but when they tried to apply for financial help they were told they were not eligible as they had not formally been asked to isolate by Test, Trace, Protect.
Read more.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 17:11

Quarantine hotel rooms are 'like a prison'

Caroline Davies - BBC transport correspondent

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One of the hotel rooms being used to quarantine arrivals

Quarantine hotels in the UK opened to their first guests on Monday, but some have expressed concerns about their safety, the cost and whether the system works.
Everyone who has visited or transited through 33 countries on the UK's "red list" who arrive in England must stay 11 nights in a quarantine hotel - at a cost of £1,750 for a single person.
Mohammed Mostafa travelled to London after visiting family in Bangladesh. While the country is not on the red list, Mr Mostafa transited through the UAE which is - and the new measures took him by surprise.
"It was absolutely shocking and I felt quite intimidated as well," Mostafa told AFP news.
He is staying at the Holiday Inn hotel and described his room as "like a prison".
Read more.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 17:33

China stays Covid free during the holidays

Kerry Allen - BBC Monitoring, Chinese Media Analyst

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Tens of millions of people will still be travelling daily between now and the beginning of March

In the past 24 hours, China has reported no new domestically-transmitted cases of Covid-19.
This has pretty much been the story for the last week, and Chinese media have been praising these statistics, and thanking groups of people that the government urged shouldn’t travel during the Spring Festival holiday period. In particular, they have praised university students, migrants and overseas Chinese.
In January, there were multiple outbreaks of the virus in the northeast of the country.
And as hundreds of thousands of people traditionally travel across China for the Lunar New Year – which this year fell on 12 February - to spend time with their families, there were government concerns this annual migration might exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.
Consequently, China’s central government tried to discourage people from travelling this year, and local governments introduced financial incentives for people to stay put.
The government also introduced special measures for those who did still intend to travel, in order to keep them safe. Travellers were instructed to show a negative Covid-19 test within seven days of their journey, and encouraged to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival at their destination.
Tens of millions of people will still be travelling daily between now and the beginning of March, but today is the last public holiday in China, so the majority of people made their return journeys today.

'This has got to be the final lockdown' - Labour

Labour's shadow health secretary says he expects the government to lift Covid restrictions in England through "gradual easing" rather than ending lockdown "in one big snap".
Speaking to reporters, Jonathan Ashworth agrees with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's comments made earlier today - that any easing should be driven by data rather than dates.
"But we have to be cautious because this has got to be the final lockdown," Ashworth adds.
He agrees the vaccination programme has been "a success" but says the government needs to "do more" to stop the spread of the virus when lockdown measures are eased.
Ashworth lists sick pay as one of the elements that needs addressing and says "double-masking" - a concept being recommended in the US - should also be considered when UK ministers review the rules.
The PM will set out details on Monday on the plan for lifting restrictions.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 18:03

Latest UK Covid data, in charts

Following the UK government's release of daily coronavirus statistics, here are some charts showing the country's epidemic.
To track case numbers in your area and see more graphs and charts, read our full story.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 18:37

South Africa rolls out vaccination programme

As we mentioned earlier, South Africa has started Covid vaccinations following the suspension of an earlier plan to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
A new variant accounts for most of the new cases in South Africa.
South Africa put the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold, following a study that showed "disappointing" results against the country's new Covid-19 strain.
South Africa says it has so far secured enough doses for the target population of 40 million.
However, there has been criticism the government was too slow to act.
Read more about immunisations and what the government is saying.

Premier League games on live TV until stadiums reopen

All Premier League football matches will remain available to watch live in the UK until fans are allowed to return to stadiums.
Matches will continue to be broadcast by Sky Sports, BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video and the BBC.
Premier League football has been played behind closed doors since the 2019-20 season resumed in June following the first coronavirus lockdown.
Some Premier League clubs were able to welcome up to 2,000 fans in December, but games were soon moved back behind closed doors amid rising cases of Covid-19.
Earlier this month, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Sport there was a "long path ahead of us" before fans could return to stadiums.
On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce how the current lockdown in England will be eased.
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 19:01

NI's vaccination rollout 'weeks' ahead of schedule

Northern Ireland's vaccine rollout is running weeks ahead of schedule, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.
Carers and more people with underlying health conditions were due to be vaccinated in March but this will be brought forward "on a staggered basis", he says.
"As ever, the rate of our progress through the eligible groups will depend on available supplies of vaccines," he says.
The vaccine rollout will be divided between GP practices and the seven regional vaccination centres.
On Wednesday, the Department of Health recorded six more Covid-19 related deaths, taking its death toll to 2,015.

Amazon being sued by New York over Covid response


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An investigation was launched last March after numerous complaints about the lack of precautions for workers in New York

Internet giant Amazon is being sued by New York over its coronavirus response.
In a lawsuit, Attorney General General Letitia James said her inquiry into conditions at two warehouses in New York City found Amazon implemented a “deficient” programme to trace the contacts of infected workers.
She also claims the company did not follow rules requiring companies to shut and disinfect areas that had been visited by a sick person, among other violations.
James launched her investigation last March after numerous complaints about the lack of precautions for workers in New York, then the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak.
Amazon last week attempted to block the lawsuit with its own legal action.
It said James was applying "an inconsistent and unfair" standard.
Read more here
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Post by Kitkat Wed Feb 17 2021, 20:26

What happened today?

We are going to be bringing the live page to a close soon, so here's a recap of the day's coronavirus news:

  • Lockdown in England will be eased "cautiously" using a "data not dates" approach, the prime minister says
  • The world's first Covid-19 "human challenge trials" will start in the UK, infecting healthy young volunteers with the virus to test vaccines and treatments
  • A further 738 deaths have been reported in the UK within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test
  • There have also been another 12,718 daily UK cases, while 15,940,972 people have received the first dose of a vaccine
  • NI's vaccine rollout is running weeks ahead of schedule , so jabs for carers have been brought forward
  • The vaccination campaign is starting to reduce the Covid death toll in Scotland , the country's first minister has said
  • Researchers want the government to add fatigue, headache, sore throat and diarrhoea to the existing three symptoms which trigger a Covid test in the UK
  • More than £500,000 has been raised to help a mountain rescue volunteer who suffered life-changing injuries going to the aid of campers who had broken coronavirus lockdown restrictions
  • And Apple is changing its syringe emoji to remove the dripping blood, as it becomes widely used to talk about the Covid-19 vaccine


Goodbye for now

Thank you for joining us for live updates on the coronavirus pandemic.
They were brought to you by Alice Evans, Becky Morton, James Clarke, Jennifer Meierhans, Katie Wright and Sophie Williams.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 15:10