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Coronavirus - 23rd February - 23rd February 2021


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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 11:59

Summary for Tuesday, 23rd February

  • Everyone must play their part and be cautious as the country exits lockdown, Matt Hancock says
  • The health secretary says people should take personal responsibility for precautions such as masks
  • The second week of February saw 17,136 deaths registered in the UK - down by 1,710 on the previous week but still 26% above usual levels
  • Step-by-step strategy could see the Covid restrictions fully eased by 21 June - if strict conditions are met
  • There's been a surge in foreign holiday bookings since the route map was laid out, with Easyjet reporting a 630% increase
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will set out her plan for easing the lockdown in Scotland later
  • UK unemployment rate rises to 5.1% in the three months to December, official figures show
  • The number of deaths in the United States from coronavirus surpasses 500,000
  • US President Joe Biden says it is a "heartbreaking milestone"
  • A further 10,641 coronavirus cases are reported in UK on Monday, and another 178 deaths within 28 days of a positive test

Welcome to Tuesday’s live page

We will be bringing you the latest Covid-19 news throughout the day, including reaction to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to ease lockdown in England in four steps from March 8, to 21 June.

What's the latest in the UK?

Here's what you need to know this morning:

Latest from around the world

  • The United States last night passed what President Joe Biden described as a "heartbreaking milestone" with 500,000 coronavirus deaths. Addressing the nation during a candle-lighting ceremony, Mr Biden urged Americans to remember the dead and has ordered all flags be lowered to half-mast on federal property for the next five days.
  • South Korea’s prime minister has told the BBC the country will aim to vaccinate 70% of their population by Autumn . South Korea was one of the first hit by the pandemic last year and became a role model for its mass testing and aggressive contact tracing measures, but their vaccination programme has had a slow start
  • Australia is expected to ramp up a national vaccination drive after a second shipment of doses arrived into the country overnight. Health Minister Greg Hunt hopes to reach one million weekly doses by the end of March, after local production of the AstraZeneca jab begins
  • In Europe,France now has the highest number of people in intensive care units since the start of December. The country is not under national lockdown, but infection rates have stayed stubbornly high despite an overnight curfew and other curbs.

Latest on Europe's pandemic

  • France is worried about a new infection hotspot – the northern port city of Dunkirk. The infection rate there is more than 900 per 100,000 inhabitants, so a local lockdown is now being considered. On Monday the focus was on Nice, a southern resort city, where the rate is above 700. A weekend lockdown has been imposed there and in nearby areas. These surges have been blamed on the highly contagious English variant. France is trying to avoid a third national lockdown
  • In Italy the new government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi has extended until 27 March a ban on travel between Italy’s regions, to curb the virus spread. The new decree also extends a restriction on private visits: no more than two adults and children under 14 can visit another person’s home
  • EU Europe ministers are discussing how to ease the current border restrictions, which violate the spirit of free movement in the EU. The European Commission has complained to Germany about its border controls, saying they go too far. But Germany is frustrated its infection rates are declining too slowly, or not at all. Belgium, Hungary and three Nordic countries received such complaints previously from the commission
  • The Czech government has ordered the wearing of FFP2 respirator masks from Thursday in shops and on public transport. The government will distribute millions of the masks via food banks to people who cannot afford them. They block more particles than ordinary masks.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:06

What do the UK papers say?

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Freedom is a word repeated on many front pages, which all examine Boris Johnson's plan to end the lockdown in England.
"Four steps to freedom," the i declares; "118 days until freedom" is the the Daily Telegraph's headline, while the Daily Express echoes the prime minister's words, speaking of a "one-way road to freedom".
It's a "midsummer dream" the Metro concludes, but notes that "solstice day" is only "pencilled in" for the end of all lockdowns.
The Guardian calls it a "cautious, phased easing of curbs"; the Daily Star "a vaguely sensible road map"; while the Financial Times welcomes it as a "balanced approach".
But the Sun insists that the "go-slow" end to restrictions offers an "agonising wait."
And the Daily Mail demands "what are we waiting for?", saying that Johnson faces a "clamour to lift the lockdown faster."

England's lockdown roadmap 'cautious and careful' - Hancock

BBC Breakfast
England's roadmap out of lockdown is designed for a "cautious and careful" exit, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he reiterates the prime minister's aim for the end of this lockdown to be "irreversible".
Asked about international travel, he is not drawn, but says the government has been clear "this is an area we need to work further on" and will be reviewing.
He says "we just don't know the science yet" and ministers need to see the impact of the vaccine on new variants.
And on vaccine certificates, he says "there's clearly an important role for certification for international travel", but stresses that the possibility of broader use would need to be reviewed.
"There's areas of life you wouldn't want it to extend to and I think it's right to take some time to consider and have a debate," he says.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:09

What's in the roadmap for lifting lockdown?

The government's "roadmap" for easing Covid restrictions in England is the main focus of this morning's news, so what does that involve?
After the first step - in two parts on 8 and 29 March - further lifting of the rules will happen if certain conditions are met - such as the vaccine programme going to plan.
The aim is for all restrictions to be lifted, which will happen by 21 June at the earliest.
Other parts of the UK aim to outline their plans for easing lockdown in the coming weeks.
You can read the plan for England in detail here .

Hancock: For now, we're still in lockdown

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also been on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, as people across England digest the government's plan for their next few weeks and months.
He says the "guiding thought" behind the gradual plan is so we can "see the impact of each step before taking the next one".
"I think, frankly, it's wise" he says.
But he calls on people to follow each step as it happens, and not skip ahead and break the rules before they are eased.
"It is actually on all of us," he says. "It’s only because all of us, or the very large majority, have followed the lockdown rules so rigorously, that we’ve seen cases come down so sharply over the past few weeks.
"And it’s on all of us to follow each step as we take it, not to get ahead of ourselves. For now, we’re still in lockdown."
Mr Hancock defended the decision of the government not to set out "numerical thresholds" for the four conditions before each step, saying it was a "matter of judgement".
The government would need to look at the number of hospitalisations and deaths, and make sure that "cases haven't gone completely through the roof".
"No vaccine is perfect, no vaccine in history has been perfect, so you do have to keep an eye on the number of cases."
And he adds: "We are prepared to take local action if that’s needed."

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:13

Breaking News

Excess deaths fall, but still above usual levels

Robert Cuffe - BBC head of statistics
In the week of 12 February, there were 17,136 deaths registered in the UK - down on the previous week (by 1,710) but still 26% above usual levels.
That is an improvement in the number of excess deaths – down from 38% to 26%.
The figures - for the UK - show there were 6,113 deaths involving Covid, down 22% on the previous week.
Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales suggest that deaths of care home residents are falling faster than for the rest of the population.
In the second week of February, there were just under 1,500 deaths of people who live in care homes that involve coronavirus – down by about 33% on the previous week.
By comparison, Covid deaths among people who do not live in care homes fell by about 18% to 4,200 in a week.

Plan to ease lockdown in Scotland due

Over the last 24 hours we've heard a lot about the lockdown easing plan set out by Boris Johnson. But that just covers England - and each of the devolved nations is in charge of its own rules.
Today it's Scotland's turn and later First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will set out her plan in a statement early this afternoon.
Like Mr Johnson, she has said the decisions will be driven by data, rather than dates.
She wants the country's gradual emergence from lockdown to be "phased and sustainable", with at least three weeks between each phase.
It will begin with easing current level four restrictions before moving back into system that varies by area.
Yesterday, Scotland's youngest school pupils returned to the classroom.
We'll be bringing you the updates when they happen, and our latest story is here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:18

Why can't we unlock more quickly?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent

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The vaccine rollout is going well and cases have plummeted since lockdown began at the start of the year.
And yet the road out of lockdown in England and elsewhere in the UK is slow and gradual.
Ministers say they want to monitor closely the impact of each step before moving on to the next one. It is a process which will take four months at least.
Why is the government being so cautious?
A key mantra in the lead up to the announcement is that each step forward must be irreversible. There must be no steps back.
But despite falling infection rates, the number of new daily cases still remains relatively high compared to summer and early autumn. It is still a very delicate position.
There are also issues around the problems of last year, vaccine targets, and unknowns around virus mutations.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:23

But when will gyms and hairdressers open?

The plan outlined by Boris Johnson on Monday sees England's lockdown easing gradually over several months.
While schools will open on 8 March, it will be a longer wait for services like hairdressers, pubs and gyms.
There are also varying dates for outdoor sports facilities to open, and attractions such as zoos and theme parks.
Check when they will be able to reopen here .

What do parents think of the schools plan?

Parents have said the government must stick by its plan to reopen schools to avoid "chaos".
Schools in England will reopen on 8 March as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to lift lockdown.
They are set to reopen to all pupils on the same day but the government plans to build in a few days' flexibility to allow measures like testing to be put in place.
Sarah Douglas, from Bristol, who has been home-schooling her four children, said she felt "relieved" they would soon be returning to lessons.
"It'll be great for their mental wellbeing and great for them to be with their friends again," she said.
Her eldest son and daughter, Charlie and Bella, said they had felt "isolated" from their friends and were "thrilled" to find out they were going back.

Attention turns to holiday plans

Many people are desperate to go on holiday, and yesterday's announcement from Boris Johnson suggested it might be tantalisingly within reach this summer.
Peole will be allowed to go on holiday within self-catering accommodation in England with their own household from 12 April, while the plan is for hotels and hostels to open from 17 May.
And with regards to international travel, the government is putting together a report looking at how to ease rules. The earliest date by which international travel could resume is 17 May.
Airlines said they saw a surge in bookings following the announcement.
Thomas Cook said traffic to its website was up more than 100% on Monday from 15:00 GMT onwards, with bookings already "flooding in" for countries like Greece, Cyprus, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
EasyJet also reported a 337% surge in flight bookings and a 630% jump in holiday bookings for locations like Alicante, Malaga, Palmo, Faro and Crete. Bookings are strongest in August, followed by July and then September.
But there is also disappointment within the industry that the Easter holiday market will be missed for overseas travel, one analyst said.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:26

Can I have a foreign holiday? And other questions...

We've been receiving questions on issues arising from the government's latest plans for easing England's lockdown, and other Covid-related matters.
Anna in Derby asks if she will be able to take a cruise from the UK this summer?
At this point in time, it’s simply too early to say. For the present, though, no non-essential international travel is allowed.
The government has set up a Global Travel Taskforce, which will report on 12 April, with recommendations for how international travel could resume without allowing new Covid variants being brought in from other countries.
Following this, the government will decide when international travel should resume, but this will be no earlier than 17 May.
However, this is not entirely up to the UK - other countries will be easing their own lockdowns at different speeds, which may affect travellers’ ability to visit.
There is also the possibility that an international vaccination certificate could yet be agreed, allowing greater freedom to travel to those who have had the jab.
Read more of your questions here .

Quick unlocking could lead to surge in deaths

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
One of the questions being asked today, as people digest the plan for easing lockdown in England, is: why can't we unlock more quickly?
Modelling carried out for the government by Imperial College London has looked at what would happen if there was a quick unlocking.
It suggests if restrictions were lifted by the end of April, there could be a surge in deaths in the coming months.
And by next summer another 80,000 Covid fatalities could be seen.
The government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, says: "The sooner you open up everything, the greater the risk of a resurgence. The slower the better."
But such modelling is by its very nature full of uncertainty, because of the assumptions that have to be made.
For example, this modelling has not taken into account seasonality.
Would there really be a surge in the summer when people are outdoors and respiratory viruses tend not to thrive?
It is a risk ministers are simply not prepared to take.
Read more from Nick here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:30

My roadmap strikes the 'right balance' says PM

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The roadmap to ease the lockdown in England strikes the "right" balance, Boris Johnson says.
Speaking during a visit to a school in south London, the prime minister said: "Some people will say that we're going to be going too fast, some people will say we're going too slow...
"I think it is a cautious but irreversible approach, which is exactly what people want to see."
Johnson says: "We open up on June 21 in a way that I don't think people would have really thought possible had it not been for the roll-out of the vaccinations."
Asked about the possibility of issuing of vaccine certificates for those who have had a jab, the prime minister said Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove would look at it, adding there were "deep and complex issues... to explore, ethical issues about what the role is for government in mandating all people to have something".
Mr Johnson added that a vaccine passport of some form was "going to come on the international stage whatever".
You can read more about the roadmap for lifting the lockdown in England here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:51

What's been happening in the UK?

Here are the latest headlines as we head into the afternoon:

  • Everybody has to "play their part" to meet the dates for England's lockdown to be eased, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says
  • But it is currently "too early" to say how long social distancing will be in place, he stresses
  • The government is being cautious in its approach to easing England's lockdown as the data shows the country is still in a very delicate position and a quick unlocking could spark a surge in deaths, our health correspondent Nick Triggle says
  • New figures show there were 17,136 deaths in the UK in the second week of February
  • It means that the number of what are known as excess deaths remains very high but it's reducing - standing at 26% above average compared to 38% the week before
  • The latest ONS figures for England and Wales suggest deaths of care home residents are falling faster than for the rest of the population
  • And many businesses are "simply throwing in the towel" because of worries over government support during the next few months, Labour says

UK's hotel quarantine system 'like a sieve'

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Australia's recent Covid scares have begun with leaks from hotel quarantine

Last Monday the UK introduced a new rule forcing travellers from certain countries to quarantine for 10 days in hotels when they arrive. The rule aims to stop new Covid variants being brought into the UK and, for England, applies to arrivals from 33 countries considered high risk.
But today a leading Australian epidemiologist is comparing the UK's system to a sieve with too many holes.
Prof Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University in Victoria, tells UK MPs that the British system of hotel quarantine is only 10 days long and allows people out for exercise.
"If you're going to let you have too many holes in the sieve, then why bother with the sieve?" she asks the All Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus.
She says Australia is now testing hotel quarantine staff daily, including on their days off, and has imposed much stricter conditions on Australian air crews who have previously been allowed to return home between shifts
Australia's hotel quarantine system is seen as world-class - although there have been breaches. In Australia, people staying in quarantine hotels are not allowed to leave their rooms at all, and it lasts 14 days rather than the UK's 10.
Scotland - whose hotel quarantine system is also stricter than England's and applies to people arriving from all countries - has already called the version in England "leaky".
Read about the UK's quarantine rules here - and see how it differs from Australia's system here. We also have an interesting piece about how Australia's system has seen breaches.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:55

China campus lockdowns sparks student concern

Kerry Allen - BBC Monitoring, Chinese Media Analyst
There have been no confirmed Covid cases in China for many days - and yet students returning to colleges and universities have been told they will still be subject to campus lockdowns.
China’s Ministry of Education has announced all higher education institutes should continue to implement a “closed campus management” system, and not allow students off their premises “unless necessary”. Universities in China have electronic gates and are staffed by security guards.
This move has sparked outrage online, with the subject dominating discussions on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.
Students have largely commented on how they would prefer to have online lessons and stay at home, than be trapped on campus miles away from their families.
Many in China are surprised blanket campus lockdowns are still being enforced, given they were heavily criticised last summer, much as they were in the UK.
China had no domestic transmission of Covid-19 back then, but the government insisted some 37 million students across the country undergo lockdowns, and refrain from mixing with local communities as a precaution.
National newspaper Global Times noted in September that students staged protests about their freedoms being suppressed, by yelling from their dormitories at midnight. Videos circulated on social media, but many were censored.

'Horrified' police break up football match at locked pitch

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The group left an "onslaught of rubbish" and personal belongings, police say

We heard yesterday the plan in England is for outdoor sports to return on 29 March. But for now, leisure centres are still closed and playing sport is banned.
But police in Derbyshire say they found an "irresponsible" football match being played at a closed leisure centre on Sunday afternoon.
Officers say they discovered between 15 and 20 young people who had forced their way on to an outdoor pitch, which had been locked.
"After being alerted to police presence, the gathering soon split up and made a hasty getaway," police say.
"This may seem harsh but we need to ensure these rules are being followed."
There's more on this story here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 13:58

UK unemployment nudges five-year high

We've had news on jobs this morning, with the UK unemployment rate at highest for almost five years.
The UK's unemployment rose to 5.1% in the three months to December, official figures show.
The Office for National Statistics said 1.74 million people were unemployed in the October to December period, up 454,000 from the same quarter in 2019.
The figures show 726,000 fewer people are currently in payrolled employment than before the start of the pandemic.
Almost three-fifths of this fall, 425,000, has come from those aged under-25.
Read more here.

How many people are out of work?

As we've been reporting today, the UK's unemployment rate has risen to its highest level in almost five years , according to official figures.
Younger workers are bearing the brunt of the job losses, after the UK's jobless rate rose to 5.1% in the three months to December , with the number of people on company payrolls down 726,000 on pre-pandemic levels.
So, how high could unemployment go and how many people are currently unemployed?
Our business reporter Ben King takes a look at the data here .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:07

A dangerous loophole allowing anyone travelling to the Republic of Ireland from the North to avoid mandatory quarantine rules has been revealed.

Calls for the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine regulations have been ramped up in recent weeks, and while the legislation will be brought before the Dáil this Thursday, questions have been raised over the efficiency of the proposal.

It's emerged that passengers flying into Northern Ireland, who are then travelling on to the Republic, are given ample opportunity to simply bypass mandatory quarantine measures, even if they've flown in from designated 'high-risk' countries.

Under the Government plans, everyone arriving into ports and airports in Ireland will be met by officials, who will then place them on buses which will transport them to quarantine hotels.

However, anyone flying into Northern Irish airports who then cross into the Republic are expected to voluntarily check themselves in to a designated quarantine hotel "as soon as practicable", as no measures have been set up to ensure they do so.

This presents a very serious problem, some members of the Opposition have argued, due to the fact that arrivals from the 20 designated 'high-risk' countries may simply be allowed to fly into Belfast, and drive south over the border, unchecked, without having to quarantine or isolate at all.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said the new bill "does not go far enough," adding that "all passengers" arriving into the country for non-essential reasons should have to quarantine in hotels.

Others slammed the legislation for only applying to 20 high-risk countries, rather than all countries, with Labour Party TD Duncan Smith arguing that mutant strains of Covid-19 such as the Brazil variant "can come from Barcelona as easy as it can come from Brazil."

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:19

Ireland's Covid-19 lockdown is the strictest in Europe, and the fourth strictest in the world, a new study has revealed.
Experts at the University of Oxford have compiled together data from the pandemic responses of 180 countries around the globe.
They've examined how strict the rules are in each nation, and created an index to determine which countries currently have the toughest lockdowns, called the Coronavirus Response Tracker .
Ireland ranks fourth on the list, with only Cuba, Eritrea and Honduras having tougher measures in place.
The UK is ranked sixth on the list, and is deemed to have the second toughest lockdown in Europe.
Analysts at Oxford University compiled their index by looking at how Covid-19 restrictions in each country had affected schools, offices, social gatherings, international travel, freedom to leave the home, and a number of other indicators.
Each country was scored on a scale of one to 100, with a higher figure indicating the most severe virus-controlling curbs.
As of the latest available data on February 17, Ireland was given a score of 87.96 out of 100. At the top of the leaderboard, Cuba had a score of 90.74, while the UK had a score of 86.11.
The US had a score of just 68.06, Australia's was 81.94 and Canada's was 75.46.
Elsewhere in Europe, Germany's score was a fairly strict 83.33, while France had a score of 63.89.
It was recently announced that Ireland is set to remain in lockdown until the end of April, with a review of the situation due on April 5.
Strict travel restrictions are in place, which prevent people from travelling further than 5km away from their away for a non-essential reason.
Mandatory hotel quarantine rules are also set to be introduced next month, as the country looks to crackdown on Covid-19 cases arriving from abroad.
To see the full index, click here .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:30

Sturgeon set to unveil roadmap for Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon is set to announce details of Scotland's path out of lockdown in the coming half hour.
Outdoor socialising and sport, and face-to-face teaching, are expected to be among the priorities outlined in the first minister's statement to the Scottish Parliament.
She has said all decisions will be "driven by data rather than dates"

Levels system in Scotland from end of April

The Scottish government hopes to lift the stay at home restriction in Scotland from April 5, Nicola Sturgeon says.
The country will move fully back to the levels system of Covid restrictions from the last week in April "if all goes according to plan", Nicola Sturgeon says.
Addressing the Scottish Parliament, she said at that stage, she hopes that all parts of the country currently in level 4 restrictions - will be able to move to level 3 - possibly with some revision to the content of those levels.
The first minister says the advantages of the levels system is that it will allow some parts of the country to move faster than others, if the data supports that.
"If the data allows and positive trends continue. We will seek to accelerate the easing of the restrictions," she explains.

What are the details of Scotland's plan?

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says that from the end of April, she expects to see a phased but significant reopening of the economy including: non-essential retail, hospitality, gyms and hairdressers.
She says she envisages a progressive easing of current level four restrictions "at intervals of at least three weeks" along with changes nationally on care home visiting and education.
The first easing started yesterday, she says, with the partial return of schools.
And from early March, restrictions on care home visiting will be eased. The three week intervals will then look like this:
Indicatively 15 March:

  • the next phase of school return, bringing back the rest of primary school years and more senior secondary pupils
  • outdoors non-contact group sports for 12-17-year-olds allowed
  • outdoor mixing of four people from a maximum of two households allowed

From 5 April:

  • her "hope and expectation" is that the stay at home restriction will be lifted
  • final phase of school return
  • communal worship restart with restricted numbers at first
  • six people from two households can meet together
  • begin the reopening of retail, by expanding the definition of essential retail and removing click and collect restrictions

From 26 April:

  • move back to levels, with all of Scotland moving to level three, "albeit it with some possible modifications to the level"
  • open the economy and society "in the more substantial way we are all longing for".

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:34

Breaking News

South Africa Covid-19 variant detected in NI

The first three confirmed cases of the South African variant of Covid-19 have been detected in Northern Ireland , the nation's health minister, Robin Swann, says.
"I have previously been clear that identification of a confirmed case or cases of this variant in Northern Ireland was inevitable at some point," he says.
"This development does not mean that this variant is going to become the most prevalent or the dominant strain in Northern Ireland.
"However, it does underline once again the very real need for continuing caution in relation to Covid-19."

'Strong case' for NI schools to return by 8 March

There is a "strong case" for all pupils in Northern Ireland to return to classrooms by 8 March , the nation's education minister, Peter Weir, says.
He says he believes health officials at Stormont have been "over-cautious" in recommending a phased return.
On Monday his party leader First Minister Arlene Foster called for the executive to revisit its plan.
Mr Weir says he wants to see "movement across the board" in getting pupils back into classrooms more quickly.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, the minister says he advocated a full return in his paper to executive colleagues last week but that health advisers prefer a staged approach, with year groups going back at different times.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:36

What is Scotland's lockdown easing plan?

We've been hearing from Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about her plan to ease the lockdown in Scotland - and what is due to reopen when.
It's different to England's plan because each of the devolved nations are in charge of their own lockdown rules.
This is what Sturgeon set out, although she was clear the dates are not set in stone and it depends on things going well:

  • Some younger pupils started returning to schools yesterday. From 15 March the rest of primary school years, as well as more senior phase pupils in secondary schools, will return
  • And then from 5 April the rest of pupils, if not back already, will return.


  • Currently two people from two households are allowed to meet outside. From 15 March four people from a maximum of two households will be allowed to meet outside
  • Then from 5 April, she hopes that six people from two households can mix - although she didn't specify if this will be just outside.

Sport and culture:

  • From 15 March, non-contact outdoor group sports will be allowed for 12-17-year-olds
  • Communal worship will also restart around 5 April with numbers restricted at first - although Sturgeon says when deciding the date for this they will take into account the timing of key religious festivals, for example Easter and Passover, so it may be a few days earlier

Retail and hospitality:

  • The reopening of retail will begin from 5 April, with the extension of the definition of essential shops, and also removing the restrictions around click and collect
  • She says the last week of April, so from 26 April, should see a “phased but significant reopening of the economy". This includes non-essential retail, hospitality and services such as gyms and hairdressers.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:41

Reopening all schools in Wales at same time 'not safe'

Reopening schools to all pupils at the same time is "not safe" , Wales' first minister says.
Mark Drakeford has been defending Wales's gradual re-introduction of classroom lessons after criticism by the Welsh Conservatives.
In England all schools go back on 8 March , but some secondary pupils in Wales will not return until after Easter.
Welsh Tory Andrew RT Davies has questioned whether schools were a priority.
But Drakeford says schools are his government's top priority and it is following scientific advice.
Under 7s in the foundation phase are going back to school this week, with other primary school children and older secondary students due back on 15 March.

Sturgeon: 'I don't know the grounding behind England's 21 June date'

Nicola Sturgeon has been asked what she thinks of Boris Johnson's hope society will be back to normal by 21 June.
Johnson said yesterday that, in England, the plan is for all legal limits on social contact to end from 21 June. From that date at the earliest, nightclubs would reopen and there would be no limits on weddings and funerals.
But Sturgeon points out that the prime minister also said there were "no guarantees" - and she says she thinks that's a reasonable position to take.
"I would love to stand here and say that by 21 June we'll all be back to normal completely," she says.
"I can't say that with any certainty at all because I don't know what the grounding for that is, I don't know what assessment gives confidence of that."
She says although she "would like to go further out with dates... I don't think it is fair or reasonable to do that right now", adding she wants to be sure the plans they set out have "a reasonably good chance of being deliverable".

Scotland's uber-cautious lockdown exit

Jamie McIvor - BBC Scotland News Correspondent
If the prime minister outlined a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions in England on Monday, then the approach outlined by the first minister in Scotland today may be seen as uber-cautious.
It is unlikely that non-essential retail in Scotland will reopen before 26 April - two weeks after it may reopen south of the border.
So, will there be broad public support and goodwill for significantly tighter restrictions in Scotland than in England?
Naturally, many may feel weary after so long. In much of the west of Scotland, there have been additional restrictions since early September.
Will people accept restrictions for longer if they feel that caution will be rewarded in the longer term? Might easing other restrictions - such as allowing care home visits and getting children back into education - help people accept restrictions on economic activity? Or might some feel resentful if they see a greater degree of relaxation south of the border?
This is a fascinating question - especially as the impact of the vaccination programme on deaths and hospital admissions accelerates.
Will those who have been vaccinated want more freedoms back? And will those who are at little statistical risk of falling severely ill with Covid accept restrictions for longer? And all this will happen in the immediate run-up to the Holyrood elections at the start of May.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:45

Breaking News 

Further 548 UK deaths reported

A further 548 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test, official figures show. There were also another 8,489 cases reported.
This compares to 799 deaths and 10,625 cases reported last Tuesday.
The figures also show the total number of people to have received the first dose of a vaccine has now reached 17,916,181 - a rise of 192,341 since yesterday.

Life in China gets back to normal

Kerry Allen - BBC Monitoring, Chinese Media Analyst
Yesterday, China lifted all its remaining lockdowns, and life returned to a version of normal.
However, people across the country are still exercising caution while moving around the country. People are instructed to scan “green codes” when entering buildings and public transport, a QR code on their smartphones that shows they are Covid-free. And mask-wearing is still commonplace – something that has actually been common for more than a decade since China experienced SARS in the early noughties.
Tourist sites, restaurants and cinemas are now open nationwide, but still at around 50% capacity. Schools opened for the spring semester this week, but some are postponing returns to the classroom or are staggering the return of students.
Last month, there were outbreaks of Covid-19 in multiple regions of China – particularly in the northeast. Strict lockdowns were enforced in cities including Shijiazhuang , and all businesses were ordered to close in communities where cases were confirmed. People were told not to leave their homes, and mass-testing drives were carried out, including children.
The country has waited until there are no new domestically-transmitted cases of the virus over an extended period – on average, two weeks - before unlocking regions.
Vaccine rollout is also under way, but as China has a population of 1.4 billion people, a mass inoculation drive is a long way off yet. Nevertheless, the National Health Commission says China has administered 40.52 million doses of the vaccine . If individuals have received a single dose, this equates to about 3% of the population.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 18:53

Ireland to reopen schools but extend other restrictions till April

Rory Carroll - The Guardian
Ireland is to start reopening some schools next week but is extending other lockdown restrictions until April to prevent another explosion in Covid-19 cases.
The government has prioritised education and childcare in a cautious new roadmap out of restrictions after a disastrous relaxation before Christmas led to Ireland having the world’s highest rate of infection.
The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, was to announce the revised Living with Covid plan in a televised address on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day the cabinet agreed to extend the maximum level 5 restrictions until 5 April, which means non-essential retail, bars, cafes, construction, gyms and other sectors will remain closed. A 5km travel limit remains in place, as does a ban on household mixing.
Read more


The Guardian
Here are some of the key global developments from the past few hours:

  • Scotland is to look to begin a “substantial” easing of coronavirus restrictions from 26 April, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said .
  • Ireland is to start reopening some schools next week but is extending other lockdown restrictions until April to prevent another explosion in Covid-19 cases.
  • The Netherlands is expected to announce a slight easing of restrictions, allowing schools and hairdressers to reopen (see 3.19pm ).
  • Israel announced it would send a “token amount” of surplus coronavirus jobs to several countries (see 2.50pm ), in the latest move to suggest limited global supplies will lead to a new form of diplomatic currency .
  • Spain extends its ban on arrivals from Britain, Brazil and South Africa until 16 March to safeguard against the spread of new coronavirus strains from these countries (see 4.34pm ).
  • Greek hospital doctors went on strike and dozens marched in Athens to protest “suffocating” conditions at hospitals during the pandemic (see 12.58pm ).
  • Chinese officials did “little” in terms of epidemiological investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan in the first eight months after the outbreak, according to an internal World Health Organization document .
  • French investigators probe manslaughter allegations against Italy’s Costa Cruises over its handling of Covid-19 cases onboard one of its ships, which claimed the lives of three passengers (see 5.34pm ).
  • Ten orangutans were airlifted back to their natural habitat on Indonesia’s Borneo island, in the first release of the apes into the wild for a year due to the dangers of coronavirus infection.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 19:02

EU tells six countries to lift Covid border restrictions

Daniel Boffey - The Guardian
Brussels has put six EU member states on notice that their tight Covid border restrictions, including exit and entry bans, should be lifted over fears of a wider breakdown in the bloc’s free movement of people and goods.
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden have been given 10 days to respond to the European commission’s concerns that they have breached commonly agreed coronavirus guidelines.
Restrictions imposed by Germany at its border with the Austrian Tirol region have been a particular cause of tension in recent weeks, with the German ambassador in Vienna summoned to justify the “unnecessary measures that do more harm than good”.
Read more here

The Netherlands eases its Covid restrictions

The Netherlands has slightly eased its Covid restrictions, allowing schools and hairdressers to reopen, as the government seeks to relax months of lockdown even as infection rates rise again.
A controversial night-time curfew, which sparked a string of riots when it was introduced on 23 January, would remain in place until at least 15 March, prime minister Mark Rutte said, after the government circumvented a court ruling to drop it due to a lack of legal basis, Reuters reports.
Rutte said:
We are doing something quite unnerving. Easing of measures is not without costs and it certainly is not irreversible. If infections rapidly rise again, all options for restrictions will be on the table again.
An opinion poll earlier this week showed 45% of all Dutch wanted the lockdown to be eased, up from only 21% at the end of January. Restaurant and bar owners on Monday said they would sue the state over its policies. With general elections only three weeks away, pressure on Rutte’s government to open up the country has increased markedly.
Rutte said schools will welcome students for at least one day a week as of next week, following the re-opening of primary schools earlier this month. Non-essential stores, which have been closed since mid-December, can receive a limited number of customers per day.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 19:48

1.12m high-grade NHS masks withdrawn

More than a million high-grade masks used in the NHS may not meet the right safety standards and have been withdrawn .
The Department of Health told the BBC there are 1.12 million of these masks either in use or in hospital stores and has told staff to stop using them.
Distribution of some gloves has also been suspended because they may not meet technical requirements.
The Department of Health said safety of frontline staff was an absolute priority.
Its warning concerns a specific brand of FFP3 mask, which are more sophisticated than surgical masks and are worn in intensive care or when certain procedures are carried out that can generate aerosols.
Update: The DHSC originally told the BBC 12 million face masks had been affected. It has since said this figure is incorrect, and the number is 1.12 million.

Does Wales have a plan to leave lockdown?

We've heard today about Scotland's plans to leave lockdown, and yesterday Boris Johnson set out his plan for England.
Northern Ireland has renewed its restrictions to 1 April, but what about Wales?
Find out here.

World Bank warns Lebanese to wait their turn for vaccines

The World Bank has threatened to suspend financing for Lebanon’s Covid-19 vaccination programme amid allegations that people are receiving shots without registering or waiting their turn.
Lebanon launched the programme on 14 February with 28,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines purchased with some of the $34m (£24m) in aid it has been allocated .
To ensure fair and transparent distribution, the government asked everyone to register with an online platform, whose algorithms prioritise recipients based on agreed criteria. Health workers, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases are meant to be vaccinated first.
However, it was not long before complaints about “violations” emerged in a country where corruption and mismanagement have been blamed for an unprecedented economic crisis and the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port last August.
After several members of parliament were vaccinated on Tuesday, World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha warned of consequences if people were found to be queue jumping.
He added that the World Bank had asked monitors to verify that vaccination centres were adhering to the rules, adding the hashtag “#NoWasta”. “Wasta” is an Arabic term for nepotism or influence.
Parliament’s Secretary-General, Adnan Daher, told the National News Agency that the lawmakers had been registered and that “their turn had come”

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 19:53

Scotland's got a route map - but only to the starting point

Douglas Fraser - Scotland business & economy editor
It's a route map, but it's only big enough to get to the starting point.
Many businesses have been asking when they will be allowed to reopen. Now they have some rough indication, pencilled in to the calendar, but far from all of them, and with distancing still required.
In contrast with Boris Johnson's approach for England, Nicola Sturgeon's statement at Holyrood was not a route map to a late summer of socialising, concerts, sports and travel.
The plan is far more cautious. Nicola Sturgeon's idea of release, maybe by late April, is to get through the doors of a restaurant or bar.
Both leaders had said they were putting data ahead of dates, but it was the prime minister's dates the public notice, remember and plan on. Travel bookings soared on Monday and Tuesday.
Scotland's first minister is warning dates are not much better than "a finger in the wind", and depend on a lot of data variables to reach each point. Scotland's travel and tourism industry isn't being given much to plan on.
Read more from Douglas here.

Vaccine passports 'coming for international travel'

BBC Radio 5 Live

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Professor Melinda Mills from the University of Oxford was the lead author of a report published last week into vaccination passports.
She told BBC Radio 5 Live's Naga Munchetty they would need to be fraud-proof and available to all.
"Forgery is an issue, and I think also equality," she said. "If it’s only digital, what are you going to do for people that don’t have access to digital devices?"
She said she would be in favour of them as long as they were "transparent and clear".
"I have family in Canada that I would desperately love to visit and in the Netherlands so I think it’s coming for international travel," she said.
"As long as it’s really clear and there’s agreed-upon standards, and they’re clear about the data privacy, yes, of course I would like that.
"I want to get out too, I want to get things moving."
Listen to the interview here or listen to 5 Live on the free BBC Sounds app .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 19:55

Africa's data gap: The cost of not counting the dead

Only eight African countries have a compulsory system to register deaths, a BBC investigation has found.
All of the countries surveyed by the BBC have some sort of death registration but it is often on paper and not available in a shareable digitised form. The information may be used in a local area but cannot calculate mortality trends on a national level.
Only Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles and Mauritius have functioning, compulsory and universal civil registration systems that record deaths.
That's compared to all but two countries in Europe - Albania and Monaco - and just over half in Asia, analysis of UN data shows.
It has been widely reported that Africa's Covid-19 death toll is far lower than in other parts of the world - but there is a concern its true extent in some countries is not fully understood.
Africa's data gap could have enormous policy implications. Having an accurate picture of who is dying, from what and where, is crucial when it comes to allocating resources and funding.
"In order to help the living, we need to count the dead," UN Population Fund demographer Romesh Silva tells the BBC.
Read more about the data gap and why it matters here.

Facebook fake posts removed after BBC anti-vax investigation

Marianna Spring - Disinformation and social media reporter
More than 30 posts in violation of Facebook's policy on harmful misinformation and harassment have been removed following BBC Panorama's investigation into the impact of anti-vaccine disinformation online.
After Vaccines: the disinformation war aired, a number of fake newspaper front pages attributed to the Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail promoting falsehoods about the coronavirus vaccine were shared on Facebook in a bid to attack the programme.
I was also targeted with threats and abuse by anti-vaccine activists on Instagram and Facebook, some of which have also now been removed.
A Facebook spokesperson told the BBC: "We have removed the violating content brought to our attention and continue to investigate and monitor the accounts responsible."
Panorama's investigation revealed how videos promoting claims about the vaccine that are contrary to scientific evidence have caused real-world harm, affecting communities across the UK. These continue to circulate in Facebook groups and on Whatsapp, which Facebook owns.
Meanwhile, exclusive research by BBC Monitoring exposed a huge increase in followers of accounts promoting anti-vaccine claims on Instagram in particular. Facebook says it removes harmful misinformation and actively promotes good information about Covid, including vaccines.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 19:58

Infection in Nigerian state 'may top Africa's official total'

A Covid-19 antibodies survey in Nigeria suggests four million people in Lagos state alone have had the virus - more than has been officially recorded for the whole of Africa.
The official figure for Nigeria is 153,000 cases with 1,862 deaths.
The study was done on 10,000 people from four Nigerian states to estimate the extent of coronavirus in Africa's most populous nation.
It was conducted in September and October - before a second wave began in early December.
Nigeria recorded its highest daily infection rate in January, when it logged 1,600 new cases, suggesting many more people were infected in the second wave.
Find out more about the survey here.

Drink-driving lockdown-breaking PC dismissed

A police officer has been dismissed after she attended a four-person gathering during lockdown and then crashed her car into a shop while drunk.
PC Tasia Stephens, 24, from South Wales Police, lost her job and was barred from working in the profession again.
She admitted gross misconduct at a tribunal, after attending the party last April during the first lockdown. She has since been sentenced after admitting drink-driving.
PC Stephens' representative had argued she had been "distressed" after recently dealing with her first sudden death while on duty.
Read the full story here.

Republic of Ireland extends restrictions

Shane Harrison - BBC NI Dublin correspondent
The Republic of Ireland is to continue at its highest level of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions until at least 5 April.
The widely expected decision to maintain Level Five has been taken at a cabinet meeting today.
But primary schools will reopen on Monday for the four youngest age groups, with final year secondary students also returning then.
Other pupils and students will resume their schooling in a phased manner over the coming weeks, along with pre-school childcare.
The Irish government has decided to take a cautious approach to easing its lockdown, arguing its aim is the long-term suppression of the virus.
Ireland's vaccination programme has been hampered by supply issues and the relatively late authorisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the European Medicines Agency.
But the Republic is near the top of the EU league in vaccinating people, once the injections arrive in the state.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 20:00

Covid outbreak at privately-run male prison

Coronavirus - 23rd February - 23rd February 2021 F3e05110

We've heard before about outbreaks of coronavirus at prisons across the UK - with data showing a surge last autumn.
Now, a privately-run jail in Cambridgeshire says a number of staff and prisoners have tested positive in half of its 12 male wings.
Last year one of HMP Peterborough's inmates died after contracting Covid-19 .
Sodexo says the "current situation is well controlled and under constant review", adding the virus has not been detected in the separate women's jail.
There's more here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 20:02

Woman jailed for coughing at Covid probe police

Coronavirus - 23rd February - 23rd February 2021 A8263c10

A woman who deliberately coughed at police investigating a breach of coronavirus restrictions has been jailed for four months.
Lisa Dawn Fisher was verbally abusive when the officers called at a flat in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, on 30 January.
The 31-year-old, who admitted two counts of assault against an emergency worker, was sentenced at Scarborough Magistrates' Court on 17 February.
She was also ordered to pay £75 compensation.
North Yorkshire Police say there has been an increase in assaults against emergency service workers.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Feb 23 2021, 20:05

What's been happening today

We're about to bring our live coverage of the latest events in the pandemic to an end. Thank you for joining us.
Before we go, here's a round-up of the main headlines from today:

That's it from us

We're wrapping up for the evening. We'll be back on Wednesday with more updates from the UK around the world.

Today's live page was edited by Claire Heald and James Clarke, and written by Ella Wills, Francesca Gillett, Alex Kleiderman and Kelly-Leigh Cooper.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 14:01