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Coronavirus - 25th February 2021

Kitkat
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 12:03

Summary for Thursday, 25th February

  • GCSEs and A-levels cancelled in England by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers, exams watchdog Ofqual says
  • Schools can determine grades this summer by using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays
  • It is important the pandemic does not prevent students going on to the next stage of their careers, schools minister Nick Gibb says
  • It comes after education secretary Gavin Williamson says a "full return" of schools and colleges in England on 8 March is justified by data
  • He is due to give more details on the plans for grades in the Commons later
  • A review by US regulators of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine has found it is safe and effective
  • Coronavirus cases and deaths are continuing to fall globally, a new report from the World Health Organization says
  • The France rugby union team stops training for its Six Nations match against Scotland after an 11th player tests positive for Covid-19


Good morning

Welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
We will be bringing you the latest updates throughout the day.

Latest developments in the UK and around the world

Here is a summary of the latest developments so far this morning:

  • GCSEs and A-levels cancelled in England by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers this summer, using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays, the exams watchdog Ofqual has confirmed
  • Former Chancellor Lord Hammond has said the UK government must risk unpopularity and tell "some difficult home truths" about the state of the economy. He told the BBC dealing with the pandemic had been the financial equivalent of "fighting a war"
  • Almost half of people with potential cancer symptoms in the UK did not contact their GP during the first wave of the pandemic, a survey suggests, raising concerns that people could be diagnosed later - and so be less likely to be treated successfully and recover
  • Ghana has become the first country to receive coronavirus vaccines through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative, with a delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arriving in Accra on Wednesday. The scheme aims to reduce the divide between rich countries and poorer nations unable to buy doses
  • A review by US regulators of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine has found it is safe and effective, paving the way for it to become the third Covid-19 vaccine to be authorised in the US, possibly within days
  • Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon has rejected remote working as a “new normal”, labelling it an “aberration” that will be corrected as soon as possible. He said the investment bank operated throughout 2020 with “less than 10% of our people” in the office.


Thursday's front pages: Teacher 'powers' and Sunak's 'giveaway'


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The announcement that GCSE and A-level students in England will be assessed by their teachers in the summer - rather than exams - makes several of the front pages.

  • The Education Policy Institute think tank tells the Guardian the credibility of this year's results will be "seriously undermined" unless "robust mechanisms" are in place to prevent widespread grade inflation.
  • The Daily Telegraph reports Sir Jon Coles - who sat on a committee advising the government on exams - has resigned, unhappy that children will be tested under different conditions across the country.
  • Meanwhile, "Rishi's Spring Booster" is how the Daily Mail describes the measures it expects the chancellor will set out in his Budget next week.
  • It says Rishi Sunak has abandoned plans to increase fuel duty by 5p a litre - and will extend support to furloughed workers and prospective homebuyers who would have missed out if the current stamp duty holiday ended as planned in five weeks' time.

You can read the full paper review here.


How are vaccinations going in Europe?


  • Hungary has become the first EU country to inoculate people with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, not yet authorised at EU level. Hungary’s right-wing nationalist government has criticised the slow pace of the EU’s vaccine rollout. It has ordered five million doses of the Sinopharm jab so far. With a 10m population, Hungary is also using the Russian Sputnik V jab - again not authorised by the EU. Covid infections are rising in Hungary – its death toll so far is 14,450. Neighbouring Serbia, not in the EU, is also using the Chinese and Russian vaccines
  • Ukraine has just started vaccinating, using the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab. It registered 8,147 Covid cases in the past 24 hours – its highest figure since mid-January. It has shunned Sputnik V, as it regards Russia as an aggressor, with the conflict in eastern Ukraine unresolved
  • Vaccines are top of the agenda at a virtual EU summit later today. There is still much concern about supplies: AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech are racing to expand capacity to meet the huge demand
  • The idea of vaccine passports is gaining momentum – Israel already has them. Those who have had the jab, or who have had Covid – so who have antibodies – could potentially visit more places, events and travel abroad. Greece, Cyprus and Austria like the idea, hoping to salvage summer tourism. But Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen are sceptical - they worry that data on protection from Covid remains incomplete.
Kitkat
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 12:09

Summary from The Guardian:

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • Toronto cancels outdoor events through July. Canada’s largest city Toronto is cancelling all large in-person, city-permitted outdoor events through July as the country seeks to stave off a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • A new coronavirus variant is on the rise in New York City, researchers said on Wednesday. The new variant, known as B.1.526, was first identified in samples collected in New York in November, and by mid-February represented about 12% of cases, researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said on Wednesday.
  • India reported its highest cases in nearly a month. India reported 16,738 new coronavirus infections, health ministry data showed on Thursday, for the highest daily jump since January 29, according to a Reuters tally. More than half came from the western state of Maharashtra, India’s richest and home to its financial capital of Mumbai, which reported a record high of 8,807 cases on Wednesday.
  • Olympic torch audience asked to applaud rather than cheer passing runners . People who turn out to catch a glimpse of the Olympic torch after it begins its journey through Japan at the end of the next month will be asked to applaud, rather than cheer passing runners, and the event could be suspended if crowds lining the relay route grow too large.
  • One of UK’s largest care home firms introduced a ‘no jab, no job’ policy . One of the UK’s largest care home operators has instituted a no jab, no job policy for new staff amid ongoing concern about vaccine take-up among care workers.
  • California vaccine sites are seeing a misuse of codes meant to prioritise Black and Latino residents . Access codes meant to give Californians of colour priority access to Covid-19 vaccine slots have been getting passed around among other residents in the state, allowing some to cut the line and get appointments meant for underserved Black and Latino residents.
  • China’s Sinopharm vaccine 72.5% effective, company says. China is moving ahead with two more Covid vaccines in the regulatory process, one from state-owned company Sinopharm and another from a private company CanSino.
  • Pfizer vaccine found 94% effective in landmark real-world study . The first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing Covid-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.
  • EU states split over vaccine passports, to debate issue on Thursday. EU leaders will on Thursday debate the issue of certificates of vaccination for EU citizens who have been vaccinated against Covid.
  • Australian airline Qantas to resume international flights from October. Australian airline Qantas is preparing to resume regular international flights from late October, in line with Australia’s projected vaccine rollout.
  • Australia’s Olympians to be encouraged to take vaccine but Games will be ‘safe’. Australia’s Olympics athletes will not be required to have a Covid-19 vaccination but will be encouraged to do so as planning ramps up for July’s delayed Tokyo Games.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 12:14

A-level and GCSE results to be decided by teachers

GCSEs and A-levels cancelled in England by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers, exams watchdog Ofqual confirms.
Schools can determine grades this summer by using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays.
There will be optional assessments set by exam boards for all subjects, but they will not be taken in exam conditions nor decide final grades.
The results will be published earlier in August to allow time to appeal.
The new arrangements, which will be set out by the education secretary in the House of Commons later, come after a consultation into how best to assess pupils after months of school and college closures.
Read more here

Teachers will need evidence for grades - schools minister

Our top story this morning is that GCSEs and A-levels cancelled in England by the pandemic will be replaced by grades decided by teachers.
Schools can determine grades this summer by using a combination of mock exams, coursework and essays.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, schools minister Nick Gibb says: "It is very important that the pandemic does not prevent students from going on to the next stage of their careers."
But Gibb says teachers will have to show evidence for the grades they give, as part of checks against grade inflation.
"Teachers will be required to produce the evidence and the second layer of quality assurance is checking by the exam boards," he says.
"So if the grades when they are submitted, if in a particular school they look very out of line with the achievements of that school in the past, that will be a signal for the exam board to pay extra attention, maybe pay a visit to that school to make sure that the evidence the teacher has collected to justify that grade really does justify that grade."
Asked whether he accepts grades would be inflated this year, Mr Gibb replies: "Well, that's why we've put in place all these different checking mechanisms to make sure that there is consistency."
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 12:23

Half with cancer signs didn't contact GP in first wave


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Almost half of people with potential cancer symptoms did not contact their GP during the first wave of the pandemic, a survey suggests.
The team that carried out the study, from Cardiff University and Cancer Research UK, says it raises concerns people could be diagnosed later - and as a result be less likely to be treated successfully and recover,
They surveyed a representative sample of people across the UK recruited from two panels - HealthWise Wales and Cancer Research UK's Cancer Awareness Measure - between March and August 2020.
The team found of the 3,025 people who said they had experienced at least one symptom which could be a warning sign of cancer, 45% did not seek help.
Some of the reasons given by people for not contacting their GP were not wanting to waste doctors' time or put extra strain on the NHS; not wanting to be seen as someone who made a fuss; and fear of catching Covid at appointments.
Read BBC health reporter Rachel Schraer's full report here.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 12:30

Outsourcing boss defends Test and Trace scheme

The boss of outsourcing firm Serco - part of the NHS Test and Trace programme - has been defending the scheme, following criticism about poor performance and huge costs.
Chief executive Rupert Soames tells the BBC's Today programme: "It (Test and Trace) is now a remarkable success and I acknowledge it has taken quite some time to get there."
He says there are now as many people being tested per week as vaccinated.
Mr Soames admits Test and Trace experienced a "bumpy start", but says a system of its kind has "never been done before in the UK".
"As of last week there are as many people being tested every week as we've vaccinated, about 2.5 million people a week."
You can read the full story here.

Rugby: France halt Six Nations training after new virus case


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France captain Charles Ollivon is among those isolating and unavailable for Scotland's visit

France have suspended training after another player tested positive for Covid-19 before Sunday's Six Nations rugby union match against Scotland.
Competition organisers announced yesterday the match would go ahead as planned despite an outbreak that had already seen 10 French players contract the virus.
The French Rugby Federation says, as a result of the latest positive case, "the entire group is in isolation".
It adds it is in "close contact" with the Six Nations committee.
"Following the RT-PCR tests carried out this Wednesday, 24 February in the evening and the appearance of a positive case within the squad of players, the FFR medical committee met this morning and decided to suspend training," it says in a statement.
The match had been in doubt after France head coach Fabien Galthie tested positive, followed by 10 players and two members of staff, but subsequent rounds of testing revealed no further positive cases until Wednesday evening.
Read more here.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 13:03

Israel imposes Purim curfew amid Covid fears

Away from the UK, Israel is to impose a night-time curfew starting at 20:30 (18:30 GMT) for three nights from this evening to curb the spread of the virus during the Jewish holiday of Purim, despite a recent easing of lockdown restrictions .
The curfew, aimed at preventing gatherings during the holiday, will run till 05:00 daily.
Gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 10 people in closed spaces and 20 people in open spaces, a joint statement from the prime minister's office and the health ministry said.
Last year, there was a jump in the number of cases in Israel during the holiday.
“This can’t repeat itself,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a news conference. “We can be happy, we can dress up, but we must observe the rules.”
Those who celebrate Purim dress up in costumes to mark the holiday.
The government has begun gradually easing restrictions in place since December, following a very successful vaccination campaign.


Breaking News

France v Scotland Six Nations rugby game postponed amid outbreak

And we've just heard this weekend's France v Scotland Six Nations rugby game has been postponed after it emerged an 11th member of the French team had tested positive for coronavirus.
As we reported earlier , France had suspended training after the player tested positive.
The match had already been in doubt after France head coach Fabien Galthie tested positive, followed by 10 players and two members of staff, but subsequent rounds of testing had revealed no further positive cases until the new case on Wednesday evening.
There's more on the breaking story of the game being called off here
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 13:15

India reports highest cases in nearly a month

India reported 16,738 new coronavirus infections, health ministry data showed on Thursday, for the highest daily jump since January 29, according to a Reuters tally.
More than half came from the western state of Maharashtra, India’s richest and home to its financial capital of Mumbai, which reported a record high of 8,807 cases on Wednesday.
India’s tally of 11.05 million infections is the world’s second highest after the United States, and daily numbers are rising again after a lull in the last few months.

One of UK's largest care home firms introduces 'no jab, no job' policy

One of the UK’s largest care home operators has instituted a no jab, no job policy for new staff amid ongoing concern about vaccine take-up among care workers.
A spokesperson for Care UK, which runs 120 homes and has seen more than two-thirds of its staff vaccinated, said: “Everyone applying for a role which requires them to go into a home will be expected to have been vaccinated before they start work.”
The move comes after Barchester, which operates more than 220 private care homes, said it would insist that current staff are vaccinated, warning that if they “refuse … on non-medical grounds [they] will, by reason of their own decision, make themselves unavailable for work”.
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Ukraine registers a 40% jump in new coronavirus cases in 24 hours

Ukraine has registered an almost 40% jump in new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, Reuters reports.
A total of 8,147 cases were registered on Wednesday, the highest figure since mid-January when the number of new cases stood at 8,199. The country is poised to begin its vaccination programme.
The ministry’s data show most of the new cases were registered in the western part of the country and in the capital Kyiv. The country has registered a total of 1,325,841 cases with 25,596 deaths from Covid-19 as of Feb. 25.
Rachel Hall here taking over from Helen Sullivan for the morning. If you have any thoughts or tips do send them my way - to rachel.hall@theguardian.com or on Twitter .

Finland announces lockdown plans

The Finnish prime minister said the country would go into a three-week lockdown beginning on 8 March in response to rising case numbers, Reuters reports.
The lockdown will not include a curfew but will involve the closing of bars and restaurants and ordering school students that are 13 or older to shift to remote learning as well as restrictions of gatherings of more than six people, the government said.
According to Finnish news source Yle, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that the highly infectious British coronavirus variant had spread in the country since Christmas, which is thought to account for around three-quarters of cases. The worst-hit parts of the country will move to tier two of the government’s three-tier Covid-19 prevention plan.
Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district (HUS) as well as hospital districts in the regions of Kanta-Häme, Southwest Finland, Satakunta and Vaasa are currently in the community transmission or “spreading” stage, according to information from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) .
Reuters reported that the country is preparing to declare a state of emergency.
While Finland currently has the third lowest infection rate in Europe, after Iceland and Norway, the nation of 5.5 million people has seen a rapid rise in new daily cases, which on Wednesday reached 590.
During the past two weeks, the epidemic has worsened in many areas of the country, with the metropolitan area around the capital Helsinki hit the worst.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 13:27

Czech Republic to introduce tougher lockdown measures

The Czech government is meeting on Thursday to decide on tougher lockdown restrictions to rein in one of the world’s fastest spreads of Covid-19, Reuters reports.
The prime minister Andrej Babiš, has warned that hospitals face “catastrophe” if no action is taken following a renewed surge in Covid-19 cases.
The country has been in varying levels of lockdown since October. Non-essential shops and restaurants have been almost continuously closed since then.

Austrian ski resort closed down

Abby Young-Powell - The Guardian
The popular Austrian ski resort of Mayrhofen has been sealed off and shut down due to an outbreak of the South African variant of Covid-19 at a local kindergarten.
On Wednesday, 42 active positive cases of the virus were reported among the village’s almost 4,000 inhabitants, including 29 cases of the South African mutation. Authorities expect the number of positive cases to increase in the next few days.
On Wednesday, the Tyrolean task force said the village should be sealed off for at least a week, Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported on Wednesday. Anyone who wants to leave will have to show a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours. All residents will also be tested twice using a PCR test between Friday and Wednesday. In addition, schools, kindergartens, non essential shops, and churches have also all been closed.
In recent days the infection rate has risen in Austria, after the country relaxed a number of coronavirus lockdown measures on 8 February.
The first Covid-19 infections in Austria were recorded exactly a year ago, in Innsbruck on 25 February 2020. The Austrian skiing village of Ischgl was an early hotspot for the virus .

Pubs can sell takeaway drinks from 12 April - No 10

Downing Street has confirmed pubs in England will be able to serve takeaway drinks from 12 April.
The PM announced this week that beer gardens would be able to return from then, but this clarification will be a boost for bars without gardens.
The prime minister's official spokesman said: "Outdoor hospitality is permitted so I believe it would be the case that takeaway alcohol will be permitted."
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 19:25

Israel study finds Pfizer jab effective in all ages

A study involving almost 1.2 million people in Israel has found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 94% effective at providing protection against symptomatic Covid-19 across all age groups above 16 one week or more after the second dose was administered.
Researchers at Israel's Clalit Research Institute and Harvard University also reported that people were 57% less likely to get develop symptoms and 74% less likely to require hospital treatment two weeks after the first dose, according to a paper published by the New England Journal of Medicine .
The results are in line with Pfizer’s own trial, but one of the study’s chief authors said it provided "scientifically validated real-world evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine”.
The study was carried out in December and January. Some 596,000 participants were vaccinated. Each of them was matched to an unvaccinated “control” person of similar age, sex and health.
More than 110,000 people over the age of 70 and 40,000 people over 80 took part, and the researchers found the vaccine was equally effective among those age groups as in younger ones.
Israel has already vaccinated half its nine-million population, and hopes to have administered shots to everyone over the age of 16 by the end of March.

London streets to open for outdoor dining from April

Earlier we reported that pubs in England will be able to sell takeaway drinks from 12 April.
And now, it seems al fresco dining is set to return to central London too.
Sixty streets, including those in Soho, Chinatown and Covent Garden, will be pedestrianised to allow restaurants and bars to offer outside table service .
Over 550 restaurants were given table licences last year in a bid to recreate the outside dining culture seen in cities like Paris and Barcelona, and large crowds gathered as pub-goers celebrated lockdown easing.
Temporary roadblocks and wardens will be deployed to manage traffic and pedestrian flows when the al fresco scheme is launched, Westminster City Council said.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 19:45

How many people in the UK are in hospital with Covid?

A further 1,327 people were admitted to hospital in the UK as a result of Covid-19 yesterday, meaning there are now 16,803 coronaviorus hospital patients across the four nations.
While patient numbers have been falling around the UK for weeks, some regions are seeing steeper declines than others.

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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 19:49

Breaking News

UK's Covid alert level reduced to second highest

The UK's four chief medical officers have agreed the Covid-19 alert level should move from five - its highest - down to four.
It comes as the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within 21 days "has receded".

Czech government in talks over further measures

Rob Cameron - BBC Prague Correspondent
The Czech government is continuing talks on a new lockdown as numbers of new infections spiral due to the spread of the UK variant. They'll hold talks with opposition leaders ahead of another meeting this evening.
There is a proposal to close those school years that have stayed open and also pre-schools, which could further hit staffing at hospitals due to the number of doctors and nurses with young children - although arrangements are in place for them.
Testing in firms might also become compulsory for employees - the consensus appears to be that shutting down the economy such as through closing factories would be absolutely the last resort.
The number of free ICU beds continues to shrink as hospitals scramble to designate new Covid wards.
According to Our World In Data, the Czech Republic now has more new cases per million in the past seven days than any other country in the world, while in terms of overall deaths per million, the country is now in third place after San Marino and Belgium - ahead of the UK or Italy.
Reports in the media say France has offered the Czech Republic 100,000 doses of vaccine in solidarity, such is the gravity of the situation.

South Africa aims to vaccinate 1.1 million by end of March

South Africa’s government is aiming to get 1.1 million people vaccinated by the end of March.
The country started rolling out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week.
So far, 32,000 heath workers have been immunised, the country’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirms.
The country put its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed “disappointing” results against the South African strain of the virus.
The variant accounts for 90% of new Covid cases in the country.
South Africa is the worst affected country on the continent and has recorded more than 1.5 million cases and 49,523 deaths.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 19:52

Analysis: What does move to alert level four mean?

Michelle Roberts - Health editor, BBC News online
The alert level gives us an idea of what's going on with the virus.
It goes up to five, the highest, which is when there is a real risk that health services could be overwhelmed because there is so much of the virus around.
We know from all the daily stats that cases are going down, so are the number of people going to hospital and so are the deaths. So that's why this alert level is coming down, but it's only by one step.
Level four still means there's a high level of transmission going on, so we can't relax too much, but it does mean the immediate threat to the NHS getting overwhelmed seems to have receded.
The last time we were at level four was over the winter up until 4 January, and then the new variant kicked in with lots of extra cases - that's when we moved to level five.
This system was put in place in May; when we came out of lockdown on the first peak, we went into level four and eventually level three in the summer when there was a lot of relaxation of the rules.
So this level four we're moving into is a bit of a halfway house.
You can read more about how the alert level system works here .

Hungary facing 'hardest two weeks', PM warns

Hungary is extending its partial lockdown until 15 March as the country continues to see a rise in cases.
Secondary schools are already closed and restaurants are only operating takeaway services. There is a nationwide curfew in place between 8pm and 5am.
Speaking in a Facebook video, Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the country is “facing the hardest two weeks since the start of the pandemic”.
He adds the number of infections in the country is rising sharply and says this trend is expected to continue due to new mutations.
Hungary has recorded its highest number of infections so far this year today with 4,385 new cases.
Next week, Orban is set to receive the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 19:57

Breaking News 

UK records a further 323 Covid deaths

A further 323 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test have been recorded in the UK, taking the total by that measure to 122,070.
The latest daily death figure is down from 454 on Thursday of last week.
The latest official figures also show there have been a further 9,985 recorded cases of Covid-19, down from 12,057 a week ago.

Almost half a million vaccine doses administered in UK yesterday

A further 448,962 first Covid vaccine doses and 31,613 second doses were given out yesterday.
It means a total of 18,691,835 first doses and 700,718 second doses have been administered across the UK since the rollout began in December.

Get used to fewer trains, warns rail body

About 10% fewer train services should run once the country opens up again, compared with the pre-pandemic timetable, the chair of Network Rail says.
The old pattern of five days of peak commuter travel may not return, Sir Peter Hendy has warned the National Rail Recovery conference.
Instead, leisure travel might boost weekend traffic, especially if limits on international travel continue.
Commuter traffic could return to 80% of pre-pandemic levels and may remain there for the next one to three years, he suggests.
Passenger numbers fell steeply in March last year when the pandemic struck and have only partially recovered since. Many commuters are working from home and some businesses remain closed.
The government's timetable foresees a gradual opening up of the economy over the coming months. However some firms have already signalled some workers may continue to work from home for some of their working week.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 20:01

NI pathway out of lockdown due on Monday

First Minister Arlene Foster says the pathway out of lockdown for Northern Ireland will be published early next week, and that the executive will be "guided by the data, not by dates".
"We are obliged not to keep the restrictions in place any longer than is necessary, or any longer than it is appropriate," she says.
The pathway is due to be published in Monday.
She also says no changes have yet been made to the plans for how pupils will return to schools but says there is "a desire to avoid year one to three pupils returning on 8 March, but then having to revert back to remote learning for a number of days before the Easter break".

'We should be under no illusions' despite alert level change


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As we reported a little earlier, the coronavirus alert level for the UK has been lowered from five, the highest level, to four .
The four UK chief medical officers and NHS England's national medical director have agreed the change following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
In a joint statement they say: "The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of the public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.
"We should be under no illusions - transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.
"However for the time being it is really important that we all - vaccinated or not - remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.
"We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic."
There's more detail on how the alert level works here .
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 20:04

Syria receives first batch of vaccines

Syria will begin vaccinating healthcare workers next week after receiving its first batch of vaccines, the country’s health minister has confirmed.
Hassan Ghabash didn’t say where the vaccines had come from, telling state media that the doses were from a “friendly country”.
Syria is part of Covax, a vaccine sharing scheme which aims to reduce the divide between rich countries and poorer nations unable to buy doses.
The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday that it expects the first shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine to arrive in the country by the end of next month, AFP news agency reports.
The country has been ravaged by the conflict there that has lasted almost ten years. Syria's healthcare sector has struggled as workers left the country.
Syria has confirmed 15,343 cases and 1,008 deaths since the pandemic began.

Situation in parts of France 'worrying,' says PM


Coronavirus - 25th February 2021 C2280a10

The situation in some parts of France is “worrying,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.
Speaking during a televised address, he said about 20 regional departments - including the entire greater Paris region - should consider partial weekend lockdowns such as the one currently in place in Nice.
"The health situation in our country has worsened over recent days. Yesterday we reported over 30,000 positive cases, a figure we haven’t recorded since last November ,” he said.
He warned that the virus had been gaining ground over the past week and said time was needed to give the vaccination campaign to have an effect.
However he said a country-wide lockdown is not on the cards.
France has recorded 3,721,061 cases and 85,473 deaths since the pandemic began.
Kitkat
Kitkat

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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 20:11

Almost 40% of all Covid fines came in recent four-week period

A police chief has blamed lockdown "fatigue" for a rise in Covid-19 rulebreakers as new figures show almost 40% of all fines issued for breaches of coronavirus regulations came in just four weeks.
Data published by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) shows a total of 68,952 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued by forces, including 63,201 in England and 5,751 in Wales, between 27 March last year and 14 February.
Some 26,277 (38%) of those were issued in the latest four-week period between 17 January and 14 February.
NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt says police have stepped up enforcement action since November last year and deployed extra officers in areas that had seen the most serious breaches.
He says there has always been a "hard core" of people who choose not to follow the rules, but adds: "I think it probably is fair to say that, and I've used the phrase before, there is no question there is a fatigue in the country, among the population.
"We've been living with this for 11 months, it's really hard, it's very restrictive on people's lives."

Czech Republic to receive vaccines from France

The Czech Republic is to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from France, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has confirmed.
As we mentioned earlier, the Czech Republic is currently dealing with a sharp rise in cases. According to Our World in Data , it has more new cases per million in the past seven days than other country in the world.
On Thursday, lawmakers will meet to discuss the tightening of restrictions in the country.
France said it was examining requests from other nations to “borrow” doses that would then be sent back in April, Reuters news agency reports. The Czech Republic has already received doses from Israel.
Presently, the Czech Republic has only vaccinated 600,000 people in a country of 10.7 million.
Babis said he had reached out to other countries for assistance.
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Post by Kitkat Thu Feb 25 2021, 20:16

Headlines from around the world today

Here are some of the biggest stories from around the world today

  • France’s Six Nations rugby match against Scotland this week has been postponed after an 11th player tested positive for the virus
  • France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex says the situation in some parts of France is “worrying”. He said the country recorded more than 30,000 cases on Wednesday
  • A single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe and effective, US regulators have confirmed. It is set to become the third Covid vaccine authorised in the US, potentially during the next few days
  • Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have confirmed that the Games’ torch relay will begin next month as planned but spectators will be asked to only attend sections of the relay taking place near their home and wear a mask
  • Israel is to impose a night-time curfew starting at 20:30 (18:30 GMT) for three nights from this evening to curb the spread of the virus during the Jewish holiday of Purim
  • Hungary is extending its partial lockdown until 15 March as cases there continue to rise


What's happened in the UK today?

A round-up of the main UK stories today.


That's it for tonight

Thanks for joining us. We'll be back tomorrow with more live coverage of the pandemic.

Today's contributors were Alexandra Fouche, Jo Couzens, Hamish Mackay, Alex Therrien, Sophie Williams, and Jennifer Scott.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 14:56