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

Coronavirus - 2nd March 2021


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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 10:59

Summary for Tuesday, 2nd March

  • Covid deaths in UK are down by a quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics
  • There were 4,447 Covid deaths registered in the UK in the week of 19 February - down on the previous week (6,113)
  • Health officials are still trying to trace one person infected with a concerning coronavirus variant first found in Brazil
  • The UK is preparing to hand out £408m to help museums, theatres and galleries in England reopen as restrictions ease
  • Parts of the UK reliant on tourism have been most affected by the Covid jobs crisis, analysis by the BBC suggests
  • The devolved government in Northern Ireland is due to publish its plan to exit lockdown
  • France will now give people between 65 and 74 the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, in a change to policy
  • A top official fears a "potential fourth surge of cases" in the US as highly contagious variants spread

Good morning and welcome to today's live coverage. We'll be bringing you updates on the pandemic throughout the day.
Here's a summary of the main headlines this morning:

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • China said it aims to vaccinate 40% of population by June. Health experts in China say their country is lagging in its coronavirus vaccination rollout because it has the disease largely under control, but plans to inoculate 40% of its population by June.
  • France, Germany are struggling to sell AstraZeneca vaccine safety. Already facing a daunting Covid vaccination challenge, French and German authorities are fighting to convince more people that a jab from the pharma giant AstraZeneca is just as effective as others.
  • World won’t be done with Covid-19 this year , the WHO warned. It is unrealistic to think the world will be done with the Covid-19 pandemic by the end of the year, the World Health Organization warned on Monday.
  • Donald and Melania Trump received the coronavirus vaccine before leaving the White House , according to multiple news reports on Monday. Citing unnamed advisers, the New York Times, CNN and other outlets reported that while other officials, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and the former vice-president Mike Pence, chose to get their shots publicly to encourage confidence in the vaccines, the Trumps opted to quietly get vaccinated in January. There was no detail on which shot they received or how many doses they had been given.
  • Fauci said the US must stick with two-dose strategy for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The United States must stick to a two-dose strategy for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid vaccines, top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci told the Washington Post newspaper. Fauci said that delaying a second dose to inoculate more Americans creates risks.
  • Mexico’s coronavirus chief came home from hospital. Mexico’s coronavirus czar is back home after being hospitalized for Covid last Wednesday, but will still be monitored and receive treatment, a health official said on Monday, as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 186,000.
  • New infections rose last week for first time in seven weeks. More from the World Health Organization: The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new case numbers rose last week in Europe, the Americas, southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. The number of new coronavirus infections globally rose last week for the first time in seven weeks.
  • Philippines confirmed its first cases of South African variant. The Philippines has documented six cases of the South African coronavirus variant, its health ministry said on Tuesday, raising concern among its experts that the current vaccines might be less effective.

  • The US downplayed the possibility of sharing Covid vaccines with Mexico. The Biden administration on Monday downplayed the prospect of sharing coronavirus vaccines with Mexico, saying it is focused first on getting its own population protected against a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.
  • Stop doing anal Covid tests on our citizens, Japan told China . Tokyo has requested Beijing to stop taking anal swab tests for Covid-19 on Japanese citizens because the procedure causes psychological pain, a government spokesperson has said.
  • Data on long Covid in UK children is cause for concern . Scientists have warned that emerging data on long Covid in children should not be ignored given the lack of a vaccine for this age group, but cautioned that the evidence describing these enduring symptoms in the young is so far uncertain.
  • Fossil fuel emissions in danger of surpassing pre-Covid levels . The world has only a few months to prevent the energy industry’s carbon emissions from surpassing pre-pandemic levels this year as economies begin to rebound from Covid-19 restrictions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Hunt goes on for Brazil variant case

The hunt goes on to find out where the Brazil variant has spread in the UK with fears that it could be more infectious than the dominant one here.
Scientists are able to identify different mutations of the virus by gathering samples from all over the country and bringing them to the Sanger Institute for identification, which has the largest genome sequencing operation in the world.
Dr Jeff Barrett. director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative there, spoke to the Today programme a little earlier.
He said they were analysing over 20,000 sequences per week, which equates to about 20% of all infections in the UK.
His team tried to spot new variants as quickly as possibly, he said, and when they did see examples of P1 (Brazil variant) that information can be used to try to keep the number of onward transmissions as low as possible.

How worried should we be about Brazil variant?

Asked how concerned we should be about the P1 (Brazil) variant, Dr Barrett from the Sanger Institute for Identification said there were two aspects of new variants they look at - are they more transmissible and might they be less well neutralised from immunity from vaccines or previous infection?
In the case of P1, he told the BBC's Today programme he did not think there was very strong evidence that it's more transmissible than the current widely circulating variants in the UK, like the Kent variant.
"I think there is some laboratory-based evidence that it is partially less neutralised by vaccines. I don't think we know how much of a difference that will make in the real world.
"We certainly don't think it will be completely able to escape vaccination," he added.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:17

Indonesia detects two cases of the more infectious Covid-19 variant first found in UK

Indonesia has detected two cases of the more infectious Covid-19 variant first discovered in Britain, officials said today, Reuters reports.
Dante Saksono Harbuwono, the deputy health minister, said the discovery of the variant represented a new challenge.
“We’ll be facing this pandemic with a higher degree of difficulty,” he told a streamed conference.
Indonesia’s Covid-19 taskforce also confirmed cases of the variant, known as B117, had been found but declined further comment.
Since Indonesia announced its first cases of Covid-19 a year ago it has reported more than 1.3 million infections and 36,000 deaths, though daily infections have been falling recently after peaking in January and early February.
The British variant has also been found in other countries in south-east Asia including Vietnam and the Philippines.
Riza Putranto, a genomics researcher in Jakarta, called for increased genomic surveillance in Indonesia and adherence of health protocols in order to combat the variant.
“We would need a comprehensive collaboration from many stakeholders to minimise the impact of this new variant in Indonesia,” he said.
While daily cases have been falling, the positivity rate - or the percentage of people tested who are found to have the virus - in the past week has still been hovering around 20%. The World Health Organization has said a positivity rate of less than 5% is required to indicate that an epidemic is under control.
The world’s fourth most populous country aims to vaccinate more than 181 million people in a bid to reach herd immunity. It launched a mass inoculation programme in January starting with medical workers, civil servants and the elderly.

Iraq receives first vaccines

Iraq today received 50,000 Sinopharm vaccines donated by China, the health ministry announced, launching a long-awaited vaccination campaign, AFP reports:
Health ministry spokesman Seif al-Badr told reporters that the first delivery in the early hours meant inoculations could begin.
“The doses will be delivered to Baghdad’s three main hospitals, and maybe to some provinces,” said Badr, who confirmed the jabs were donations.
“We will start vaccinations today, Tuesday,” he said.
The health ministry simultaneously announced it had agreed with the Chinese ambassador in Baghdad to purchase a further 2m doses, with no details on payment or timing.
Sinopharm affiliate Wuhan Institute Of Biological Products says its vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72.51%, behind rival jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95% and 94.5% rates respectively.
Hours earlier, on Monday afternoon, the health ministry launched an online platform for citizens to register for vaccinations, but the page was not functional on Tuesday.
It has said health workers, security forces and the elderly would be prioritised and that the vaccine would be administered free of charge, but has given few other details.
The first jabs arrived as the Iraqi government faces growing criticism of its handling of the pandemic.
The country has been hit by a second wave of Covid-19 infections, with more than 3,000 new cases reported daily, a few months after they had dropped to around 700 a day, and deaths also tripling to around 25 a day in recent weeks.
To stop the spread, Iraq has imposed overnight curfews during weekdays and full lockdowns on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with obligatory mask-wearing in public.
But there is little commitment by either the public or security forces deployed to enforce the measures, in a country whose health sector has been ravaged by decades of war, corruption and slim investment.
Some Iraqi officials have already been vaccinated. Two current and one former Iraqi official told AFP in January they had already received doses of “the Chinese vaccine”.
They said 1,000 vaccine doses had been gifted to a senior Iraqi politician through contacts in China and had been distributed to top politicians and government officials.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:22

1.2% of schoolchildren in England test positive

With the reopening of schools for all pupils in England on the near horizon (8 March), there is much talk about how secondary schools and their students will carry out regular testing.
Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine and child health at the University of Liverpool, said once children have performed Covid tests under supervision a few times, they "get used to it".
"Perhaps we're generating a new group of scientists in the process," he told BBC Breakfast.
He added that there was "good news" of "quite low rates of active infection within the schools".
"We're using the lateral flow antigen tests that identify those children that are most likely to be infectious - and about 1.2% of school pupils are testing positive and about 1.6% of staff are testing positive.
"It is really low in most occasions - sometimes in some areas it's down to 0.4%.
"So, as a game-changer, it is giving confidence that schools are safe," he said.

Vaccine trials under way on children over 12

The Today programme asks whether there is work on a vaccine for the Brazil variant.
Yes there is, says Prof Pollard, who led the clinical trials for the Oxford jab in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
He said the two main variants of concern were the South African and Brazil variant because they were "distributing themselves to many countries".
And there was work going on to understand whether a vaccine for one of them, might protect for both.
He said at the moment, they were very focused on what we're seeing today but warned of the need to start moving away from an 'obsession' with each variant as it appears.
He also said clinical trials had begun on children over 12, with findings likely to be available in the summer.
Trials on younger children would begin "in the near future", he added.
There were also some trials on pregnant women and there were "no concerns there so far", he went on.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:24

Vaccine protection 'could be stronger among younger people'

Some more positive news to come out of the Public Health England study, published on Monday, that showed use of the Oxford vaccine dramatically reduces hospital admissions in over 80-year-olds.
Asked whether this was likely to be replicated down the age groups as the rollout reaches more younger people, Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE's head of immunisation, said it could.
"If anything we would expect it to be a stronger protection from the vaccine," she told the BBC's Today programme.
"The only difference obviously is that lower down in the age range is that people's chances of being hospitalised and dying are much lower because this is a disease that has caused most of its morbidity in older people.
"So we would not be able maybe to see the effect as markedly as we have been able to in this group that was vaccinated first."
She added that "it really shows that the group we targeted was the right group for vaccination because this is the group where the deaths and hospitalisations were occurring."

Breaking News 

Covid deaths in UK down by a quarter - ONS

Robert Cuffe - BBC head of statistics
The number of Covid-19 deaths is down by a quarter in the UK, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
There were 4,447 Covid deaths registered in the UK in the week of 19 February.
That is down by just over a quarter on the previous week (6,113).
In total, 15,577 deaths (for any reason) were registered that week - about 18% above expected levels for this time of year - but also down on the previous week, when there were 17,136 deaths - 26% above usual levels.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:28

Minister signals furlough scheme extension

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As all eyes turn to the UK chancellor on the eve of the Budget, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, pictured above, has signalled Rishi Sunak will announce a further extension of the furlough scheme, which subsidises the wages of people who cannot do their jobs.
Speaking a little earlier on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said the focus was on "providing support for business and families".
He added that there would "perhaps be an extension" of the reduced - 5% - rate of VAT for the hospitality sector beyond the end of this month.
"There's every chance that the economy can bounce back and see strong growth at the end of 2021," Kwarteng said.
What else should we be looking out for in Wednesday's Budget? Here are five things.

Northern Ireland to publish lockdown exit plan

It's been a bit of a wait but we are expecting to hear more later about how Northern Ireland will come out of lockdown.
A blueprint was expected on Monday but civil servants had to finalise details.
Now Stormont ministers are meeting to approve the plans and it should be published later today, with statements to come from the first and deputy first ministers.
It's not expected to include dates, like England's roadmap out of lockdown, but will focus on nine areas across social and business settings.
Each section will have five steps out of lockdown, with progression led by health data.
Northern Ireland's lockdown and accompanying stay-at-home message is in place until 1 April. Ministers are due to review that policy on 18 March.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:35

Isle of Man faces 21-day circuit breaker

The Isle of Man was the only place in the British Isles with no social distancing measures in place for the whole of February.
But from Wednesday, after a rise in cases, a 21-day "circuit breaker" is being imposed to try to limit the spread of Covid-19.
The sharp rise in cases in recent days has stemmed from an infected ferry crew member .
And Year 8 students at St Ninian's Lower School in Douglas had already been asked to remain at home after a pupil tested positive for the virus.

Analysis: UK statistics going in right direction

Rachel Schraer - BBC Health Reporter
All the signs are pointing in the right direction when it comes to the UK’s coronavirus epidemic.
Covid deaths are down by about a quarter on the previous week, to just under 5,000 – and they’re making up about a third of all deaths from any cause.
Deaths from any cause are falling, which you’d expect as we approach spring and leave some of the coldest weather behind us - although Covid deaths are still pushing them about a fifth higher than you’d expect at this point.
By now, we think this fall in deaths is probably being driven by two things: lockdown preventing cases from spreading, and the effect of the vaccination programme which has now reached more than 20 million people.
And we’re beginning to see that second bit in another set of figures published today, measuring the proportion of people who have antibodies against Covid in their blood.
This has risen from one in five people in England to one in four since the last time the figures were published.
Levels have risen from 14% to 16% (about one in six people) in Wales and Northern Ireland, and 12 to 13% (around one in eight) in Scotland.
We can’t tell from these particular blood tests whether the antibodies came from vaccination or an infection.
But there are some clues in the fact the over-80s, who were vaccinated earliest, now have the highest levels of antibodies whereas previously they had the lowest.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:37

Joggers 'should wear masks'

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As more people take up jogging and fill the parks and pavements, should they be wearing a face mask?
Trish Greenhalgh, professor in primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, believes they should.
"There is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale. The exercising jogger - the puffing and panting jogger - you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there's no doubt that there is a danger there," she told ITV's Good Morning Britain.
She said: "40% of Covid cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms - so you're jogging along, you think you're fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms of Covid, but you've actually breathed that Covid onto someone perhaps you know, an old lady walking a dog or something like that."
Devi Sridhar, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, added that people should wear masks in busy areas but could take off their mask and "run freely" elsewhere.
Find out the rules on wearing a mask here.
And the science around whether it is possible to catch the virus outside, here .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:51

Germany to extend lockdown until 28 March

Germany plans to extend its coronavirus lockdown until 28 March, while easing some restrictions from next week.
Reuters reports:
Merkel is due to discuss lockdown and easing options, set out in a draft document, with the 16 state heads tomorrow, as coronavirus cases in Germany hit more than 2.4 million and public frustration mounts over restrictive measures and a sluggish vaccine rollout.
The draft document states that starting from 8 March a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet, up from a maximum of two people under current rules.
Flower and book stores, garden centres, tattoo and nail parlours as well as massage salons will also be allowed to reopen.
Merkel and state leaders will have to decide at which seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 residents measures could be either toughened or eased. The document cited 35 and 50 as two likely possibilities.
With Easter approaching, the draft agreement also appeals to Germans to avoid domestic and foreign travel, adding however that limited visits to relatives will be allowed over the festive days.

Austria and Denmark break ranks with Brussels and form a vaccine alliance with Israel

Austria and Denmark, chafing at the slow rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union, have broken ranks with Brussels to form an alliance with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines against mutations of the coronavirus, Reuters reports.
The move by the two EU member states comes amid rising anger over delays in ordering, approving and distributing vaccines that have left the 27-member bloc trailing far behind Israel’s world-beating vaccination campaign.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said while the principle that the EU procures vaccines for member states was correct, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had been too slow to approve them and lambasted pharmaceutical companies’ supply bottlenecks.
“We must therefore prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines,” the conservative chancellor said in a statement today.
Danish prime minister Danish Mette Frederiksen was also critical of the EU’s vaccine programme.
“I don’t think it can stand alone, because we need to increase capacity. That is why we are now fortunate to start a partnership with Israel,” she told reporters yesterday.
When asked if Denmark and Austria wanted to take unilateral action in obtaining vaccines, Frederiksen said: “You can call it that.” Kurz and Frederiksen are due to travel to Israel this week to see Israel’s rapid vaccine roll-out up close.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:55

Warning of 'potential fourth surge' in US

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A top US health official has been warning of a "potential fourth surge of cases", as highly contagious coronavirus variants start to spread through the country.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said she was concerned about recent data which showed about 70,000 new cases a day last week, a "very high number".
"Please hear me clearly: at this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," Dr Walensky said. "These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress."
Cases of Covid-19 in the US are currently going down, but last week dropped by just 3%, a much smaller decline than in previous weeks. This has prompted health officials to warn that progress in combating the virus is stalling.
The CDC has predicted the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant first found in the UK will become the dominant strain in the US this month.
Read more here

Nigeria receives first delivery of vaccines

Nigeria’s first Covid-19 vaccines, Oxford/AstraZeneca shots from the international Covax scheme, landed in the capital city Abuja today, Reuters reports.
The 3.92m doses will kick off the arduous task of inoculating Africa’s most populous nation.
Nigeria, with 200 million residents, is the third west African country to take delivery of Covax shots, after Ghana and Ivory Coast, both of which have already begun vaccination campaigns.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 11:57

What's happening in Europe?

  • France has changed its stance on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – now it can be given to people with underlying health conditions in the 65-74 age group. Earlier France had restricted its use, saying there was not enough data from trials in older age groups. France now has 1.1m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but by Saturday just 273,000 people had received that jab, French LCI news reports
  • Germany is still not giving the AstraZeneca jab to the over-65s, but such a move is now under discussion. Germany also has large stocks of that vaccine waiting to be used
  • German border police are now carrying out spot checks on people entering from the French Moselle region. They must have proof of a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. About 16,000 Moselle residents commute to Germany daily. They face having to get tested three times a week – it takes time and there is a fee in Germany, unlike in France. Germany is worried about the Brazil variant – there have been many cases of it in Moselle
  • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced plans to develop Covid vaccines with Denmark and Israel. The countries’ leaders are to meet in Israel on Thursday. Mr Kurz said the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) was too slow to approve vaccines, and it was vital to be prepared for further mutations of the virus
  • Slovakia – an EU member like its neighbour Hungary – is following Hungary’s example by accepting the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Slovakia says it has just received the first batch of what will be two million doses. Yet the EMA has not yet approved Sputnik V.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 12:42

Brazil variant may be more contagious - study

Michelle Roberts - Health editor, BBC News online
The Brazil variant now found in the UK appears to be more contagious and able to evade immunity provided by past infection with coronavirus, say scientists who have done the first detailed study.
Experiences from Manaus - the Amazonian city hit hard by the P1 variant - suggest it may be up to twice as transmissible as earlier Covid, they say.
The preliminary work, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, puts the chances of a person getting reinfection at between 25% and 60%.
But experts say the findings should not be used to predict what may happen with this variant in the UK.
Indeed, one of the lead researchers said it was unlikely P1 would quickly take off in Britain, when only six cases had been identified so far and these were being closely monitored.
Infectious diseases expert Prof Ester Sabino from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, said: "You need many introductions [of a virus] to start an epidemic. Six is very few. I would say, if you take care and do contact tracing, this is going to decrease."
Professor Sharon Peacock, who is director of the UK’s centre leading on genetic testing of coronavirus, said: “We are taking appropriate action. These are very interesting and important findings for Brazil, but how they relate to the UK is yet to be determined."

Final tweaks to Northern Ireland's lockdown easing plan

We're hearing that the meeting earlier of Stormont ministers to review Northern Ireland's lockdown exit plan concluded after an hour.
There are still a few further amendments that they've asked officials to make.
Once made, the ministers should get back together around lunchtime to sign off the strategy, if all goes to plan.
We're expecting it will be outlined to the Northern Ireland Assembly shortly after. We'll bring that straight to you.
Here, our colleagues in Northern Ireland give you a picture of what life's been like for the past 12 months,

Turkey reopens restaurants and schools

Restaurants in Turkey reopened and many children returned to school today after the government announced steps to ease Covid-19 curbs even as cases edged higher, raising concerns in the top medical association, Reuters reports:
On Monday evening, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lifted weekend lockdowns in low- and medium-risk cities and limited lockdowns to Sundays in those deemed higher risk under what he called a “controlled normalisation”.
Cafe and restaurant owners, limited to takeaway service for much of last year, have long urged a reopening of in-house dining after sector revenues dropped 65%. They also want relief from growing debt, and from social security and tax payments.
“We were serving 4,000-5,000 people a week. Now with takeaway services we are serving only 500 people,” Istanbul-based Pideban restaurant owner Yusuf Kaptanoglu said before the easing measures were announced. “I did not benefit from any support including loan support,” he said.
Across Turkey, pre- and primary schools as well as grades eight to 12 resumed partial in-person education. Yet the moves come as new daily coronavirus cases rose to 9,891 on Monday, the highest since 11 January and up from 8,424 a day earlier, according to official data. Cases were around 6,000 in late January.
“The number of mutant virus cases is increasingly rising. We do not see conditions to return to an old ‘normal’,” the Turkish Medics’ Association said on Twitter, calling for higher rates of testing and inoculation.
“Political and economic interests must not take precedence over human life and science,” it added.
Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has administered 8.96 million vaccines in a campaign that began in mid-January. More than 7 million people have received a first shot and 1.89 million have received a second.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 13:05

Spain may allow in Covid-vaccinated UK tourists if no EU pass agreed

The Guardian
Spain will consider a “green corridor” for vaccinated British tourists if there is no EU agreement on vaccination passports, the country’s tourism minister has said, as the European commission prepared to table a proposal for leaders this month.
Fernando Valdés said his government would seek to find agreement on a common system among the 27 member states to allow tourism to restart, but Madrid would probably open bilateral talks with non-EU countries if that failed.
Read more

Vaccines will work 'against most variants'

BBC Radio 5 Live
Public Health England's head of immunisation says the vaccines currently available "are still going to work against most of the variants that we have".
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell, Dr Mary Ramsay says: "It may be slightly less effective against those coming from overseas, such as the Brazil or South Africa strain, but we'd still expect the vaccine to protect against severe disease by those strains.
"If there are changes in the virus, it's going to be relatively simple to make a new's the proof of principle in a we know the vaccine works with this strain, the regulation process should be relatively straightforward."
Dr Ramsey adds that the biggest delay in developing a new vaccine to combat a new strain will be "making the volume of vaccine for the amount of people we need".
Listen to the full interview here or listen to 5 Live on the free BBC Sounds app .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 13:37

Breaking News

Brazil variant case hunt narrowed to 379 households

The government has identified the batch of home tests used by the unidentified person who tested positive for the P1 Brazilian variant without giving their details , says the health secretary.
Matt Hancock tells MPs the test has been narrowed down to 379 households in south east England and the government is contacting them all.
He thanked a number of people who came forward in response to the appeal.
He says what happened was "very rare" with incidents of people not giving their contact details only in 0.1% of tests.

Final tweaks to Northern Ireland's lockdown easing plan

We're hearing that the meeting earlier of Stormont ministers to review Northern Ireland's lockdown exit plan concluded after an hour.
There are still a few further amendments that they've asked officials to make.
Once made, the ministers should get back together around lunchtime to sign off the strategy, if all goes to plan.
We're expecting it will be outlined to the Northern Ireland Assembly shortly after. We'll bring that straight to you.
Here, our colleagues in Northern Ireland give you a picture of what life's been like for the past 12 months.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 18:12

France allows AstraZeneca vaccine for some older people

France has changed its stance on who should get the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, with the jab now allowed for older people with pre-existing conditions.
"People affected by co-morbidities can be vaccinated with AstraZeneca, including those aged between 65 and 74," the health minister said. Those over 75 will continue to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Last month France approved use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-65s only, citing lack of data for older people.
Several EU countries are still limiting the vaccine to the under-65s, but Germany is currently discussing a similar move to France's.
Just 273,000 AstraZeneca doses have been administered in France out of 1.7 million received by the end of February, health ministry figures show. The utilisation rate for the other vaccines is much higher.
Read more here

'Arrival of Brazilian variant shows testing ahead of travel doesn't work'

Dr Philippa Whitford, the SNP's health and social care spokesperson, says "while the number of cases with the Brazilian variant is thankfully small, it is a warning that being tested in advance doesn't rule out being a traveller that is carrying Covid".
She says the Brazilian variant has already been identified outside South America, and the South African variant is in 35 countries not on the government's red list.
She says the arrival of the Brazilian variant via Switzerland and Paris "demonstrates the various routes to the UK from high-risk countries and how a traveller could avoid the current hotel quarantine system by separating out the legs of their journey".
She asks the health secretary if he will now review the hotel quarantining system and make it fit for purpose.
Matt Hancock says there is a quarantine system in place for 100% of arrivals into this country.
He says all five of the people identified as being infected with the Brazilian variant "have fully isolated at home as required" which demonstrates that the policy is working.
He says: "We have further strengthened it and introduced hotel quarantine which should offer further reassurance."

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 18:14

Germany imposes checks on French border

German police have begun carrying out spot checks on people entering from France's Moselle region, amid fears of the spread of the South African coronavirus variant there.
People wishing to cross must have proof of a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. About 16,000 Moselle residents commute to Germany daily.
Germany's Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases on Sunday classified the Moselle district as an area of concern, prompting restrictions on travel including a ban on public transport.
Germany already has controls on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria, but had hoped to avoid similar restrictions with France.

Breaking News

Part-time return for all secondary pupils in Scotland from 15 March

All secondary school pupils in Scotland will return to classrooms part-time from 15 March , First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirms.
The phased return of pupils across Scotland will take place until the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.
It will also see children in primary four to seven return full time.
However, when secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.
Sturgeon has also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.

Scotland to consider accelerating easing lockdown

The Scottish government will consider in the next week if the easing of lockdown restrictions can be accelerated, Nicola Sturgeon says.
Updating MSPs in Holyrood, Scotland's first minister says figures in the past week are encouraging, and that she and ministers will be considering if the exit from lockdown can be moved forward.
"I have always said if we can go further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so," she says.
"All of us want to move on as quickly as possible - and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. I hope that day is now not too far away.
"But to make sure we don't see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules."
Sturgeon also says guidance on entering people's homes will be amended to make clear "essential purposes include support for the welfare and wellbeing of a parent of a child who is under the age of one".

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 18:19

Breaking News

UK records 343 Covid deaths

A further 343 people have died with coronavirus in the UK, the government's daily figures show.
This is down on last Tuesday’s figure of 548.
It takes the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test to 123,296.
There were also 6,391 new infections recorded in the last 24 hours - down on last Tuesday’s number of 8,489.
Covid deaths in UK are down by a quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Breaking News 

NI lockdown exit plan 'cautious and hopeful'

Northern Ireland's plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown is "cautious and hopeful" , Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill says.
Setting out details of Stomont's five-step plan for easing restrictions, she stresses she wants this lockdown to be the last.
She tells the assembly that the past year has been the most difficult that some people have ever experienced, but she says it is now time to look forward to the future "with hope".
She adds that ministers have developed a pathway out of restrictions which builds in time between key steps and relaxations.
And she says keeping restrictions in place will only be done if that is necessary and proportionate to the threat from Covid-19.
On schools, she says the Northern Ireland Executive is committed to getting education back as quickly as possible for the sake of children and young people, for their education, wellbeing and future aspirations.
Follow Michelle O'Neill's lockdown speech here .

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 18:24

Serbia donates vaccines to Bosnians

Serbia is donating 10,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab to its former wartime enemies in Bosnia, as several Balkan states struggle to procure vaccines.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic presented 5,000 doses to officials of the Muslim-Croat federation, promising another 5,000 in the coming days. He said Serbia was "acting as a friend and a neighbour".
Bosnia's other entity, the Serb Republic, is already administering doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The two sides fought a bitter war in 1991-95 as the former Yugoslavia broke up.
The Muslim-Croat federation - along with regional neighbours North Macedonia and Montenegro - has so far failed to receive any vaccine through Covax, the international vaccine sharing scheme. Serbia has donated to them too.
Serbia has been a relative success story, administering nearly 1.5 million doses after ordering vaccines directly from China and Russia.

Man arrested over family beach trip

Coronavirus - 2nd March 2021 4641f510

A man has claimed he was strip-searched in police custody after officers arrested him on suspicion of breaching Covid rules with a trip to the beach.
On Sunday, Radek Kotlarek, 39, from Rhos-on-Sea, Conwy, drove more than 20 miles to the beauty spot of Talacre in Flintshire, with his wife and teenage son.
He said it was for a "mental break" as the couple were concerned their son was struggling in lockdown and affected by the separation from sick family members in Poland.
North Wales Police said officers arrested Mr Kotlarek after he refused to give his name when they suspected he had breached regulations. He was released without charge and has not been given a fixed penalty notice.
Allegations that Mr Kotlarek was strip-searched while in custody were put to the force, but it did not respond.
Wales' lockdown rules state all exercise must start from home and travel must only be for essential reasons.
Read the full story here.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 18:27

What do we know about Brazil variant cases in the UK?

The search for an individual in the UK infected with the Brazil variant has narrowed to 379 households in south-east England , says the health secretary. It is one of six cases of the P.1 variant found in the UK in February. But what do we know about the other five cases?

  • Two of the cases are from the same household in South Gloucestershire. They tested positive after someone returned from Brazil on 10 February - five days before the government's hotel quarantine rule came into force for arrivals high-risk countries.
  • Everyone in five postcode areas of South Gloucestershire is now being invited to take a Covid test, even if they do not have symptoms.
  • Two other people in the same household have also tested positive but are not currently included in the UK case total of six, while tests on their type of coronavirus continue.
  • Officials are searching for passengers who were on the Swiss Air flight LX318 from Sao Paulo to Heathrow, via Zurich, which landed on 10 February.
  • The other three cases are Scottish residents who flew to Aberdeen from Brazil via Paris and London, the Scottish government says.
  • Passengers who were on the same flight to Aberdeen are now being contacted but there is no reason to believe the variant is in circulation in Scotland, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman says.

There are concerns that the variant first identified in Brazil could spread more easily and vaccines have not yet been tested on it. Read more about it here .

Sweden fears new wave as UK variant spreads

Maddy Savage - BBC News, Stockholm
It looks like we’re heading towards a third wave, is the message Sweden’s top state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell delivered at the Swedish public health agency’s latest news conference.
The agency’s data suggest that the number of people being hospitalised with Covid-19 is on the rise and there are concerns about the pace at which the UK variant of Covid-19 is spreading.
Sweden has never had a lockdown but has toughened its approach in recent months, for example closing bars and restaurants early, and limiting organised public gatherings to a maximum of eight people.
Now, Tegnell has proposed that from 6 March a maximum of 500 people should be allowed inside shopping malls and large stores, a move that is expected to be approved by the government.
There are already rules in place that require stores to ensure at least 10 square metres of space per customer, but there have been concerns about overcrowding in shopping centres during recent school holidays.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 19:37

The latest on the Brazil variant in the UK

There's been lots of discussion around the UK's discovery of six cases of a new coronavirus variant first discovered in Brazil - so here's where we are:

  • Six cases of the Brazil variant have been detected - three in Scotland and three in England
  • Five of the six people have been traced and quarantined
  • Health Secretary Hancock says there is "no information to suggest the variant has spread further"
  • One infected person has not yet been traced as they used a home test and did not fill in their details
  • But the batch of tests they used has been narrowed down to 379 households in south-east England and the government is contacting them all
  • The reason politicians are concerned about the Brazil variant is because scientists say it appears more contagious and vaccines have not yet been tested on it
  • But updated vaccines could be ready within months, meaning we could receive a booster jab before next winter to protect against new variants

'I returned from Brazil and have been sent a home test'

One BBC reporter, Juliana Gragnani, was on a flight arriving to Heathrow around the same time as the other flight into London from Brazil, which has been the focus of some of Public Health England's investigations as they try to trace the Brazil variant.
She talked about travellers’ experiences at the time, here .
Now, Juliana tells us how she has been sent a kit to test for Covid, along with other passengers on her flight:
"I had to travel last year to Brazil due to urgent family matters. I quarantined before I returned, took a test, and flew back to the UK, arriving in Heathrow on February 10th, via Paris. Both flights were packed.
I interviewed a few people who told me they were returning hastily before the hotel quarantine was put in place. My flight, AF1580, arrived around the same time as the São Paulo-Zurich-London flight, where the case from Gloucestershire was traced back to.
Border control was very busy. Passengers from different flights, including at least one from Italy, another from India, and both from Brazil (via Paris and Zurich) were in a queue for three hours with no social distancing.
After quarantining for more than two weeks (just to make sure), this afternoon I got a call from Test and Trace. They’re sending me a Covid kit and said this is being done with all passengers in my flight - AF1580. They also asked if I had taken a test after arriving in England.

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 20:08

Sri Lanka chooses island for minority burials

Sri Lanka has chosen a remote island where the country's minority Christian and Muslim communities can bury their dead, following a row about the cremation of Covid victims.
The government said Iranathivu island in the Gulf of Mannar northwest of the mainland had been chosen because it was thinly populated.
The minorities had previously been forced to cremate their dead in line with the practice of the majority Buddhists, but the government backed down last week in the face of vehement criticism from rights groups.
Muslims were angered by the ban, introduced last April, saying there was no scientific basis to claims that burials contaminated the groundwater. Muslims make up nearly 10% of the population.
However, the head of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem, also criticised the latest move, saying it was "pathetic racism" .
Read more here

Taskforce meets to plan UK's return to foreign travel

The UK government's global travel taskforce has met for the first time to start planning the UK's return to foreign travel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps held a meeting with government departments, travel firms, transport operators and industry bodies.
Boris Johnson announced last month that foreign leisure travel for people in England could be permitted from May 17 at the earliest.
This is dependant on various factors related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as vaccine rollouts and the prevalence of Covid-19 variants.
The taskforce will give a report to the prime minister on April 12 setting out recommendations for how and when overseas trips could resume.

Shapps says: "The UK's leading vaccine rollout has created a wave of optimism and, as a result, the global travel taskforce is charged with exploring safe and secure ways to restart international travel when the time is right."
He added: "We will not only consider the progress of our world-beating domestic vaccine programme, but also need to review where destination countries have got to with both vaccine and testing capabilities."

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Post by Kitkat Tue Mar 02 2021, 20:11

World round-up

Here's a recap of some of the latest stories from around the world:

  • The French government has revised its stance on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, allowing its use for people aged 65-74 with pre-existing conditions
  • The head of the US Centers for Disease Control has warned of a "potential fourth surge" of Covid-19 fuelled by highly contagious variants from the UK, Brazil and South Africa
  • Sweden's top epidemiologist has also warned of a new spike, amid concerns about the rapid spread of the UK variant in the Scandinavian country
  • More than 200 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine are to be sent to 142 countries by the end of May under the international Covax scheme, the WHO says
  • Nearly four million shots have arrived in Nigeria under the scheme, following deliveries to Ghana and Ivory Coast
  • Austria and Denmark say they plan to join forces with Israel to produce second-generation vaccines, amid frustrations about the slow vaccine rollout in the EU
  • China's top respiratory disease expert confirms plans to vaccinate 40% of the country's 1.4 billion population by June

What's been happening in the UK?

Here's what you need to know this evening:

  • The search for an individual infected with the Covid variant first found in Brazil has narrowed to 379 households in south-east England , Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced
  • He said the batch of home testing kits in question had been identified and each household was being contacted
  • All secondary school pupils in Scotland will return to classrooms part-time from 15 March , First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said
  • Northern Ireland's deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill has described the nation's newly-published plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown as "cautious and hopeful"
  • And business support including furlough and the VAT cut for hospitality firms will continue "while lockdown persists" , the business secretary has revealed, ahead of Wednesday's Budget
  • The UK recorded 6,391 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, and another 343 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test

Our live page today was brought to you by Marie Jackson, Paul Gribben, Ella Wills, Jennifer Meierhans, Robert Greenall, David Gritten, Sarah Collerton and Claire Heald.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 14:21