- The chancellor will extend the furlough scheme in his Budget later, and 600,000 more self-employed people will be eligible for financial help
- Rishi Sunak says it will help people through "challenging months ahead" as he sets out plans to rebuild the Covid-hit economy
- He is also due to extend the £20-a-week top-up to universal credit for six months
- Meanwhile, patients with low immune systems due to health conditions are being recruited for a trial to test how well Covid vaccines work for them
- In the US, Texas and other states are lifting their mask requirements and allowing businesses to reopen fully, at odds with the president
- It comes as Joe Biden pledges enough Covid vaccines for every adult by the end of May
Good morning and welcome to today’s live coverage. We’ll be bringing you updates throughout the day on the latest news in the pandemic. Here’s a summary of this morning’s main stories to get you started:
- The furlough scheme - which pays 80% of the wages of employees who cannot work during the pandemic - is to be extended until September , the chancellor will announce in today’s Budget. Access to grants for the self-employed is also due to be widened to an extra 600,000 people.
- Labour said the scheme could have been extended months ago to give workers security, while the Unite union welcomed the extension but called for it to continue into 2022.
- A clinical trial is recruiting 5,000 patients with low immunity due to health conditions such as cancer to determine if the vaccines will still offer them a high level of protection .
- Arrivals to the UK are facing delays to the test kits they are required to take during quarantine - with some having waited nine days for tests that should have been taken on day two.
- Texas and some other US states are abandoning mask requirements and allowing businesses to reopen fully , despite the administration of US President Joe Biden insisting that the measures are still necessary
- Wales is planning a limited return to the classroom for more pupils , with “check-in” sessions proposed for years 7, 8 and 9 before they return full-time from mid-April. Face-to-face teaching for older secondary pupils is due to resume from mid-March.
- And the singer Dolly Parton has received a shot of the Moderna vaccine , after helping to fund early-stage trials. “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” she sang to the tune of her hit song Jolene as she received the jab.
What’s happening in Europe?Earlier we brought you news that there has been an explosion outside a test centre in the Netherlands. No-one is thought to have been injured. But what has been happening across the rest of Europe this morning?
- Schools in the worst-affected areas of Italy have been ordered to close amid a rise in cases linked to the UK coronavirus variant. The government has also extended travel restrictions inside the country until early April
- Sweden’s top epidemiologist has warned that the country is heading towards a third wave as the British variant continues to spread. Although Sweden has avoided a lockdown so far, it has increased restrictions with more limits on the number of people allowed in malls and larger shops expected to be introduced
- Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with regional leaders later today to discuss the next steps as the current lockdown ends on 14 March.
- Artists from 41 countries will appear live at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands under plans set out by the event's organisers , although no decision has been made about whether audiences will be able to attend. Last year’s competition was cancelled due to the pandemic
What's happening in the UK?Boris Johnson will shortly get to his feet in the Commons for Prime Minister's Questions - ahead of Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivery of the Budget at 12:30 GMT.
As we await the prime minister, here are the main headlines in the UK so far today.
- So far we know the government's furlough scheme - which has paid up to 80% of employees' wages since the pandemic began - will be extended to September. The temporary £20 top-up to Universal Credit and the suspension of Stamp Duty are also likely to be extended to help people through "challenging months ahead"
- The limit on a single payment using contactless card technology will rise to £100 later this year, the Treasury has confirmed , as the pandemic accelerates a move away from cash
- Researchers are recruiting 5,000 people with low immunity due to health conditions - including cancer - to find out if coronavirus vaccines will still offer them high levels of protection
- The Isle of Man has begun a three-week lockdown in a bid to stem rising numbers of infections which began with a ferry crew member. Restrictions came into force at midnight
- Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has criticised the "lamentable" support for airlines that had to cancel flights and says the government should have cut Air Passenger Duty to boost their recovery
What's happening around the worldHere are the key developments from the last few hours:
- 168m children worldwide have missed school for a year. Worldwide, more than 168 million children have had their schools completely shut for almost a year, according to UNICEF, due to coronavirus lockdowns.One in seven children – 214 million – have missed more than three-quarters of in-person learning.
- Brazil registered a national record daily death toll. Brazil on Tuesday posted a national single-day record for Covid deaths with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data. The previous single-day high of 1,595 Covid deaths was recorded in late July 2020. Brazil faces a new peak in coronavirus cases and the hospital system is pushed to the brink of collapse.
- Contagious Brazil variant evades immunity, scientists warn. A highly transmissible Covid9 variant that emerged in Brazil and has now been found in at least 20 countries can re-infect people who previously recovered from the disease, scientists said on Tuesday.
- Biden said the US is ‘on track’ to have enough vaccines for all adults by May . Joe Biden has said that the US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that the drugmaker Merck would help produce Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.
- The Texas governor lifted the mask mandate and declared: ‘It’s time to open 100% . With less than 7% of Texans fully vaccinated and another Covid-19 surge potentially imminent , Texas is flinging open businesses to full capacity while simultaneously ending its highly politicized mask mandate, the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, announced on Tuesday.
- Chinese delegates to propose vaccine passports at annual meetings. Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid vaccine passports and recognising such passports globally that they say will restore some normality, boost international tourism and economic exchanges, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.
- Dolly Parton was inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine that she helped to fund . The country music star, 75, broke into song while getting the Moderna jab and adapted one of her best-known ballads.To the tune of Jolene, she sang: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”
- Australia’s economic recovery continued with 3.1% growth in December quarter . The Australian economy grew by 3.1% in the December quarter as the domestic recovery from the pandemic-induced shock consolidated.
- There were no new Covid cases in Auckland for second day . New Zealand’s government has said it is still too early to make a decision on extending Auckland’s lockdown , despite the city recording no new community cases of coronavirus for a second consecutive day.
- Africa virus fight boosted as jabs reach Nigeria, Angola. Millions of coronavirus shots from the global Covax scheme have arrived in Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, as African countries ramp up their vaccine rollouts.