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Coronavirus - St Patrick's Day 2021


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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 12:47

Summary for Wednesday, 17th March

  • All people aged over 50 in England are now being invited to book their coronavirus vaccine
  • It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe
  • He urged people to "listen to the regulators" and "get the jab" when it is offered to them
  • It came as 13 countries suspended use of the vaccine over fears around blood clots
  • The UK's medicines regulator, the MHRA, has said evidence "does not suggest" the jab is linked to clots
  • The EU's medicines regulator also reiterated on Tuesday that there was "no indication" the vaccine causes blood clots
  • About 17 million people across the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine
  • AstraZeneca said the rate of blood clots was lower then the number expected among the general population
  • Former US President Donald Trump has encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated
  • In a TV interview, Mr Trump said the vaccine was "safe" and "something that works"
  • A further 5,294 Covid cases were reported in the UK on Tuesday, alongside another 110 deaths
  • Globally, there have been 2,670,459 deaths and 120,697,267 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of coronavirus developments this Wednesday morning. We'll keep you updated with the main stories of the day.

Latest headlines

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people to trust the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe , after more than a dozen European countries paused its use citing safety concerns. Both the UK and EU's medicines regulators have said that the vaccine is safe.

In other developments:

Latest across Europe

  • There’s increasing strain on hospitals in the greater Paris region and French Prime Minister Jean Castex says it’s time for new measures. He says the situation is “highly precarious”. The options being considered today are either weekend curfews such as those around Calais and Dunkirk in the north and the French Riviera in the south, or a seven-day lockdown with schools staying open.  Mr Castex has made clear he’ll get vaccinated “very quickly” with the Oxford-AstraZeneca drug as soon as it is confirmed as safe tomorrow by the EU’s medicines agency. A number of countries have suspended its use while they await the regulator’s green light – it’s already made clear the benefits outweigh the risks after a small number of reports of blood clots.
  • The European Commission will announce plans for green digital Covid vaccination certificates that enable travel across all 27 member states. The certificate will be forgery proof but it has already raised several issues, such as how to prevent discrimination between people who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t.
  • Iceland already allows entry to visitors across the EU’s passport-free Schengen area as long as they have proof of vaccination against Covid. Now anyone will be let in as long as they have a vaccination certificate such as the World Health Organization's "yellow card".
  • Ukraine has registered a record daily number of 289 Covid-related deaths. Health Minister Maksym Stepanov says among almost 12,000 new infections are 609 children and 388 health workers.
  • Serbia has tightened emergency restrictions until next Monday amid a surge in infections. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic says "everything will be closed, except for food stores, pharmacies and gas stations."

Summary of the main news so far today:

(from The Guardian)

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) says it is “firmly convinced” the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh potential risks, insisting there was no evidence linking it to blood clots after several nations suspended the shot over health fears. Experts at both the World Health Organization and the EMA met on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine, with the EMA expected to publish conclusions Thursday.
  • French prime minister Jean Castex has said that France had entered a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the seven-day average of new cases rose above 25,000 for the first time since 20 November. Castex also said he intends to get an AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine once European health authorities confirm the jab is safe.
  • There was chaos and confusion in Germany and Italy after their decisions to suspend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid jab, with vaccination centres closing their doors and appointments being abruptly cancelled.
  • Two cases of a new coronavirus strain first reported in the Philippines have been found in England. Public Health England said the variant contains a number of notable mutations, including the E484K spike protein found in the Manaus (Brazil) variant.
  • Iceland is to allow entry to all visitors bearing proof of vaccination against Covid starting from Thursday, the country’s health ministry said. The move makes the country one of the first European nations to open its borders beyond the Schengen area.
  • Former UK prime minister Tony Blair called for world leaders to make sure that groundbreaking future vaccines are not subject to restrictive intellectual property laws.
  • The number of deaths from Covid-19 across Europe passed 900,000, according to an AFP tally. There were more than 530,000 additional deaths in the EU and EFTA countries from January to December 2020, against the average number of deaths during the same period between 2016 and 2019.
  • The number of new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands increased by 24% in the last seven days, the biggest weekly jump since mid-December, Dutch health authorities said.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 13:05

UK’s Hancock insists Oxford jab is safe

More on our top story this morning as the UK’s health secretary urges the public to take up the offer of an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine when their turn comes.
Matt Hancock responded to concerns raised after more than a dozen European nations paused use of the vaccine over safety fears.
The EU's medicines regulator has reiterated that there was "no indication" the vaccine causes blood clots. The UK's regulator, the MHRA, has also said there is no evidence to support concerns.
About 17 million people across the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported as of last week, the manufacturer AstraZeneca said.
It said the number of cases of blood clots reported was lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.
"We keep the effects of these vaccines under review all the time and we know that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is saving lives in the UK right now so if you get the call, get the jab," Hancock said.
Read more here .

Ex-regulator chief says AstraZeneca jab has ‘strong safety record’

Sir Kent Woods, a former chief executive of the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency has been telling BBC Breakfast he fears there has been a “denting of public confidence” in the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
The ex-chairman of the European Medicines Agency said: "I think the vaccine has a very strong safety record and they [people] shouldn’t hesitate to get the vaccine."
“There will have been a denting of public confidence because of this disorderly situation in Europe where individual countries have done different things for different reasons,” he added.
“A disruption of the vaccination of their populations is a very unfortunate event.”
“Although it is tempting to say that the regulators in those countries are being safe, I think they’re doing the opposite. I think they’re actually increasing the risk to the population in the face of a very major pandemic.”

Blood clot concerns 'overblown', UK vaccine adviser says

Prof Jeremy Brown, a member of the UK government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said concerns about blood clots were "overblown" as they were unlikely to be linked to the jab.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "By stopping the rolling out of the vaccine they will cause more illness and more deaths by this week or two hiatus in using the vaccine than they’ll ever prevent by the unlikely situation that there’s an increased risk of a very rare event occurring as a consequence of the vaccine.”
Meanwhile, Dr Jess Harvey, a GP in Shropshire, said her "fears were confirmed" on Tuesday when she had three calls before 09:00 GMT from patients who were concerned about the possibility of blood clots linked to the vaccine.
She said she had not had any appointments cancelled yet but was worried about possible no-shows. “There’s a lot of worry out there in the general public," she told Today.
Read more about the vaccine's safety here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 13:20

Kwarteng: Conversations over vaccine passports ongoing

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has confirmed discussions are taking place about vaccine passports to allow those who are vaccinated more freedom.
“We are having conversations all the time about what the best steps should be,” he told BBC Breakfast. “What we are focussed on at the moment is making sure that we hit those dates and that we can reopen [the economy].”
“Once we’ve reopened the economy I’m sure we’ll be looking at other measures to keep people safe,” he added.
It comes after P&O Cruises became the latest leisure company to confirm a requirement for passengers to prove they had received both vaccine doses before travelling this year.

Trump tells Republican supporters to get vaccinated

Former US President Donald Trump has urged his Republican supporters to be vaccinated against Covid-19, saying he would recommend it.
In a TV interview, he said the vaccine was "safe" and "something that works".
Mr Trump's conservative fan base has been one of the main groups resistant to the vaccine programme.
The former president himself was criticised during his time in office for playing down the seriousness of the pandemic.
As the vaccination programme has been rolled out across the US, all other living ex-presidents have spoken out, urging Americans to get the jab.
However, Mr Trump has remained largely quiet on the subject.
He and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated at the White House in secret in January.
Read more here.

My vaccine side effects and what they mean

James Gallagher - Health and science correspondent, BBC News

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I was over the moon to get vaccinated. I've covered the coronavirus pandemic, including the race to develop a vaccine, since only a handful of people were infected in Wuhan.
So when it was my turn to roll up my sleeve at the GP surgery, it really felt like a moment.
But I'm going to be open and honest with you: the vaccine floored me.
Let's be clear, even with hindsight I'd do it all again. But it's fair to say I was moaning "Why me?" from my sick bed.
Read more about James' experience here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 14:56

Covid-19 disruptions killed 228,000 children in South Asia, says UN report

The disruption in healthcare services caused by Covid-19 may have led to an estimated 239,000 maternal and child deaths in South Asia, according to a new UN report.
It's focused on Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, home to some 1.8 billion people.
The report found that women, children and adolescents were the worst-hit.
South Asia has reported nearly 13 million Covid cases and more than 186,000 deaths so far.
Many countries, including those in South Asia, responded to the pandemic with stringent lockdowns. While hospitals, pharmacies and grocers remained open, almost everything else shut down.
The report - [url= Report.pdf]Direct and Indirect Effects of Covid-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia[/url] - examines the effect of these government strategies on healthcare, social services, including schools, and the economy.
It estimates that there have been 228,000 additional deaths of children under five in these six countries due to crucial services, ranging from nutrition benefits to immunisation, being halted.
Read more here.

Covid exposed 'much larger' rough sleeping issue - MPs

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A government scheme to house rough sleepers during the pandemic "exposed the scale" of the issue, say MPs.
The Public Accounts Committee praised the "Everyone In" initiative, brought in due to Covid, which took over 37,000 people off the streets by January 2021.
But they said the number was nearly nine times the official estimates of rough sleepers, showing a "much larger" issue than the government had "acknowledged".
Read more here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 15:00

Sao Paulo health chief urges lockdown as Covid deaths surge

Health officials in Brazil's most populous state, Sao Paulo, have called on the new health minister to consider imposing a national lockdown as coronavirus deaths continue to rise.
On Tuesday Brazil recorded 2,841 Covid-related deaths - its highest ever daily total.
Sao Paulo registered 679 deaths, also a record for the state.
Brazil has the second highest number of infections and deaths in the world, behind the US.
Health minister Marcelo Queiroga - who will be formally appointed on Wednesday - is the fourth person to hold the office since the pandemic began.
President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently opposed quarantine measures introduced by state governors, arguing that the collateral damage to the economy will be worse than the effects of the virus itself.
In remarks to the media on Tuesday, Queiroga urged Brazilians to wear masks and wash their hands but stopped short of endorsing a lockdown or even social distancing measures.
That drew a strong response from Joao Gabbardo, the head of Sao Paulo's Covid-19 emergency body.
Posting on Twitter , he said private hospitals had been requesting space in the public health system because of the demand for intensive care beds.
"When he [Queiroga] takes over, he will face the worst numbers in the pandemic," Mr Gabbardo tweeted, adding: "Suggestion: do not take a stand against a national lockdown."
Read more here.

P&O Cruises says travellers will need vaccinations

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P&O Cruises has said that anyone wanting to take its cruises around the British Isles this summer will need to be vaccinated first.
Travellers will have to prove that they have had two coronavirus jabs to take the trips which depart from June.
P&O Cruises, which is part of the Carnival group, will run trips on two ships this summer - one from Southampton along the south coast of England for three or four days, and another up to Scotland from Southampton for seven-day trips.
Carnival said that passengers wishing to board would have to have had both vaccination jabs at least a week before departure.
It comes as the European Commission is set to publish proposals later today for an EU-wide digital certificate providing proof of a Covid-19 vaccination that could allow Europeans to travel more freely over the summer.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 15:08

St Patrick's Day celebrated online

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Countries around the world are celebrating St Patrick's Day on Wednesday, with online events replacing traditional parades due to the pandemic.
Landmarks across the globe will also turn green for the day in honour of Ireland's patron saint.
Large gatherings have been ruled out in many parts of the world due to ongoing restrictions.
It means traditional parades, such as the ones usually held in Belfast and Dublin, have been cancelled for the second year in a row.
Read more here .

Australia to send vaccines to Papua New Guinea

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Australia is to provide 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Papua New Guinea as the island nation struggles with an outbreak of coronavirus.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the doses would be sent immediately, along with other critical care equipment.
On Monday, Papua New Guinea warned its infection rate was approaching one in every three or four people.
The country's fragile healthcare system is under huge strain.
Officially, there are 1,400 active cases in the country, but the true number is thought to be much higher. Testing has been an issue for the island nation. As of 10 March, only 50,000 tests had been carried out in a country with a population of nine million.
However, Australian officials said that of the areas tested in the past week, almost half of the results had come back positive, including many healthcare workers.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 15:11

Catch-up tuition not helping poorest pupils, says watchdog

The government's programme to help pupils who have missed time in school to catch up may not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, a report says.
The National Tutoring Programme was launched last year to give extra tuition to the UK's poorest pupils.
But fewer than half of pupils who have already received tuition as part of the scheme are from the poorest families, a National Audit Office report found.
Read more here .

Breaking News 

England vaccine rollout expanded to all over 50s

The vaccine rollout in England has been extended to all over 50s, who are now being invited to book their jabs, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says.
He's tweeted that he is "delighted" at the expansion, adding: "I’m determined no one should miss out on the chance to protect themselves and urge everyone who is eligible to come forward."

Will I need a vaccine passport?

The UK is among a number of countries considering whether to introduce more formal proof that someone has had the jab.
It's been suggested a passport feature could be added to the existing NHS app. People could then use their phone to prove they have been vaccinated or had a recent negative test.
Will I need a vaccine passport for going abroad?
It's quite possible - for some trips at least. In future, some countries are likely to require proof of vaccination to allow entry.
Cyprus is among the countries to have already made an announcement.
It says Britons who have had two jabs can enter the country from 1 May without needing a negative test or to quarantine (although people in England won't be allowed to travel for holidays until at least 17 May).
Denmark and Sweden are developing vaccine passports in time for the summer
Will I need a vaccine passport to go to the pub?
A passport could also theoretically be used within the UK, to allow visitors entry to venues such as bars or sports stadiums.
A review of whether such passports could help the economy recover has been announced by the government .
It will look at privacy and ethical issues, including how far companies will be allowed to go in requesting proof of vaccination.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 15:16

Analysis: Why is the UK still using the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab?

Nick Triggle - Health Correspondent
Claiming the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is safe when other countries in Europe have paused it amid concerns about blood clots seems a bold claim. But it is not.
The investigations in Europe are focusing in particular on a rare type of blood clot in the brain.
Evidence from 10 million AstraZeneca vaccinations given in the UK show there have been three cases of these – none fatal.
This is not above the level you would expect to happen. It suggests coincidence rather than cause.
In Germany the numbers seen may be above the natural threshold - but because these events are so rare it is easy for a couple of cases to ring alarm bells.
It is understandable they are being investigated but what has baffled a lot of experts is why the vaccination programme is being paused in the meantime.
After all, this vaccine is proven to save lives.
And even if it increases the risk of a very rare event, the benefits certainly seem to outweigh the risks given the threat Covid poses to the population that is currently being offered the vaccines - older age groups.
That is why the European Medicines Agency has recommended the continued use of the vaccine while it looks into the cases.

Modi calls for increased testing across India

India's PM Narendra Modi has urged state authorities to increase coronavirus testing and tracking to avoid a second wave of the pandemic.
"If we don't stop the growing pandemic right here, then a situation of a nationwide outbreak can get created," Modi told a virtual conference of leaders of Indian states.
The conference was called as India registered more than 28,000 daily cases, the highest since December.
India is conducting a massive vaccination drive to inoculate around 300 million people in the first phase. More than 30 million people have received at least one dose of the two vaccines approved by the government.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 15:20

'Thousands of weddings to be cancelled' over roadmap confusion

Some 7,000 weddings may have to be cancelled or postponed in England following "confusion" over the government's roadmap for lifting coronavirus restrictions, an industry body says.
The UK Weddings Taskforce, a group set up to represent the sector, had expected all venues to reopen from 12 April based on “widespread” interpretation of government guidance.
Weddings Taskforce spokeswoman, Sarah Haywood, says: “The roadmap indicated weddings and receptions could resume on 12 April. We have now discovered, not by being offered the information but by analysing the small print and repeatedly seeking clarity, that this is not the case."
She says the permitted venues do not include the vast majority of England’s licensed wedding venues, where more than 70% of weddings take place.
“The reality facing the sector is that a couple could technically get married in a zoo, but not in a Covid-safe, purpose-built wedding venue,” she says.
Weddings and receptions will only be permitted for up to 15 guests in England between 12 April and 16 May in places of worship, public buildings and in locations that are already permitted to open, with receptions outdoors only, the government has confirmed.
"We understand the unique significance these events hold in people’s lives but we must continue to take necessary steps to limit the transmission of the virus," a spokesperson says.

Which UK festivals are still going ahead?

Mark Savage - Music reporter, BBC News
Last year, Covid-19 wiped out the UK's summer festival season. Only a handful of shows were able to take place, and most of them were in car parks or socially-distanced green field sites.
This year, organisers are a little more optimistic.
With the vaccination programme under way and mass testing available, several events have put tickets on sale, confident that fans will be allowed to mosh, pogo and stage-dive with the risk of injury, rather than disease, their main concern.
Unfortunately, events scheduled early in the season - most notably Glastonbury - have already had to cancel, citing the lack of insurance if their festival had to be pulled at short notice.
Others have moved to safer dates later in the summer, with a noticeable bottleneck over August bank holiday weekend.
To help you plan ahead, we have compiled a comprehensive list of what the UK's biggest festivals have announced, with all information correct at the time of writing on 16 March, 2021.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:06

PM to have Oxford-AstraZeneca jab 'very shortly'

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson reveals he will receive his coronavirus vaccine "very shortly" - and it will "certainly" be the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
He makes the comments in PMQs in response to a question from Conservative MP Steve Brine about what the PM can do to restore trust in the vaccine after several European countries paused their rollouts of the jab.

European Commission proposes Covid vaccination certificate

The European Commission has proposed introducing a digital certificate to prove someone has been vaccinated for Covid-19.
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the commission, says the certificate will also document negative tests and whether the person has had Covid before.
"What is the function of this certificate? It shows... whether the person has either been vaccinated or (had) a recent negative test or has recovered from Covid and thus (has) antibodies," she tells a news conference.
The certificate will ensure the results are mutually recognised in every member state, she adds.

European Commission threatens to restrict vaccine exports

The head of the European Commission has threatened to restrict coronavirus vaccine exports if third countries do not also allow exports in a reciprocal and proportionate way.
Ursula von der Leyen says this could apply to countries with higher vaccination rates than those in the EU - an apparent reference to Britain.
Von der Leyen says the UK is the number one country receiving vaccines from the EU, but no doses of the AstraZeneca jab have come the other way.
She says the EU is facing "the crisis of the century" - and all options are on the table.
"It is hard to explain to our citizens why vaccines produced in the European Union are going to other countries that are also producing vaccines, but hardly nothing is coming back to the European Union," she tells a news conference.
"I want to be clear on reciprocity - if the situation does not change we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness," she warns.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:10

Nepal expecting hundreds of climbers despite pandemic

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People climb Mount Everest in 2019

Nepal is expecting hundreds of foreigners to attempt to climb the highest Himalayan peaks despite the pandemic.
More than 300 foreigners have expressed interest in climbing Mount Everest this spring, the Department of Tourism says.
Japanese and Canadians teams are already trekking their way to the Everest base camp, says Mira Acharya, a director at the department.
Those wishing to make the perilous trek have to be quarantined in a hotel and test negative for Covid-19.

Sturgeon wants four-nations approach to international travel

The spread of coronavirus variants in Europe has contributed to the exponential growth in infections being experienced by many countries, according to Scotland's chief medical officer.
Speaking at Scotland's daily Covid briefing, Dr Gregor Smith says the variant B117 - which originated in Kent and was seen in the UK before Christmas - is now seeded across Europe.
He says some other countries are also seeing the South African and Brazilian variants spreading and he is worried these may establish themselves in continental Europe as a potential source of problems.
Dr Smith says the Scottish government is monitoring the situation closely and taking all the safety measures it can to try to limit the introduction of those variants into Scotland.
Speaking about the possibility of international travel, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she doesn't think it will be possible before 17 May and it might not be possible for a period after that.
The picture was "not as rosy" in other parts of the world and in some parts of Europe, she says.
She adds she is working hard to get a four-nations approach to travel, but says if she thinks decisions made by the UK government don't go far enough, then she will do what she thinks is best for Scotland.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:15

Lunchtime round-up

Here's a recap of the main stories today so far:

  • People aged 50 and over in England are now being invited to book their appointment for a Covid vaccine . This is the final group on the priority list, which covers 99% of people at high risk of dying from Covid-19
  • The head of the European Commission has threatened to restrict coronavirus vaccine exports if third countries do not also allow exports in a reciprocal and proportionate way. Ursula von der Leyen says this could apply to countries with higher vaccination rates than those in the EU - an apparent reference to Britain
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed he is to receive his first vaccine dose "very shortly" - and it will "certainly" be the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab. It comes after several European countries were criticised for pausing their rollout of the jab over fears around blood clots. Medicines regulators for the UK and EU have said evidence does not suggest the jab is linked to clots
  • The prime minister's former aide, Dominic Cummings, has criticised the Department of Health as "a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE" at the start of the pandemic. He said that was why the prime minister had taken direct control of the vaccine programme
  • A digital certificate to kick-start foreign travel should be given to citizens across the EU "without discrimination" , officials say. The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against Covid-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to travel within the EU
  • Brazil is experiencing an historic collapse of its health service as intensive care units in hospitals run out of capacity, its leading health institute, Fiocruz, has warned. Covid-19 units in all but two of Brazil's 27 states are at or above 80% capacity, according to Fiocruz
  • Former US President Donald Trump has urged his Republican supporters to be vaccinated against Covid-19 , saying he would recommend it. In a TV interview, he said the vaccine was "safe" and "something that works"

Cheltenham Festival organiser defends holding 2020 meet during pandemic

The British Horseracing Authority says it stands by its decision to hold the Cheltenham Festival last year.
About 150,000 people attended the four-day March meeting, which ended 10 days before Covid lockdown measures began - and some experts have said it "may have accelerated" the spread of the virus .
Julie Harrington, chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, says: "All we could do was act on the advice that we had at the time, and I am really comfortable that we did that.
"Everything is easy in hindsight."
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Thousands of people attended last year's event

Harrington admits looking back at pictures of the "huge crowds" is "quite shocking", but she says more is known about the risks the virus poses compared with a year ago, and that the government said it was appropriate for the festival to go ahead.
Her comments come as this year's event is held behind closed doors.
Normally about 60,000 people would attend the first day of racing, with about 250,000 expected to attend over its four days.
But this year, even horse owners are unable to attend because of coronavirus restrictions.

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There are no fans at this year's event

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:19

Northern Ireland's first minister defends 'cautious' approach

Northern Ireland's first minister says she knows people want Covid restrictions eased faster but the last thing she wants is to have to "step backwards" again.
Arlene Foster has been speaking after the executive yesterday announced the first key changes to the restrictions.
Business groups have criticised the lack of dates provided for when they will be able to reopen.
Foster says it is vital coronavirus is kept under control in Northern Ireland.
She told Good Morning Ulster restrictions have to be lifted "in a slow way".
"We are in a five-party executive; from my perspective we would like to move in a more steady way, others are more cautious.
"However, I do think it is very important that we do need to protect all of our services in our healthcare - and the best way to protect all of our services and our healthcare system is to make sure that we don't see another rise in Covid cases."
Read more

EU plans rollout of travel certificate before summer

Here is a little more detail about the European Commission's proposal to kick-start foreign travel with a digital certificate to prove someone has been vaccinated for Covid-19.
The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against Covid-19, or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus, to travel within the EU.
The 27 member states will decide how to use the new digital certificate.
Speaking in Brussels, European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders says the proposed digital certificate would be "for all EU citizens, their families when they're leaving the EU or living abroad".
"It'll also be for the European Economic Area (EEA), because we want to work with Norway and Iceland," he says, adding Switzerland will also be involved.
He says there is still a lot to do to put the digital certificate in place, but the aim is to get it up and running before the summer tourist season.
Vaccine passports have faced opposition from some EU member states over concerns they are discriminatory.
Some argue they would enable a minority to enjoy foreign travel without restrictions while others, such as young people who are not seen as a priority for inoculation, continue to face measures such as quarantine.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:22

Vaccine suspension hits European rollout as cases rise

Several European countries are experiencing a new surge in coronavirus infections, while a number have also suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over safety concerns.
The European Medicines Agency is standing by its decision to approve the vaccine and has reiterated there is "no indication" the jab causes blood clots. It is investigating further and its results are due to be released on Thursday.
Correspondents in six cities explain here how Europeans are reacting to the new wave of infections and the stuttering rollout.
Meanwhile, the head of the European Commission has threatened to withhold coronavirus vaccine exports to countries outside the European Union that don't supply them in a reciprocal way.
Ursula von der Leyen says the EU is still waiting for shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine to come from Britain, while tens of millions of doses from other manufacturers have already passed the other way.

No 10: NHS told Johnson he will receive Oxford jab

Downing Street has held its daily briefing with political journalists who have been told Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to get his Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine later this week.
It is understood the NHS told Johnson, 56, he would receive that specific jab because of the public interest surrounding the vaccine, the use of which is paused in several countries over safety fears.
But it is unclear whether Downing Street has requested the PM receives the AstraZeneca vaccine.
It comes as the over-50s in England are invited to apply for their coronavirus vaccine .
You can read up on the debate around how safe the jab is here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:25

Brazil health service in 'worst crisis in its history'

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Brazil is experiencing a historic collapse of its health service as intensive care units in hospitals run out of capacity, its leading health institute Fiocruz is warning.
Covid-19 units in all but two of Brazil's 27 states are at or above 80% capacity, according to Fiocruz.
In Rio Grande do Sul state there are no intensive care beds available at all.
The warning comes as the country has registered its highest daily death toll yet, with 2,841 dying within 24 hours.
That figure constitutes a large jump from the previous high of 2,286 on 10 March .
In a statement [in Portuguese], Fiocruz says the situation is "extremely critical in the entire country" .
"The analysis by our researchers suggests it's the biggest collapse of the hospital and health service in Brazil's history."
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:30

AstraZeneca suspensions spark vaccine safety discussions in China

Kerry Allen - BBC Monitoring, Chinese Media Analyst
The suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in numerous European countries has been a major focus in Chinese media today, and has led to discussions online about domestic public confidence in vaccination.
People watching China’s official broadcaster CCTV have today seen reports on countries “successively” suspending the vaccine, and one of China’s leading newspapers, the Global Times, has been commenting on how the move has been a “shock to public confidence”.
There have been users on the popular social media platform Sina Weibo commenting on how they perceive that if the vaccine was one of China’s, there would be fierce anti-China sentiment from the world’s media.
China has been a key player at providing vaccines to overseas nations, and state media have been full of praise for the country providing domestically-developed vaccines “to over 50 countries".
But there are also many users commenting on how if there were any problems with a Chinese vaccine, it is unlikely they would hear about them.
Some users have observed that the deaths of seven chronically ill people in Hong Kong after receiving the Sinovac vaccine received limited media attention on the mainland, even though the city’s top medical experts voiced confidence in the overall safety of the vaccine. Many Hong Kong outlets that did report on the deaths, such as the South China Morning Post, are blocked on the mainland.
Discussions about vaccinations are rife as many cities in China are currently speeding up their vaccination drives. So far, China has inoculated 64.98 million people but it aims to vaccinate 40% of its population by the end of June. That roughly translates as about 560 million doses within a four-month period.

No 10 urges EU to honour commitment against vaccine export restrictions

Downing Street has urged the EU to "stand by its commitment" not to restrict exports of vaccines after a threat from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman said: "I would point you back to the conversation the prime minister had with Ursula von der Leyen earlier this year.
"She confirmed then that the focus of their mechanism was on transparency and not intended to restrict exports by companies where they are fulfilling their contractual responsibilities.
"It remains the case we would expect the EU to continue to stand by its commitment."
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Reuters news agency von der Leyen's comments require explanation and he expected legal agreements to be respected.
"I think it takes some explaining because the world's watching ... It also cuts across the direct assurances that we had from the Commission," Raab said.
"We expect those assurances and legal contracted supply to be respected. Frankly, I'm surprised we're having this conversation."

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:33

Poland to go back into partial lockdown

The Polish government is introducing a three-week partial lockdown to try to slow down an increase in coronavirus infections.
From Saturday, hotels, shopping centres, cultural and sporting facilities will be closed across the country.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski is also recommending that people work from home where possible.
He said the main cause of the spike in infections was the spread of a variant which originated in southern England. This now accounts for more than half of cases nationwide.
On Wednesday Poland saw its biggest number of new cases in four months. The number of patients on ventilators is higher than at any time during the pandemic.

Breaking News 

25 million people have had Covid jab in UK

More than 25 million people have now received a first Covid vaccine dose across the UK, the government has announced.
25,273,226 people have received a first dose while 1,759,445 people have had their second dose.
Confirming the milestone was reached 100 days after the first jab was given in the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "This latest milestone is an incredible achievement - representing 25 million reasons to be confident for the future as we cautiously reopen society."

Breaking News 

UK deaths rise by 141

A further 141 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, according to the latest government figures .
It takes the death toll by that measure to 125,831.
A further 5,758 positive cases were reported.
Last Wednesday, 190 deaths and 5,926 positive cases were reported.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:36

UK deaths and hospitalisations continue to drop, figures show

The daily figures also show there were a further 465 patients admitted into hospital.
Looking at the trends behind the numbers, the seven-day average for cases is down by 1.2%, but there continues to be big drops in deaths and hospitalisations, with falls of 29.9% and 25.1% respectively.
As reported earlier, the stats also show the number of people to receive a first dose of the vaccine has now officially surpassed 25 million - with some 25,273,226 receiving a jab.
There have been 1,759,445 people who have received two doses.

Don't gather for Grand Slam game, minister warns Welsh fans

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Wales would repeat their Grand Slam triumph from 2019 with a win on Saturday

Wales' health minister has issued a plea to rugby fans not to gather to either watch or celebrate Wales' Six Nations Grand Slam decider match against France on Saturday evening.
"Four people from two different households can meet outdoors now," he said.
"I know many of you will be keen to watch the rugby this weekend and to hopefully celebrate a Grand Slam.
"But please celebrate with members of your own household only and help to keep coronavirus at bay."

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:40

'Unanswered questions' over deaths of London bus drivers

Tom Edwards - Transport Correspondent, BBC London
Leshie Chandrapala lost her father, Ranjith, nearly a year ago and the past 12 months have been incredibly hard.
He was 64 when he died on 3 May, having been a driver on the 92 bus route which serves at Ealing Hospital in west London.
It was a job he loved doing, but when the pandemic began last March he was not given any personal protective equipment (PPE).
Leshie wants a public inquiry into bus driver deaths to find out why even basic safety precautions took so long to be introduced.
"It's incredibly raw," she said. "The more I read about measures that were or weren't taken, I just have so many questions that have been left unanswered.
"I don't think [London Mayor] Sadiq Khan's report dug deep enough because to my mind safety measures that were asked to be put in place weren't brought in soon enough at the bus companies, especially my dad's bus company."
Read more

'Sudden' rise in cases at Scottish university

The University of St Andrews has warned of a "sudden and significant" rise in Covid infections affecting its students.
Eleven cases have been confirmed so far among students living in four halls of residence and private accommodation in St Andrews.
The university said more than 40 people were self-isolating and it appealed to students not to leave the town during the upcoming spring break and to heed Covid advice.
In a letter to students and staff, principal and vice-chancellor Sally Mapstone said this week's "rapid increase in transmission" was "especially concerning".
The principal said: "Unfortunately, we expect to see the number of confirmed cases rise over the next few days. It seems very likely that this is the new UK variant strain of Covid."

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Breaking News

Expect reduction in weekly vaccine supply, NHS letter warns

Laura Kuenssberg - Political editor
A letter from the NHS, seen by the BBC, has warned local health leaders there will be a "significant reduction in weekly supply" of the Covid vaccine from the week of 29 March, for a four-week period.
The letter says "volumes for first doses will be significantly constrained" and there has been a "reduction in national inbound vaccines supply".
The letter says from today, "the supply constraint means vaccination centres and community pharmacy-led local vaccination services should close unfilled bookings from 29 March".
Those centres should also make sure no more appointments are uploaded to the national booking system, or local booking systems, for April.
The BBC understands no one who has booked a vaccine already should lose their slot.

What did we learn from today's press conference?

oday's Downing Street press conference, fronted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, has come to an end.
Here's a recap of what was covered:

  • There is a focus on vaccinating the most vulnerable in the UK before the over-40s receive their jabs, and the UK is on track to offer a first dose to those in the top nine priority groups by 15 April, said Mr Hancock
  • The UK will do "everything necessary" to ensure supplies continue
  • It comes after the NHS warned in a letter to local health leaders that there will be a "significant reduction" in weekly vaccine supply from the end of March
  • Mr Hancock said this was a "standard" letter and that "vaccine supply is always lumpy" with ups and downs of supply
  • Vaccines remain "on track", he said, adding he has "increased confidence" the nation will be able to "walk down that rope set out in the road map"
  • About nine in 10 people aged about 70 now have coronavirus antibodies thanks to the vaccination programme
  • People aged over 70 who been vaccinated with both Covid-19 jabs are 60% less likely to catch coronavirus, Public Health England's (PHE) head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay said
  • Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said there was no evidence of increased risk of blood clots with the AstraZeneca jab
  • He urged people to take up their vaccine offer, saying "vaccines don't save lives if they're in fridges... they only save lives if they're in arms"
  • Shielding will end as planned on 31 March, Mr Hancock said.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 18:46

Tokyo state of emergency expected to be lifted

Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga has suggested he plans to let state of emergency curbs expire on schedule on Sunday, less than five months before the postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to begin.
"The figures have moved in the direction of lifting (the emergency measures)," he said, according to the Reuters news agency.
"I will make a final decision towards ending the curbs after listening to the views of experts," he added.
The government declared the state of emergency around the turn of the year amid a surge in cases.
The nationwide Olympic torch relay kicks off in northeastern Fukushima on 25 March, while the games are due to begin on 23 July.

Disney parks in California to reopen

Disney has announced plans to reopen its two theme parks in California next month, after more than a year.
New rules will be in place, with the number of visitors limited and everyone over the age of two having to wear a mask. There will be temperature screenings at some locations.
An industry trade group has also advised against actions that could cause a potential risk - including screaming on rides.
Disney has already opened properties in other locations, such as Florida and Beijing, at reduced capacity. Its parks in Paris and Hong Kong Kong have reopened, only to be shut again.
But in California, its parks remained shut - in part due to disagreements with unions over safety measures for staff, a dispute the two sides resolved last autumn.
Disney says the reopening in California will mean the return of roughly 10,000 jobs.
"While it may be a bit different from the last time you visited, together we can find new ways to create magical moments together—and memories to treasure forever," the company is telling potential visitors on its website.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 20:25

Pausing vaccinations could lead to virus mutating - SA scientist

Naomi Grimley - BBC News
The lead investigator for the AstraZeneca vaccine trials in South Africa has said it was “extremely devastating” and “mind-boggling” that his country put the rollout of the vaccine on hold, even though his own research led to the government making the decision.
Prof Shabir Madhi’s study into whether the vaccine worked against the South African variant found it offered “minimal protection” against mild forms of the disease.
But he says the study was “misinterpreted” by officials and the vaccine could still be useful to protect against more severe forms of the disease in vulnerable people.
He’s also warning European governments against an “over-reaction” over blood clot reports.
Several European countries have paused the rollout of the vaccine, despite the the European Medicines Agency saying there is "no indication" the jab causes blood clots.
Prof Madhi said: “When countries start interrupting their vaccination programmes that itself might lend an opportunity for the virus to start mutating and become resistant to the immune responses which have been induced by the vaccine.”
He says governments need to be careful about making decisions that are hard to reverse because they can “diminish public confidence in the rollout of all vaccines".
South Africa is currently thinking about selling its 1.5 million doses of the AZ vaccine to the African Union.
They expire in April.

Last day of shielding to be 31 March

More than 3.7 million vulnerable people in England will no longer have to shield from the coronavirus from 1 April.
It comes as the numbers of Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions have declined for the past couple of weeks. Letters will be sent out to those in the clinically extremely vulnerable to confirm the move.
In them, people will still be advised to keep social contacts at low levels, work from home where possible and stay at a distance from other people.
Since 5 January, they have been asked to stay at home as much as possible to reduce their risk of being exposed to the virus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier confirmed the shielding guidance, which had been extended to 31 March, would indeed end then.
England's deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries recommended the change based on the latest scientific evidence and advice.
Read more here .

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 20:48

Public worship to resume in NI in time for Easter

Northern Ireland's four main churches have said they will return to public worship in time for Easter.
The Church of Ireland, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Northern Ireland will resume in-person services from Good Friday, 2 April.
The Catholic Church has confirmed there will be a "cautious" return a week earlier, from 26 March.
The four churches voluntarily suspended in-person gatherings in January of this year because of the coronavirus lockdown.
General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland the Reverend Dr Heather Morris said churches could make a "careful" return to services, adding "this will allow time for preparation to celebrate the major Christian festival of Easter".
Presbyterian churches may also resume services on that date, but it will be up to individual congregations when they return, and will require "all the mitigations in place to ensure the safety of people," the church said.
In a statement , the bishops of the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland said the time had come for a "cautious and careful" reopening.

Covid art 'a way of expressing how I feel'

An autistic artist says painting has helped him cope with the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.
David Downes started out creating pictures of giant cells looming in the sky, but different themes emerged in his work as the past year ran its course.


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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 17 2021, 20:52

What's been happening today?

We'll soon be bringing our live page to a pause for the day, but before we do here is a round-up of the main stories from today:

That's it from us for now

We're now closing our coronavirus live page for the day, but will be back tomorrow. Thanks for joining us.

The live page writers today were:
George Bowden, Katie Wright, George Wright, Lauren Turner, Richard Morris and Alex Therrien.
The page was edited by Suzanne Leigh and James Clarke.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 14:28