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Coronavirus - 24th March 2021


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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 12:31

Summary for Wednesday, 24th March 2021

  • Overseas travel restrictions may be among the later rules to be relaxed in the UK, scientific adviser Prof Neil Ferguson says
  • Variants and rising cases in Europe may affect how much people coming into the UK have to be screened, he says
  • But even if the country is not back to normal by the summer, things should feel a lot more normal by the autumn, Prof Ferguson says
  • A case of a new "double mutant" variant of coronavirus has been found in India
  • India's capital, Delhi, will begin randomised Covid tests at airports, bus stops and train stations amid what some experts say is a second wave
  • "Capitalism" and "greed" got Covid vaccinations under way quickly in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a private meeting of Tory MPs
  • Weekly coronavirus death figures in England and Wales are at their lowest since October, national statistics show

Good morning

Thanks for joining our live stream where you’ll find updates on coronavirus throughout the day.
Here are some of the stories we are looking at this morning:

  • Boris Johnson has told a private meeting of Tory MPs the UK got its Covid vaccinations under way quickly thanks to "capitalism" and "greed"
  • Government officials insist he wasn’t talking about the vaccine programme in the UK or the EU row over supply of jabs - but the profit motive driving companies to develop new products
  • There’s been a second night of protests in Bristol against the government's new Police and Crime Bill
  • A total of 14 arrests were made and police say they had to act due to lockdown restrictions banning large gatherings
  • More than 6,000 cases of Covid-related fraud and cyber-crime have been recorded by the UK's police forces during the pandemic
  • The Action Fraud team says £34.5m had been stolen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1 March 2020
  • And in the US, some residents can now their takeaway meal with a Covid test on the side
  • Food ordering service DoorDash announced they'll deliver at-home tests to cities across the country.

Latest around Europe

  • The European Commission will announce proposals this morning to toughen controls on Covid vaccine exports.They will stop short of an export ban but instead measure each shipment on the recipient country’s vaccine rate and exports. The controls will assess “reciprocity” and “proportionality” and are likely to affect the UK and US most.The plans will be discussed by EU leaders tomorrow.
  • Germany’s RKI public health agency says 75,000 people have now died in the country’s Covid pandemic. Another 15,813 new infections have been reported in the past 24 hours which is higher than a week ago.
  • Finnish ministers have spent eight hours trying to reach an agreement on toughening measures to stop the spread of a third wave of Covid. Health officials have backed restrictions on movement but in the end they limited their move to extending a three-week closure of indoor dining in restaurants.
  • Spain is resuming vaccinations with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine today after an eight-day suspension over safety concerns. The Spanish government will decide this afternoon whether to impose new restrictions over Easter early next month as infections are rising again.
  • Italy’s cases are increasing even faster with 18,765 reported in 24 hours yesterday. Prime Minister Mario Draghi will discuss measures to be introduced after Easter on 6 April. Despite the situation, ministers want to ease restrictions, particularly focusing on early years in schools.
  • Ukraine has reported a record 342 daily deaths, and also a record number of people taken to hospital in the past day. And Bulgaria has seen a record 4,851 cases in the past 24 hours. Restrictions were tightened last week, with restaurants closed and schools going online.
  • Students in the Serbian city of Kragujevac have been offered vaccinations with the AstraZeneca drug without an appointment. But since the campaign began yesterday no-one has shown up. Officials believe bad publicity may be to blame.

'South Africa variant is of more concern than rising cases in Europe'

The South African coronavirus variant could undermine the UK's vaccination programme, a government scientific adviser says.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, tells BBC Breakfast that, just because cases are rising in Europe, it does not affect the UK's plans for emerging from lockdown.
He says the surge in Europe has "already happened to us and we're through to the other side". But he adds: "The real concern is things like the South African variant, where the vaccination programme we're currently using, whilst it would still give some protection against that (variant), the protection would be reduced."
He says: "We have vaccinated more than twice the proportion of the population than any other European country has done, so we're in a better place from that point of view.
"I don't think, just because cases are rising in Europe, that necessarily throws our timetable into doubt; what it may do is affect planning around restrictions on international travel, how much we try and screen people coming into the country."
On keeping to the road map, he says the UK has a "very good chance of both being able to relax measures and not needing to tighten up".

Around the world today

  • Poland reports record number of daily coronavirus cases. The country has reported 29,978 new daily cases, and a further 575 coronavirus related deaths.
  • India detects new coronavirus variant. India’s health ministry has said that a new double mutant variant has been detected in the country, in addition to many other variants of concern which originated abroad.
  • Ukraine suffers record daily deaths for second consecutive day. Maksyn Stepanov, the health minister, said that there were 342 deaths in the last day, up from 333 deaths recorded the previous day.
  • The UN has warned that over 30 million people are ‘one step away from starvation’. An estimated 34 million people are struggling with emergency levels of acute hunger, with families in pockets of Yemen and South Sudan already being in the grip of starvation.
  • Hong Kong suspends Pfizer vaccine. The city’s government said the suspension was immediate while the matter is investigated by distributor Fosun Pharma and BioNTech.
  • NHS hit by covid disruption as cancer referrals plunge. In November, NHS England said that the number of people waiting more than a year for surgery had reached its highest level since 2008.
  • Fury in Brazil after Bolsonaro says people will soon lead ‘normal lives’. Bolsonaro made this televised address while Brazil suffered its heaviest day of losses since the pandemic began, reporting a record 3,251 deaths on Tuesday.

'Foreign travel restrictions may be relaxed later' - scientific adviser

We've got more from Prof Neil Ferguson, who has been telling BBC Breakfast foreign travel may be one of the later restrictions to be eased.
But he says he is "optimistic we'll be able to start seeing each other again in the next month, which is within the road map plan".
The scientific adviser says: "Depending what happens in other areas of the world, travel may be one of the later things to be relaxed. But I think... whilst not everything will be back to normal by the summer, certainly by the autumn, it will feel a lot more normal."
Prof Ferguson says booster jabs in the autumn will be "critical", adding: "We don't yet know how long the immunity lasts from the vaccines we're giving, but natural immunity to coronavirus probably lasts a year or so, so it's entirely likely we will need to boost immunity.
"We can't stop things like the Brazilian and the South African variants forever and they are different immunologically.
"The current vaccines are not as effective against those strains probably, so for

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 17:33

Police action at protest 'due to Covid restrictions'

Fourteen people have been arrested on a second night of protests in Bristol, police say.
About 130 people demonstrating against the government's new Police and Crime Bill gathered at College Green last night.
It camejust two days after another protest turned violent, with several officers from Avon and Somerset police injured and patrol cars torched.
The force said it had to act because of lockdown restrictions.
One of those arrested was in connection with the disorder in Bristol on Sunday, Avon and Somerset Police said. Here's the full story.

Covid scammers steal £34.5m during pandemic

More than 6,000 cases of Covid-related fraud and cyber-crime have been recorded by the UK's police forces during the pandemic.
The Action Fraud team said £34.5m had been stolen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1 March 2020.
Many of the scams involved conning people out of their money and financial details by focusing on internet shopping.
In a related development, the National Cyber Security Centre has told the BBC it is tackling about 30 "significant attacks" a month against the country's pandemic response infrastructure.
These involve attempts to breach the NHS, vaccine producers and vaccine supply chains, among other organisations.
"There unfortunately have been a number of successful ransomware incidents against businesses - I can think of roughly around 10," NCSC operations director Paul Chichester said.
Here are the kind of scams you need to be aware of .

'Double mutant' Covid variant found in India

One case of a new "double mutant" variant of coronavirus has been found in India.
It was detected in the results of 10,787 tests carried out across 18 states.
Of the other 771 positive cases, 736 were the UK variant, 34 were the South African variant and one of the Brazilian variant.
The government says an analysis of the samples collected from India's western Maharashtra state shows "an increase in the fraction of samples with the E484Q and L452R mutations" compared with December last year.
"Such [double] mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity," the Health Ministry said in a statement .
"Though VOCs [variants of concern] and a new double mutant variant have been found in India, these have not been detected in numbers sufficient to either establish a direct relationship or explain the rapid increase in cases in some states," it says.
India is experiencing a surge in Covid cases and today reported 47,262 cases and 275 deaths.
Here's the full story.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 17:38

Dismantling of Yorkshire Nightingale Hospital starts

Work has begun to dismantle a 500-bed Nightingale Hospital which has not treated a single Covid-19 patient.
The emergency unit was set up at Harrogate's Convention Centre in North Yorkshire last April at a cost of more than £27m.
It was one of seven built in England to try and prevent hospitals becoming overwhelmed during the pandemic.
An NHS spokesperson says contractors had started removing medical equipment and some larger equipment would require road closures.
It remains unclear how long the dismantling of the hospital will take and how much it will cost, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said. Here's more on this story.

Concerns over 'queue jumping' for vaccine in London

People are attempting to jump the queue for the Covid vaccine, BBC London has been told.
Several vaccination centres have said many people are falsely claiming they are front-line health or social care workers when they book an appointment.
One London pharmacist says he is having to turn away "dozens" of people a week who have lied about their eligibility.
NHS England say official proof is required when people are booking online.
You can book a Covid vaccine if you are a front-line health or social care worker regardless of age using the 119 phone number or the official NHS Covid vaccination site.
It states that vaccination centres do require proof, such as a employer's letter or a payslip, but some staff are finding it difficult to enforce this.
Pharmacist Ash Soni, who is on the English Pharmacy Board and leads a Covid-19 vaccination clinic in south London, says: "We're definitely seeing cases where people are using the national booking form, who have lied on their booking form, and we're having to police that and that's not a nice place to be. We're not the police." Here's the full story.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 17:48

Brazil's daily Covid toll surpasses 3,000 for first time

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Brazil has become the global epicentre of the pandemic in recent weeks

Brazil has, for the first time, recorded a daily coronavirus death toll of more than 3,000 as the virus continues its rapid spread across the country.
Health experts say the pandemic is virtually out of control and hospitals report being close to collapse.
The worsening outbreak is also being attributed to the spread of highly contagious variants of the virus in the country.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the virus, raised doubts about vaccines and defended unproven drugs as treatment.
He defended his stance in a televised address yesterday – at the same time as protesters banged pots in major cities - and promised to make 2021 the year of vaccinations.
The country has reported 298,676 coronavirus-linked deaths since the pandemic began, and more than 12 million cases.
You can read more on this story here .

Merkel apologises and cancels strict Easter lockdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel has made an extraordinary plea to the German people to forgive her, after she cancelled a strict Easter lockdown just a day after announcing it.
She says the idea of a five-day lockdown over the Easter holidays had been “designed with the best of intentions because we absolutely have to slow down and reverse the third wave of the pandemic”.
But she admits there was not enough time to implement the shutdown “in such a way that there is a reasonable balance between the cost and the benefit”.
The so-called Easter Pause would have been the harshest Germany has seen, with most shops closing and religious services moving online; it had been met with resistance from business leaders.
Coronavirus cases in Germany are soaring and public trust in the government’s handling of the pandemic is wavering, the BBC’s Jenny Hill in Berlin reports.
While Merkel has been seen as the safe pair of hands who brought Germany through the first wave of the infection, this time round she appears to be struggling to keep the country together, our correspondent notes.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 17:58

Delhi orders Covid tests at airports as cases surge

India's capital, Delhi, will begin randomised Covid tests at airports, bus stops and train stations in the midst of what some experts say is a second wave.
Mumbai, a financial hub and virus hotspot, ordered mandatory testing in busy areas earlier this week.
We reported earlier that one case of a new "double mutant" variant of coronavirus had been found in the country, along with the strains first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks - on Wednesday, India reported more than 47,000 new cases and 275 deaths, it's highest this year.
It has reported more than 11.7 million cases and 160,000 deaths so far
India's caseload dropped significantly at the start of this year - it reported under 10,000 new infections on some days. And this coincided with the launch of the country's vaccine drive, the largest in the world.
But March saw a sharp uptick, with more than 40,000 new infections reported daily since Sunday.
Here's more on that story.

Covid-stranded worker 'given unlawful pay cut'

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A council worker who was stranded in Cyprus for 14 weeks because of a Covid-19 lockdown had his pay cut "unlawfully", a tribunal has found.
Road worker William Pye left the Isle of Man in March 2020 but was unable to return until 1 July.
The tribunal found Douglas Borough Council's decision to recoup £100 a week from his salary was "taken without any proper investigation".
The council, contacted by the BBC for a response, must repay him about £5,200.
The tribunal said Pye had suffered "hardship" as a result of the council's actions.
Pye, who is in his 60s and has worked for the authority for 36 years, made several attempts to leave Cyprus but could not do so after his flights were cancelled, the court heard. The full story is here.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 18:01

US food delivery service now drops off Covid tests

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Would you like a Covid test with your chips?
Some US residents can now get one alongside a meal after food ordering service DoorDash announced they'll deliver at-home tests to cities across the country.
Two types of tests will be available - a nasal swab or a saliva sample - the company said. Both can yield results within 24 to 48 hours.
It is the first such scheme to be launched by a delivery service.
"Amidst the pandemic, one of our priorities has been to make health and wellness essentials more accessible for customers, and we will continue to expand our offerings in the healthcare space," a spokesperson for DoorDash said.
The prices and availability of testing kits in the US vary, though the ones offered by DoorDash range in price from $109 (£79) to $119 (£87) and may require a video call with medical personnel during the test.
Here's the full story.

PM: UK may have to take action on France travel 'very soon'

The Labour chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper, has asked Boris Johnson why France has not been put on the UK's red list, given the rise in cases and new variants.
The prime minister explains that putting a country on the "red list" has consequences for the supply of medicines and foods to the UK - a nod to the huge haulage industry that sees goods crossing the channel - but the PM concedes "we will have to look at tougher measures" if the circumstances change.
Cooper says 20,000 people are coming to the UK from France every week and two-thirds of arrivals are exempt from restrictions - she wants to know why hauliers are not being tested in the UK.
Johnson says the numbers have "massively diminished" in recent months - but says he will "look at the situation in the Channel" and "can't rule out further measures" on people arriving from France.
Why is the PM not taking action now, asks Cooper?
Johnson says there is "a balance to be struck" given the "very serious disruption" that would occur to cross-channel trade.
"We will take action if necessary to protect public health" he adds and "we may have to do it "very soon".

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'Things are looking difficult on the continent' - PM

Fellow Conservative William Wragg - who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee - has asked the PM about the possibility of international travel this summer.
The PM says the government will get the findings of its global travel taskforce on 5 April and thereafter he will "be setting out what may be possible from 17 May".
But he warns "things are looking difficult on the continent and we will have to look at the situation as it develops".
He agrees there is a wide spectrum of scientific opinion on the matter, but assures his colleague advisors advise but ministers will decide.

Breaking News 

UK announces a further 98 deaths

Today's daily coronavirus figures have been published by the government.
They show another 5,605 cases have been recorded, and a further 98 people have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
Meanwhile the latest vaccination figures show that more than 28.6 million people have now had their first dose, after another 325,650 first doses given yesterday.

Breaking News 

UK and EU working to create 'win-win' situation amid vaccine row

The UK and EU have said they are working on creating a "win-win" situation and to expand vaccine supply for all citizens, as the row involving demand for the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab continues.
The UK government and European Commission have just released a joint statement.
“We are all facing the same pandemic and the third wave makes co-operation between the EU and UK even more important," it reads.
"We have been discussing what more we can do to ensure a reciprocally beneficial relationship between the UK and EU on Covid-19.
"Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take - in the short-, medium - and long term - to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens.
"In the end, openness and global co-operation of all countries will be key to finally overcome this pandemic and ensure better preparation for meeting future challenges.
"We will continue our discussions.”

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 18:19

Intensive care patients 'transferred hundreds of miles'

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We've found out some more about how the NHS coped during the second wave of the pandemic - and in particular, how intensive care units fared.
Two patients were moved to a hospital 300 miles away because of an intensive care bed shortage - and an unprecedented 2,300 intensive care patients were moved between UK hospitals.
The data covers the period from September 2020 to March 2021.
Front-line doctors, speaking for the first time, say these transfers were the only way to care for patients.
And NHS England said the health service had responded well under intense pressure.
Read the full story here.

Summary of recent developments

The Guardian

  • Officials have confirmed that an inspection this weekend found 29m doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine at an Italian plant and said the shots were to be sent to Belgium.
  • India has temporarily suspended exports of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) to meet domestic demand as cases rise, two sources have told Reuters.
  • The European commission will extend the bloc’s powers to potentially halt vaccine exports to the UK and other areas with much higher inoculation rates.
  • The French government believes drug manufacturer AstraZeneca is not honouring its commitment to supply the bloc with Covid-19 vaccines, according to government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
  • Angela Merkel has performed a U-turn on plans to put Germany under a hard lockdown over Easter following a critical backlash, describing the decision to close churches and shops over a five-day period as a mistake.
  • Spain has restarted its AstraZeneca vaccination drive after a week-long suspension of the jab over fears about potential side-effects.
  • Mexico will step up its vaccine rollout, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced on Wednesday, with the armed forces helping medical personnel to administer the vaccine.
  • Belgium will impose fresh lockdown restrictions, shutting schools, hairdressers and non-essential stores.
  • Syria is sending oxygen to Lebanon, where 1,000 patients are on respirators in the country’s hospitals and emergency supplies are close to running out.
  • Pope Francis has ordered salary cuts at the Vatican to save ordinary employees’ jobs amid the economic fallout of the pandemic.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 19:23

India temporarily halts Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine exports

India has placed a temporary hold on all exports of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, foreign ministry sources have told the BBC.
They said rising cases meant domestic demand was expected to pick up in the coming weeks, and so the doses were needed for India's own rollout.
The move - described as a "temporary squeeze" by officials - is expected to affect supplies until the end of April.
Some 190 countries under the Covax scheme are likely to be affected.
India's largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII), has delayed shipments of the AstraZeneca jab to several countries in recent days, including the UK and Brazil.
India has exported more than 60 million vaccine doses to 76 countries so far, with the majority of these being the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
The decision comes as India faces a surge in coronavirus cases. On Wednesday it recorded its sharpest daily rise this year, with more than 47,000 new cases and 275 deaths.
There has been no official comment from the government or the Serum Institute on the decision.
Read more.

PM stirs trouble with remarks on vaccine certification

Iain Watson - Political correspondent
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has plunged headlong into an issue that’s proving controversial within his own party.
Speaking to a group of senior MPs earlier this afternoon, Mr Johnson suggested that, as restrictions ease, people may have to provide proof of vaccination to visit a pub.
This, he suggested, would be up to individual publicans.
The prime minister said the "basic concept of a vaccine certification should not be totally alien to us".
But the use of vaccine passports, or certificates, domestically has previously been denounced as "divisive" - by none other than Mr Johnson’s own vaccines minister.
At the same meeting, in answer to another question, Mr Johnson declared that care home companies would be acting ‘responsibly’ if they required all staff to be vaccinated.
‘"It doesn’t seem to me to be irresponsible at all – far from it, it's highly responsible – for care home companies to think about requiring vaccinations," he said, speaking to the Liaisons Committee.
There is an ongoing debate inside government over whether to make Covid vaccinations compulsory for social care workers, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock setting out some of the benefits of this approach,
But Unison, which represents staff, opposes mandatory vaccination.
Now the prime minister seems to be floating a slightly different solution – by placing responsibility on employers to require that their staff be vaccinated.
This will be seen by some as compulsion by the back door - or what critics have called "jabs for jobs".

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 19:28

How anti-vaccine narratives went global during the pandemic

Olga Robinson - BBC Monitoring

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Online communities sharing harmful anti-vaccine content have grown significantly during the pandemic, according to new BBC Monitoring research on seven countries across Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe.
Facebook accounts promoting false information about vaccines saw a boost in followers in Brazil, Mexico, India, Ukraine, France, Tanzania and Kenya over the past year.
Vaccine misinformation in these countries appears to mainly spread in groups where a range of topics such as health, religion, politics and conspiracy theories are discussed.
In Brazil, Mexico, Tanzania and Kenya some religious pages promoted misleading claims and conspiracy theories about vaccines to their large online audiences.
In India we found anti-vaccine content was largely driven by individuals promoting traditional medicine.
Our research also showed a political and nationalistic dimension to online debates about vaccination in some countries, which often featured criticism of and misleading claims about foreign vaccines.
The findings were released on the final day of the BBC's Trust in News conference , at which technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones questioned social media companies about what they have done to tackle disinformation on their platforms.

Is the government doing enough about the South Africa variant?

We've heard a lot about the Covid variant that was first identified in South Africa - which scientists believe could be more contagious or more resistant to current vaccines.
The strain has now been detected in dozens of other countries. In the UK, there have been 360 cases of the variant.
A travel ban is currently in place for South Africa and nine other southern African countries and, while UK residents and Irish nationals are exempt, those arrivals must still quarantine.
But is the government targeting enough countries with travel bans?
On 16 March , the World Health Organisation identified 64 countries where the South Africa variant had been found. Of those, only 11 are on the "red list" which bans arrivals.
According to Prof Neil Ferguson from Imperial College, some countries - including France - are seeing that a significant fraction of their cases are the South Africa variant.
He suggested that as there is "a lot of essential travel" between the UK and France, the government should consider further measures to reduce the risk of more of the variant reaching the UK.
Read more here.

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Post by Kitkat Wed Mar 24 2021, 19:31

What's making headlines in the UK this evening?

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been speaking about the need for Covid passports going forward - and the obligation on care workers to be vaccinated - with a backlash anticipated from unions, the opposition and his own party.
  • Front-line doctors have spoken for the first time about how intensive care units have fared during the second wave of the pandemic , with reports of an unprecedented 2,300 intensive care patients being moved between UK hospitals in the six months to March 2021
  • The trend of a falling number of deaths continues with a further 98 people reported to have died within 28 days of a positive test, although the decline in cases has slowed
  • More than half of adults in Scotland will have received a first dose of coronavirus vaccine by the end of Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has declared. Ms Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government is on course to have offered a first dose to all adults by the end of July
  • Boris Johnson says the UK may have to "take action if necessary" on travel from France "very soon" due to a rising number of cases and the prevalence of the South Africa variant. The PM has said he "can't rule out further measures" but added there was "a balance to be struck" given the "very serious disruption" that would occur to cross-channel trade

What's been happening around the world?

Goodbye and thanks for reading

Today's live page is coming to a close now. Thanks for joining us.

Your writers today were Jen Meierhans, Victoria Lindrea, Penny Spiller and Fran Gillett.
The editors were James Clarke and Rob Corp.
We'll be back again tomorrow morning with all the coronavirus news as it happens. See you then.

    Current date/time is Mon May 17 2021, 13:52