EU and UK clash over ‘vaccine export ban’ as post-Brexit tensions deepen


Visitors check-in at the Brussels Expo Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in Brussels, Belgium – Bloomberg

Downing Street has accused EU chief Charles Michel of spreading falsehoods after he claimed the UK imposed an “outright ban” on coronavirus vaccine exports.

The European Council President accused Britain and the US of imposing bans on the movement of jabs as he sought to defend the bloc against allegations of “vaccine nationalism”.

In the latest display of post-Brexit turbulence, the Government struck back to refute his comments and insist the UK has “not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine”.

Mr Michel, in a newsletter on Tuesday, said he was “shocked” when he heard allegations of vaccine nationalism levelled at the EU, saying: “The facts do not lie.”

He added: “The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.

The Government flatly denied his claims. A spokesman said: “The UK Government has not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”

07:01 PM

Roundup of today’s news

Here is your evening roundup of today’s news:

06:50 PM

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be made in EU after reported deals

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 could be produced in western Europe after a deal to make it in Italy was signed by Moscow’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund and Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne.

The agreement, which will need approval from Italian regulators before production can be launched, has been confirmed by both RDIF, which markets Sputnik V internationally, and the Italian-Russian chamber of commerce.

Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF’s head, told Russian state TV his fund had also struck deals with production facilities in Spain, France and Germany to produce Sputnik. He did not provide details.

It is the latest indication that some companies could press ahead with plans without waiting for the European Union’s regulator — the European Medicines Agency (EMA) — to grant its approval to Sputnik V.

Scientists said the Russian vaccine was almost 92 per cent effective, based on peer-reviewed late-stage trial results published in The Lancet medical journal last month.

06:42 PM

Palestinian hospitals fill up as Israel loosens Covid restrictions

Palestinian hospitals are overfull and intensive-care units operating at 100 per cent capacity with coronavirus patients in some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has said.

Palestinian cities have introduced full lockdowns over the last two weeks to control soaring infections, even as neighbouring Israel begins to lift restrictions as it proceeds with one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns.

 A Palestinian singer performs for Covid-19 patients at a hospital in the West Bank city of Hebron - Shutterstock

A Palestinian singer performs for Covid-19 patients at a hospital in the West Bank city of Hebron – Shutterstock

“The percentage of hospital occupancy in some areas has reached more than 100 per cent,” Mr Shtayyeh said in Ramallah.

“The number of casualties is increasing and the number of deaths is increasing on a daily basis, forcing us to take strict, direct and unprecedented measures.”

The West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million Palestinians, have received around 34,700 vaccine doses to date. These came from small donations by Israel and Russia as well as 20,000 sent by the United Arab Emirates to Gaza.

06:32 PM

Twitter marks Dutch populist’s vaccine tweet ‘misleading’

Twitter marked a Dutch populist politician’s tweet about the coronavirus vaccine as misleading a week before elections, continuing efforts against misinformation that saw the social media giant ban Donald Trump.

Thierry Baudet, the leader of the anti-immigration, eurosceptic Forum for Democracy (FvD) party, tweeted on Sunday that he would refuse to be vaccinated and said the jabs caused side effects.

“To be clear: I will ABSOLUTELY NOT be ‘vaccinated’ against corona. The risk of that virus to me is completely ‘negligible’,” Baudet tweeted.

“The side effects are severe. And the long-term effect on the immune system is completely unknown.”

Twitter added a warning to the tweet on Monday with a blue exclamation mark saying: “This Tweet is misleading. Find out why health officials consider Covid-19 vaccines safe for most people.”

Below is Mr Baudet’s offending tweet:

06:22 PM

Long Covid ‘worse for those who had mild illness’

Long Covid is often worse for those who had mild illness, a top doctor has said.

The illness has seen people develop long-lasting symptoms including fatigue, chest and joint pains and “brain fog” which hampers the ability to focus and concentrate.

Though progress has been made by clinicians in treating coronavirus, its long-term effects are less clear.

Dr Melissa Heightman of University College London Hospitals told BBC Radio: “The symptoms can be more difficult and more long-lasting in patients who were not admitted to hospital.”

“Fortunately in those who were admitted with severe illness, many of them are following a really lovely improving trend with time. And in others the symptoms do tend to be a bit more stubborn, a bit more long-lasting.

“The virus has different effects in those people. Even in those patients many are still improving in time but the improvement can be quite slow.

“And this post-viral syndrome that we see probably has a number of quite difficult mechanisms underlying it that is definitely something we need to research quite urgently.”

Mason Boycott Owen has the full story here

06:12 PM

Comment: ‘I’m 15. Don’t you dare tell me that masks in school are harmless’

I was desperate to get back to school. But masks have ruined it, writes one 15-year-old.

People view masks as a fairly minor restriction, with minor impacts. That’s not true.

As Molly Kingsley pointed out in The Telegraph, in Germany a study of over 25,000 children wearing masks throughout the school day reports headaches (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), malaise (42%), impaired learning (38%) and drowsiness or fatigue (37%).

In France social media is awash with reports of parents measuring children’s oxygen levels at the end of the school day and finding them to be dangerously low.

That all chimes with my own personal experience.

People my age want to be in school primarily for the social element. Masks remove that. We’re all just exhausted by sadness and anger, desperate to escape or even just to breathe for a minute, because we’ve had no break since March 2020.

06:00 PM

Larger groups allowed to socialise outside in Scotland with nearly 40pc adults vaccinated

People in Scotland will be able to meet in larger groups from Friday with almost 40 per cent of the country’s adult population now vaccinated, Nicola Sturgeon has announced

The First Minister said four people from two households will now be able to meet outdoors from Friday.

It comes after new figures revealed that close to 1.8 million people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Scotland.

For children aged between 12 and 17, outdoor meetings will also be limited to four people, but these can be from up to four households.

The First Minister also said that while travel restrictions cannot be lifted for adults, they will be eased slightly for children taking part in sport where their club may be “a bit outside” their council area.

Outdoor, non-contact sports for adults in groups of up to 15 will also be able to start again from Friday.

In addition communal worship is set to restart from Friday, March 26. The limit on attendance has risen from 20 to 50, so long as two-metre distancing can be in place.

05:52 PM

No contract signed to produce Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, says French official

No company in France has signed a contract with Russia to produce its Covid-19 Sputnik V vaccine, a spokesman for France’s industry minister has said.

This appears to contradict statements made by the head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund.

“We have not identified a site which meets their requirements,” the spokesman said.

“As far as we’re aware, no contract has been signed by a company in France to produce the Sputnik V vaccine.”

Earlier, the head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund said his organisation had struck deals with production facilities in Italy, Spain, France and Germany to manufacture the Russian vaccine.

05:43 PM

Mexico leans on China after Biden rules out vaccines sharing in short term

Mexico is turning to China to fill a vaccine shortfall with an order for 22 million doses, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday, a week after U.S. President Joe Biden ruled out sharing vaccines with Mexico in the short term.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spearheaded efforts to attain more help from China, Ebrard said.

“As a result of a process personally led by the president of the republic, we have received the confirmation that we will have an expansion of up to 22 million doses,” Ebrard said during Lopez Obrador’s regular news conference.

Mexico’s vaccine roll out has been criticised as overly slow, though officials say they’ve been hampered by delays in receiving vaccines amid global shortages.

05:35 PM

Watch: Chris Whitty forecasts ‘significant’ and ‘substantial’ surge in the virus

05:29 PM

Close to 600,000 vaccinated in Northern Ireland as programme ramps up

Northern Ireland is set to reach a “great milestone” of 600,000 people vaccinated against coronavirus on Wednesday, ahead of a ramping up of the rollout.

Health Minister Robin Swann said he is expecting the largest delivery yet of a single vaccine to the region this week.

He said the consignment from AstraZeneca will come in two separate batches, one which will have a use by date of the end of March.

As a result, some of the regional vaccination centres will switch from administering the Pfizer jab to AstraZeneca.

“With the numbers we are putting through now on a daily basis, we’ll be able to manage that, it will be a challenge but we have logistics now in place to be able to cope with those large numbers,” he said.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre at the Ulster Hospital with First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Mr Swann said there is a possibility of another age cohort being called “soon”.

05:19 PM

Sudan launches vaccination roll out for medical workers

Sudan has launched a coronavirus vaccination roll-out, giving priority to medical workers.

Health care workers at Jabra isolation hospital in the capital Khartoum were the first to receive their dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A man receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the Jabra Hospital in Sudan's capital Khartoum - AFP

A man receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the Jabra Hospital in Sudan’s capital Khartoum – AFP

The first phase of the roll-out will be expanded from March 15 to May 15 to include the over-45s and those with chronic conditions.

This will cover 3.5 per cent of the country’s population.

Sudan became the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to benefit from COVAX facility vaccines when it received 828,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot on March 3.

Sudan says it expects to receive the remainder of a total 3.4 million doses through COVAX, a vaccine-sharing programme co-led by the World Health Organization, in the second quarter of this year.

05:11 PM

Wuhan football team prepare for another season in isolation

As the pandemic stretches into a second year, Chinese football team Wuhan FC is back in preseason training.

In China, fortunately.

The club endured quite an ordeal last year after first being stranded in Spain on a preseason tour as its home city was overrun by the virus, and then fleeing the country just before the outbreak hit Europe hard.

Members of Wuhan Zall FC Chinese football team arrive at the Malaga's Costa del Sol Airport on January 29, 2020  - Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Members of Wuhan Zall FC Chinese football team arrive at the Malaga’s Costa del Sol Airport on January 29, 2020 – Jorge Guerrero/AFP

They had to spend nearly four months away from home.

“It was difficult on the players because they didn’t know when it would all end,” said former Wuhan coach Jose Gonzalez.

“There was too much uncertainty. Now everybody is more or less used to this situation.”

Wuhan FC, known as Wuhan Zall last year, played last season in a “bubble” back in China and nearly ended up getting relegated. The team had to win a playoff match just to stay in the country’s top division.

05:05 PM

Significant number of those with long Covid were asymptomatic when first infected, study finds

Many patients struggling to shake off the long-lasting effects of Covid-19 did not display symptoms at the time of their infection a new study has found.

Nearly a third of those struck down by so-called Long Covid were asymptomatic early in the illness, researchers found.

Doctors are increasingly worried about the long-term health effects of the coronavirus and the health burden of large numbers who are still sick many weeks after catching the bug.

A study of the medical records of nearly 1,500 people in California who tested positive for Covid-19 showed that more than a quarter were still suffering symptoms like shortness of breath and a cough two months later.

Of those, some 32 per cent had not been showing symptoms when they first tested positive, according to the unpublished paper, which has not yet been reviewed by other scientists.

Ben Farmer has the full story here

04:55 PM

Pubs face binning lockdown ‘igloo’ shelters as they don’t count as outdoor space

A row has erupted between local authorities and restaurateurs over the use of igloos and gazebos, as officials say they do not count as covered outdoor space.

Keen to have as many customers as safely possible after the April reopening, many hospitality businesses have invested in ways they can keep dry in the unpredictable Spring weather, while complying with covid rules.

Covid 'igloos' at The Sondes Arms in Rockingham, Corby - John Robertson

Covid ‘igloos’ at The Sondes Arms in Rockingham, Corby – John Robertson

Many bought their covered areas during Tier 2 restrictions in Autumn, where households could only mix outside pubs and restaurants. However, councils seem to be cracking down ahead of the April reopenings.

According to the Government lockdown lifting plan, venues will first only be able to serve people outside.

Tom Fahey, who runs The Terrace Restaurant in the Isle of Wight has been using his outdoor covered “pods”, made of perforated plastic, since October.

However, officials have said he is banned from taking bookings inside them in April, because they do not count as outdoor space.

Helena Horton has the full story here

04:46 PM

Deutsche Bank may let staff work from home three days a week

Deutsche Bank is preparing to let up to 8,000 staff in the City work from home for between one and three days a week as the Covid revolution in flexible working continues.

The lender unveiled its plan to shake up working hours as office rental firm IWG predicted a surge in demand after lockdown lifts, with more firms ditching their permanent premises and using its buildings as and when they are needed.

Tiina Lee, Deutsche’s UK boss, told Bloomberg TV that bringing staff back full-time “feels to me a little bit like a wasted opportunity”. Workers have told the lender that they want to work more flexibly in future, she said.

Standard Life Aberdeen also said it expects workers to spend several days a week at home, and is reshaping its offices to meet their demands.

Simon Foy has the full story here

04:39 PM

EU official repeats lie that UK has a vaccine export ban

Charles Michel, the European Council president, has repeated the false claim that Britain has a coronavirus vaccine export ban and claimed Brussels is merely “controlling” supplies out of the bloc.

Last week Italy banned AstraZeneca from exporting vaccines out of the EU.

Mr Michel said: “I am also shocked when I hear the accusations of ‘vaccine nationalism’ against the EU. Here again, the facts do not lie.

“The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.”

Commenting on the faltering EU vaccination rollout, he said: “Europe is not lagging behind in a sprint, but is well placed to lead the field in a marathon.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “References to a UK export ban on vaccines are completely false. The UK Government has not blocked the export of a single Covid vaccine.

“The UK champions the multinational effort to create and deliver effective vaccines across borders. We have not put restrictions on exports of Covid-19 vaccines, or any medicines that have been manufactured and are intended for markets abroad.”

04:32 PM

Spain extends ban on UK, Brazil, and South Africa arrivals

Spain on Tuesday extended its ban on arrivals from Britain, Brazil and South Africa until the end of March to avoid the spread of new coronavirus strains.

Only legal residents or nationals of Spain and the neighbouring micro-state of Andorra are currently allowed in on flights from these countries.

The restriction on arrivals from Britain was imposed at the end of December to halt the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 variant discovered there in November.

The Brazil and South Africa arrivals ban came into effect on February 3.

The only exceptions are for passengers in transit who cannot leave the airport nor remain there longer than 24 hours. It is the sixth time the ban on British arrivals has been extended.

04:22 PM

UK cruises could resume in May, says maritime minister

Cruise lines could be permitted to resume domestic voyages from May 17, a group of MPs has been told.

The All Party Parliamentary Maritime and Ports Group said maritime minister Robert Courts made the announcement at its meeting on Monday night.

Under Boris Johnson’s road map for easing coronavirus restrictions in England, May 17 is the earliest date that international travel could resume.

The Government has advised UK holidaymakers to avoid cruises since July 9 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.

P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow commented: “We are delighted that the Government has acknowledged that UK domestic cruise holidays can begin from May 17.

“Whilst it will take some weeks after this date for us to restart our operations, we are very much looking forward to welcoming guests onboard this summer.”

04:18 PM

Comment: Don’t be fooled – ‘yacht quarantine’ won’t be as luxurious as it sounds

Thailand has bold new plans to lure holidaymakers – think twice, says Ed Peters

The problem with quarantine on a cruise, whether it’s on an ocean-going liner or a something a bit larger than a bumboat, is that you can’t go for a walk around the block to take a break from your fellow guests.

They are there 24/7, snoring through the bulkhead, pumping the lavatory, slurping their soup and quarrelling, and never more than 30 feet from you.

Mind you, nothing could detract from the beauty of the archipelago, which stretches north from the port of Ranong on Thailand’s west coast up toward Myanmar.

Nothing, that is, except the squadrons of mosquitoes that descended on us every evening when we dropped anchor in yet another picture-postcard-perfect cove as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Read Ed Peters’ full commentary here

04:11 PM

Review one per cent health service pay rise without ‘fear or favour’ urges NHS boss

The head of the NHS has suggested he favours a bigger staff pay rise, urging experts to review the Government’s one per cent proposal “without fear or favour”.

Sir Simon Stevens said clinicians ought to be “properly rewarded” given the pressures of the last year.

Whilst acknowledging that the final decision was one for ministers, he told the Health Select Committee he would support a bigger rise for 2021-22, if one was recommended by the independent pay review bodies.

His comments come as the Government faces mounting backlash for proposing only one per cent, including from Conservative backbenchers.

Boris Johnson has said the rise is as big as can be afforded, and better than the pay freeze imposed over much of the public sector.

Henry Bodkin has the full story here

04:04 PM

EU rejects accusations of ‘vaccine nationalism’

European Council President Charles Michel has rejected charges of “vaccine nationalism” levelled against the EU, and said that while Britain and the United States have outright bans on exports of Covid-19 doses, the EU had not stopped exporting.

The EU has found itself under fire at home for a vaccine rollout far slower than those of former member Britain or the United States, and abroad for so far doing less than China, Russia or India to supply vaccines to poor countries.

Last week it annoyed vaccine buyers abroad by backing an Italian decision to halt a shipment to Australia.

In a lengthy statement Michel, who represents the leaders of the 27 European Union member states, laid out a defence of the bloc’s strategy.

He said that without Europe, it would not have been possible to develop and produce several vaccines in less than a year, and EU solidarity had helped poor countries get first doses.

He took aim at the “highly publicised” supply of vaccines by China and Russia to other countries.

04:00 PM

Michael Sheen ‘laid low’ by Covid-19

Michael Sheen has said he has been “laid low” by coronavirus. The 52-year-old actor said he had been ill for a “few weeks”.

In a post on Twitter, he added that it had been “very difficult” and “quite scary”.

He shared the message alongside a photo of himself smiling.

03:54 PM

Thailand offers yacht quarantining for overseas visitors

Thailand is introducing a new incentive to allow foreign visitors to quarantine on a yacht, in an effort to revive the Southeast Asian country’s struggling tourism industry.

Under the new scheme, tourists with a negative Covid-1 test will be able to spend the mandatory two-week period sailing through the turquoise waters round the popular holiday island destination of Phuket.

Last month, the country, which has been left reeling with the hit to tourism revenues during the pandemic, created a golf quarantine programme that allows small groups of golfers to enjoy resorts under the supervision of a Covid-19 commander who enforces social distancing measures.

Tourists can play the sport and use spa facilities within their own bubble after quarantining for three days. Five golf clubs across Thailand are currently authorised to take part in the scheme.

The yacht system offers more isolation, but travellers are still required to wear a smart wristband that monitors vital health indicators including temperature and blood pressure, as well as tracking their location using GPS.

03:50 PM

Watch: Thai PM sprays media with sanitiser to avoid questions on cabinet reshuffle

03:43 PM

Paris accused of making ‘health mistake’ after lockdown ruled out despite intensive care crisis

The French government’s decision not to impose a lockdown in Paris is a “health error”, according to the head of a unit of one of the French capital’s top hospitals.

The criticism came hours after Jérôme Salomon, head of French public health, said a blanket or weekend lockdown in Paris was currently “not on the cards”.

Paris hospitals have been told to cut 40 per cent of non-essential operations to free up beds for Covid patients - Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Paris hospitals have been told to cut 40 per cent of non-essential operations to free up beds for Covid patients – Benoit Tessier/Reuters

“Lockdown is a last resort measure that would be submitted to the government and the president if we were under the impression the hospital system could not cope,” he told RTL.

When asked about the decision Gilbert Deray, head of the nephrology department of Paris’ la Pitié Salpêtrière hospital, said: “A health error has been made with the consequences that we can see.”

“Nobody has shown France that what we are currently doing is better on a psychological, economical and societal level than a six to eight-week lockdown,” he told BFMTV.

Henry Samuel has the full story here

03:38 PM

Teachers receiving threatening letters from parents opposed to face masks

School leaders are receiving “threatening letters” from parents who do not want their children to wear face coverings in classrooms, MPs have heard.

Schools minister Nick Gibb urged families to allow children to wear face masks in secondary schools when they return amid reports of opposition.

David Johnston, Conservative MP for Wantage, said headteachers had told him some parents are issuing “a notice of liability” about the Department for Education’s (DfE) face mask guidance.

Addressing the education select committee on face masks, Mr Johnston said: “When a headteacher decides that actually they do need them, based on the DfE guidance, they’re getting quite challenging, some might say threatening, letters from certain parents who disagree with the stance, ordering them to desist.”

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, said: “I’ve had the same situation in my own constituency with parents vigorously challenging the heads, saying that they don’t have to wear them and that guidance is guidance and it’s not a regulation or a law.”

03:29 PM

Sir Keir Starmer condemns PM’s decision to halve proposed pay rise for NHS staff

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Today the head of the NHS confirmed that health workers were to be offered a 2.1 per cent pay rise before the pandemic.

“So why has Boris Johnson halved his offer after a year where NHS workers have put their lives on the line for our country?”

03:21 PM

China launches vaccination certificates for cross-border travel

China has launched a digital Covid-19 vaccination certificate for its citizens planning cross-border travels, joining other countries issuing similar documents as they seek ways to reopen their economies.

A few countries, including Bahrain, have already introduced certificates identifying vaccinated people and the European Union agreed to develop vaccine passports under pressure from tourism-dependent southern countries.

The certificate issued by China would have details about the holder’s Covid-19 vaccination information and coronavirus test results, the Department of Consular Affairs under China’s foreign ministry said on its website.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday the aim of the certificate was to achieve mutual verification of information such as nucleic acid testing and vaccination, and contribute to safe and orderly interaction of people.

03:17 PM

Unhealthy heart structure linked to greater risk of Covid-19 diagnosis

People who have unhealthy heart structures face a “significantly higher risk” of being diagnosed with Covid-19, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Southampton and Queen Mary University of London have analysed the health and genetic information of 310 people to examine the link between heart health and the coronavirus.

Using data from the UK Biobank database of patients, they found that people with pre-existing unhealthy heart structures and poorer heart function were more likely to test positive.

The findings, published in the journal Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, suggest these relationships were more important than factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and previous heart attack.

03:11 PM

Comment: Another lockdown to protect vaccine refuseniks would be unconscionable

If cases surge again in the Autumn, once everyone has been offered a vaccine, the Prime Minister will be faced with a moral conundrum, writes Ross Clark.

Fair enough, if people want to disbelieve the results of anonymised vaccine trials, or if they want to think that vaccines are a secret plot by Bill Gates to implant microchips in our heads.

It is their right to believe that, and I would never try to force any vaccine upon them, nor even back the idea of forcing citizens to go about with vaccine passports.

I do not believe that, ultimately, this will be a large group – so far the government reports a take-up rate of over 90 percent.

Nevertheless, Whitty’s suggestion does rather lead us into an ethical problem: should public health policy – and more especially lockdowns and other restrictions on our lives – by allowed to revolve around protecting people who have been offered a vaccine but who have refused it?

Read Ross Clark’s full commentary here

03:01 PM

Nicola Sturgeon: Rangers did not do enough to prevent mass title celebrations

Nicola Sturgeon has said Rangers “did not do nearly enough” to help avoid fans celebrating after their league victory.

Fans congregated in George Square and outside Ibrox Stadium after their side took their first top-flight title in 10 years.

Rangers fans outside Ibrox - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Rangers fans outside Ibrox – Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

On Tuesday, the First Minister told Holyrood told MSPs she shared the “anger” over the “disgraceful” behaviour and that she would be speaking with Police Scotland’s Chief Constable (Iain Livingstone) later that day to avoid a similar situation in future.

She said: “However, no one should doubt the deeply invidious situation that behaviour like this puts the police in as they discharge their responsibility to protect public order and safety.

And as far as I am concerned in this case, Rangers Football Club did not do nearly enough to help avoid this situation arising at the weekend.

02:55 PM

EU snipes at China and Russia, says won’t use vaccines for propaganda

European Council President Charles Michel has taken aim at the “highly publicised” supply of Covid-19 vaccines from China and Russia to other countries.

He said Europe would not use vaccines for propaganda purposes.

“We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organise highly limited but widely publicised operations to supply vaccines to others,” Michel, who chairs summits of European Union leaders, said in a statement.

He noted that, according to available figures, China and Russia have administered half as many vaccine doses per 100 inhabitants as the 27-nation EU.

02:43 PM

Restrictions could be lifted sooner, if data supports it, says Nicola Sturgeon

The Scottish Government “will not hesitate” to ease restrictions earlier if data supports it, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister told MSPs on Tuesday: “If the data allows us to relax more restrictions more quickly than we have previously indicated, we will not hesitate to do so.

“I’m well aware of just how difficult continued restrictions are – and I know that they get harder rather than easier to bear, as time goes on.

“I also know – because I feel this too – that the progress on vaccination makes us even more impatient to reach the end of this ordeal as quickly as possible.

“But I am certain that easing restrictions too quickly would be a mistake that we would regret.”

02:37 PM

40pc of Scotland’s adult population now vaccinated

Almost 40 per cent of Scotland’s adult population has received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister told MSPs that “good progress” was being made with the vaccination programme, which has inoculated almost 1.8 million people.

Ms Sturgeon said: “There is already strong evidence that the vaccination programme has significantly reduced deaths in care homes.

“Studies are also showing that vaccination – as well as reducing illness and death – can significantly reduce transmission of the virus.

“We, therefore, have increasing confidence that as more and more people acquire some protection through vaccination, we will be able to ease restrictions while still keeping the R number below 1.”

02:34 PM

Nicola Sturgeon:

Nicola Sturgeon has said the country is “heading in the right direction we cannot afford to take our foot of the brake too soon”.

We must keep the virus under control to ensure a more ‘normal’ summer, she adds.

Restrictions will be eased quicker if possible, she says.

Ms Sturgeon has announced the following loosening of restrictions in Scotland:

  • From Friday up to four adults from two households can meet outdoors.

  • Meeting will be possible in any outdoor space including private gardens. People should only go indoors if “essential”.

  • For 12-17 year-olds meetings will be limited to four people but will not be limited to two households.

  • Ms Sturgeon hopes to relax travel restrictions within Scotland in the weeks ahead.

  • From Friday outdoor non-contact sport and organised group exercise will be permitted for all adults, in groups of up to 15 people .

  • Communal worship set to restart from Friday, March 26. Limit on attendance is up from 20 to 50, so long as two-metre distancing can be in place.

02:28 PM

Nicola Sturgeon promises ‘very significant acceleration’ of vaccine supply

Nicola Sturgeon has said from the middle of March there will be a “very significant acceleration” of vaccine supply.

This means that the number of doses administered daily is expected to rise.

However she cautions that case numbers remain high and while they are confident the R number is below 1, it is not very far below 1.

02:25 PM

Nicola Sturgeon will announce timeline for shops, hairdressers and gyms reopening next week

Nicola Sturgeon has said: “Next week I will set out a more indicative timeline for the reopening of the economy – including shops, hairdressers, gyms and some of our tourism sector”.

The First Minister provides an update of the latest cases, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 in Soctland.

Infections now average of 490 new cases a day – with test positivity just above three per cent.

Admissions to hospital are falling and the number of deaths almost halved since first week of January.

02:22 PM

Nicola Sturgeon condemns ‘disgraceful and selfish’ Rangers fans

Nicola Sturgeon is starting her announcement by calling out the “disgraceful and selfish” behaviour of gathering Rangers fans for their actions at the weekend.

She says Rangers could have done more’ to stop the gatherings at the weekend.

02:18 PM

Red Cross: An ‘invisible wall’ blocks migrants accessing Covid treatment and vaccines

The Red Cross has warned that an “invisible wall” has blocked migrants from accessing basic services throughout the pandemic – and now stands in between them and Covid-19 vaccines.

In a report published on Tuesday, the international organisation said this exclusion wasn’t purposeful but “inadvertent”.

“For example, in some countries, migrants have been unable to access Covid-19 testing or treatment because they do not have a national identity or social security number,” said said Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

“In other situations, migrants reported being hesitant to consult a doctor, seek treatment or, more recently, register for the COVID-19 vaccine due to fears of disclosing private information which may be shared with immigration authorities to arrest, detain or deport them.”

He added that learning from this experience to ensure all migrants are included in the vaccine rollout “is key to ending the pandemic”.

02:14 PM

Chief constable asks expert to probe policing of Rangers fans’ gatherings

Scotland’s top police officer has asked an expert to scrutinise the force’s handling of the unlawful celebrations in Glasgow at the weekend.

Rangers fans congregated in George Square and outside Ibrox Stadium after their side took their first top-flight title in 10 years.

Rangers fans set off smoke bombs as they gather outside the Ibrox Stadium - Getty Images Europe

Rangers fans set off smoke bombs as they gather outside the Ibrox Stadium – Getty Images Europe

Police made 28 arrests and seven people were issued with fixed penalty notices or will be reported to the procurator fiscal.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has now asked John Scott QC to consider the events at the next scheduled Independent Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Friday.

02:08 PM

Greece to welcome vaccinated and Covid-negative tourists from May

People who are vaccinated against Covid-19, have antibodies or test negative can travel to Greece this summer, Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis said on Tuesday.

Tourism is a major income earner for Greece, which has led calls for an EU-wide vaccination certificate to help unlock travel.

The industry accounts for about a fifth of the Greek economy and employs one in five workers, but arrivals collapsed last year because of the pandemic.

Greece is aiming to kick off its vital summer season by mid-May, said Theocharis as he addressed the ITB Berlin trade show from the Athens Acropolis Museum, home to sculptures from Greek antiquity.

“Greece is ready with a complete protocol for summer 2021,” he said. “Tourists will be welcome if before travel they are either vaccinated, or have antibodies, or test negative. All tourists will be subject to random testing.”

02:04 PM

Nicola Sturgeon to announce loosening of lockdown restrictions

Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland are expected to be eased slightly to allow more people to meet up outdoors.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to provide an update shortly about the state of the pandemic and lockdown at Holyrood.

On Monday, her deputy John Swinney said “the data is going in the right direction” and that ministers were “hopeful” that measures could be eased.

However the overall “stay at home” order is expected to remain in place for some weeks to come.

At present, only two people from two households are allowed to meet outdoors in Scotland.

We will bring you all the latest developments here on our liveblog.

02:00 PM

International borders need to reopen ‘at some point,’ says Patrick Vallance

A global screening programme to detect Covid-19 variants could help release international travel, with borders having to open “at some point”, the Government’s chief scientific adviser has said.

Sir Patrick Vallance suggested to MPs that worldwide progress in vaccinating against Covid-19 could also be key to unlocking international travel.

He said that “inevitably at some point travel will reopen” and “as more countries become vaccinated and as we get the ability to understand how much transmission is reduced by vaccination, it makes freer movement across countries much more possible again”.

This might involve “certification or whatever” but travel has to reopen in a safe way, possibly with a global screening programme to help detect variants, he told the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

May 17 has been pencilled in by the Government as the earliest date for the resumption of international travel.

01:48 PM

Covid deaths in over-80s fall 79pc in five weeks

Weekly deaths involving coronavirus in the over-80s in England and Wales have fallen 79 per cent since a peak five weeks ago, figures show.

There were 1,118 Covid-19 deaths in adults aged 80 and over which took place in the week ending February 26, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is a fall of more than three-quarters since the week ending January 22, when 5,326 deaths involving coronavirus took place in this age group, according to PA news agency analysis.

Deaths in adults aged 75-79 have dropped 79 per cent over the same period, while for 70 to 74-year-olds the fall was 76 per cent.

Some deaths in the latest week may not yet have been fully recorded.

01:42 PM

Update: Austria carries out autopsy of nurse who died after taking vaccine

An autopsy of the nurse is being carried out and Wirthumer-Hoche said she expected the results next week.

European Union regulators at the end of January approved the product, saying it was effective and safe to use, while the World Health Organization in mid-February listed it for emergency use.

Adverse reactions seen in trials were short-lived for the most part and blood clotting problems were not reported.

A safety assessment by Germany’s vaccine regulator of more than 360,000 people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine last month concluded that adverse reactions were in line with the safety profile described in clinical trials.

01:36 PM

Schools minister urges parents to allow children to wear face coverings

The schools minister has urged parents to allow their children to wear face coverings in secondary school classrooms amid reports of opposition.

Nick Gibb, Schools Standards Minister, told the Education Select Committee: “I would say to parents you should allow your child to wear a face mask in the classroom because it protects the other children in the classroom, and also actually may well prevent your child from having to self isolate because somebody near them has tested positive for Covid.”

Year 9 students wear ace masks as they take part in lessons on the first day back at school yesterday - Toby Melville/Reuters

Year 9 students wear ace masks as they take part in lessons on the first day back at school yesterday – Toby Melville/Reuters

His comments came after David Johnston, Conservative MP for Wantage, said headteachers had told him that some parents are issuing “a notice of liability” about the Department for Education’s (DfE) face mask guidance and parents have called on schools not to require that pupils wear face coverings.

Mr Johnston said: “When a headteacher decides that actually they do need them, based on the DfE guidance, they’re getting quite challenging, some might say threatening, letters from certain parents who disagree with the stance ordering them to desist.”

01:32 PM

English Heritage welcomes visitors back to its historic sites from March 29

English Heritage will be welcoming visitors back to its historic properties and sites from March 29.

Over 50 of the charity’s sites, which have been closed to the public since December 2020 during the pandemic, will be opening at the end of March.

Police at a snowy Stonehenge in Wiltshire - Andrew Matthews/PA

Police at a snowy Stonehenge in Wiltshire – Andrew Matthews/PA

The charity says sites including Stonehenge and Boscobel House and the Royal Oak will follow after, provided the country successfully passes each milestone on the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s Chief Executive, said: “We can’t wait to open up our sites again and to welcome people back.

“It’s been a long, long winter and our sites – with their wide open spaces, beautiful buildings, fun events and fascinating stories – will be the tonic we all need.”

01:24 PM

‘Urgent need’ to give hospitals certainty over Covid costs, says NHS England boss

Hospitals have an “urgent need” to be given certainty over future Covid costs, the head of the NHS in England has said.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs on the Health and Social Care Select Committee he has an “expectation” that the NHS will be given more money to cope with the bill for caring for people with Covid-19.

Meanwhile, he said cancer care is a “top priority” for the NHS.

Money for the 2021/22 financial year will come from the NHS long-term funding settlement, with additional funding allocated in the November Spending Review to catch up on the backlog of care that has arisen as a result of Covid.

The chief executive of NHS England said the health service has also been provided with the extra costs of looking after Covid-19 patients.

01:18 PM

Covid-19 vaccine batch, that Austria halted use of, went to 17 countries

Austria was one of 17 European countries to receive doses from a batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that Austrian authorities have stopped using while investigating a death and an illness following their use, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

A 49-year-old nurse in Zwettl, a town northwest of Vienna, died as a result of severe coagulation disorders after receiving the vaccine.

Another nurse from Zwettl who is 35 and received a dose from the same batch, ABV 5300, developed a pulmonary embolism and is recovering.

“We informed all European colleagues in the European network as this batch, which amounted to roughly a million doses in total, was sent to 17 European countries,” Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, the head of Austrian public health agency AGES’ medicines market supervisory body, told a news conference.

AstraZeneca has said all batches are subject to strict and rigorous quality controls and that there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”

01:12 PM

Sweden records 11,014 new Covid-19 cases

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 11,014 new Covid cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.

The figure compared with 11,804 cases during the corresponding period last week.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 39 new deaths, taking the total to 13,042. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours’ but lower than in several European countries that opted for lockdowns.

01:04 PM

Dutch clubbers turn to cannabis during lockdown

Dutch clubbers used half as much ecstasy, amphetamines and alcohol during the first lockdown in the Netherlands but some smoked more cannabis instead, reports James Crisp.

3,765 festival-going 16 to 35-year-olds were quizzed about the changes in their drug consumption by the Trimbos addition institute, the Dutch News website reported.

The April to May lockdown closed festivals, concerts and nightclubs, which had a big impact on drug use.

During lockdown, four out of 10 clubbers said that they had smoked more cannabis than usual because they were bored. Nione out of 10 said they felt isolated,

While 83 per cent of respondents said they still met with friends during lockdown and 40 percent had attended at least one illegal house party.

The institute said the survey’s finding were not representatives of young Dutch people in general.

01:00 PM

Downing St delivers over 33,000 laptops and tablets to help children with remote learning

More than 33,000 additional laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched by the Government to help children with remote learning over the past week.

New figures from the Department for Education suggest 688,317 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since the lockdown began on January 4 – which is an extra 33,544 devices compared to last week.

A total of 1,250,738 laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the pandemic.

01:00 PM

Lockdown exit cannot be speeded up even if the data is good, says Chris Whitty

It is “very unlikely” that lockdown exit will be speeded up, even if data on Covid cases keeps being better than was forecast, the country’s chief medical officer has said.

Prof Chris Whitty said he would “strongly advise” against any move to shorten the timetable for easing lockdown restrictions.

“If you open up too fast, a lot more people die,” Prof Whitty told MPs.

More than 22 million people have now had their first vaccine, and daily cases and deaths are the lowest for five months.

Laura Donnelly has the full story here

12:52 PM

Overseas travel and new variants mean Covid will never be wiped out, Whitty and Vallance tell MPs

A Zero Covid strategy is not possible, as the virus will never be eliminated, the Government’s scientists have said.

Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, both ruled out such an approach, saying new variants and overseas travel mean the virus cannot be wiped out.

Sir Patrick told MPs: “I do not think that zero Covid is possible. I think there’s nothing to suggest that this virus will go away, at least any time soon.”

“I would expect to see more variants emerge,” he told the Commons science and technology committee. “I do not think we will stop new variants emerging.

Meanwhile Prof Whitty said he would love Covid to “magically disappear” but warned this could not happen with a virus which is highly transmissible and spread asymptomatically.

Laura Donnelly has the full story here

12:49 PM

One million people given first vaccine dose in Wales

One million people in Wales have now received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

Public Health Wales (PHW) figures on Tuesday showed 1,007,391 people have received at least their first jab, while 192,030 people have been fully vaccinated after also receiving their second.

The milestone means almost 40 per cent of the adult population now have a level of protection against Covid-19 within the first 13 weeks of Wales’ vaccination programme.

The Welsh Government said an anticipated dip in vaccine supplies over the past three weeks would increase during the next fortnight, with around 200,000 vaccinations possible and around 30,000 a day being administered.

The latest data for Tuesday shows an increase of 9,095 of first doses from the previous day’s figures and a further 8,291 second doses.

12:42 PM

Boris Johnson has not received vaccine, Downing St confirms

Downing Street has said Boris Johnson is yet to be invited for a coronavirus vaccine.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It remains the case I’ve not heard that he’s been invited to have one yet but when he does he will more than happily come forward and take the vaccine.”

12:42 PM

Illegal weddings mask sacrifices made by orthodox Jewish community, rabbis say

Illegal weddings hosted during lockdown have unfairly masked the sacrifices made by London’s Orthodox Jewish community in the pandemic, local leaders have said.

Stamford Hill in north-east London hit headlines earlier this year when authorities said around 400 people had gathered inside one of the area’s schools for a wedding.

 Police broke up a wedding party of 150 guests at Hatorah Senior Girls' School, in Stamford Hill last month  - Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe

Police broke up a wedding party of 150 guests at Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, in Stamford Hill last month – Hollie Adams/Getty Images Europe

These figures were eventually revised down to 150, prompting anger among some locals.

Levi Schapiro, a founding director of the Jewish Community Council of North London, said circulation of the initial figures by authorities had “damaged” and “created hate” towards the community.

Rabbi Schapiro condemned those who had thrown the wedding, but said their actions were not representative of everyone.

He said: “We are very, very upset with those two families who did that wedding. But as a community, the vast majority of us have sacrificed a lot. We have sacrificed seven or eight different celebrations and holidays.

12:34 PM

Hunt for universal Covid vaccine heats up with major cash injection

The hunt for a vaccine that protects against all Covid-19 variants as well as other coronaviruses is set to heat up with “nine-figure” funding injection, The Telegraph can reveal.

Around 20 teams around the world are at the early stages of developing vaccines that offer broader protection against a range of coronaviruses, from Covid-19 to Sars.

So-called universal vaccines of this type have long been a holy grail in the fight against infectious diseases, such as flu, and could be important not just for this pandemic but for heading off future threats.

Now the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), a key player in the development of Covid-19 vaccines, is set to announce a “call for proposals” for researchers working on universal coronavirus vaccines, with hundreds of millions of dollars of funding available.

Dr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of Cepi, told The Telegraph: “This is the third coronavirus in the 21st century, and that ought to be the hair-on-fire urgency to take coronavirus off the table.

“So in the next couple of weeks we’ll be announcing a very significant investment in developing broadly protecting or even universal coronavirus vaccine.”

Jennifer Rigby has the full story here

12:29 PM

Pfizer vaccine neutralises Brazil variant, study finds

The Pfizer vaccine is able to neutralise the highly contagious Brazilian P.1 variant, a study has found.

Blood from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was effective against a version of the virus engineered to carry the same mutations as P.1, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccine’s efficacy against the Brazilian variant was roughly the same as against a less infectious strain from 2020, scientists said.

Pfizer has previously found that its vaccine is able to neutralise other highly contagious variants that were first found in the UK and South Africa.

Public health experts have said that the Brazilian coronavirus variant has currently not reached the UK in sufficient numbers to present a major threat to the vaccine roll-out, amid evidence it is up to 2.2 times more transmissible.

12:13 PM

Ireland expects first J&J vaccine by mid-April

Ireland expects to receive its first doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine from mid-April and not early April as initially planned, the head of the country’s health service operator has said.

J&J’s vaccine, which requires only one dose for protection, is expected to be approved on March 11 for use in the European Union by the bloc’s regulator. EU officials have said deliveries could start in April.

In an updated roll-out plan published last month, Ireland forecast that it would receive 602,000 J&J shots in the second quarter – around 15 per cent of its total quarterly supply – and would start administering the vaccine in the first week of April.

“The assumption on Johnson & Johnson is about 600k over quarter two, but primarily back-ended. Smaller numbers in mid-April,” Health Service Executive (HSE) chief Paul Reid told a parliamentary committee.

Ireland has administered almost 525,000 vaccines among its population of 4.9 million, primarily using the Pfizer-BioNTech , vaccine. Almost 150,000 have also received the second of their two doses

12:04 PM

Vaccine failures leave eurozone trailing UK’s economic recovery

The UK will enjoy a faster bounceback than the eurozone from the Covid-19 crisis this year thanks to the success of its vaccination programme, a leading international think tank has said.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s latest interim economic outlook was far more optimistic on the UK’s prospects than three months ago, upgrading its growth forecast this year from 4.2 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

The performance is set to outpace the Eurozone, where the recovery has been hampered by a shambolic vaccine roll-out. The OECD lifted its forecasts by just 0.3 percentage points to 3.9pc for the region this year.

The UK has vaccinated 32 people per 100 since the programme began in December, compared to just nine per 100 in the eurozone.

Simon Foy has the full story here

11:57 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: We cannot stop overseas variants coming in

Asked about the Government’s maintenance of a “red list” of countries with concerning variants, Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs: “There is some logic in thinking about where you have got the highest prevalence of either the virus overall or a particular variant.

“But I don’t think we should dream that you can stop these things coming in or, indeed, evolving within domestic virus transmission.”

11:55 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘Variants likely to arise everywhere’

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs that coronavirus variants people are concerned about “are likely to arise everywhere”.

“Largely they have been detected in countries which have got good sequencing capabilities, so there will definitely be other variants that simply haven’t been detected because they will be in other countries that aren’t sequencing,” he said.

“I would expect to see more variants emerge.”

The process of “convergent evolution” meant similar variants were arising separately in different parts of the world.

“This is something that means we will see those being acquired in this country and is again a reason to keep rates down as low as possible,” he said.

“That’s where I think we should focus our attention.”

11:53 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘Zero Covid’ strategy not possible

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said a “zero Covid” strategy was not possible.

“Our focus needs to be on reducing the levels we have here. That is the key point, to keep things under control,” he said.

“As levels come down test, trace and isolate becomes increasingly important, cluster identification – making sure we understand where there are outbreaks and how to deal with them – and of course the vaccine is going to make a huge difference to all of this.

“I do not think that zero Covid is possible. I think there’s nothing to suggest that this virus will go away, at least any time soon.

“It’s going to be there, circulating. It may be a winter virus that comes back over winters with increasing infection rates during that period.”

11:43 AM

Nightingale hospitals to close from April

Nightingale hospitals set up to cope with a spike in Covid-19 cases are to close from April, although the sites in London and Sunderland will stay open for vaccinations.

NHS England said existing hospitals have been able to increase their beds so successfully that the Nightingales are no longer needed.

A network of seven hospitals in England was set up last spring amid fears that the health service may end up overwhelmed, as had happened in some other countries.

The Nightingale hospitals in England were largely not needed and some were stepped down to rehabilitation centres.

In January, the Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported figures published by minister for innovation Lord Bethell, which put the total cost of the temporary hospitals at around £532 million by the end of the 2022 financial year.

The estimate included costs for setting up the Nightingales, running costs, stand-by costs and decommissioning costs.

11:38 AM

Have you reunited with a loved one in a care home? We want to hear from you

As of Monday, March 8, care home residents have been allowed one visitor indoors for the first time in a year.

Up until this point, people have only been able to see their loved ones through windows and screens, if it all.

We want to hear from you about your first care home visit following the new guidance.

11:33 AM

Head of NHS praises volunteers in vaccination rollout.

NHS England’s chief executive praised the scores of volunteers he described as the “force multipliers” that have helped the NHS with the vaccination programme.

Sir Simon Stevens also revealed a vaccination hub has opened at Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner in London.

“If you’ve been to your local vaccination services or centres, you will have seen that as well as the brilliant work that GPs and nurses and other NHS staff are doing, the force multiplier are the volunteers,” he told the Health and Social Care Committee on the health and social care white paper.

“This is a huge community mobilisation across the country and that speaks to the fact that part of the success with uptake here is that this is not just a medical exercise, this is also reaching in communities with community leaders and engaging people.

11:27 AM

NHS staff were expecting higher pay rise, says Sir Simon Stevens

NHS staff in England were expecting to receive a higher pay rise than the one per cent proposed by the Government, the head of the health service has confirmed.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, confirmed that plans set out previously had budgeted for NHS pay to increase by 2.1 per cent this year.

It comes as the Government has defended its proposal to give some NHS staff in England a one per cent pay rise.

Labour has accused the Government of “breaking their promise” to health workers.

Sir Simon said that proper recognition for what staff have been through over the course of the pandemic is “entirely right”.

But he called for the independent pay review body to be allowed to do its work without “fear or favour”.

11:22 AM

No lockdown planned for Paris despite cases reaching three-month high

France is not planning to put the Paris region into lockdown even though the number of people with Covid-19 in intensive care is at its highest since November, public health director Jerome Salomon has said.

Medical authorities in the Paris region, which accounts for about one-sixth of France’s population, ordered hospitals on Monday to cancel 40 per cent of their regular activities to make space for critical Covid-19 patients.

Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Boulogne - Alain Jocard/AFP

Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the Ambroise Pare hospital in Boulogne – Alain Jocard/AFP

But Salomon told RTL radio: “A lockdown in the greater Paris region is not on the agenda.”

“Lockdown is a last resort measure that would be submitted to the government and the president if we were under the impression the hospital system could not cope,” he said.

The number of people treated in intensive care units for Covid-19 in France reached a 14-1/2-week-high on Monday at 3,849. The figure was almost 1,000 for the Paris region.

11:18 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance defends ‘big bang’ opening of schools

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance was questioned on the approach being followed to reopen schools in England in a “big bang” rather than in a phased way as in other parts of the UK.

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee - PA

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee – PA

Sir Patrick told MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee the Sage scientific advisory panel looked at the “impact or the potential impact of schools opening – with all the uncertainties around that – and then to look at what would happen in single opening versus staggered”.

“In either case you end up in the same place, you end up over a different timescale to get there and, again, you would need to allow enough time in any staggered opening to be able to measure what you do as you go along,” he said.

The advice was “almost certainly the same” across all the devolved administrations, he said.

11:13 AM

Chris Whitty: Four weeks of data needed before next lockdown steps

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told MPs it was important to wait for four weeks of data before making a decision on the next step.

Without that gap “it’s pretty doubtful you would be in a position where you are going to be able to say ‘these data look so fantastically better, please take more risks here”‘.

“I think that seems a very unlikely situation, given how large these blocks of activity are.”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance echoed that view, telling MPs: “If you truncate that, you are essentially flying blind.

“You might feel ‘oh, I can smell it going in a certain direction, it looks like this’, but you really want to know.”

11:11 AM

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine could be produced in Italy

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 could be produced in Europe for the first time after a commercial deal to produce it in Italy was signed by the Moscow-based RDIF sovereign wealth fund and Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne.

The agreement, which will need approval from Italian regulators before production can be launched, has been confirmed by both RDIF and the Italian-Russian chamber of commerce.

It is the latest evidence that some EU members are not willing to wait for the EU’s own regulator — the European Medicines Agency (EMA) — to grant its approval to Sputnik V.

Scientists said the Russian vaccine was almost 92 per cent effective, based on peer-reviewed late-stage trial results published in The Lancet medical journal last month.

Sputnik V has already been approved or is being assessed for approval in three EU member states – Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

11:07 AM

Excess deaths pass 50,000 since start of pandemic

The number of excess deaths that have occurred in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has now passed 50,000.

Excess deaths are the number of deaths above the average for the corresponding period in the non-pandemic years of 2015-19.

There were 50,810 excess deaths in homes in England and Wales registered between March 7 2020 and February 26 2021, according to the ONS.

Of this total, 7,056 – 14 per cent – were deaths involving Covid-19.

Any death involving Covid-19 is counted as an excess death because Covid-19 did not exist before 2020.

11:00 AM

I’ve been vaccinated – so where can I go on holiday this summer?

How the tables turn. For much of the pandemic, it is the younger generations who have “enjoyed” the meagre silver linings of a bleak era – less prone to the worst of Covid-19, less fearful of the damage it can do, Chris Leadbeater writes.

But as the vaccination process against the virus rolls out, the clouds are starting to part over a more “experienced” set of age groups. Not the twenty- and thirtysomethings who will have to wait their turn for a liberating jab in the arm, but those of a “finer vintage” who are already feeling the benefit of medical science.

Kyra Panagia beach on the Greek island of Karpathos in the Aegean Sea - Digfoto/imageBroker RF

Kyra Panagia beach on the Greek island of Karpathos in the Aegean Sea – Digfoto/imageBroker RF

The Government has said that all UK citizens over 50 will have received at least one anti-coronavirus shot by May, which should be just in time for the holiday season in Europe.

Of course, this is just a first step. There is no guarantee that all borders will be unlocked come summer – but there is hope that foreign holidays may restart by May 17. The tone in Westminster is still foreboding, with non-British travellers from 33 “red list” countries banned from entering the country, and British arrivals from the same places now forced to isolate in allocated quarantine hotels at their own expense.

Here’s what we know so far about holidays this summer.

10:55 AM

Rule of six measures from May 17 involve ‘significant risks’

Professor Chris Whitty suggested the measures pencilled in for May 17, when indoor mixing of up to six people could be allowed, involved “significant risks”.

He told MPs he would “strongly advise” against any attempt to “concertina” the five-week interval between steps.

The rule of six is set to return outdoors from April, and indoors from May - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

The rule of six is set to return outdoors from April, and indoors from May – Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

The April 12 measures are “a very big block”, Prof Whitty said, with shops and outdoor hospitality due to open.

10:48 AM

World playing ‘Russian roulette’ with pathogens

The world is playing an “ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens” according to a collection of health and environmental groups, writes Sarah Newey.

The Preventing Pandemics at the Source coalition has warned that governments are not doing enough to tackle the root cause of pandemics: the destruction of nature.

While trillions has been spent, justifiably, on boosting healthcare capacity and the global economy, far less expensive measures to stem deforestation and tackle the illegal wildlife trade have been sidelined.

The Sars-Cov-2 virus – like diseases including HIV, Ebola and Zika – is thought to have jumped from bats to an as-yet-unidentified animal to humans. As humans and livestock are pushed into ever-closer contact with wildlife, more pathogens with pandemic potential are likely to spillover into people.

“The Covid-19 vaccines will help rescue us from this current mess, but it won’t do a thing to protect us from the next pandemic,” Aaron Bernstein at the TH Chan school of public health at Harvard University in the US told the Guardian.

“Only with actions that stop emerging infections where they start can we end our ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens.”

10:40 AM

Equitable distribution of Covid jabs the ‘HIV/Aids fight of our lifetime’

The co-chair of Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine delivery alliance has described efforts to equitably distribute vaccines across the continent as the “HIV/Aids fight of our generation”, writes Sarah Newey.

Speaking at an event at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine last night, Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija said that the rollout of vaccines across Africa is a mammoth task, with “equity the priority”.

“This is the HIV/Aids fight of our lifetime, and that we must ensure that everybody gets what they need, to the very last mile in Africa,” she said.

Dr Olatunbosun-Alakija added that the World Health Organization-led Covax scheme is a “wonderful initiative” but, if Africa relied solely on it, only 20 per cent of the population would be protected.

An employee unloads boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, delivered as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative - Amanuel Sileshi/AFP

An employee unloads boxes of Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, delivered as a part of the UN-led Covax initiative – Amanuel Sileshi/AFP

“If we’re going to vaccinate 60 to 70 per cent or whatever we need, that calculation to achieve our immunity, the Africa union has to procure and purchase vaccines for themselves,” she said.

“We work hand in hand with Covax… it’s not a competition, it is complimentary.”

Dr Olatunbosun-Alakija added that the African Union has been able to use it’s power as a bloc to secure vaccine deals with manufacturers to ramp up access to jabs.

To date, the union has secured 300 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, as well as 270 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

10:36 AM

Chris Whitty: Keeping schools closed would be ‘significant disservice’ to children

On schools reopening, Sir Patrick Vallance tells MPs that schools are likely to increase the R number and the effects on this have to be closely monitored.

But he says a staggered reopening would have the same overall effect as the widespread return seen in English education yesterday.

“When we look back at the impact of schools opening, in general schools seem to reflect quite closely what’s happening in the community,” Sir Patrick says. “Although we know that spread occurs in schools and of course children can catch it, it still looks like the way in which schools impact on this is largely as a reflection of community spread, rather than as a driver.”

Children, parents, teachers and the wider effects of transmission must all be considered, Prof Chris Whitty adds.

“In the case of children, it’s unambiguous about the effects of education for children for their physical health, mental health and obviously their long-term prospects,” he says.

“If you don’t have children in school you are doing them a significant disservice and I don’t think anyone disputes that, whether it’s health or long-term prospects. The risk to children is extremely small, it’s not zero but it’s extremely small – smaller in fact than for seasonal flu. The risk-benefit is clearly in favour of education.”

10:30 AM

Chris Whitty appears before science committee: Key moments so far

  • Professor Chris Whitty told MPs a “significant minority do go on to get significant disease” even after they have been vaccinated

  • Government modelling of a further 30,000 deaths reflects “a surge at some point”, the Chief Medical Officer added

  • While it is “difficult” to work out who is likely to die, the “vast majority” of future coronavirus deaths will be among those who are elderly or have pre-existing health conditions, Prof Whitty said

  • The spread of coronavirus is largely driven by “much younger adults who have not yet been vaccinated”, he said, meaning that a “wave of transmission” would result if lockdown was lifted “too quickly”

  • Prof Whitty warned people who “think this is all over” to look at a rise in cases in Europe: “People should remember that things can turn bad very fast if you don’t keep a close eye on what’s going on”

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee - House of Commons/PA Wire

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee – House of Commons/PA Wire

10:14 AM

Covid third wave suggested by ‘all the modelling’, says Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty has warned MPs that “all the modelling” suggests another wave of coronavirus in 2021.

“Because it is such as common virus,even if you have a relatively small proportion of people still remaining vulnerable, that still equates to a very large number [at risk],” the chief medical officer told the science and technology committee of MPs.

“All the modelling suggests at some point we will get a surge in the virus. We hope it doesn’t happen soon – it might happen later in the summer if we open up gradually, or if there is a seasonal effect it might happen over the next autumn and winter.

“But all the modelling suggest there is going to be a further surge, and when it happens it will find the people who have not been vaccinated or where the vaccine has not worked. Some of them will be hospitalised and sadly some of them will die. That is just the reality of the situation.”

10:07 AM

Chile streaks ahead of Latin America with one of fastest vaccination rates in the world

Chile has begun administering second doses of Covid-19 vaccines as it presses ahead with an impressive vaccination campaign that has seen the Latin American nation become one of the fastest in the world.

Thanks to a strong public health network and a long history of effective immunisation campaigns, the government has been able to offer free jabs to almost one-quarter of its 19-million strong population in just over a month.

Alicia Martinez holds up her vaccination card after she was injected with a second dose of China's Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine  - Esteban Felix/AP Photo

Alicia Martinez holds up her vaccination card after she was injected with a second dose of China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine – Esteban Felix/AP Photo

The country’s voluntary inoculations began on February 3 and since then more than 4.5 million people – mostly over-60s – have received at least one shot, giving a vaccination rate of nearly 25 doses per 100 people.

That puts it in the top 10 worldwide, and fifth in terms of countries with significant-sized populations – behind the US, UK, UAE and world-leader Israel.

John Bartlett has the full story.

09:51 AM

Registered Covid deaths fell to two-month in last week of February

Registered coronavirus deaths in the last full week of February dropped by 29 per cent on the previous week, data from the Office for National Statistics show.

In total there were 2,914 registered deaths with the virus in England and Wales in the week ending February 26.

This is the lowest figure in just over two months, since the week ending December 25. Of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 26, 23.1 per cent mentioned coronavirus on the death certificate.

09:29 AM

Autistic teenager thanks NHS staff 1,000 times over

An autistic teenager in Scotland has written more than 1,000 cards to say thank you to front line staff dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

Seventeen-year-old Paddy Joyce, from Glasgow, started to write to healthcare staff at the start of the year to relieve his anxiety as he became increasingly upset amid rising numbers of deaths.

Autistic teenager Paddy Joyce who has sent almost 700 thank you cards to staff at a hospital  - NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde/PA Wire

Autistic teenager Paddy Joyce who has sent almost 700 thank you cards to staff at a hospital – NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde/PA Wire

Thanks to the help of staff at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Paddy has sent off 663 individually named cards, and is hoping to have written more than 5,000 by the end of the year.

“I saw how sad and upset they were on the news,” he said. “My mum said I should write to someone, so I asked her to find someone and lots of people wanted one, so I want to write to everyone.”

09:13 AM

Nightingale closures ‘important moment’ in Covid recovery, says Matt Hancock

In a video posted on social media, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said the closure of the Nightingale hospitals was an “important moment in our national recovery”.

He said the hospitals were a “monument to this country’s ability to get things done fast when it really matters” and played a “critical role” in the UK’s response to coronavirus.

“Because of [our] progress we’re able to take an important step,” he said. “I want to thank all of those who’ve been involved in this incredible project… coming together as a team in difficult circumstances at an incredible pace.

“You showed what’s best in our NHS and what’s best in our country.”

09:04 AM

NHS staff pay rise should be ‘appropriate’, says Justice Secretary

The Justice Secretary has said he hopes NHS staff will be given an “appropriate” pay rise.

Robert Buckland said the Government was only the “beginning of a process” amid criticism of its recommendations that NHS workers should receive a pay rise of one per cent.

“The final recommendations have not yet been made. We have got to remember that in large other swathes of the public sector there will be a pay freeze save for the lowest paid. I don’t think at the moment we are at the end of this process,” he told the BBC this morning.

“I think that we need to see what the recommendations are and I very much hope that the outcome – whilst it might not be an outcome in these difficult circumstances that will result in pay rises that everybody would want to see – that the work that has been done by NHS workers will be recognised in a way that is appropriate, bearing in mind the constraints we are all under.

“It is not for me to start to prejudge what the outcome of the negotiations is. I am simply pointing out that we are at the beginning of that process and we will have to see what the recommendations are.”

09:00 AM

New syringe gets seven doses out of Covid vaccine

A Japanese medical equipment firm says it has developed a new syringe that can get seven doses out of each vial of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine – at least one more than accessible with existing syringes, reports Ben Farmer.

The health ministry approved the design on Friday, and Terumo Corp will begin production at the end of March, Reuters reported. The firm hopes to make 20 million syringes this year.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, call low dead space syringes, which cut the amount of vaccine left behind in the syringe after use.

08:25 AM

Pfizer vaccine neutralises Brazil variant, study finds

The Pfizer vaccine is able to neutralise the highly contagious Brazilian P.1 variant, a study has found.

Blood from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech jab was effective against a version of the virus engineered to carry the same mutations as P.1, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccine’s efficacy against the Brazilian variant was roughly the same as against a less infectious strain from 2020, scientists said.

Pfizer has previously found that its vaccine is able to neutralise other highly contagious variants that were first found in the UK and South Africa.

Public health experts have said that the Brazilian coronavirus variant has currently not reached the UK in sufficient numbers to present a major threat to the vaccine roll-out, amid evidence it is up to 2.2 times more transmissible.

08:06 AM

Angela Merkel’s party rocked after MPs accused of taking kickbacks for face-mask contracts

Angela Merkel’s government has been engulfed in a corruption scandal after two of its backbench MPs were accused of profiteering from the pandemic, reports Justin Huggler.

In a serious blow less than a week ahead of key regional elections, the MPs were accused of accepting backhand payments to broker government contracts for facemasks.

Nikolas Löbel resigned as an MP and as a member of Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) on Monday after admitting he accepted a commission of €250,000 (£215,000) for arranging a local government contract.

“I violated my moral obligation with my actions. I would like to apologise to all the citizens of the country,” Mr Löbel said in a statement.

A second MP, Georg Nüsslein, denies allegations he accepted backhanders of more than €600,000 (£515,000) to broker facemask contracts for the Bavarian regional government.

Read more here.

08:01 AM

Rangers fans condemned for failing to ‘take seriously’ duty to persuade fans to celebrate safely

Police Scotland have condemned Rangers Football Club for failing to “take seriously” its duty to persuade fans to celebrate the team’s title win safely after thousands of supporters flouted lockdown rules to hold wild celebrations.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said the behaviour of Rangers fans who congregated at Ibrox and George Square in Glasgow city centre on Sunday was “disgraceful” and had put the public at greater risk of catching the virus.

In an extraordinary intervention, he “strongly” condemned Rangers for failing to issue the “messages we repeatedly asked them to put out” asking fans to stay home or disperse.

Rangers fans gather in George Square to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

Rangers fans gather in George Square to celebrate the club winning the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years – Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Europe

He said it was “very clear” the club “did not take seriously their responsibilities in terms of seeking to persuade their fans to celebrate safely and responsibly” their first title win in a decade.

Mr Graham also hit back at widespread criticism of the force’s failure to take stronger action to stop the flagrant law-breaking, or to try and disperse the crowd, saying officers were “faced with considerable danger.”

Georgina Hayes and Simon Johnson have the story.

07:44 AM

Long Covid can have worse affect on patients who were not seriously ill

Long Covid causes different patterns in patients who were severely ill and those who were not hospitalised, Dr Melissa Heightman of University College London Hospitals has said.

“The symptoms can be more difficult and more long-lasting in patients who were not admitted to hospital,” she told BBC Radio 4.

“Fortunately in those who were admitted with severe illness, many of them are following a really lovely improving trend with time. And in others the symptoms do tend to be a bit more stubborn, a bit more long-lasting.

“The virus has different effects in those people. Even in those patients many are still improving in time but the improvement can be quite slow. And this post-viral syndrome that we see probably has a number of quite difficult mechanisms underlying it that is definitely something we need to research quite urgently.”

Long Covid is treatable through therapy and clinical resources, Ms Heightman said, emphasising that the focus should now be on supporting patients through their recovery process.

07:36 AM

City of London paves way for building boom despite move to home-working

The City of London has given the green light to more than 2m sq ft of new office space already this year, paving the way for a building boom despite the impact of Covid-19 on the Square Mile.

Many large financial companies have signalled a move away from five-day weeks in the office, with several big names planning to move to smaller premises.

Nonetheless, in the first two months of 2021 the City of London Corporation’s planning committee has approved the creation of nearly 80pc of the total office space that it approved last year (2.6m sq ft).

 The Corporation has approved the development of more than 2m sq ft of new office space in the Square Mile - Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The Corporation has approved the development of more than 2m sq ft of new office space in the Square Mile – Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The Corporation has given two approvals to Hong Kong-based developer Tenacity since the start of the year, and one to a major joint venture pursued by British Land.

Last month, HSBC announced it would cut office space by 40pc globally, and KPMG said it was also likely to cut space. However, some firms including Arcadis and IPG Mediabrands have sought to relocate to the square mile in recent months.

Ben Gartside has the story.

07:23 AM

Labour calls for ‘germ game’ exercises to boost pandemic preparedness

The Labour Party has called for regular “germ games” activities akin to 2016’s Exercise Cygnus in order to make the UK more prepared for future pandemics.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said that such drills needed to be “annual and regular in an era of pandemics” amid what he considers to be an increased risk from climate change.

“I think they do need to be annual and regular,” he said. “In an era, sadly, of pandemics, because of what we’re doing to our environment – this creates the conditions where we’ll see more viruses [and] pathogens jumping from animals to humans”

“They do present different problems but some of the fundamentals of infectious disease control are the same. You need to isolate sick people, you need to support people to isolate and you need to

“I would certainly start with the six or so major virus categories that the World Health Organization warn about.”

Britain should focus its preparations for further outbreaks on different types of coronaviruses and the nipah virus, Mr Ashworth said.

06:45 AM

China launches vaccination certificates for cross-border travel

China has launched a digital vaccination certificate for its citizens planning cross-border travels, joining other countries issuing similar documents as they seek ways to reopen their economies.

The certificate issued by China will have details about the holder’s Covid-19 vaccination information and coronavirus test results, the Department of Consular Affairs under China’s foreign ministry said on its website.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday the aim of the certificate is to achieve mutual verification of information such as nucleic acid testing and vaccination, and contribute to safe and orderly interaction of people.

It is not immediately clear with which countries China is talking to get its certificate recognised.

Read more: The countries already rolling out vaccine passports

06:28 AM

Eleven thousand breast cancer cases may have been missed

Nearly 11,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer following last year’s drive to “protect the NHS”, new analysis reveals.

A reluctance to burden the health service during the pandemic’s first wave, coupled with a drop in GP referrals and suspensions of screening programmes is wreaking a “tragic cost”, experts said.

Research by the charity Breast Cancer Now found there were 10,700 fewer people diagnosed with breast cancer across the UK between March and December last year.

Read the full story

05:56 AM

Madrid is showing how the arts can flourish despite Covid

The British arts sector has been offered a glimmer of hope by the Government’s roadmap, with the potential reopening of venues in mid May heralding a summer of recovery. However, over in Madrid, reopening is old news. Thanks to its comparatively relaxed Covid rules, the Spanish capital has seen thriving cultural activity since last summer when arts venues welcomed back visitors.

Unlike in the UK, Spain’s Covid response varies dramatically across the country. There are some national measures in place following their March-May 2020 lockdown, including a curfew (from 11pm to 6am) and compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in indoor public spaces, but otherwise prime minister Pedro Sánchez has given sizable decision-making powers to the country’s 17 autonomous communities.

Read the full story

Read more: When will cinemas, theatres and art galleries reopen after lockdown?

04:37 AM

Japanese company makes special syringe for Pfizer vaccine

Japan’s Terumo Corp said on Tuesday it has developed a new syringe that can get seven doses out of each vial of Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer, at least one more than accessible with existing syringes.

The health ministry approved the design on Friday, and Terumo will begin production at the end of March, a Terumo spokesman told Reuters. The Kyodo News agency, which first reported the development, said Terumo is aiming to make 20 million units this year.

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, is shipped in vials initially indicated to hold five doses. Six doses can be drawn with special syringes, call low dead space, which minimise the amount of vaccine left in the syringe after use.

04:16 AM

Indonesia approves AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

Indonesia has approved AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use, Penny K. Lukito, the chief of the country’s food and drug agency, told a news conference on Tuesday.

More than one million doses of the vaccine arrived late on Monday via the COVAX global vaccine-alliance scheme.

About 38 million doses of a vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech have arrived in the Southeast Asian country so far, some of which have been used in a mass inoculation drive starting in January.

A medical worker injects a dose of coronavirus vaccine during a vaccination for teachers drive in Palembang, Indonesia  - Anadolu

A medical worker injects a dose of coronavirus vaccine during a vaccination for teachers drive in Palembang, Indonesia – Anadolu

03:43 AM

Australian PM says vaccination programme on target

Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he remained optimistic the country’s Covid-19 vaccination drive would finish on time by October despite initial delays as it reported zero new local cases for the 11th straight day on Tuesday.

Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 but missed its targets in the first two weeks as the pace of vaccination slowed after two elderly people were inadvertently given four times the recommended dose.

Mr Morrison said the vaccination rollout targets will be met as the government looks to ramp up the immunisation drive when Australia begins the local production of vaccine by the end of the month.

03:07 AM

US daily death toll falls below 1,000

For the first time in nearly three and a half months, the United States recorded fewer than 1,000 deaths in a day from Covid-19 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In 24 hours, 749 people died from the coronavirus, far below the peak of 4,473 deaths recorded on January 12.

The daily US death toll has not been below the thousand mark since November 29, when 822 people died in a 24-hour period.

That indicates that the slowdown in the epidemic is continuing in the United States, where infection rates and deaths have fallen to similar levels as before Halloween, Thanksgiving and other end-of-year holidays that were marked by travel and larger gatherings that boosted the spread of the virus.

The slowdown is good news for President Joe Biden, whose colossal $1.9 trillion aid plan successfully passed the Senate on Saturday, and will bolster his large-scale vaccination strategy.

Read more: Vaccinated Americans can meet indoors under new guidelines

02:13 AM

Paraguayans pandemic protests build amid impeachment calls

Thousands of Paraguayans gathered around Congress in downtown Asunción on Monday, marking the fourth day of protests amid calls to impeach President Mario Abdo over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 health crisis.

The protesters, many wearing soccer jerseys and carrying national flags, chanted “Out Marito” and “Everyone out”, while criticising the authorities for the lack of medicines and intensive care beds amid a spike in cases.

“In the hospitals there are no syringes, there are no beds,” a young man who identified himself as Dudu Dávalos told local television after travelling from the city of Hernandarias, 340 km (210 miles) east of Asunción.”They had a year to prepare and did nothing.”

Paraguayans take part in a protest against President Mario Abdo Benitez's health policies and the lack of vaccines - Reuters

Paraguayans take part in a protest against President Mario Abdo Benitez’s health policies and the lack of vaccines – Reuters

02:07 AM

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