Pfizer jab produces 'off the scale immune response' likely to protect against Brazilian variant

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A vaccine distribution centre in Romania. The rollout in the EU has been hit by production delays - AP
A vaccine distribution centre in Romania. The rollout in the EU has been hit by production delays - AP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

The Pfizer vaccine produces an "off the scale" immune response that is likely to protect against the Brazilian variant of Covid-19, researchers say.

The biggest study on antibody and cellular immune factors to date suggests people are likely to be protected against the Wuhan, Kent and Brazilian types of coronavirus following two doses of the vaccine.

The research, led by the University of Birmingham and including Public Health England's Porton Down laboratory, found 98 per cent of people aged 80 or over who had two doses of the Pfizer jab had a strong antibody immune response.

Professor Paul Moss, from the University of Birmingham and leader of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, told a briefing: "We've certainly seen in this paper that the antibody levels are so good, really after the first two weeks, that we are pretty confident that this should be very helpful against the Brazilian variant."

Asked if he is surprised how well the vaccines have worked in older people, he said: "We were. When we sent these samples to Porton Down they said 'we can't give you results right now because we've got to dilute them because they're so high, they're off the scale'."

The Birmingham study included 100 people aged 80 to 96 who received their vaccine doses three weeks apart, before the UK adopted a policy of stretching the time between jabs to 12 weeks.

Prof Moss added that it will be crucial to see how long antibody levels are maintained after people have had a Covid-19 vaccine.

06:01 PM

UK news in brief

Here's a summary of today's headlines

05:56 PM

World news in brief

Here's a summary of today's headlines

  • Michel Barnier has called for a ceasefire in Britain's vaccines war with Brussels in a speech marking his farewell to the European Commission.

  • Emmanuel Macron came under heavy fire on Thursday over his lockdown U-turn as opposition groups pledged to boycott a parliamentary vote on tougher restrictions saying they would not rubber-stamp the whims of "a monarch".

  • Pfizer has accused the European Union of hampering its Covid vaccine production.

  • Holidays to some of the UK’s most popular destinations, including Spain, Greece and Turkey, will require pre-travel testing and at least three days of quarantine, according to new data.

  • As many as 15m doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine may have been ruined after a manufacturing plant mixed the wrong ingredients.

  • The Pfizer vaccine produces an "off the scale" immune response that is likely to protect against the Brazilian variant of Covid-19, researchers say.

  • All health workers in Italy must have coronavirus jabs, the government said, in a potentially controversial move aimed at protecting vulnerable patients and pushing back against 'anti-vax' sentiment.

  • The World Health Organization criticised Europe's "unacceptably slow" vaccine rollout and said the region's surge in coronavirus infections was "worrying".

05:44 PM

Police warn against large Easter weekend gatherings

Britain's biggest police force is warning people not to gather in large groups over the Easter weekend following an easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Forecasters said a "big swing" in weather conditions could bring gale-force winds and even snow to parts of the UK over the bank holiday, while parts of the South would hang on to warmer conditions for the longest.

The cooler temperatures could limit scenes of revelry seen in packed parks and beauty spots around the country during almost record-breaking March conditions earlier this week.

But the change in weather could tempt people to meet up inside, which is still banned under coronavirus regulations, except for those in the same household or support bubble.

While groups of six, or two households, are allowed to meet outside, the Metropolitan Police said larger gatherings, including house parties and illegal raves, will be shut down.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jane Connors said: "We cannot allow the selfish actions of a small minority of people to jeopardise the efforts of this city.

"We make no apology for our tough stance on shutting down those large gatherings which pose a serious risk to public health."

05:38 PM

Greece offers 330 million euros to help restaurants and bars open

Greece will offer restaurants and bars that have been under lockdown for months around 330 million euros ($390 million) in additional funding to enable them to re-open in the coming weeks, officials said on Thursday.

More than 70,000 restaurants, bars and cafes have been closed since November, when a hard lockdown was imposed to contain the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Industry associations estimate that about one in five may not be able to open ahead of the summer tourist season.

"Our goal is clear... to reopen your businesses as comfortably as possible," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during a meeting with ministers and sector representatives.

Each business will receive a grant of up to 100,000 euros, under specific criteria, to handle reopening costs, with the total package amounting to 330 million euros, the finance ministry said in a statement.

Government officials said last month that restaurants might open later in April ahead of the planned opening of the tourism sector from mid-May.

Greece - Matteo Colombo
Greece - Matteo Colombo

05:33 PM

'It's been a long year for New York' - Yankees fans cheer Opening Day at last

Yankee Stadium's gates swung open for the first time in nearly 18 months on Thursday, as elated and emotional fans welcomed back their Bronx Bombers after a season played to empty stands amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fans young and old streamed into the park as an organist played the Big Apple anthem "New York, New York", the latest hint that life may slowly be starting to get back to normal.

"It’s surreal. I didn’t think there would be fans this year," said Nicole Marinello, a 34-year-old middle school teacher from Brooklyn who lives and breathes Yankees baseball and watched virtually all of last year's 60-game season on TV.

"Very emotional to be here. It’s been a long year for New York so it’s nice to be back to normal," she said, as her eyes filled with tears and her voice quaked. "This is normal."

Fans pose in front of Yankee Stadium in New York on April 1, 2021 - TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP
Fans pose in front of Yankee Stadium in New York on April 1, 2021 - TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP

05:29 PM

Turkey's new daily Covid cases exceed 40,000, the highest level yet

Turkey recorded 40,806 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Thursday, the highest level since the beginning of the pandemic.

Cases have surged since the government eased measures to curb the pandemic in early March.

On Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan announced a tightening of measures, including the return of full nationwide weekend lockdowns for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on April 13.

The total number of cases stands at 3.358 million, the data showed. The latest daily death toll was 176, bringing the cumulative toll to 31,713.

05:22 PM

Brazil faces "very serious situation" in pandemic, warns WHO

A number of states in Brazil are in critical condition and hospitals are overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic, World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing on Thursday.

"Indeed there is a very serious situation going on in Brazil right now, where we have a number of states in critical condition," she said, adding that many hospital intensive care units are more than 90% full.

Brazil, where a more transmissible virus variant is circulating, has become an epicenter of the pandemic.

Aerial view showing a coffin being buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil - MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP
Aerial view showing a coffin being buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil - MIGUEL SCHINCARIOL/AFP
Healthcare workers of the public Mobile Emergency Service bring a patient suspected of suffering from Covid-19 to the Base Public Hospital in Brasilia, Brazil - Eraldo Peres/AP
Healthcare workers of the public Mobile Emergency Service bring a patient suspected of suffering from Covid-19 to the Base Public Hospital in Brasilia, Brazil - Eraldo Peres/AP

05:12 PM

India's curb on Covid jab exports 'problematic' for Africa

India's decision to slow coronavirus vaccine exports will make it difficult for Africa to hit its year-end vaccination goal, the head of the continent's disease control body said Thursday.

Dubbed the "pharmacy of the world," India announced last week it was putting the brakes on exporting Covid-19 vaccines as it battled a new wave of infections and a faltering inoculation drive at home.

Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs produced by the Serum Institute of India represent the "backbone" of Africa's own vaccination campaign, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a press conference Thursday.

The majority of the continent's doses have so far come from the Covax scheme, which aims to provide equitable access around the world and particularly in poorer countries.

"If those are delayed then we are unlikely to meet our targets," Nkengasong said, referring to a goal of vaccinating around 30 percent of people in the African Union's 55 member states by the end of 2021.

"If the delay continues - and I really want to deliberately hope that it is a delay, not a ban, because that would be catastrophic if that was the case - then meeting our vaccination schedule becomes problematic, very very problematic."

Africa has a major shortage of vaccine supplies
Africa has a major shortage of vaccine supplies

04:50 PM

Scots urged to stick to restrictions as 'stay at home' order lifts

Scots must obey the remaining lockdown restrictions over the long Easter weekend, the Government’s leading medics have urged, as the ‘stay at home’ message is replaced on Friday with an instruction to remain within council areas.

Officials figures unveiled on Thursday showed that the proportion of Covid tests that came back positive has fallen to its lowest level in more than six months, following the latest lockdown and success of the vaccine rollout.

Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, has also confirmed that the new Moderna vaccine could arrive as early as next week, becoming the third Covid vaccine to be used in Scotland alongside the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs.

Read more of the story from Georgina Hayes here.

Nicola Sturgeon - ANDY BUCHANAN
Nicola Sturgeon - ANDY BUCHANAN

04:33 PM

Drakeford: Foreign holidays risk bringing Covid variants back home

Going on foreign holidays this summer risks bringing new variants of coronavirus back from countries where cases are on the rise, Wales' First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford repeated his calls for people in Wales to holiday domestically even if Boris Johnson lifts international travel restrictions for the whole of the UK in the coming months.

He cited France as an example of a country where rising cases has prompted a new national lockdown.

At Thursday's Welsh Government press conference, Mr Drakeford was asked if his plea for people to refrain from international travel would risk shaming those who choose to do so.

"If foreign travel resumes from England then its not a practical proposition to say Welsh citizens can't take advantage of that if they want to," he said.

"I'm regularly asked what my advice to people would be. This is the year to stay at home. This is the year to enjoy everything that Wales has to offer."

Harbor and old castle in Conwy, North Wales, Wales - Alexander Spatari
Harbor and old castle in Conwy, North Wales, Wales - Alexander Spatari

04:23 PM

Hospital continued heart and lung transplant operations throughout pandemic

The UK's leading heart and lung hospital performed more than one transplant operation per week in the last year despite the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Staff at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge performed 37 heart transplants and 19 lung transplants between April 2020 and March 2021, newly released figures show.

This was 70 per cent of the total from the year before.

Dr Stephen Pettit, consultant cardiologist and clinical lead for transplant, said: "It's been an incredibly challenging year for everyone in the hospital, including all of us in the transplant unit.

"Despite the pressures on intensive care and the fact people who die of coronavirus cannot donate their organs, plus with staff being redeployed, we have managed to continue performing transplants, alongside supporting our patients who have had transplants already and those on the waiting list."

He thanked all staff involved who went to "great lengths" to continue to treat patients.

04:08 PM

Michelle O'Neill 'truly sorry' her actions at Bobby Storey funeral caused hurt

Stormont's deputy First Minister has offered a "heartfelt and unreserved apology" to families bereaved in the pandemic for her actions in relation to her attendance at a large republican funeral in breach of Covid restrictions.

As the Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled from Easter recess to debate a motion of censure against her, Michelle O'Neill told MLAs she was "truly sorry" for the hurt caused to those who had lost loved ones.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy, who also attended the funeral of Bobby Storey last June, apologised "fully and unreservedly to those families who were hurt in any way by my actions".

Speaking in the debate First Minister Arlene Foster accused Sinn Fein of "clear and premeditated breaches of the Covid regulations" at the funeral.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill attending the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey - Liam McBurney/PA
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill attending the funeral of senior Irish Republican and former leading IRA figure Bobby Storey - Liam McBurney/PA

Ms O'Neill has apologised to bereaved families on a number of occasions in the months since her attendance at the controversial funeral of former IRA leader Storey, and has also expressed regret for damage caused to Stormont's public health messaging.

However, her critics have claimed those apologies have fallen short and have not included an admission that she was wrong to attend the west Belfast funeral when strict limitations on public gatherings were in place.

04:02 PM

No more lockdowns – Britain will treat coronavirus like flu, says Chris Whitty

Lockdowns are unlikely to be needed again as Britain learns to treat coronavirus like flu, Professor Chris Whitty has said.

The chief medical officer said that up to 25,000 people die in a bad flu year without anyone noticing and said accepting some Covid deaths would be the price of keeping schools and business open and allowing people to live a "whole life".

Prof Whitty, who was speaking at a Royal School of Medicine webinar, said the Government would only be forced to "pull the alarm cord" if a dangerous variant arrived which people had no immunity against, and which sparked exponential growth.

Sarah Knapton has the full story here.

Professor Chris Whitty
Professor Chris Whitty

03:59 PM

Pfizer appears to offer 100 per cent protection against South Africa variant in new study

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appears to offer 100 per cent protection against the South Africa variant, according to results from the latest phase of clinical trials.

In South Africa, where the new variant called B1.51 is dominant, no cases of the disease were observed among participants of phase-3 trials who had received their second dose of the vaccine.

Among 800 people who took part in the trials in the country, nine cases of the South African variant of Covid were observed - all in the group not given the vaccine.

Of the nine people who fell ill, analysis showed they had six of nine known South African variant strains.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chief executive, said: "The high vaccine efficacy observed through up to six months following a second dose and against the variant prevalent in South Africa provides further confidence in our vaccine's overall effectiveness."

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech's chief executive, added that the trial data "provide the first clinical results that a vaccine can effectively protect against currently circulating variants, a critical factor for herd immunity and end this pandemic for the global population".

The findings were part of a larger phase-tree clincal trial involving 46,307 participants across several countries, showing that the vaccine is highly effective even after six months.

03:34 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Zurich, Switzerland

A robot developed by Swiss company UVeya armed with virus-killing ultraviolet light is seen aboard an airplane at Zurich Airport - ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS
A robot developed by Swiss company UVeya armed with virus-killing ultraviolet light is seen aboard an airplane at Zurich Airport - ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS

Samoclevo, Italy

Fiammetta Melis, 10, studies with her laptop at the Samoclevo mountain pasture while her primary school is closed due to Covid restrictions - Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images Europe
Fiammetta Melis, 10, studies with her laptop at the Samoclevo mountain pasture while her primary school is closed due to Covid restrictions - Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images Europe

Kansas City, Missouri

Freshman Hugo Bautista eats lunch separated from classmates by plastic dividers at Wyandotte County High School in Kansas City - Charlie Riedel/AP
Freshman Hugo Bautista eats lunch separated from classmates by plastic dividers at Wyandotte County High School in Kansas City - Charlie Riedel/AP

03:25 PM

Sturgeon prioritises launch of independent inquiry into Government's handling of pandemic

An inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic should get under way before the end of 2021, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, due to air on Thursday evening, she said a public inquiry would be a priority if she was re-elected as First Minister.

She told the programme: "Well actually, I had met just a number of days ago with the organisation that represents bereaved families.

"And what I said to them, and this has been reported publicly, is that it will be a priority if I am re-elected to set in train the steps necessary to establish a public inquiry.

"I think we're the only government in the UK that has actually said that.

"Public inquiries do take time to properly establish if they're to do a proper job. But I want to see a public inquiry get under way later this year."

03:21 PM

Wales to offer jabs to everyone in priority groups by Sunday, says Mr Drakeford

Wales will become the first country in the UK to offer coronavirus vaccines to everyone in its first nine priority groups by Sunday, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

The UK-wide priority list covers care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care workers, clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, people aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions, and people aged 50 and older.

At Thursday's Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Drakeford said 57% of adults in Wales have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while almost one in five have received their second jab.

"Take-up is excellent - in over half the groups we count it is more than 90%," Mr Drakeford said.

03:17 PM

UK daily coronavirus report

Here are you Covid-19 stats for Thursday, April 1.

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03:14 PM

NHS England vaccination figures

According to NHS England's latest vaccination figures:

Four in 10 people in England aged 80 and over have had both doses of Covid-19 vaccine.

An estimated 93.1 per cent of people aged 50 and over in England have received their first jab.

Around a quarter of people aged 16 to 49 in England have had their first dose, with an estimated 25.9 per cent of people in this age group having received their first jab by March 28.

A total of 68.7 per cent of social care staff in England working in independent Care Quality Commission-registered younger adult care homes and domiciliary care providers have received their first jabs.

Some 93.8 per cent of residents of older adult care homes in England eligible to have their first dose by March 28.

02:56 PM

WHO criticises Europe's 'unacceptably slow' vaccine rollout

The World Health Organization criticised Europe's "unacceptably slow" vaccine rollout and said the region's surge in coronavirus infections was "worrying".

"Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic... However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow" and is "prolonging the pandemic", WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.

"We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now," he added.

The organisation said that Europe's virus situation was "more worrying than we have seen in several months."

Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but "last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases," it said.

02:45 PM

PHE weekly report shows case rates are highest in those aged 10-19 years old

Public Health England's weekly Covid-19 surveillance report released today showed that case rates continue to be highest in those aged 10-19 years old and are lowest in those aged 70-79 years old.

However, Covid-19 hospital admissions remain highest in those aged 85 and over.

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This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
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02:37 PM

Matt Hancock 'very worried' about impact of long Covid

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is "very worried" about the impact of long Covid, after figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed almost one in seven people who test positive for Covid-19 are still suffering symptoms three months later.

He said the Government is investing more in tackling and understanding the condition.

He told Sky News: "We can see the impact in these new statistics shown today and I understand the impact it has had on hundreds of thousands of people.

"It's one of the many damaging problems of this virus.

"We're putting more research money into tackling and understanding long Covid because it appears to be several different syndromes.

"This is a very strange, very dangerous virus and it's yet another reason for everybody to be cautious.

"Enjoy the sunshine, by all means, but nobody is safe from this virus until we can make everybody safe."

Matt Hancock - JOHN SIBLEY
Matt Hancock - JOHN SIBLEY

02:34 PM

Pfizer jab produces 'off the scale' immune response likely to protect against Brazilian variant, researchers say

The Pfizer vaccine produces an "off the scale" immune response that is likely to protect against the Brazilian variant of Covid-19, researchers say.

The biggest study on antibody and cellular immune factors to date suggests people are likely to be protected against the Wuhan, Kent and Brazilian types of coronavirus following two doses of the vaccine.

The research, led by the University of Birmingham and including Public Health England's Porton Down laboratory, found 98 per cent of people aged 80 or over who had two doses of the Pfizer jab had a strong antibody immune response.

Professor Paul Moss, from the University of Birmingham and leader of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, told a briefing: "We've certainly seen in this paper that the antibody levels are so good, really after the first two weeks, that we are pretty confident that this should be very helpful against the Brazilian variant."

Asked if he is surprised how well the vaccines have worked in older people, he said: "We were. When we sent these samples to Porton Down they said 'we can't give you results right now because we've got to dilute them because they're so high, they're off the scale'."

The Birmingham study included 100 people aged 80 to 96 who received their vaccine doses three weeks apart, before the UK adopted a policy of stretching the time between jabs to 12 weeks.

01:39 PM

Stopping import of variants is not a 'realistic starting point', says Prof Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty said it is not a "realistic starting point" to think any policy could completely stop the import of variants.

He told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar: "We have to accept that the idea that you can stop any variants coming into the UK at all is not a realistic starting point.

"But what you can do is you can slow it down.

"Anybody who believes that they can actually just put up some border policy or some overall policy that stops the possibility (of variants) completely is misunderstanding the problem completely."

He said while R is less than 1, variants coming in "don't have much of a foothold", but he added that is anticipated to rise above 1 as more things open up in the lockdown exit road map.

01:14 PM

EU seeks 10 million AstraZeneca vaccines from India to meet shortfall

The European Union has asked India to allow it to buy 10 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine from Serum Institute of India, a government official told Reuters, the latest sign of growing pressure on Delhi to export more of its production to other countries.

The EU wants the doses from Serum, the world's largest vaccine maker, to offset supply shortfalls from AstraZeneca's European plants and speed up the bloc's vaccine roll-out.

Any quick approval of the EU request is unlikely, however, with India scrambling to expand its own domestic vaccination drive, said the Indian government official, who asked not to be named as the discussions are private.

Britain is also pressuring India to export the second half of 10 million doses it had ordered from Serum, the source said. Serum was originally supposed to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine only for low and medium-income countries.

"The EU ambassador wrote a letter, saying, please give us (export) approvals," said the source, adding the letter was sent around two weeks ago.

Serum, AstraZeneca and India's foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the EU Commission said the Commission had no immediate comment.

12:45 PM

Prof Whitty: Could be 'very wide portfolio of vaccines' in two years time

Professor Chris Whitty said there could be a "very wide portfolio of vaccines" in around two years.

He told a Royal Society of Medicine webinar: "If we scroll forward two years I think we're going to have a very wide portfolio of vaccines."

He said technology can "turn around a vaccine to a new variant incredibly fast, compared to how historically we've been able to do it".

He added: "So I think technology will find a way through this in the long run, but we've got a period of risk between now and then."

How the world's leading vaccines compare on efficacy
How the world's leading vaccines compare on efficacy

12:42 PM

Those with low or no antibodies may still have protection against severe disease, says Prof Whitty

People who have low or no coronavirus antibodies might be more likely to be infected or infectious, but could still have protection against severe disease, England's chief medical officer said.

Speaking during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, Professor Chris Whitty said: "I certainly don't think you should assume that if you have lower or no antibodies that means there is no protection.

"It probably does mean you're more likely to get infected and it may mean you're more likely to be infectious, but doesn't necessarily mean you won't have protection from going into hospital, or having severe disease or mortality."

He said data has shown that the combined antibody and T-cell response after a number of weeks appears to be "pretty similar" both for the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs "against at least the variants we've currently got".

12:40 PM

German cardiologists warn of dramatic rise in heart disease deaths

Cardiologists in Germany have warned of a dramatic rise in deaths from heart disease because people are reluctant to go to hospital during the pandemic, writes Justin Huggler in Berlin.

Germany has already recorded a 12 per cent rise in heart-related deaths and doctors believe the real figure could eventually be as high as 20 per cent.

"We must not forget: the number of heart deaths in Germany and worldwide is much higher than that of corona deaths," Prof Thomas Voigtländer, deputy chairman of the German Heart Foundation, told Bild newspaper.

More than 7m die of heart disease a year worldwide, compared to 2.8m deaths from the coronavirus. "Heart attacks are not going down, but the patients are no longer coming to hospital," Prof Voigtländer said.

People are reluctant to call an ambulance or head to their local A and E, either because they fear getting infected with the coronavirus or because they don’t want to overburden medical staff, the German Heart Foundation says.

Cardiologists have criticsed the German authorities for not prioritising vaccinations for those with existing heart conditions. "The current prioritisation is very disappointing for us. Cardiac patients are in group thee. We don't understand that, heart patients urgently need top priority," said Prof Andreas Zeiher, president of the German Cardiology Society.

12:32 PM

Spanish seaside regions rebel against facemask on beach law

The government of the Balearic Islands has said it will not apply the Spanish government's new Covid-19 rule making facemasks obligatory outdoors at all times, including on the beach, reports James Badcock in Madrid.

Amid growing signs of rebellion against the law from regions dependent on tourism and howls of outrage from Spain's travel sector, the Balearic administration has said it will be keeping its own more flexible rules of face coverings for beachgoers.

Claiming that a clause in the law saying that "health authorities" can modify its application means their regional health department is entitled to do so, the Balearic government said it will maintain its own rules for beaches, currently hosting thousands of German Easter visitors as well as some Spanish sunseekers.

"If someone goes to the beach for a social gathering with people from outside their family bubble, yes they need to wear a facemask," said Patricia Gómez, the Balearic health department head.

"But if you go alone or with your family bubble, it is not necessary, as long as you can socially distance from the other people on the beach."

The move comes as other regional leaders, such as Canary Islands President Ángel Víctor Torres, call for "common sense" to be applied as Spain hopes to avoid another disastrous summer in its number one economic sector.

People wear masks at La Concha beach after Spain introduced stricter mask laws - VINCENT WEST/REUTERS
People wear masks at La Concha beach after Spain introduced stricter mask laws - VINCENT WEST/REUTERS

12:19 PM

'Behaving like a monarch': Emmanuel Macron under fire over lockdown U-turn

Emmanuel Macron came under heavy fire on Thursday over his lockdown U-turn as opposition groups pledged to boycott a parliamentary vote on tougher restrictions saying they would not rubber-stamp the whims of "a monarch".

Criticism over Mr Macron’s belated decision to enact tougher measures came as the French government confirmed that these would include an alcohol ban in public places after scenes of crowds enjoying beers in parks and gardens in Paris and other big cities.

Mr Macron had long rebuffed increasingly strident calls from experts to enact a hard lockdown with hospital heads warning that they were on the verge of “triage” of patients in hotspots like Paris.

He finally changed tack in a prime time televised address on Wednesday night.

Henry Samuel has more here.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron

12:08 PM

Wales to continue 'step-by-step approach' to lifting lockdown

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford has told the Welsh Government briefing that 57% of adults in the country have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

He said almost one in five have received their second jab.

"Take-up is excellent - in over half the groups the count is more than 90%," Mr Drakeford said.

He said the Welsh Government would continue its "careful, step-by-step approach" to lifting the restrictions.

"I do now want to look further ahead, to the next review cycle - at the end of April - and into May, to help us all plan for the future.

"All of these dates are provisional and are, of course, subject to the public health situation at the time.

"We are dealing with a very different virus this time. It is fast-moving and unpredictable. I want to be able to carry on with this programme of unlocking restrictions."

11:57 AM

Berlin set to impose nighttime ban on gatherings from Friday

Germany's capital Berlin is set to impose a nighttime ban on gatherings from Friday and a reduction in children at nursery to from next week try to stop a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, media reported on Thursday.

As the weather has turned warm in recent days, Berliners have been flocking to public spaces to picnic and party, stoking concerns that the coronavirus may be spreading among younger people after schools gradually reopened last month.

Last week Chancellor Angela Merkel accused state premiers of failing to stick to earlier agreements to reimpose restrictions if infections rose again as the lockdown was gradually relaxed.

The DIVI association for intensive and emergency medicine said Germany urgently needs a two-week lockdown, faster vaccinations and compulsory tests at schools.

People sit in a park on a warm day with temperatures up to 23 degrees during the coronavirus pandemic - Maja Hitij/Getty Images Europe
People sit in a park on a warm day with temperatures up to 23 degrees during the coronavirus pandemic - Maja Hitij/Getty Images Europe

11:51 AM

North Korea capital facing severe shortages after severe Covid measures

Russia's embassy in Pyongyang said Thursday that conditions in North Korea's capital had become exceptionally difficult after drastic measures were imposed to combat the coronavirus.

The hermetic totalitarian state, which has yet to confirm a single case of the coronavirus, has closed its borders, locked down entire cities and taken a range of other steps to try to prevent an outbreak.

In a post on its Facebook page, the Russian embassy said foreign diplomatic personnel were abandoning Pyongyang, with fewer than 300 foreigners remaining in the city.

"Not everyone, far from it, can endure restrictions that are unprecedented in their severity, the most acute shortage of essential goods, including medicine, and the inability to solve health problems," it said.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in North Korea last month warned that anti-coronavirus measures had caused "severe economic hardship" in a country already fraught with food insecurity.

In February, eight Russian diplomats and family members - the youngest of them a three-year-old girl - arrived home from North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley due to Pyongyang's restrictions.

Russian diplomats and family members leave North Korea to Russia using a hand-pushed rail trolley due to Pyongyang's coronavirus restrictions -  AFP
Russian diplomats and family members leave North Korea to Russia using a hand-pushed rail trolley due to Pyongyang's coronavirus restrictions - AFP

11:46 AM

Peru to enter total lockdown over Easter weekend

Peru will enter a total lockdown over the Easter weekend as the hard-hit Latin American country tries to curb the spread of the pandemic, reports Ben Farmer.

The shutdown includes a 24-hour curfew, ban on the use of private vehicles, and only one person per household is allowed to leave home for essential shopping, CNN reported.

Domestic flights and inter-city public transport will also stop.

The country of 33 million has been one of the world's worst hit nations per capita.

11:40 AM

Boris Johnson: Vaccine certification has a role to play in the future

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said vaccine certification has a role to play in the future.

Speaking at a B&Q in Middlesbrough, Mr Johnson said: "There's definitely going to be a world in which international travel will use vaccine passports.

"You can see already that other countries, the aviation industry, are interested in this and there's a logic to that.

"I think when it comes to trying to make sure that we give maximum confidence to businesses and customers in the UK, there are three things - there's immunity whether you have had it before so you have natural antibodies, whether you have been vaccinated, and of course whether you have had a test."

Britain's PM Boris Johnson visits a DIY shop in Middlesbrough - POOL/ REUTERS
Britain's PM Boris Johnson visits a DIY shop in Middlesbrough - POOL/ REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he visits the garden centre of a DIY shop in Middlesbrough - SCOTT HEPPELL
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he visits the garden centre of a DIY shop in Middlesbrough - SCOTT HEPPELL

11:36 AM

More than half of people 'want to keep savings habits' as lockdowns ease

More than half (55%) of people aim to keep their current savings habits beyond the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, according to a survey.

And more than a third (37%) said they will be putting off spending money as much as possible until the economy stabilises, TSB found.

However, just over a fifth (21%) said they will not hold back on their spending as lockdown restrictions are eased, as they want to enjoy themselves, the poll of 2,000 people in March revealed.

Marta Kijowska, TSB's head of personal current accounts, said: "The pandemic has changed our behaviour towards money, and we've seen our customers spend less and save more.

"It's important to feel in control of your money, and we see our customers increasingly wanting help to continue to save and budget so they can make the most of their money."

11:29 AM

Retailers allowed to reopen fitting rooms from April 12

Clothes shoppers will be able to use fitting rooms again after more than a year when non-essential shops reopen on April 12.

The Government has released new guidance on fitting rooms after advising shops after the first lockdown to keep changing rooms closed "wherever possible" unless essential.

Retailers have been calling for updated regulations in an effort to compete with online rivals, reduce return rates and restore faith in high street businesses.

The new guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) allows for fitting rooms to be reopened provided shops introduce measures to minimise transmission of the virus.

Stores are advised to deploy a staff member to control entry to changing areas and allow only one person at a time into a cubicle, with exceptions allowed for those who have disabilities or are shopping with children.

Managers are advised to leave a gap of "several minutes" between customers and cubicles should be cleaned regularly.

People walking in front of H&M store on Oxford Street - Alena Kravchenko
People walking in front of H&M store on Oxford Street - Alena Kravchenko

11:19 AM

German president Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday received the first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, just two days after authorities recommended use of the controversial jab only for people aged 60 and over.

"I trust the vaccines authorised in Germany," Steinmeier, 65, said in a statement after getting inoculated at Berlin's Military Hospital.

"Vaccinating is the decisive step on the path out of the pandemic. Use the opportunities available. Join in!" he added.

German officials have been at pains to shore up public confidence in AstraZeneca's vaccine, which has been on a rollercoaster ride in Europe.

Germany's STIKO vaccine commission on Tuesday said it recommended use of the jab only for people 60 and older following concerns over several blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

People under the age of 60 can still take AstraZeneca in consultation with their doctor and if they are fully aware of the potential risks.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier receiving the AstraZeneca vaccination at the Bundeswehr hospital in Berlin - Steffen Kugler/GERMAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier receiving the AstraZeneca vaccination at the Bundeswehr hospital in Berlin - Steffen Kugler/GERMAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

11:16 AM

First Minister urges Welsh not to travel to England to go to pub next month

First Minister Mark Drakeford said people in Wales should "think very carefully" against travelling to England to go to a pub next month because of higher rates of coronavirus across the border.

English hospitality businesses are set to reopen for outdoor service from April 12, two weeks before Welsh businesses will be allowed to do the same.

Mr Drakeford said he would have preferred Boris Johnson to reopen outdoor hospitality in England later so it would not attract people from Wales, where the advice was that opening on April 12 was too risky.

He said: "I wish we could have done it at the same time. That would have been preferable.

"We at the cabinet here asked this week for very specific advice from our chief medical officer and scientists as to whether or not we should have brought our date forward to match the English date exactly because of these cross-border issues.

"The advice was clear-cut. The risks of doing so outweighed any rewards because we are opening such a lot of things on April 12 in Wales already."

11:08 AM

1.1 million people in UK report experiencing 'long Covid'

An estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing "long Covid" in the four weeks to March 6, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Of these people, an estimated 697,000 first had Covid-19 - or suspected they had Covid-19 - at least 12 weeks previously while 70,000 first had the virus or suspected they had the virus at least one year ago.

Long Covid was estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000 people, with 196,000 reporting that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

Long Covid symptoms
Long Covid symptoms

10:57 AM

Stillbirth rates up by a third in poorer countries during the pandemic

Stillbirth and maternal death rates have increased by around one-third during Covid, particularly in lower and middle-income countries, according to a new study published in The Lancet Global Health.

The review of 40 studies from 17 countries, which also found a rise in postnatal depression, is the first to systematically assess the devastating collateral impact of the pandemic on pregnancy outcomes.

Professor Asma Khalil, lead author of the study, of St George’s University of London, said: "It is clear from our study and others that the disruption caused by the pandemic has led to the avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies, especially in low- and middle-income countries."

Jennifer Rigby has more here.

10:53 AM

German minister refuses AstraZeneca vaccine

The German interior minister on Thursday rejected suggestions he should take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to build public confidence on the grounds he does not wish to be "patronised", reports Justin Huggler in Berlin.

Horst Seehofer's rejection came as Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German President, became the latest public figure to be given the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday.

Jens Spahn, the health minister, has called on all senior government figures over the age of 60 to take the AstraZeneca jab publicly to restore public confidence.

Angela Merkel this week said she is prepared to take the jab when it's her turn but did not want to jump the queue. But the 71-year-old Mr Seehofer angrily rejected Mr Spahn’s proposal. "The answer to Jens Spahn’s request is 'No!'" he told Bild newspaper. "I will not be patronised."

German public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine has been damaged by a dizzying series of U-turns by the country's regulators. They initially authorised it only for people under the age of 65 because of a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people — advice that was dropped last month after new data emerged.

But in a dramatic change of course this week Germany stopped use of the vaccine for all people under the age of 60 over concerns it may cause potentially fatal blood clots in the brain.

German regulators now insist the vaccine is safe for over-60s, but a new poll on Tuesday found 35 per cent of Germans now say they no longer trust the vaccine, compared to 26 per cent who say they never trusted it.

10:46 AM

Health workers in Italy must have Covid jab, or risk suspension without pay for rest of year

Italy has decreed that all health workers must have coronavirus jabs, in a potentially controversial move aimed at protecting vulnerable patients and pushing back against 'no-vax' sentiment, reports Ben Farmer.

The country has a stiff anti-vaccination movement and the recent discovery of clusters in hospitals after staff refused to have shots has sparked outcry in a country where more than 109,000 people have died of the disease.

Yet government critics have questioned the legality of forcing only some categories of workers into having a vaccine.

Wednesday's decree approved by Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet says health workers, including pharmacists, "are required to undergo vaccination".

Those who refuse could be suspended without pay for the rest of the year.

"The aim of the measure is to protect as much as possible both medical and paramedical staff and those who are in environments that may be more exposed to the risk of infection," the government said in a statement.

10:35 AM

15m doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine wasted after factory error

As many as 15m doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine may have been ruined after a manufacturing plant mixed the wrong ingredients, writes Ben Farmer.

The contaminated doses have been kept back and not distributed, the New York Times reported.

The pharma giant admitted a problem with "quality standards" at a Baltimore plant of Emergent BioSolutions Inc.

Johnson & Johnson said a batch failed its quality test.

"This quality control process identified one batch of drug substance that did not meet quality standards at Emergent Biosolutions, a site not yet authorized to manufacture drug substance for our Covid-19 vaccine. This batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process," a statement said.

The mix-up happened several weeks ago and is expected to delay further manufacturing at the plant and the roll out of doses over the course of April.

Read more from Our Foreign Staff here.

10:26 AM

Watch: Macron announces strict new coronavirus lockdown measures

Emmanuel Macron has announced strict new month-long measures including closing schools for three weeks, abandoning his efforts to keep France out of a third coronavirus lockdown.

The French president had ignored the pleas of his scientific advisors to close up the country in January but the spread of the contagious British variant and spiking infections forced him into a U-turn.

"We will lose control if we do not move now," he said in a televised address.

Non-essential shops will be closed and travel more than 10km from home is forbidden, unless there is a good reason. Travel between French regions is banned from April 5. People must work from home if they can and a 7pm curfew will stay in place, as Mr Macron extended measures in some French regions to the whole country.

Read more from James Crisp and Anna Pujol Mazzini here.

10:17 AM

Vaccine hesitancy among black adults in Britain halves

Vaccine hesitancy among black and black British adults has halved in roughly a month, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Positive sentiments towards vaccines among the adult population as a whole rose to 94 per cent in March, up from 78 per cent in December when data were first collected.

Six per cent of 17,200 respondents reported vaccine hesitancy between February 17 to March 14 - down from 9 per cent of respondents during the previous data collection period.

About a fifth (22 per cent) of black or black British adults reported hesitancy, down from 44 per cent between January 13 and February 7.

Despite the sharp fall in hesitancy, this remains the highest level in all ethnic groups, with 13 per cent of adults in the Asian or Asian British group reporting hesitancy and 12 per cent of those with mixed ethnicity.

The ONS defined hesitancy as adults who have refused a vaccine, say they would be unlikely to get a vaccine when offered, and those who responded "neither likely nor unlikely", "don't know" or "prefer not to say" when asked.

"Over the past few months, we have seen attitudes across most of the population becoming more positive towards Covid-19 vaccination. However, there is still hesitancy among some groups, including young people, black or black British and those living in the most deprived areas," Tim Vizard, from the ONS public policy analysis division, said.

09:57 AM

Long Covid prevalence higher among women than men

The prevalence of self-reported long Covid is highest among people aged between 35 and 69, females, those living in the most deprived areas, and those with pre-existing, activity-limiting health conditions, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The organisation said that over a four-week period ending March 6, an estimated 1.1 million people in private households reported experiencing long Covid.

The condition refers to Covid-related symptoms which persist for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus episode that are not explained by something else. There is no universally agreed definition of the condition, but it covers a broad range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and difficulty concentrating, the ONS said.

Out of people who self-reported suffering from the condition, 697,000 first had coronavirus at least 12 weeks previously, while 70,000 first had the virus at least one year prior.

Among a group of over 20,000 study participants who tested positive for the virus between April 26, 2020 and March 6, 2021, symptom prevalence at 12 weeks post-infection was higher for female participants (14.7 per cent) than male participants (12.7 per cent) and was highest among those aged 25 to 34 years (18.2 per cent).

09:24 AM

Michel Barnier calls for vaccine war ceasefire as Pfizer criticises EU

Michel Barnier has given his farewell speech as the European Union's (EU) Brexit negotiator where he called for a ceasefire in the vaccine war, reports Europe Editor James Crisp.

On Wednesday night he spoke at the Churchill Europe Symposium - a nod to where the former British Prime Minister called for a United States of Europe in 1946 - and urged the UK and EU to comes to terms in its vaccine battle in his goodbye to bloc institutions.

He said: "It is true that the UK has a quicker vaccination rate compared to the EU. But the fight against COVID 19 is more than speed of vaccination, important as that is...We will all find strong and weaker points in how we managed this. But there is no place, in such a serious situation, for polemics and competition. There are so many more reasons to cooperate, in the short and the long term."

Meanwhile, Pfizer has accused the European Union of hampering its Covid vaccine production. The US drugmaker, which supplies Britain and more than 70 other countries with coronavirus jabs, said new EU rules about the free movement of goods across borders are damaging its ability to export the vaccine.

09:08 AM

Early issues included lack of testing, says Dr Jenny Harries

Dr Jenny Harries said testing had not been stopped early on, but the issue was that more tests were needed.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We were using the 2,000 tests a day that we had - maximum - to save lives in the best way we could."

She said there are now "hundreds of thousands of tests available".

She added: "So, yes, it would have been good to have had more tests and, yes, we would have used them, but we've now processed, I think, nearly 90 million tests, so clearly (a) lesson has (been) learned and, I think, (there are) lots of opportunities going forward."

08:57 AM

Face masks should have been recommended earlier, says Government scientist

Dr Jenny Harries said face coverings would be recommended earlier, given what we now know about asymptomatic transmission.

Asked if the initial response to the pandemic was poor, she said: "I think it had merits and it had things that we would wish to improve."

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, while asymptomatic transmission had been "considered carefully", the proportion of cases - now thought to be 30% - was not recognised.

"So obviously the response that we put in place and some of the interventions were not accounting for that high degree of numbers of asymptomatic cases, so I think there's learning as we've gone through."

Asked about face coverings, which were not initially recommended, she said: "We've learned more, as I've said, about asymptomatic transmission, and I think we would recommend face coverings earlier."

08:52 AM

UK was 'not fully prepared' for pandemic

Dr Jenny Harries said the UK was "not fully prepared" for the Covid-19 pandemic.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We were not fully prepared for this pandemic and, as I've said, I'm very happy to accept there is an awful lot to learn.

"I think we share some of those failings with many other countries."

08:51 AM

Manchester rave: 'They think they are all immune and it's all over', says councillor as crowds party

Castlefield Bowl rave: The revellers were seen gathering in the Castlefield Bowl area. They had a large set up with speakers - ASP
Castlefield Bowl rave: The revellers were seen gathering in the Castlefield Bowl area. They had a large set up with speakers - ASP
Objects were reportedly thrown at police. Officers later dispersed the ravers - ASP
Objects were reportedly thrown at police. Officers later dispersed the ravers - ASP
A city councillor has called the actions of those who attended selfish - ASP
A city councillor has called the actions of those who attended selfish - ASP

Read the full story behind these pictures here.

08:20 AM

New Government agency to 'bring expertise under one roof'

The aim of the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is to bring expertise under one roof, its chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Asked what the mission is, she said: "I think the mission is that I wake up every morning and worry about protecting the country, and that clearly is the most valuable mission in public health terms."

She added: "We have learned an awful lot from the pandemic and the value, I think, in the new UK Health Security Agency is in continuing that work, so it's about putting all of the expertise in the country under one roof."

Asked if this means moving faster in future, she said: "I think one of the things which is evident, not just for the UK of course but for many other countries, is the sheer scale of the problem that the pandemic has caused.

"And whereas I would recognise the work of Public Health England colleagues, for example, over many years, managing 10,000 outbreaks a year - not of the scale that we've seen with this particular pandemic.

"So we need something which is proportionate to the problems we have and scalable very rapidly."

08:06 AM

Drakeford confident Wales will stick to roadmap dates

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he is confident Wales will stick to the reopening dates on the new road map out of lockdown due to the success of its vaccination programme and falling coronavirus case rates.

He told Sky News Breakfast: "The level of coronavirus in Wales is the lowest in the United Kingdom and the rates of vaccination are the highest. All that means that the virus is in a relatively benign position.

"We have to sustain that, we have to go on working hard to make sure that we don't lose the ground that we've gained.

"Provided we can do that, then there are new dates from here until the month of May where freedoms can be restored, businesses can reopen and we can take advantage of the time of year in which outdoor activities in particular are easier to resume."

07:51 AM

Staycations over trips abroad, urges Welsh First Minister

First Minister Mark Drakeford said he would encourage people in Wales to holiday domestically over the summer in place of a trip abroad.

Asked what he would say to people wanting a foreign break, he told Good Morning Britain: "I'd say that this is the year to have your holiday in Wales. There are so many fantastic opportunities here.

"If ever there was a year to enjoy what we have domestically, and to find those spots in Wales that you haven't visited before, this is the year to do it."

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government would not seek to prevent people from travelling internationally if rules allow later in the year.

"It's not realistic to try to prevent people and we won't make that attempt. What my advice to people in Wales would be this year, stay at home, enjoy what we have here. Don't put yourselves and other people at risk."

07:27 AM

Taking jab like going to work - 'we might die in a car accident'

Asked about the potential risk of blood clots with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Prof Finn said: "I think one thing we can say at this moment is that the benefits (of the vaccine) outweigh the risk.

"As things stand, the risks of Covid, and of blood clots indeed caused by Covid, are massively greater than the risks that may conceivably exist as a result of receiving this vaccine.

"We are in a state of uncertainty at this point about all of this. We don't know for sure about the causal relationship. And we don't really know, critically, what the mechanism is and so what implication that might have even for other vaccines."

Many vaccines currently in use "do have very rare, unexpected serious side effects but we still use them because the balance of risk and benefit is greatly in favour of using them," he added.

"It could turn out that that's the case for either one or even more than one of the vaccines we've developed against Covid. So, it is always in the end a matter of balancing risk and benefit.

"Just as we all get up in the morning and go to work and take a mortal risk... we find that acceptable because we might die in a car accident or be knocked down by a bus. We have to get used to the idea that using vaccines and drugs and medicines is not without risk, but they're very, very small risks, and the risks of not using them is obviously much greater."

07:25 AM

Children might not get jabs because it's rare they get ill

Professor Adam Finn said that it is a "really important question" whether to vaccinate children at all given they do not get seriously ill with coronavirus.

He added: "One would not really be comfortable with immunising children entirely for the benefit of others and not for children.

"I think if it does look as though it's necessary, that will be driven by the observation that the virus is still circulating and there's jeopardy for children in terms of disruption to their education.

"I think that probably squares the circle if it does prove necessary.

"Of course there are children who do get sick when they experience Covid, but very small numbers, both from the sort of classic respiratory disease but also a few get this inflammatory syndrome that you may remember hearing about last year, we still see the occasional case coming in of that,

"There are children that get sick as well, but I think the main reason for doing it would be to try and keep things functioning normally across society including schools."

07:17 AM

Pfizer hits out at EU

Pfizer has accused the European Union of hampering its Covid vaccine production. The US drugmaker, which supplies Britain and more than 70 other countries with coronavirus jabs, said new EU rules about the free movement of goods across borders are damaging its ability to export the vaccine.

The rules oblige manufacturers to seek Brussels' approval before exporting every parcel of jabs, which has caused "a significant administrative burden and some uncertainty", said Danny Hendrikse, the pharmaceutical giant's vice-president of global supply.

"Ultimately what we would like our colleagues to do is to focus on making and distributing the vaccine," he said.

07:02 AM

Drakeford: 'May 17 international travel goal over-optimistic'

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford said he hopes Boris Johnson will push back the potential May 17 date for the UK resuming international travel by the time he addresses the nation next week.

He told Good Morning Britain: "I've long argued that it is over-optimistic, that it doesn't reflect the risk of reimporting coronavirus from other parts of the world where there are new variants in circulation."

Mr Drakeford said that the newest lockdown in France in response to rising cases of Covid-19 there was evidence of "how close to this country some of those risks are currently being experienced".

"When the Prime Minister speaks next week I hope that he will say that date is having to be pushed back further into the future in order to go on protecting the United Kingdom against the developments we see elsewhere in the world", he said.

06:59 AM

'No problems so far' on teenagers' vaccine trial

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there had been "no problems so far" in the trial on teenagers using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said permission was expected to be granted shortly to recruit younger children from the age of five.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Also, (we are) looking forward to studies in teenagers and also younger children with the Janssen vaccine, which we've been hearing about as another vaccine coming through for use, so quite a lot going on now in children."

He said decisions on vaccinating children "will come later in the summer", adding: "I think what we'll be seeing really is the impact of the vaccine programme so far as we move down through the adult population, and forming an opinion as to whether it's going to be necessary to immunise children as well in order to keep the virus under control.

"The important aspect of that for children is that we desperately want to keep schools open into the next academic year and avoid any further disruption to education.

"I think this would benefit children if it turns out to be necessary, but clearly, we don't want to do this unless it is necessary, because it would be an additional difficulty, costs and so on."

06:49 AM

Test and Trace 'not a perfect system', concedes minister

Skills minister Gillian Keegan has said that NHS Test and Trace is "not a perfect system" as it relies on people "doing the right thing".

She told Sky News: "9.6 million people have actually been traced. We're doing millions and millions of tests a day, we're collecting a lot of data from those tests as well, 6.4 million people have been contact-traced as well.

"Is the system perfect? No, it's not, because it relies, obviously, on people doing the right thing.

"It relies on people getting a test and it relies on people obviously isolating if they are positive.

"So, it's not a perfect system, but it's certainly a very effective system."

06:34 AM

Latest from the rest of the world

  1. Brazil has detected a new Covid-19 variant that is similar to the one first seen in South Africa, the head of Sao Paulo's Butantan institute said.

  2. South Korea said it will issue so-called Covid-19 vaccine passports to immunized citizens.

  3. India opened up its coronavirus inoculation programme to people above 45 as infections surge, in a move that will delay vaccine exports from the world's biggest vaccine maker.

  4. Egypt received 854,400 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine as part of the global Covax agreement, the health ministry said.

  5. Israel plans to administer the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents upon FDA approval, the health minister said.

06:29 AM

Latest from Europe

  1. All health workers in Italy must have coronavirus jabs, the government said, in a potentially controversial move aimed at protecting vulnerable patients and pushing back against 'anti-vax' sentiment.

  2. President Emmanuel Macron ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks as he sought to push back a third wave of Covid-19 infections.

  3. Belgian hospitals have been ordered to reserve 60 per cent of their intensive care beds for Covid-19 patients as a third wave of infections takes hold, doctors said.

  4. European Union states are expected to receive 107 million doses of vaccines by the end of March, hitting a revised-down target but far below initial plans.

06:11 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Thursday, Apr 1.

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dt

04:48 AM

Few people self-isolate with Covid symptoms, survey finds

Fewer than one in five people request a Covid-19 test if they have symptoms, while adherence to self-isolation is low, according to a large study examining the Test and Trace system.

Experts, including from the Public Health England (PHE) behavioural science team at Porton Down in Wiltshire, found that only half of people could identify the main coronavirus symptoms, which include a cough, high temperature and loss of taste or smell.

Just 18% of those with symptoms said they had requested a test, while only 43% with symptoms in the previous seven days adhered to full self-isolation.

The findings, published in The BMJ, are based on 74,697 responses to online surveys from 53,880 people aged 16 or older living in the UK.

In total, 37 survey waves were carried out from March 2 last year to January 27 this year, with about 2,000 participants in each wave.

The results showed that only 52% of people could identify the main symptoms of Covid-19, and this did not really improve as time went on.

Across all waves, 43% of people adhered to rules around self-isolation, though this improved in January to 52%.

02:52 AM

Mass testing in schools costs £120,000 for every positive case

Mass testing in schools is costing up to £120,000 to find just one positive case, experts claimed as they called for the programme to be halted.

Between March 11 and March 17, data from secondary schools showed that just 1,805 positive cases were found from 3.8 million tests.

Under current false positive rates, around 1,160 of those positives would be wrong, meaning only 645 would be correct – approximately one in 6,000.

"At £20 a test, that is £120,000 per case found," said Prof Jon Deeks, head of the biostatistics, evidence synthesis and test evaluation research group at the University of Birmingham.

"There is obviously a lot of uncertainty in this, and I don't think this includes all costs, and obviously they will have varied. But even if it is only £10 per test, we are talking £60,000, which is an inefficient cost to detect a single case."

Read more: Experts call for mass testing in schools to be halted

Testing in schools
Testing in schools

02:33 AM

15m Johnson & Johnson vaccines wasted after factory error

About 15 million doses of the single-shot coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson were ruined in a factory error in the United States, The New York Times reported – a blow to the company's efforts to quickly boost production.

The pharmaceutical giant told AFP it had identified a batch of doses at a plant in Baltimore run by Emergent BioSolutions "that did not meet quality standards" but did not confirm the specific number affected. The company also said the batch "was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process".

"Quality and safety continue to be our top priority," it said.

The Food and Drug Administration told AFP it was "aware of the situation" but declined to comment further.

Read more: 15m doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine wasted after factory error

02:00 AM

Today's top stories

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