Coronavirus latest news: New 'variant of concern' identified in UK with 21 confirmed cases

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Dominic Penna
·63 min read
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A new coronavirus variant first sequenced at the end of last year has been formally designated as a variant of concern by Public Health England, with 21 newly-confirmed cases.

Sixteen of the 21 confirmed cases of VOC-2021/02 were identified in Bristol and the South West, with five other cases confirmed across England.

There are 42 cases of VUI-202101/02, which was also first identified in Brazil. Both of the newly-confirmed variants have the E484K mutation which is found in the South Africa and Brazil variants.

Further cases of the existing Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants were also confirmed today, as the Government announced tough new restrictions for arrivals into the UK.

Confirmed cases of the South African variant have risen from 100 to 119, according to Public Health England, with 51 probable cases.

Six further cases of the original Brazilian variant have also been confirmed, taking the total to 24.

It comes as Matt Hancock announced that travellers who try to conceal their arrival from a "red list" country face prison sentences of up to 10 years, while fines will apply to any traveller who fails to take a mandatory

Follow the latest updates below.

06:56 PM

Biden warns of difficulty in reaching herd immunity by summer

Joe Biden rounded on his predecessor’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic, saying “it was even more dire than we thought”, writes David Millward.

In his first major interview since becoming president, Mr Biden told CBS news anchor, Norah O’Donnell, the country faced a challenge to reach herd immunity before the end of the summer.

The US president said the rate of vaccination had to be accelerated to meet the target of 75 per cent of Americans getting the jab set by infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

Mr Biden said his administration had been led to believe there was far more vaccine available than turned out.

“So that’s why we’ve ramped up every way we can,” he added.

Read the full story here.

06:53 PM

Spring Budget: Rishi Sunak 'can't duck difficult choices forever'

The Chancellor will stand up to deliver the next Budget on Wednesday, March 3, with a mind-boggling array of problems before him, writes Tim Wallace.

After 10 years campaigning for financial discipline in the wake of the financial crisis, the Conservatives have suddenly found themselves presiding over the biggest borrowing binge since the Second World War.

So far Rishi Sunak’s rhetoric has remained cautious, indicating that the long battle against the deficit of the credit crunch has left its mark on the occupant of 11 Downing Street.

Back in October, Rishi Sunak called balancing the books 'a sacred duty' - Henry Nicholls/Reuters/File Photo
Back in October, Rishi Sunak called balancing the books 'a sacred duty' - Henry Nicholls/Reuters/File Photo

In his spending review in November – before the latest wave of Covid really took off – the Chancellor warned this year’s bumper borrowing was only possible “because we came into this crisis with strong public finances.”

“We have a responsibility, once the economy recovers, to return to a sustainable fiscal position,” he said.

06:42 PM

British firm readies launch of AI-powered rapid Covid test

Two British companies have joined forces to develop a rapid Covid test that they claim will be the most sensitive in the world when it launches in March, Julia Bradshaw reports.

The lateral flow test was developed by Excalibur Healthcare Services, a Cambridge-based diagnostics company founded and led by biotech entrepreneur Sir Chris Evans. Embedded in the test is artificial intelligence software from medical technology company Sensyne Health.

If a lateral flow test is positive, a red line appears on the result window. The stronger the line, the higher the viral load. "Some people light up like a Christmas tree," Sir Chris said.

This new test is ultra-sensitive and can detect in less than 10 minutes extremely low levels of the Covid virus in the body.

"I am confident this is the best test in the world," said Sir Chris. "No one has ever had a lateral flow test get the level we have and it is a combination of that brilliant algorithm software and our sensitive reagents."

06:31 PM

Covid hospital patients at lowest level of 2021 to date

The number of hospital patients with Covid-19 in England has dropped to its lowest level since the start of the year, with three of the seven NHS regions at pre-2021 levels.

A total of 22,067 patients with coronavirus were in hospital as of 8am on February 9, according to the latest figures from NHS England. This is the lowest number since December 29, and is down 36 per cent from January 18's peak.

The figure remains above the 13,212 patients in hospital when England exited its second lockdown on December 2. During the first wave, hospital occupancy numbers in England peaked at 18,974 on April 12 last year.

06:19 PM

Germany coronavirus rules 'should last until March', Merkel tells meeting

Angela Merkel wants to keep coronavirus restrictions in place in Germany until at least March 1, according to members of her conservative parliamentary group.

Talks will take place tomorrow between Merkel and the regional leaders of Germany's 16 states to determine whether there can be any easement of lockdown measures, which have been in place since November and were made stricter the following month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pictured last week during talks in Berlin - Sean Gallup/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pictured last week during talks in Berlin - Sean Gallup/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

"We have to wait until March 1," Merkel told the meeting, according to participants who spoke to the Reuters news agency. "My goal would be not to have to correct steps to open up again with further closing steps."

Primary schools, nurseries, hairdressers and retail would take priority in any easing but the overall aim was to avoid another lockdown, the German chancellor reportedly said.

It comes as Germany reported 3,379 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and a further 481 deaths. The nationwide seven-day incidence was 72.8 cases per 100,000.

06:00 PM

Tuesday evening news briefing: 10 years in jail for lying about Covid red list travel

Travellers who try to conceal their arrival from a red list country face jail sentences of up to ten years under a new enforcement regime for quarantine hotels.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, also announced that anyone who tries to avoid the mandatory self-isolation in a hotel will face fines of up to £10,000. The new fines will also enforce a triple testing system for all arrivals whether they quarantine for ten days in Government-approved hotels or at home.

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (WHO) mission to China to investigate the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid 19 has dismissed the possibility that it leaked in a laboratory accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease, shaking hands with Liang Wannian, head of an expert panel on the WHO's Covid response - Aly Song/Reuters
Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease, shaking hands with Liang Wannian, head of an expert panel on the WHO's Covid response - Aly Song/Reuters

Chris Price has all of this and more in today's evening news briefing.

05:50 PM

Scientist questions need to keep schools closed as Covid case rates fall

Covid case rates in Britain have fallen to a quarter of the peak, according to the King's College symptom tracker app, as a scientist questioned whether schools need to remain closed.

The latest results from the ZOE tracker, which has been monitoring the virus since March, showed that cases are now at a similar level to September.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London and the lead scientist on the app, published the findings on social media and said the data suggested that over-18s were driving new cases at the start of the second wave.

"UK new case rates from ZOE app now at a quarter of the peak on Jan 1st and same as in September," he wrote.

"Although hospital admissions lag by 1-2 weeks, they are declining in all regions. Do we really need to keep English schools closed till March 8 and prolong long-term damage?"

Sarah Knapton has all the details here.

05:43 PM

Iran begins coronavirus vaccine campaign using Russian jab

Iran began its coronavirus vaccination campaign yesterday using Russia's Sputnik V jab to fight the Middle East's deadliest outbreak of the illness, writes Helen Nianias.

The first doses were given to doctors and nurses at Imam Khomeini hospital in the capital Tehran, with recipients handed a blue card marked with "Sputnik V" and the date of the injection.

A vial and a packet of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine at the Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran, Iran - Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg
A vial and a packet of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine at the Imam Khomeini hospital in Tehran, Iran - Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg

"We begin our national vaccination against the Covid-19 virus... (in) memory of the martyrdom of health workers," Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said, referring to medical personnel who have died from the disease.

The Islamic republic has bought two million doses of Sputnik V, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

05:33 PM

'How I found myself at the front of Jerusalem's vaccine queue -at 29'

As the Telegraph's correspondent in Jerusalem, James Rothwell has spent many hours in the vaccine clinics of Israel, looking on as the golden ticket to freedom is squeezed into eager arms.

But today, after a dreary year of lockdowns, lonely weekends and jettisoned social plans, it was his turn to receive the Covid jab, which will – hopefully – be the key to freedom.

At 29 years old, he is scarcely old enough to recall the death of Princess Diana.

He is also fortunate to have no underlying health conditions or a compromised immune system.

But in Israel, the home of the world’s fastest vaccination drive, so many jabs have already been administered that the scheme was recently expanded to anyone over 16, including foreign correspondents.

05:24 PM

'The Tories' shameful treatment of hoteliers shows a growing contempt for business'

Whole countries get locked down. Restrictions on travel are imposed overnight. Flights get grounded, and premises have to be made safe for staff and guests. The last year, to put it mildly, has not been an easy one for hoteliers anywhere.

But according to the British government, now is the right moment to make their life even tougher, writes Matthew Lynn.

A plane flies past a sign for a Radisson hotel at Heathrow airport in west London  - Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
A plane flies past a sign for a Radisson hotel at Heathrow airport in west London - Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

"With its latest wheeze of making anyone arriving in the country from a high-risk country quarantine for ten days ministers have been summoning up the spirit of Lenin and Trotsky," he writes.

"They are reportedly considering requisitioning hotel chains on their own terms. This would be shameful treatment of what, after all, remain privately owned companies, yet it perfectly encapsulates the increasingly anti-business attitude of the Johnson administration."

Read his full comment piece here.

05:08 PM

Further cases of Brazilian and South African variants confirmed

Further cases of the Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants have been confirmed today as the Government confirmed tough new restrictions for arrivals into the UK.

Confirmed cases of the South African variant have risen from 100 to 119, according to Public Health England, with 51 probable cases.

Six further cases of the Brazilian variant have also been confirmed, taking the total to 24.

There are 42 cases of VUI-202101/02 and 21 cases of VOC-2021/02, two variants which were also first detected in Brazil and first sequenced in the UK in November.

04:52 PM

Coronavirus vaccine Q&A: Ask your questions on new variants and jabs at work

Following evidence that the Oxford vaccine appears to offer only limited protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of Covid-19, vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, urged the public to remain confident in the vaccine.

Walsall council staff begin delivering Covid-19 testing kits in the Leamore area of Walsall to track down a South African coronavirus variant found in the area - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Walsall council staff begin delivering Covid-19 testing kits in the Leamore area of Walsall to track down a South African coronavirus variant found in the area - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Meanwhile, ministers are said to be discussing plans to vaccinate millions of under-50s at work in order to accelerate the national vaccine roll-out from spring onwards.

Do you have a question on what new variants could means for coronavirus vaccines? Whether “jabs at work” will become a reality? Or any other questions relating to Covid-19 vaccines?

Share your questions with us via yourstory@telegraph.co.uk (please include in your email whether you would like to remain anonymous) or in this comments section for them to be answered by our experts in a live Q&A.

04:44 PM

Welsh arrivals to be subject to same hotel quarantine measures as in England

A Welsh Government spokesperson said Wales will be adopting the new border measures announced by the UK Government for England.

The spokesperson said: "We have agreed to a four-nation approach, and will be putting in place the same arrangements in Wales as the UK Government is doing for England.

"This will include all people returning to Wales from 15 February being required to book and pay for tests before they travel. This will be done through the UK portal, whether a person has been in a red list country or not.

04:30 PM

UK airports battling to survive in face of travel rules, warn aviation chiefs

The UK’s airports and airlines are battling to survive in the face of blanket travel restrictions, aviation chiefs have warned – after new, tighter border restrictions were announced by Matt Hancock this afternoon.

The Health Secretary laid out the new legislation for arrivals into England – including £10,000 fines for those trying to evade quarantine, and prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone trying to conceal their arrival from a red list country. Scotland, meanwhile, plans to make hotel quarantine mandatory for all arriving travellers.

But Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association and Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, are calling for an exit strategy to enable travel to restart when the virus's grip loosens.

“Whilst public health must come first, this latest measure means all travellers to the UK will need to take three tests in addition to quarantine, they said in a joint statement. “It adds a further barrier to viable air travel and deepens the worsening 2021 outlook for our sector, which has already been largely grounded for a year.

04:18 PM

Rejection of lab leak theory 'leaves questions unanswered'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) mission to China to investigate the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid 19 has dismissed the possibility that it leaked in a laboratory accident from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, writes Ross Clark.

At one point this morning it said that the Wuhan seafood market was not the origin of the outbreak – a conclusion it reached on the grounds there were signs of the infection spreading among people in early December who were not connected to the market.

Yet the three hypotheses which the WHO is prepared further to explore seem to point towards a food market.

There are many virologists – outside China – who believe that the virus has a natural origin. But not all of them.

No-one yet knows how SARS-CoV-2 originated, but don’t expect the answer to come from an investigation which has ruled out an important possibility from the beginning.

Read Ross' full column here.

04:06 PM

Coronavirus UK stats updated as 12,364 cases and 1,052 deaths confirmed

A further 12,364 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK, meaning that the seven-day average has declined by 26.6 per cent week-on-week. The current case rate is 199.4 per 100,000 people.

1,052 deaths have been confirmed, which takes the official recorded death toll within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test to 113,850.

The latest hospital data show that 1,987 patients have been admitted, among 16,356 in the last seven days.

04:03 PM

Quarantine hotels: Details of 16 chains involved to stay secret

Details of the 16 hotels involved in the quarantine plan are being kept secret, the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed.

A spokesman said: "We are not publishing that list for commercial reasons."

It emerged yesterday that the Government is yet to have issued any formal contracts for 'quarantine hotels', just one week before the strict new border restrictions are due to come into force.

From next Monday, arrivals from 33 red-listed countries will have to spend ten days in mandatory quarantine at a Government-approved facility.

03:48 PM

Covid deaths made up nearly half of all fatalities in the week to January 29

Deaths of people with Covid-19 made up nearly half of all fatalities in the week up to January 29, the highest proportion of the pandemic, Sarah Knapton writes.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were 8,433 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending January 29 with Covid-19 on the death certificate, the second highest weekly number since the pandemic began.

Ambulances outside the Royal London hospital in London - Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Ambulances outside the Royal London hospital in London - Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The deaths account for 45.7 per cent of all deaths registered in England and Wales during the same period.

However, the figures also show that for death registrations, the second wave of coronavirus deaths in Britain peaked in the third week of January and has been declining ever since.

A total of 1,404 deaths involving Covid-19 occurred on January 29, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is the highest daily death toll in the second wave so far.

Read more: New figures show deaths peaked in third week of January

03:38 PM

Vaccine roll-out: London remains least jabbed region

A further 253,688 Covid vaccinations were given in England yesterday, taking the total number of first and second doses administered to 11,245,053.

10,771,998 of yesterday's doses were the first of a vaccine, a rise of 252,269 on the previous day, while 473,055 were a second dose, an increase of 1,419.

London remains the least jabbed region in England, with 1,285,663 vaccines given to date.

03:26 PM

'The vaccine was supposed to give us freedom, so why is our government fencing us in?'

The vaccine was supposed to herald a return to the wonderful old normal, writes Oliver Smith - but current trends in terms of travel are "deeply worrying".

When it comes to travel, the opposite seems to be happening. Our government is in the process of fencing us in.

Already, all arrivals – even those coming from a Covid-free tropical island – must bring evidence of a negative test. Even after proving themselves free from infection, they must self-isolate for up to 10 days. From next week, those returning from a growing number of “red list” countries will be required to complete their quarantine period under guard in a grim airport hotel (at a cost of around £1,750).

And the latest wheeze from Matt Hancock? A prison sentence of up to 10 years for those who lie about visiting a red list country.

Such restrictions make travel extraordinarily difficult for everyone, and virtually impossible for families and those who cannot work from home.

Read Oliver's column in full here.

03:11 PM

Low Covid-19 infection rates in children at nurseries, French study suggests

A study from nurseries in France has shown low levels of Covid-19 infection among young children, with staff also not at significantly greater risk than the rest of the population, reports Jennifer Rigby.

The new study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, is thought to be the first estimate of infection in preschool settings.

It is based on antibody testing, which shows whether a person has previously been infected with coronavirus.

In the study of 327 children aged between 5 months and 4 years, across 22 nurseries in the Paris region, Rouen and Annecy, 14 children - or 3.7 per cent after adjusting for the accuracy of the test - were found to have Covid-19 antibodies as of June last year.

Read the full story here.

03:05 PM

From transmission to efficacy, the Oxford, Pfizer and other Covid vaccines compared

It is an amazing feat that less than a year after the coronavirus pandemic started circling the globe, the UK has two different vaccines in use, with another set to roll out in the spring and two more on the verge of gaining approval, writes Anne Gulland.

Globally, 293 Covid-19 vaccines are in various stages of development: 10 of which are in use or approved, and 70 of which are in clinical trials.

The UK Vaccines Taskforce – charged with selecting and securing the most promising vaccine candidates – hedged its bets, securing 407 million doses from seven different companies. This was a sensible strategy back in the summer when the taskforce was ordering doses of untested and unproven jabs.

The emergence of new variants, against which some vaccines are less able to respond, shows that having a suite of jabs to choose from is prudent.

Read more: How do the three vaccines compare?

03:00 PM

WHO team rules out China 'lab leak' theory in Covid origins investigation

The coronavirus “lab leak” theory has been dismissed as “extremely unlikely” by a team of World Health Organization experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, who say evidence instead points towards bats being the likely animal reservoir.

The team’s initial findings show the virus then jumped into an intermediary host - possibly a rabbit, a ferret badger or a bamboo rat - and then into humans, investigators told a press conference on Tuesday.

A member of a World Health Organization team is seen wearing protective gear during a field visit to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center  - Ng Han Guan/AP
A member of a World Health Organization team is seen wearing protective gear during a field visit to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center - Ng Han Guan/AP

The team also considered the possibility that the virus was transported to Wuhan, where the virus first emerged, via frozen products, a theory pushed by Chinese officials keen to emphasise that Sars-Cov-2 may have originated outside the country.

The international experts have been in China for the past four weeks investigating the origins of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. They visited a range of key locations in the central Chinese city of Wuhan - including hospitals, the Huanan seafood market linked to the first cases in late 2019, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

Anne Gulland, Sarah Newey and Sophia Yan have the full story.

02:48 PM

Hotel quarantine: Passengers face up to 10 years in prison for false information on 'red list' forms

02:39 PM

Vaccination sites mental health proposal to be considered by Matt Hancock

A proposal to have mental health workers situated at vaccination sites will be considered, Matt Hancock has said.

Conservative MP Dr Luke Evans told the Commons: "For phase two, will (Mr Hancock) commit to having mental health workers at national vaccine sites?"

"I will absolutely look into the suggestion that he makes," Mr Hancock responded. "Which is all about making sure that we reach out to people at a moment when everybody is going through a process together, or almost everybody and I hope it is everybody.

"So it's a very interesting proposal that I'll take away and hopefully speak to him about in the days to come."

02:30 PM

Vaccine passports will see Singapore relax travel rules

Singapore could soon relax its strict border controls and allow foreign tourists with vaccine certification, a government minister has revealed.

In the latest move towards 'vaccine passports', the Singaporean Transport Minister, Ong Ye Kung, said that set standards for proof of inoculation would help the city-state reopen travel links with the rest of the world.

“With vaccination and vaccination certification, we can start to relax some border measures to allow some travel to start happening within the course of this year,” Mr Ong told Bloomberg.

Seafarers who have spent the past months working onboard vessels arrive at Singapore's Changi Airport - Edgar Su/Reuters
Seafarers who have spent the past months working onboard vessels arrive at Singapore's Changi Airport - Edgar Su/Reuters

Meanwhile, Greece and Israel have agreed to open a two-way travel corridor for vaccinated tourists in a bid to regenerate their struggling economies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced yesterday that travellers carrying valid vaccination certificates would be permitted to move between the two countries without the requirement to self-isolate.

02:24 PM

South African variant: Austria to impose strict measures to curb outbreak

Austria is to impose strict new travel controls between the western Tyrol region and the rest of the country to contain an outbreak of the South African mutation of the coronavirus, reports Justin Huggler.

Travel to and from the mountainous region will only be permitted with a negative coronavirus test carried out within the last 48 hours, largely cutting off its population of 700,000 from the rest of the country. Tyrol is currently in the grip of the largest outbreak of the South African variant of the virus yet seen in the European Union, with 293 confirmed cases.

The mutation is thought to be the most dangerous form of the virus, and recent tests indicated that the AstraZeneca vaccine may be much less effective against it.

Wider hard lockdown restrictions in Austria came to an end yesterday. - Helmut Fohringer/AFP
Wider hard lockdown restrictions in Austria came to an end yesterday. - Helmut Fohringer/AFP

“On our continent, in the European Union, the British and South African mutations are gaining ground,” Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, told a press conference as he announced the new restrictions.

The South African variant presents a particular challenge because of the doubts over the AstraZeneca vaccine’s effectiveness against it, he said.

02:12 PM

Hotel quarantine: The grim reality of what a room will be like

As airport hotels prepare to become quarantine facilities for those arriving from hotspot countries, Annabel Fenwick Elliot has had a taster for what that experience could be like.

She spent a night and a day at a double room of the Best Western Chiswick Palace in London, one of the chains that has been ear-marked for the scheme, to investigate what it will feel like to quarantine in an hotel room.

From February 15, international travellers arriving from one of the 33 red list countries will have to spend 11 nights at a Government-mandated airport facility.

02:03 PM

'My darling, I waited so long for this'

Lewis and Barbara Tunnicliffe were torn apart because of the coronavirus pandemic in July 2020.

But now, 84-year-old Lewis was able to surprise his 81-year-old wife by moving into her nursing home in Staffordshire.

Staff at the Bradwell Hall Nursing Home filmed the endearing moment that the couple, who have been together for 63 years, were reunited. Watch the video below:

01:48 PM

Passengers face jail terms of up to 10 years for concealing 'red list' travel in hotel quarantine crackdown

Travellers who try to conceal their arrival from a red list country face jail sentences of up to 10 years under a new enforcement regime for quarantine hotels, Ben Riley-Smith and Charles Hymas report.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, also announced that anyone who tries to avoid the mandatory self-isolation in a hotel will face fines of up to £10,000.

The new fines will also enforce a triple testing system for all arrivals whether they quarantine for 10 days in Government-approved hotels or at home.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock updates MPs in the House of Commons, on the latest situation with the Coronavirus pandemic - House of Commons/PA Wire
Health Secretary Matt Hancock updates MPs in the House of Commons, on the latest situation with the Coronavirus pandemic - House of Commons/PA Wire

There will be a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test either within 72 hours of departure or on the second day of quarantine and a £2,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test on day eight.

Any failure to be tested will also automatically extend the errant travellers’ quarantine period to 14 days. It is thought this comes on top of the £1,000 fine for failing to quarantine at home.

01:41 PM

Tui holidays sales plummet 88 per cent amid heavy loss

Tui posted a heavy loss in the first quarter of its financial year after sales plunged 88 per cent due to pandemic-related travel curbs, Simon Foy reports.

The world's biggest travel company posted a €699m (£614m) loss in the three months to December, compared to a €147m loss during the same period last year. Revenues plummeted 88 per cent from €3.85bn to €468m.

However, the group's boss forecast a summer holiday rebound and higher prices due to the vaccine roll-out, adding that summer bookings were at 56 per cent of 2019 levels with average prices up by about a fifth. Bosses plan to operate at 80 per cent capacity during the peak season.

Analysts say summer cancellations could be painful as Tui's net debt now stands at €7.2bn - Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Analysts say summer cancellations could be painful as Tui's net debt now stands at €7.2bn - Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

Chief executive Fritz Joussen said: "A look at the historically high savings rate in the EU also underlines that the scope for consumer spending is high.

"The significant increase in spending on booked travel reflects this very clearly. Holidaymakers are catching up and are willing to pay more for their holidays."

01:30 PM

Covid origins: The pathways of the virus

Peter Ben Embarek, of the World Health Organization team holds up a chart showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a joint press conference held at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan
Peter Ben Embarek, of the World Health Organization team holds up a chart showing pathways of transmission of the virus during a joint press conference held at the end of the WHO mission in Wuhan

01:22 PM

Nearly half of agency nurses have yet to receive a Covid vaccine

Almost half of agency nurses have yet to be given a Covid vaccine, polling suggests, with the Royal College of Nursing urging the Government to step in, writes Laura Donnelly.

A survey of more than 24,000 nurses found that 44 per cent of agency staff have yet to receive a jab, along with 12 per cent of those employed directly by the NHS. The survey found that almost a fifth of nursing staff in care homes had not received a jab.

The polling, by the Royal College, found that those employed via agencies – and often working for more than one hospital – were far less likely than NHS staff to have been offered vaccines.

Overall, one in three agency staff had not yet been offered a vaccine, compared with one in 20 directly employed healthcare staff.

12:58 PM

India vaccinates six million in record time

India has vaccinated six million of its citizens against Covid-19 in a record-breaking 24 days, reports Joe Wallen, meaning it has reached the landmark quicker than any other nation despite continued vaccine hesitancy.

Before the pandemic, New Delhi ran a nationwide vaccination scheme which reached 55 million mothers and their newborn babies annually and the authorities have been able to use the same established distribution channels.

Police personnel take pictures after receiving a -19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai - Indranil Mukherjee/AFP
Police personnel take pictures after receiving a -19 coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai - Indranil Mukherjee/AFP

However, the total number of Indians to have received a dose could yet still be much higher, after only roughly half of its healthcare professionals turned up for their vaccination leaving many slots free.

There are concerns over the emergency use authorisation which has been granted to the domestically produced Bharat Biotech vaccine, despite it not completing Phase Three testing which ascertains its efficacy and safety.

Public health experts say the Indian authorities should also now open up vaccinations to the elderly and those with comorbidities to fill empty slots, with New Delhi aiming to immunise 300 million of its citizens by August.

12:47 PM

Up to 10 years in jail for lying on Passenger Locator Form

There will be penalties of £1,000 for any international arrivals who do not take a mandatory test, £2,000 for anyone who refuses to take a second mandatory test, and £5,000 - rising to £10,000 - for arrivals who fail to quarantine at the designated hotel, Matt Hancock announces.

Giving false information on the Passenger Locator Form in the 10 days before arrival will lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years, Mr Hancock proceeds to confirm.

"These measures will be put into law this week and I've been working to make sure that more resources are being put into place to enforce these measures," he says.

"I make no apologies for the strength of these measures because we're dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we've faced as a nation.

"I know that most people have been doing their bit, and these new enforcement powers will make sure their hard work and sacrifice is not undermined by a small minority who do not want to follow the rules."

12:43 PM

All travellers will be tested twice, confirms Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock says all passengers are already required to take pre-departure tests, but from Monday all international arrivals under home or hotel quarantine will be legally obliged to take PCR tests on day two and day eight of their quarantine stay.

Anyone who tests positive in either of these tests will then have to quarantine for a further 10 days. All positive test results will be sequenced.

12:41 PM

Hotel quarantine to cost £1,750 for returning Britons

The UK must protect its hard-fought advances in the fight against coronavirus, Matt Hancock says, noting that the disease mutates over time. He says that responding to new variants as soon as possible is "mission critical".

Mr Hancock says the new system of hotel quarantine means that returning British residents will have to quarantine for 10 days, and pay for a quarantine package costing £1,750 for an individual which will be booked online.

Mr Hancock says passengers will be escorted to a designated hotel, which will be closed to guests who are not in quarantine.

12:36 PM

Matt Hancock: 'We're turning a corner' in Covid response

Matt Hancock is making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons.

"Thanks to our collective efforts we're turning a corner," the Health Secretary says, noting that cases are down by 47 per cent in the last week. "However there are still many more people in hospital than at the April or November peaks and the number of deaths, while falling, is still far too high."

Mr Hancock says more than 12.2 million have now had the vaccine, including 91.4 per cent of those aged 80 and above, and 93.5 per cent of eligible care home residents.

He repeats the Government's call for the most vulnerable who have not yet had their vaccine to contact the NHS.

12:34 PM

Watch live: Matt Hancock in the House of Commons

12:17 PM

Cause of Covid: 'It's not that easy to come up with all the answers'

The bumper press conference from Wuhan is drawing to a close now, some two hours after it began, Sarah Newey reports.

Peter Ben Embarek, who headed the international team of experts, concludes by thanking everyone involved in the research - he estimates that more than 1,000 people have helped to identify, analyse and process data over the last month.

He finishes with this observation about the difficulty of tracing epidemics:

Before embarking on this work, like probably many of you, I was thinking how it will actually be on the ground and try to find answers around the first cases. Who are they and what information do they provide?

It was in a way fascinating to realise that it’s not, these people are not holding very exciting clues. When we talked to one of the first cases who had onset of symptoms in early December...you immediately think - oh it must have some very special habits, hiking in the mountains, having wild pets at home.

All these ideas pop up. But then you realise they are very much like all of us, no particular history of interest. It’s illustrative of how complicated this work is, and therefore it’s not that easy to come up with all the answers after a few weeks of studies.

We have to understand these are complex studies that need to be done in a systematic way and that is how we can go, bit by bit, to connect all the dots together.

12:02 PM

Wuhan market: Animals tested did not test positive, says WHO virologist

Marion Koopmans, a Dutch virologist, told the press conference that animals tested in the Huanan market have not tested positive - but that several found are known to be susceptible to Sars-Cov-2, writes Sarah Newey.

This is why the team is recommending further "trace back" activities, to test more wildlife in the supply chain.

"First it is important to emphasise that the testing did not reveal any positive [cases] but the full trace back, very extensive trace back of all animals and products on the market, showed that there were some animal species that were confirmed as susceptible like rabbits, or could be suspected to be susceptible - like ferrets or badgers of bamboo rats," she said.

"The way to interpret it is that if they were there then, they could have been affected earlier... So it is really seen as an entry point for a rationale for taking the next step of surveys in animals in farms, that’s how we’ve looked at that."

But Liang Wiannan listed a series of stats suggesting that no animals have yet tested positive for Sars-Cov-2 in China.

11:44 AM

Five ways to power through February lockdown fatigue

Tiredness always peaks at this time of year, says Dr Nigma Talib, a Notting Hill-based naturopath who has worked with Penélope Cruz and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. This is largely due to the seasonal changes, including colder weather, and the comedown from Christmas.

“In Chinese medicine, they believe that seasonal changes affects our sleep and energy levels, and what I see in clients bears this out,” she says. However, after the 2020 we all had, that comedown (and the resulting fatigue) is likely to be tenfold.

Add to that the fluctuating emotions we’ve felt in the past month or so, from our sense of despair when the new lockdown and school closures were announced last month, followed by the excitement of the vaccine roll out, which have further tired us out.

Even before the pandemic, one in eight Britons slept fewer than six hours a night, according to the Economic and Social Research Council. Now research shows that lockdown-driven anxiety plus work and financial pressures are driving up rates of exhaustion.

Maria Lally has some tips on powering through February fatigue.

11:39 AM

Covid lab leak hypothesis the only one to be discounted by WHO

Dr Peter Ben Embarek has gone into more detail about why the team ruled it "highly unlikely" that the virus came from a lab, writes Sarah Newey.

Of the four hypothesis put forward, it is the only one to be discounted. "We looked at what are the arguments for and against such a hypothesis," Dr Embarek said. "Accidents do happen, unfortunately - we have many examples from many countries in the world of past accidents. So of course this is not impossible, it happens once in a while.

"There have been no reports of this virus, or another virus closely linked to this, being worked with in any laboratory in the world.

Peter Ben Embarek of a World Health Organisation team attends a joint press conference - Ng Han Guan/AP Photo
Peter Ben Embarek of a World Health Organisation team attends a joint press conference - Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

"We also looked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the state of that laboratory, and it was very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place."

The idea that Covid-19 was engineered by humans "has been refuted by the whole scientific community around the world", Professor Liang Wiannan said. "In all the labs in Wuhan and the region there is no virus of Sars-Cov-2, so there is no way this virus could have leaked."

11:30 AM

Wuhan market not where Covid started, suggests WHO scientist

Prof Liang Wiannan has suggested that the first cases in Wuhan had no link to the Huanan seafood market - but it is still significant as the site of one of the earliest clusters of the disease, Sarah Newey reports.

"Huanan market may not be the first place that had the outbreak and it is not the place that witnessed the earliest case either.

"The onset date of the first case in this research was in December 8 2019. The earliest case associated with Hunan seafood market was December 12. The case with the onset on December 8 had no link to Huanan Market."

Liang Wannian, Peter K. Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans during this morning's press conference at the Hilton Optics Valley Hotel in Wuhan - WHO Handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Liang Wannian, Peter K. Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans during this morning's press conference at the Hilton Optics Valley Hotel in Wuhan - WHO Handout/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Prof Marion Koopmans, a virologist and member of the WHO international team, said it was not possible to say how confident the team are each hypothesis for the spread of Covid in percentage terms.

"I think going into exact percentages is overstating what can be done," she said, adding that the team felt it was more appropriate to keep to broad categorisations, e.g. "likely" and "unlikely".

11:23 AM

'Extremely unlikely' Covid came from a Chinese lab, says WHO

A controversial theory that Covid-19 came from a laboratory in Wuhan is "extremely unlikely", experts from the World Health Organisation have said.

Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the WHO mission, spoke at a press conference this morning to unveil the results of phase one of the organisation's investigation into how the pandemic started.

"The laboratory incident hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population," he said. "Therefore [it] is not in the hypotheses that we will suggest for future studies."

Members of the Trump administration had claimed that SARS-CoV-2 may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and claimed it had 'reason to believe that several researchers inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick in autumn 2019... with symptoms consistent with both Covid-19 and common seasonal illnesses’.

11:09 AM

Covid rules mean just 12 visitors allowed at The Last Supper

As Italy eases some of its coronavirus lockdown restrictions, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci will be accessible to tourists starting from today, Nick Squires reports from Rome.

The masterpiece is kept in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Only 12 visitors will be allowed to view it at a time, compared to 35 in pre-coronavirus times.

'The Last Supper' has reopened to the public as Italy gradually eases its coronavirus rules - Antonio Calanni/AP Photo
'The Last Supper' has reopened to the public as Italy gradually eases its coronavirus rules - Antonio Calanni/AP Photo

Milan is also to reopen to visitors its famous Duomo or cathedral, starting on Thursday.

A symbol of the northern city, it had been closed for months because of the pandemic.

10:59 AM

Italy to vaccinate 10m after Easter

Italy should be able to vaccinate at least 10 million people per month from Easter, Medicines Agency AIFA director general Nicola Magrini told daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Tuesday.

"From Easter we should be able to vaccinate 10 million citizens and more per month," Magrini told the paper when asked when Italy will be able to start a mass vaccination campaign.

10:55 AM

WHO: Calls for further research into origins of virus

Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO expert, called for the creation of a global, integrated database so that information on epidemiological and molecular data can be rapidly accessed in future outbreaks.

He said more evidence of blood banks in areas who reported early virus cases is needed.

He added: "We need to conduct more surveys into animal species that could be a reservoir or could act as a reservoir - not only in China, because a lot has already been tested here.

"It would be interesting to know if a frozen wild animal that was infected could have been a possible introduction.

"We should also look further back in tracing the source of the animal products in particular that were frozen in the market in December 2019."

A Chinese journalist walks past the stage set for WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference - Ng Han Guan/AP
A Chinese journalist walks past the stage set for WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference - Ng Han Guan/AP

10:49 AM

WHO: Lab leak hypothesis 'extremely unlikely'

Embarek says that initial findings suggest transmission through an intermediary host (animal species) is the most likely pathway and one that requires more studies and more specific targeted research.

He said: "The findings suggest that the laboratory incidence hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population.

"Therefore is not a hypothesis that implies to suggest future studies to support out work into the understanding of the origin of the virus."

10:45 AM

New ONS Covid figures

A total of 126,023 deaths had occurred in the UK by January 29 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

There were 19 consecutive days in January - from January 7 to 25 - when the daily death toll was above 1,000.

This could change once more deaths have been registered for the end of the month.

During the first wave of the virus in April 2020, there were 23 consecutive days when the death toll - based on death certificates - was above 1,000.

10:39 AM

WHO: Search for species which spread the virus 'still a work in progress'

More from Sarah Newey on the WHO conference:

Evidence points towards natural occurrence of the virus, Peter Ben Embarek says. He adds that more research is needed on the supply chain.

He said that the team's work on identifying the virus origins continue to point towards natural reservoir of this virus, and similar viruses, in bat population.

He added: "But since Wuhan is not a city or environment close to this environment, a direct jump from bats to the city of Wuhan is not very likely."

He said the team has potential leads of other animal species to follow when looking at the Huanan market supply chain.

"The search for the possible route of introduction through different animal species and the specific reservoir are still a work in progress."

10:26 AM

WHO: Embarek confirms circulation outside of wet market in December 2019

Embarek then adds details about the early spread of the virus:

"The conclusion was that we did not find evidence of large outbreaks that could be related to cases of Covid-19 prior to December 2019 in Wuhan or elsewhere.

"We can also agree that we have found evidence of wider circulating of the virus in December, it was not just the cluster outbreak in the Huanan market, the virus also circulated outside of the market.

"The picture we see is a very classical picture of the start of an emerging outbreak where we start with few sporadic cases early on in the month of December, then we start to see small outbreaks where the disease starts to spread via clusters. We see that, among others, at the Huanan market."

10:23 AM

WHO: We did not dramatically change the picture we had beforehand

We now move on to an introduction from Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO's food safety and animal disease specialist and chairman of the investigation team.

He starts by thanking the press who have been “following us for long hours in the cold and rain… it has provided us with constant reminding of the importance of this work and the focus the whole world is putting on this work”.

He then addresses the overarching conclusions, warning: "Did we change dramatically the picture we had beforehand? I don’t think so. Did we improve our understanding and add details to that story? Absolutely."

10:20 AM

Chief exec of travel consultancy asks, 'what is the exit route out of this?'

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "Mass traveller testing alone is to be welcomed as it enables Government to stay one step ahead of possible new variants, but adding several layers of complexity to travel will stall any economic recovery.

"The Government needs to signal that it is looking to loosen border restrictions again from April, when there will be much less pressure on the NHS and infection/mortality rates will be lower.

"What is the exit route out of this? Travel cannot work on the short-term whim of Government."

TUI airline takes-off at the airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany -  INA FASSBENDER/ AFP
TUI airline takes-off at the airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany - INA FASSBENDER/ AFP

10:08 AM

WHO: Covid can survive a long time at low, even refrigerated temperatures

Prof Liang Wannian adds that the virus may have been introduced to the Huanan market via cold chain goods, Sarah Newey reports.

"Environmental sampling in Huanan market from the point of its closing, reviewed widespread contamination of the surfaces - compatible with introduction by people and animal products.

According to this research, all samples related to animal products or animals were all negative.

For the cold chain products and relevant testing, research ongoing Sars-Cov-2 can persist in positions found in frozen food, packaging and cold chain products.

In the Huanan market a substantial number of stores sell cold chain products but unclear how the initial cases can be mapped to stores with these products.

10:04 AM

WHO: transmission was also occurring outside Huanan Market

Many cases associated with Huanan market in Wuhan, meaning it is one of the early focus points on infection.

Nevertheless, infection was also taking place elsewhere across the city.

It is not possible on the basis of the current epidemiological population possible to identify how Sars-Cov-2 entered Huanan Market.

10:02 AM

WHO: Not enough evidence to indicate spread in Wuhan prior to December 2019

Professor Liang Wannian addresses whether the virus was circulating in Wuhan widely before it was detected.

He says that, after a review of mortality data, antibody tests of blood in blood banks in Wuhan, and available genome sequences, as well as people presenting to hospital with fever, pneumonia, or influenza-like symptoms of severe acute respiratory disease.

"There is not enough evidence either to determine if the Sars-Cov-2 infection had spread in Wuhan before December 2019."

He later adds: "Based on analysis of this and other surveillance data is is considered unlikely that any substantial transmission of Sars-Cov-2 infection was occurring in Wuhan in those two months [prior to discovery]."

Substantial transmission of Sars-Cov-2 infection occurred in the population in Wuhan in December 2019, with most in the second half of that month.

09:52 AM

WHO: Inconclusive evidence about which animals acted as intermediary hosts

Professor Liang Wannian continues by suggesting that there is inconclusive evidence to data about which animal was the intermediary host that transmitted Sars-Cov-2 directly to humans.

The experts believe the virus originally circulated in bats or pangolins, but it is not clear how Sars-Cov-2 then jumped to humans:

"Evidence from surveys and targeted studies so far shown that coronaviruses most highly related to Sars-cov-2 are found in bats and pangolins, suggesting these animals may be the reservoir.

" However the viruses identified so far from neither of these species are sufficiently similar to Sars-Cov-2 to serve as the direct progenerator of Sars-Cov-2.

"In addition to these findings, the high susceptibility of mink and cats to sars-cov-2 suggest there may be additional species of animals - for example dogs or felines - that act as potential reservoir.

"Comparative of the data show that these possible reservoirs are massively under sampled and research is not adequate enough."

09:39 AM

WHO press conference begins

A press conference unveiling the findings of a World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Sars-Cov-2 has kicked off in Wuhan. Sarah Newey will be providing live-text updates.

Liang Wannian, head of the Chinese envoy working on the investigation, starts bby outlining the methods used by the team - and emphasises that this is just phase one of the work.

"This part is the first part, the China part" of the work, he said.

"It sets the ground for origin tracing work elsewhere."

09:34 AM

Data on Oxford jab could affect confidence in jab, but no reason for alarm

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, was asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme if scrutiny of data on the Oxford jab could affect confidence in the UK.

He replied: "I think there's clearly a risk in confidence, in the way that people may perceive you."

He added: "I don't think that there is any reason for alarm. Today we have a variant spreading in the UK population that we can prevent with all of the vaccines.

"We also have some data which we discussed last week, which shows that the vaccine may indeed have an impact on that spread as well.

"It's really important that people get vaccinated and get protected against the virus that is here circulating today.

"There are definitely new questions about variants that we're going to be addressing, and one of those is do we need new vaccines? I think the jury's out on that at the moment.

"But all developers are preparing new vaccines, so, if we do need them, we'll have them available to be able to protect people."

09:29 AM

Vaccines 'still preventing severe disease and death'

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said coronavirus vaccines are preventing "severe disease and death".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The really important point though is that all vaccines, everywhere in the world where they've been tested, are still preventing severe disease and death.

"And I think that is perhaps the clue to the future here, that we are going to see new variants arise and they will spread in the population, like most of the viruses that cause colds every winter.

"But, as long as we have enough immunity to prevent severe disease, hospitalisations and death, then we're going to be fine in the future in the pandemic."

09:24 AM

What 'should' be happening at the UK border?

Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Environment Secretary George Eustice outlines what 'should' be happening in arrivals at UK border after a Brit arrived from South Africa via Doha yesterday, and was not checked.

09:16 AM

Minimal protection of vaccine against South African variant was 'expected'

Research results suggesting that the Oxford coronavirus vaccine offers minimal protection against mild disease of the South Africa variant were "expected", one of the scientists behind the jab said.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, was asked for his view about the study's findings.

He said: "I think, in many ways, it's exactly what we would have expected, because the virus is introducing mutations, as we've discussed before, to allow it to still transmit in populations where there's some immunity.

"And we already knew in South Africa that the virus was able to cause mild infections in people who were infected earlier last year.

"So, in a way the study in South Africa absolutely confirms what we understand about the biology - that the virus has to transmit between people to survive. It has to mutate to do that. And it's done that in South Africa already. And that will affect mild disease in people who've been vaccinated."

09:10 AM

Officials 'confident' of securing necessary capacity for hotel quarantine next Monday

Environment Secretary George Eustice said officials are "confident" they will get the necessary capacity to introduce hotel quarantine next week.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "My understanding is that officials in the Department for Health are in discussion with a range of operators about procuring those hotels, and they are confident that they will get the capacity needed for the policy to start next week."

Asked if the plans are coming in too late, Mr Eustice said: "I don't really accept that. I think, ever since December when we started to see these other strains arriving, we have been incrementally strengthening our approach to the border."

09:06 AM

Manchester MP encourages constituents to take up tests in light of Kent mutation

Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell has encouraged people in her constituency to get a coronavirus test after a mutation of the more transmissible Kent variant was detected in the city.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said the surge in testing is "coming in very quickly" and that council officials will be going door to door to offer tests to residents on their doorstep.

Responding to Labour leader Keir Starmer's comments about the South African variant of coronavirus being the greatest threat to UK, she said: "These variants, especially the variants that are found to be resistant to the vaccines that we're currently rolling out, of course are a worry."

She said measures on protecting the border, such as hotel quarantine, are "only just coming into play now", adding: "These delays we can ill afford because that's how the new variant takes seize in this country from other countries."

09:00 AM

Reopening pubs without alcohol 'ridiculous', says Labour

Labour's shadow minister for business and consumers, Lucy Powell, described suggestions that pubs could reopen without serving alcohol as "ridiculous".

"They (businesses) need to know the economic support that will sit alongside the public health measures. At the moment they diverge quite considerably," she told BBC Breakfast.

"And we need to make sure for businesses that that route map to reopening allows businesses to open in a viable way.

"So we can't have ridiculous things that we've seen speculated about with pubs saying they can reopen but without serving alcohol, for example."

08:55 AM

WHO's Wuhan team to update the world

A Chinese journalist walks past the stage set for WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference on the Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 held near the end of the World Health Organization mission in Wuhan - Ng Han Guan/AP
A Chinese journalist walks past the stage set for WHO-China Joint Study Press Conference on the Study of Origins of SARS-CoV-2 held near the end of the World Health Organization mission in Wuhan - Ng Han Guan/AP
Hotel staff members prepare for duty outside the conference center where a press conference for the World Health Organisation team  - Ng Han Guan/AP
Hotel staff members prepare for duty outside the conference center where a press conference for the World Health Organisation team - Ng Han Guan/AP

08:46 AM

Government still negotiating with quarantine hotels

Discussions have not yet concluded with hotels near ports and airports which will be used to quarantine travellers arriving from 'red list' countries, the Environment Secretary has said.

George Eustice told BBC Breakfast: "My understanding as of this morning is that officials in the Department for Health are in negotiation with a range of different operators around procuring that.

"Those discussions have not yet concluded but they are ongoing and they are confident that they will have the capacity we need in place for Monday."

Mr Eustice also said he cannot "rule anything out" when asked whether schools could extend the school day or term.

08:35 AM

WHO update delayed

We were expecting an update from the World Health Organisation (WHO) this morning (at around 8am).

The investigating team are in Wuhan looking at the origins of the coronavirus.

However, as of yet, we have heard nothing.

08:32 AM

Government urged to extend support for businesses

Shadow business minister Lucy Powell urged the Government to extend business support packages for as long as coronavirus restrictions are in place.

She said support for businesses will come to an end in "one big bombshell" at the beginning of April.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she said: "That could lead to a huge number of businesses going bust, businesses insolvencies and job losses.

"We want the Government to extend business rate holiday for at least six months, to carry on with the cut in VAT for hospitality and extend the furlough scheme for as long as public health restrictions are in place.

"We supported businesses and jobs for the last 12 months, so it makes no economic sense to now cut off support at this final stage because then all that previous investment will have gone to waste."

08:25 AM

Borders 'cannot stop infectious diseases'

Borders "cannot stop infectious diseases", leading epidemiologist Professor David Heymann said.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, he said: "We know that borders cannot stop infectious diseases no matter how rigid your controls are, there will always be some that comes through."

He said most nations believe the best strategy is to deal with infections in-country, and to ensure there is a flow of travel and trade.

Asked if he believed closing borders would have an immediate impact, Prof Heymann said: "We've seen that countries that have closed their borders, such as New Zealand, have kept the virus out, but now their problem is what do they when they begin to open their borders?

"So I think the best way forward is to live understanding that viruses and bacteria, any infection, can cross borders and we have to have the defences in our own countries to deal with them."

08:16 AM

'Well thought out' testing strategies over border closures, says expert

Coronavirus testing strategies must be "well thought out", with tests sometimes used in not "the most appropriate manner", epidemiologist Professor David Heymann said.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Prof Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was asked if restrictions such as testing for people arriving into the UK were useful.

He said: "Testing strategies are useful in identifying people who are infected, and those people can then isolate themselves or seek treatment, and it stops transmission. So they are effective. But they must be used in a testing strategy that's also well thought out and can actually identify people infected, and then follow up to be sure that they are isolating, either self-isolating or being managed in a health facility."

Asked if "we have that at the moment", Prof Heymann replied: "We have those tests, yes. We have many different tests, we have many tests, we have therapeutic agents, we have vaccines, but many times those tests have not been used in the most appropriate manner.

"But gradually, as people are understanding the value and the capacity of these tests, they are being used in travel and in many other instances as well."

08:14 AM

Watch: Catch up on Matt Hancock's press conference

If you missed the Health Secretary's press briefing yesterday, you can watch it again here.

08:13 AM

New vaccines to tackle mutations 'could take months'

Professor Adam Finn, an academic from the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Sciences, said that it could take months for new vaccines to be created to tackle new variants.

The member of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations told BBC Breakfast: "It will take some time, simply because although the new variants can be adjusted in the vaccines they then have to come through the regulators, and then have to be manufactured at scale in order to be available.

"So it's not a matter of a month or two, it's probably more than that.

"But we currently have vaccines that are effective against the strains that are predominating in the UK and and that should be clear in everybody's minds that we're not in a position where vaccines have suddenly stopped working entirely."

08:09 AM

Surge testing in Manchester over new Covid mutation

Thousands of people in Manchester will be tested for coronavirus after a mutation of the more transmissible Kent variant was detected there.

Some 10,000 extra tests will be rolled out in the region from Tuesday, after four people from two unconnected households were found to be infected with the E484K mutation, which is linked to the Kent strain, Manchester City Council said.

This follows similar surges in testing in Worcestershire, Sefton, Merseyside, and areas in Bristol and south Gloucestershire, after variants were found.

Extra testing sites will be set up to enable anyone aged over 16 who lives, works or studies in the affected areas - which includes postcodes in Hulme, Moss Side, Whalley Range and Fallowfield.

In the next few days volunteers will start knocking on people's doors to offer tests for anyone who cannot get to a site, and it will also be available for people who work in the area but do not live there.

08:01 AM

Next in line for vaccine to be announced

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) will set out who they believe should be next in line for Covid-19 jabs in a few weeks time.

Asked who would be next to be vaccinated after the top nine priority groups, JCVI member professor Adam Finn, from the the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Sciences, told BBC Breakfast: "That discussion is ongoing at the moment and of course it goes beyond just medicine and public health as to who society values most and who they think are most important.

"In terms of the JCVI, we're very focused on the evidence of who's at the highest risk and at the moment the outstanding factors predicting that is still age.

"And of course you need a system that you can operationalise, so you can identify the people and quickly get the vaccine to them. So I can't give you an answer to exactly how that will look.

"But over the coming few weeks we're making those plans and I think they will have to be an announced by the end of February or early March so that we know what we're doing next."

08:00 AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

Florida seniors have their temperatures taken before receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine - Marta Lavandier/AP
Florida seniors have their temperatures taken before receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine - Marta Lavandier/AP
A man photographs his mother getting a shot of China's Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine at a drive-thru site set up in the Pacaembu soccer stadium car park in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Andre Penner/AP
A man photographs his mother getting a shot of China's Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine at a drive-thru site set up in the Pacaembu soccer stadium car park in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Andre Penner/AP

07:46 AM

'Disappointing' some NHS staff declining vaccine, says Cabinet minister

Mr Eustice said it was "disappointing" that some NHS staff have declined to take a coronavirus vaccine.

"I think it is always very difficult to require or mandate vaccination... it has always been the case that people have to choose to want it," the Environment Secretary told Sky News.

"Obviously it is disappointing if people working in our NHS, who themselves in very small numbers, have decided not to have the vaccine.

"We want to get maximum protection particularly for those vulnerable cohorts but also for those such as those working in the NHS who are particularly exposed, and the vast majority of them have taken up the vaccine."

07:40 AM

Coronavirus becoming an 'endemic' disease, says expert

Experts believe coronavirus is becoming an "endemic" disease, a leading epidemiologist has said.

Professor David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was asked on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme if people were going to have to "learn to live with" coronavirus circulating.

Prof Heymann replied: "It certainly seems like that in the shorter term, and probably in the long term as well.

"Most experts believe that this disease is now becoming endemic, but the good thing is that we have many tools including vaccines with which we can deal with this virus."

Drawing a comparison with the spread of HIV/Aids, he added: "We've learned to live with it, as we'll learn to live with this infection as well."

07:30 AM

Vaccines 'fully efficacious' against Kent variant, says minister

Vaccines are "fully efficacious" against the Kent variant of coronavirus, Environment Secretary George Eustice has said.

He told Sky News that the variant remains "our main challenge at the moment".

"(It is) highly infectious, spreads more quickly than some of the other variants, and dominates at the moment and is our primary challenge.

"And the vaccines are fully efficacious against that particular strain."

07:21 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Feb 9.

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dt

06:30 AM

Vaccinated Britons could get QR codes to travel

People who have received their Covid jabs could be given scannable QR codes allowing them to leave the country in "passport" schemes being funded by the taxpayer.

Details of two ventures developing ways for Britons to confirm they have had vaccines were shared with The Telegraph on Monday.

Logifect, a firm handed £62,000 in grants by the agency InnovateUK, has designed a phone app, due to launch next month, that allows Britons to show confirmation of their vaccinations.

iProov and Mvine, two companies given a £75,000 grant for their joint drive, are working on digital "certificates" that would allow people to prove their immunity when asked.

Executives behind the first drive said they planned to reach out to Government officials in the hope their technologies can help with reopening after the lockdown.

Read more: Britons vaccinated against Covid could get QR codes to travel

05:56 AM

Charities demand resumption of care home visits in March

Care home visits must resume in March, charities demand, as they say the dangers of the virus must be balanced against the harm from loneliness.

Age UK said any more delays would mean many of the most vulnerable will have waited more than a year to see and touch their loved ones – a situation which its experts described as “unacceptable”.

The charity is among a number of groups urging ministers to commit to meaningful indoor visits to be restored by March 1.

In a joint statement, also signed by the National Care Forum, The Relatives & Residents Association and Rights for Residents, they call for urgent action to reopen care homes, as Covid cases fall.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Getting back to a position where everyone can receive meaningful indoor visits is a matter of safety, common decency, and fundamental human rights. As a first step towards a wider process of 'opening up', we believe that this must be in place for all residents and their essential caregivers by March 1.”

Read more: Care home visits must resume in March as loneliness having 'devastating impact' on residents

03:54 AM

Testing collapses in Myanmar after coup

Covid testing has collapsed in Myanmar after a military coup prompted a campaign of civil disobedience led by doctors and mass protests swept the country, official testing figures showed.

The number of daily tests reported late on Monday stood at 1,987, the lowest number since Dec 29, compared with more than 9,000 a week earlier and an average of more than 17,000 a day in the week before the Feb 1 coup. Since the coup, tests per day have averaged 9,350.

The number of cases found on Monday was just four - compared with an average of 420 a day in the last week of January.

A health ministry spokesman declined to comment. In a statement on Monday, the ministry appealed to health workers for help with a vaccination campaign that began late last month. It said all staff members "are strongly urged to return to their duties with taking the wellbeing of patients into consideration."

Read more: Myanmar coup: I'm protecting democracy, says military chief

03:36 AM

Buttigieg in quarantine

Former US presidential candidate and newly-appointed Transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has gone into quarantine after a member of his security detail tested positive for coronavirus.

Mr Buttigieg, whose appointment was confirmed by the Senate last week, is the first member of the Biden cabinet to be forced into quarantine.

The agent was with Mr Buttigieg on Monday morning and his proximity meant he was considered a close contact.

Mr Buttigieg since tested negative for Covid-19 and has not been displaying any symptoms.

Pete Buttigieg, who ran for president, is no transportation secretary - GETTY IMAGES
Pete Buttigieg, who ran for president, is no transportation secretary - GETTY IMAGES

02:51 AM

UK arrivals must take two Covid tests

All travellers arriving in the UK will have to take two coronavirus tests in a fresh attempt to prevent mutant strains entering the country under new rules to be announced this week.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the move was designed to provide a "further level of protection" enabling the authorities to track new cases more effectively.

It is expected that people isolating at home will be told they must get a test two and eight days into their 10-day quarantine period.

It comes after it was confirmed last week that UK nationals returning from 33 "red list" countries would be required to quarantine in closely monitored government-designated hotels, where they would have to take two tests.

However, hotels have questioned ministers' plans to book 28,000 hotel rooms to quarantine travellers, a scheme under which the Government would have exclusive and "open-ended" use of rooms.

Read more: Hotels rebel over 'open-ended' quarantine into summer

A sealed hotel room door at the St Giles Hotel in west London - PA
A sealed hotel room door at the St Giles Hotel in west London - PA

02:35 AM

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