Coronavirus latest news: Single dose of Oxford or Pfizer vaccine cuts hospitalisations in over 80s by 80pc

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Max Stephens
·79 min read
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A single dose of the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine offers dramatic protection against hospital admission and severe disease in older people, according to a new study from Public Health England (PHE).

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the "exciting" real-world data which found either vaccine is more than 80 per cent effective at preventing hospital admission for over 80s around three to four weeks after the first dose.

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the data offered a glimpse of how the vaccine programme "is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months".

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, included more than 7.5 million people aged 70 and over in England.

The data also shows that infections (where people display symptoms) in the over-70s fall from around three weeks after one dose of both vaccines.

It comes after the Prime Minister announced earlier today there is a 'massive effort' under way to contain the spread of the Brazilian variant of coronavirus.

Health officials are currently hunting for a unidentified person in the UK who is infected with the variant in a bid to prevent it infecting the wider community.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

07:04 PM

Evening roundup of today's news

Here is your evening roundup of today's news:

06:51 PM

Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy fell by 20 per cent in first wave of pandemic

The pandemic led to an almost 20 per cent reduction in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy during the height of the first wave, official data shows.

New figures released by Public Health England reveal 11,000 fewer people with cancer in England started chemotherapy for the first time between April and July 2020, compared with the same time period in 2019.

The overall number of people with cancer having chemotherapy in May dropped 19 per cent compared to the previous year, in April it had dropped by 16 per cent.

Treatment given orally, rather than as a drip or injection, also increased during this period from 25 to 30 per cent, highlighting the disruption caused by the pandemic as it changed the way some people received their treatment.

A reduction in treatment was most prominent in older groups. Among 70 to 79-year-olds cancer treatment fell by nearly a quarter (24 per cent) in April 2020 compared to the previous year.

Lizzie Roberts has the full story

06:46 PM

Covid pandemic is the 'greatest difficulty' faced by Government in 50 years, says David Cameron

Former prime minister David Cameron has called the coronavirus pandemic the "greatest difficulty" confronted by a government in the past 50 years - and admitted a mistake was made in preparing for it when he was in office.

Mr Cameron told Parliament's National Security Strategy Committee that he and the former living incumbents of Downing Street agreed that the Covid crisis is tougher than anything they faced while in power.

Speaking on Monday, the ex-Conservative Party leader said Boris Johnson was faced with Brexit and the "immense challenge of the pandemic", a dual-pronged assault that had afforded the current administration less time to consider foreign policy via the National Security Council.

"All the former prime ministers - we speak to each other from time to time - we'd all say we had difficult decisions to make and difficult circumstances to face but nothing like this - this has been the greatest difficulty a government has had to face for 40 or 50 years," Mr Cameron said.

"So to be fair to the Government, they have had these twin challenges to deal with."

06:40 PM

Staggering return of universities will simply delay Covid outbreaks, study suggests

Staggering the return of universities will simply delay coronavirus outbreaks until later in the year, a new study suggests.

Researchers from nine UK universities, including Cambridge, Warwick and Glasgow, analysed the spread of Covid-19 on university campuses from the autumn term of 2020.

Students at Hull University take swabs for lateral flow Covid-19 tests at the campus sports facilities - AFP
Students at Hull University take swabs for lateral flow Covid-19 tests at the campus sports facilities - AFP

There were multiple outbreaks when students returned to university campuses, but the authors said the scale of the outbreaks varied "considerably".

The researchers investigated the use of different control measures to stem infections and found a staggered return of students would have “limited value”.

Lizzie Roberts has the full story here

06:34 PM

Global Covid cases rise for first time in seven weeks as WHO warns pandemic will not end this year

Coronavirus cases have risen globally for the first time in seven weeks, bucking an unprecedented trend which had raised hopes the pandemic was finally abating.

In the World Health Organization’s epidemiological report last week, the UN agency said new infections had fallen worldwide for the sixth consecutive week – the first time such a sustained drop had been seen since the pandemic began.

But that decline has now halted.

“We need to have a stern warning for all of us: that this virus will rebound if we let it,” Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead for Covid-19, told a press conference on Monday. “And we cannot let it.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the UN agency, added that the latest analysis shows infections have risen in four of the six WHO regions: the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Sarah Newey has the full story here

06:22 PM

Tracking ‘Patient X’: a bad case of déjà vu as the Brazil variant reaches the UK

Reading the headlines on Monday felt like travelling back in time to the moment Covid-19 hit the UK.

The hunt is back on, the stories say.

Only this time, rather than looking for the country’s ‘patient zero’, authorities are scrambling to find ‘patient X’ - an unknown individual infected with a worrying variant called P1, first detected in Brazil.

It’s a bad case of déjà vu, something the Government was desperate to avoid a year into the devastating pandemic. But they are at pains to point out a lot has been learned in the interim.

Sarah Newey and Jennifer Rigby have more here

06:16 PM

Government working with EU on vaccine passports, says Matt Hancock

Asked about the EU's proposals for a vaccine passport, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We are working with international partners.

"The EU is part of those discussions, as are several other countries around the world, and it's obviously important work.

"What I'd also say is that in a sense this already exists because you need to have a test before you can travel to the UK and, as far as I understand it from the details set out today, the EU proposal is that certification includes both whether you've had the vaccine and also whether you've recently had a test for those who can't get vaccinated yet, which is obviously particularly important.

"Therefore it's something that we're working with them and others on and it matters that we get the details of this right for international travel."

06:12 PM

Prof Van-Tam: AstraZeneca vaccine is 60pc effective after one dose

England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam welcomed new data on vaccines.

He said data on individuals aged 70 and over shows that for both Pfizer and the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs there is vaccine effectiveness against illness of approximately 60 per cent after one dose.

Prof Van-Tam said the data shows the vaccines are reducing the likelihood of hospital admission by 80% after one dose.

Data for the Pfizer vaccine shows the likelihood of mortality is reduced by 85% in over-70s, he added.

He told the Downing Street briefing that the data "gives us those first glimpses of how, if we are patient, and we give this vaccine programme time to have its full effect, it is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months".

06:07 PM

Matt Hancock: Half a million vaccines per day are being rolled out

Asked about disparity in the vaccine rollout, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government is working "incredibly hard to get these vaccines out" and to ensure no wastage.

He said: "We're essentially balancing the need for speed with the need for sticking by the rank ordering.

"What I can tell you though is that we are getting through all those groups, we're running at around half a million a day, just under on average over the last week.

"And this means that if you are in group six, and you haven't yet been called, you won't have to wait for long, because we're really rattling through that group, as we speak."

05:55 PM

'Great uncertainty' about holidays, says Prof Van-Tam

Prof Van-Tam said we are in “a zone of great uncertainty” when asked if the if there is any chance of a foreign summer holiday.

He said European countries are running behind the UK in their vaccination programmes.

A lot will depend on what policies they impose, so there is “great uncertainty” about what will be possible, he added.

Meanwhile Dr Susan Hopkins was asked whether there were any benefits to double masking, she said "one mask that has more than two layers in it are effective for the vast majority of the population".

05:50 PM

Matt Hancock: No change in policy on schools following Brazil variant

Matt Hancock has said the Government thinks there is no need to change the policy on schools.

In five of the six cases, the authorities have a high degree of confidence those involved followed quarantine, he said.

In the sixth case, the Government is trying to find the individual. But there is no further evidence of community spread, he added.

Dr Susan Hopkins said almost 150,000 cases of the infection have been sequenced this year, and these are the only six cases of this variant found.

05:46 PM

Dr Susan Hopkins: We are tracking the Brazilian variant 'very closely'

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said they were tracking "very closely" the new Brazilian P1 coronavirus variant following the discovery of six cases in the UK.

"We are tracking it very closely because it shares some important mutations with the variants first identified in South Africa," she told a Downing Street news briefing.

"These and other mutations are associated with reduced impact of antibodies against the virus in laboratory experiments.

"The current vaccines have not yet been studied against this variant and we will need to await further clinical and trial data to understand the vaccine effectiveness against this variant."

She said they were in the process of trying to track down the one person who has yet to be identified who is believed to have taken a test on February 12 or 13.

05:45 PM

Prof Van-Tam expects lower rate of infection among vulnerable groups as vaccination rollout continues

Van-Tam says over time he expects to see a lower level of disease, less infection amongst the vulnerable, and less severe illness amongst vaccinated people who do get ill.

The proportion of severe cases (to mild cases) should decrease.

But this does not mean the problem is fixed, he added.

The number of positive Covid-19 tests is falling in the UK
The number of positive Covid-19 tests is falling in the UK

05:41 PM

Matt Hancock: No evidence of other infections with Brazilian variant beyond six identified

The Health Secretary has said they have no evidence of additional cases of people being infected with the Brazilian variant beyond the six already identified.

Matt Hancock denied suggestions that border restrictions were not stringent enough in preventing new variants into the UK.

He said the UK had put a ban on direct travel from Brazil and the five people who contracted the Brazilian variant followed those quarantine rules.

There is no evidence the sixth case did not follow those rules, he added.

Commenting on the sixth case Mr Hancock said: "This positive test was on the 12 or 13th of February and we have seen "no further knock ons in the data", "which we monitor very closely".

05:34 PM

Matt Hancock: Protection from first dose of Oxford vaccine "slightly better" than Pfizer

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there was "exciting new data" showing the effectiveness of the vaccines.

He told a Downing Street press conference the data showed that "a single shot of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine or of the Pfizer vaccine works against severe infection among the over-70s with a more than 80% reduction in hospitalisations".

"This is extremely good news," Mr Hancock said.

"In fact, the detailed data show that the protection that you get from catching Covid 35 days after a first jab is even slightly better for the Oxford jab than for Pfizer, albeit both results are clearly very strong."

The results "may also help to explain why the number of Covid admissions to intensive care units among people over 80 in the UK have dropped to single figures in the last couple of weeks".

05:32 PM

Jonathan Van-Tam: Vaccines reduce hospitalisation by 80 per cent among over 70s

Vaccines are reducing the likelihood of hospitalisation by 80 per cent among those aged over 70, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam has said.

He said that the data gives us the "first glimpses of how if we are patient and give this vaccine program time to have a full effect" it will take us into a "very new world."

Prof Van-Tam urged those who are eligible to step forward and receive the vaccine.

"When you are called it is important you come forward and have that dose," he said.

05:27 PM

Vaccines led to a 80 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for severe infections in the over-70s

Matt Hancock has said Public Health England is publishing new data about the performance of the vaccine.

Hancock shows a chart showing how the death rate amongst the elderly, who have been vaccinated, is falling faster than amongst younger people.

Press Conference Slides - 01 March 2021, 
Press Conference Slides - 01 March 2021,

Mr Hancock said new data shows that for severe infection in the over-70s, vaccines lead to a more than 80 per cent reduction in hospitalisation.

And he says the study suggests that, after 35 days, the protection from the AstraZeneca vaccine is even higher than from the Pfizer one.

Covid admissions amongst the over-80s to intensive care units have fallen to single figures, he says.

05:21 PM

Matt Hancock invites over-60s to be vaccinated.

The Health Secretary said the Government is now inviting over-60s to be vaccinated.

Matt Hancock said: "When the call comes get the jab.

"We are now inviting the over 60s to be vaccinated as part of our national effort to ensure every adult is offered the vaccine by the end of July."

An additional £1.65 billion worth of funding will be allocated to reinforce the vaccine rollout, he said.

Part of that vaccine funding will go towards research and development into developing vaccines against new variants, he added

05:16 PM

Matt Hancock hails milestone of 20m vaccines

The Health Secretary has hailed the milestone of 20 million vaccinations being rolled out across the UK.

Matt Hancock said: "I am delighted that we have reached the miletsone of vaccinating 20 million people across the UK.

"We have been able to move so much faster than any other similar sized nation. "

Mr Hancock praised the vaccine taskforce for their "combination of academic excellence and civil service grip" which forged a team of remarkable capability.

He also praised the enthusiasm of the general public to get a jab.

Press Conference Slides - 01 March 2021, 
Press Conference Slides - 01 March 2021,

05:01 PM

Matt Hancock press conference to begin shortly

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is about to hold a press conference.

He is appearing with Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, and Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England.

04:58 PM

'Unrealistic' to say the pandemic will be over in 2021

It would be "unrealistic" to think that the coronavirus pandemic will be finished by the end of the year, according to a senior World Health Organization expert.

Issuing a stark warning this afternoon Dr Mike Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO, said it would be "very premature" to suggest the threat will be over by Christmas.

"Right now the virus is very much in control," he said. "I think it's unrealistic to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year.

"But I think that we can, if we're smart, finish [this year] without the hospitalizations, the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic."

Dr Ryan added that the situation has improved over the past 10 weeks, as public health restrictions have taken hold and vaccines have been rolled out.

Yet many hurdles are still in place, particularly around equitable distribution of jabs.

04:50 PM

Matt Hancock to deliver Downing St press conference at 5pm

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock is to deliver a Downing Street press conference at 5pm.

It is expected he will provide an update on the Government's efforts to contain the spread of the Brazilian variant.

We will bring you the latest developments as they arrive.

04:39 PM

Global cases rise for the first time in seven weeks

Bucking a positive trend of decline, coronavirus infections across the globe have risen for the first time in seven weeks, according to a World Health Organization tracker.

In the last week, cases have increased in four of the six WHO regions: the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Eastern Meditterean.

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, told a virtual press conference this afternoon.

He added that experts are working to understand why transmission has increased, but it appears to be linked to the relaxation of public health measures and "people letting their guard down" while circulation remains widespread.

"Vaccines will help to save lives, but if countries rely solely on vaccines they are making a mistake," said Dr Tedros. "Basic public health measures remain the foundation of the response."

04:34 PM

Global vaccine scheme to distribute 11m jabs this week

This week 11 million vaccine doses will arrive in low and middle income countries via the Covax scheme, a World Health Organization scheme aiming to combat "vaccine nationalism".

Earlier today Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire became the first countries to use vaccines supplied by the unprecedented scheme, in a landmark moment for efforts to correct a global imbalance in the distribution of jabs.

But speaking at a press conference this afternoon Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, said it was "regrettable" that wealthy countries are prioritising younger populations above health workers across the globe.

"We're not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We're asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus, everywhere," he said.

04:28 PM

'More positive days ahead' for Wales as rates decline

Wales can look forward to "more positive days and weeks ahead" following signs that the worst of the second wave of coronavirus has passed, the country's First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said the improving public health situation opened up the possibility of restoring "other freedoms" at next week's review of restrictions to go alongside the return to schools for all primary pupils.

He also suggested the Welsh hospitality sector, including pubs and restaurants, could reopen at a similar time to other UK countries later in the spring.

On Monday, the Welsh Labour leader pointed to signs that the worst of the second wave had now passed, including more than 100,000 people - more than three per cent of the country - having received two doses of the vaccine.

The seven-day incidence rate of coronavirus across Wales has fallen to 64 cases per 100,000 people, with the rate below 100 cases per 100,000 people in every part of the country.

04:18 PM

School staff at 'no greater risk' of infection than working age-adults

School staff are not at a higher risk of Covid-19 infection than other working-age adults in their local communities, new figures suggest.

Around 14.99 per cent of school staff tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in December, which indicate a past infection, lower than the estimate of 18.22 per cent for working-age adults, according to a small study of schools.

The survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also suggests the proportion of staff who tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies was 14.61 per cent of primary staff, compared with 15.72 per cent of secondary staff.

The findings come a week before all pupils in England are set to return to class after months of remote learning.

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School leaders and teachers have been left "disappointed" after Government advisers decided against prioritising school staff in "crowded" classrooms in the next phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

04:09 PM

Israel plans to buy 36 million extra doses of Covid-19 vaccine

Israel is looking to buy 36 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines, three times the number it has already bought, in case booster shots are needed later in the year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

Netanyahu has made the country's vaccine roll-out a showcase of his campaign for the upcoming March 23 national election.

Scientists have raised the probability of regular boosts to deal with coronavirus variants.

Netanyahu, with an eye on the ballot box, retweeted on Monday a comment from a senior official of his Likud party urging voters to turn to the prime minister's "proven leadership" to ensure "millions" of future doses.

He said: "We are working on bringing a further 36 million vaccines for the citizens of Israel.

"The vaccines we have, no one knows how long they last...We need to prepare for the worst scenario. The worst scenario is that we have to vaccinate every half year."

03:59 PM

Over 60% of Russians don't want Sputnik V vaccine and think coronavirus is a biological weapon

Nearly two thirds of Russians are not willing to receive Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, and about the same number believe coronavirus was created artificially as a biological weapon, an independent pollster has said.

A Levada Center poll last month revealed that 62 per cent of people did not want to get Russia's domestically produced vaccine, and that the highest level of reluctance was identified among 18 to 24-year-olds.

Most respondents cited side effects -- which can include fever and fatigue -- as the main reason for not wanting to get vaccinated.

The poll, which sampled 1,601 people in 50 regions, also found that 64 per cent of people thought coronavirus was created as a biological weapon.

The origin of Covid-19 has been highly politicised, but the overwhelming majority of virologists and infectious disease experts say it is most likely to have evolved naturally.

A World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China said last month that it was not looking further into whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely.

03:52 PM

Piers Corbyn to face 10 charges over anti-lockdown protests

Piers Corbyn faces 10 criminal charges of breaking coronavirus rules over anti-lockdown protests held last year.

The older brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has attended a number of rallies across London during the pandemic.

 Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, arriving at Westminster Magistrates' Court - Victoria Jones/PA
Piers Corbyn, brother of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, arriving at Westminster Magistrates' Court - Victoria Jones/PA

The rules state anyone caught organising an illegal gathering of more than 30 people could be fined up to £10,000.

The Metropolitan Police has revealed Mr Corbyn is charged with 10 offences for alleged breaches of coronavirus rules dating between last August and New Year's Eve.

The 73-year-old weather forecaster's charges relate to large gatherings in areas including Hyde Park, Westminster and Trafalgar Square.

Each gathering had more than 30 anti-lockdown protesters, according to Scotland Yard. Mr Corbyn, who has previously declared coronavirus a "hoax", has appeared in court a number of times over similar offences.

03:45 PM

No papers, no jab: Lebanon's migrants face barriers to Covid-19 vaccination

While Lebanon's partly World Bank-financed vaccine programme is open to migrants, an ID number is needed for registration - effectively excluding several hundred thousand migrants who do not have their papers in order.

Two weeks into an inoculation campaign marred by a row over queue-jumping by lawmakers, officials and human rights groups are concerned that some 500,000 migrants in the nation of six million people could be left out.

Health workers wait to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Beirut - Reuters
Health workers wait to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Beirut - Reuters

Officials have so far secured some six million vaccine doses, enough for just under half the population, but outgoing Labour Minister Lamia Yammine said cash-strapped authorities did not have enough funds to vaccinate all of the nation's residents.

She said: "The resources of the Lebanese state are limited even for Lebanese, so as a labour ministry we're going to try to get (funding) from various sources."

03:32 PM

Nepal 'worried' about supply of Covid-19 vaccine

Nepal has had a successful start to its vaccination drive, but authorities are worried about future supplies as the country competes with dozens of other nations.

The government is negotiating with India's Serum Institute to obtain five million doses for the second stage of the campaign, in which 3.7 million elderly people are to be inoculated starting this weekend, Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi has said.

A Nepalese devotee writes her name on a Saraswati templ - AP
A Nepalese devotee writes her name on a Saraswati templ - AP

Nepal received a gift from the Indian government in January of 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine manufactured under license by India's Serum Institute.

Nepal also purchased another 2 million doses from the company at a subsidized rate with the help of the Indian government.

Tripathi said: "There is huge worldwide demand for vaccines from a handful of companies and we could be at the very end of the list,". So far, we have been able to get vaccines with both political and administrative help from India. However, I am very worried now."

03:21 PM

West Midlands Mayor sets out plan to create 100,000 jobs lost during pandemic

The West Midlands mayor has set out how his office plans to help create 100,000 jobs to replace those lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unveiling a two-year blueprint on Monday, Conservative incumbent and former John Lewis managing director Andy Street said coronavirus had hit the region hard, "eradicating the gains of the previous three years".

The plan covers sectors from those hardest-hit like non-essential retail, to the region's lynchpin industries such as automotive and house-building, as well the cutting edge, like life-sciences.

Among the proposals are schemes supporting 20,000 spaces for young people to get six-month paid placements under the Government Kickstart programme and 10,000 slots for short courses in the construction, digital and healthcare sectors, with a guaranteed interview at the end of studies.

Mr Street, who rose up through the ranks of high street retailer John Lewis before leaving for a successful run for mayor in 2017, said the situation was "stark" across the West Midlands.

03:14 PM

Foreign Secretary heralds international rollout of Covax vaccines

Dominic Raab has said Britain should be a "force for good in the world" as he heralded the start of the rollout of vaccines under the Covax initiative.

The Foreign Secretary told reporters: "What we are seeing today is the first mass rollout at Cote d'Ivoire - half a million doses - part of our strategy to get the most vulnerable people in 92 of the developing countries vaccinated by June.

"And that's because we believe Britain should be a force for good in the world but also because we recognise that we are not safe until everyone is safe."

Mr Raab also said border restrictions in the UK are "robust" despite the discovery of cases of a Brazilian coronavirus strain.

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03:06 PM

Be prepared to 'hit the brakes' for university returns if cases rise,

The Government needs to be able to reserve the right to "hit the brakes" on students returning to campuses in coming weeks, a leading scientist has said.

Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematics at the University of Warwick and member of the SPI-M advisory group, said there needs to be an "opportunity to respond" if there is high prevalence of the virus.

He said that the return of some students over the next month should be done "in terms of need for students to be back".

The comments come as a new study suggests that students need to be tested every three days for Covid-19 to prevent major outbreaks at university campuses.

"We would always emphasise the need to be cautious with any form of reopening so the return of some students over the next month, I think really needs to be done in terms of need for students to be back," the associate professor told a briefing for journalists.

02:57 PM

Expect flu to surge next winter as lockdown has led to low levels, experts warn

Experts have warned the world may face a dramatic resurgence of flu next winter, after lockdown, masks, increased hygiene and social distancing measures cut the virus to levels not seen for over a century.

Scientists fear that falling immunity levels to influenza - normally sustained by seasonal circulation of the virus - could now pave the way for one of the worst flu outbreaks for years.

“If I had to gamble on it, then I would guess that we are likely to get a more severe epidemic in the coming winter - assuming restrictions are fully lifted by then,” said Prof John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of the government’s Sage committee of scientific advisors.

“We have effectively missed out on flu this winter, so the levels of immunity are less than would be typical. In fact, it is not impossible that we will have an out-of-season epidemic perhaps in the autumn, rather than winter,” he told the Telegraph.

Sarah Newey and Paul Nuki have the full story here

02:50 PM

Covid-19 rates below 100 cases per 100,000 for three of four UK nations

Covid-19 case rates for three of the four UK nations have dropped below the symbolic level of 100 cases per 100,000 people, suggesting lockdown restrictions across the country are continuing to drive down the overall spread of the virus.

Wales currently has the lowest rate among the four nations, with 65.7 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to February 24.

This is the lowest rate for Wales since the seven days to September 22, 2020.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland are now just below 100 cases per 100,000 people.

England remains just above 100, at 102.8 cases per 100,000 - the lowest rate since October 1.

02:41 PM

What Reading & Leeds festivalgoers can expect this summer, from virtual GPs to health passports

Ticket holders for this summer’s Reading and Leeds Festivals who have not been vaccinated will probably have to take a Covid-19 test at home before leaving for the events and will need to show a health passport to gain entry on arrival.

An estimated 250,000 tickets for the two events were sold between Wednesday morning and Thursday evening last week, according to festival organiser Melvin Benn.

The proposed plans will kick in unless the Government declares that nationwide herd immunity is in place.

Under the system, Mr Benn said that unvaccinated ticket holders will be sent a Covid test at home in the weeks prior to the Bank Holiday weekend.

They will be required to take the test in front of a doctor on a computer screen between 24 and 36 hours before they’re due to leave for the festival.

If the test is negative, the doctor will send them a QR code which will act as their health passport to grant them entry at the festival gates.

Read the full breakdown here by James Hall

02:33 PM

Workplace testing kits in demand as companies prepare to reopen

Demand for workplace Covid testing kits has jumped as businesses prepare to re-open and bring employees back into the office and restrictions are eased.

Diagnostics company Excalibur Healthcare said demand for its fast-acting lateral flow test had increased and it had experienced a surge in calls from companies wanting advice on how to put into place workplace testing regimes.

Excalibur sold hundreds of thousands of lateral flow tests in the seven days after the Government announced its roadmap out of lockdown.

“We have new firms contacting us and are adding new customers every single week or day," said chief executive and founder Professor Sir Chris Evans. "Everybody now realises they will need to test. They are desperate and as soon as they can open up, they will."

Prof Evans said most of the new enquiries were from large customers in the hospitality and entertainment sectors who wanted to know how to carry out workplace PCR or lateral flow tests.

Julia Bradshaw has the full story here

02:24 PM

European Commission raises hopes of vaccine passports to ease travel for work and tourism

European Union plans for a coronavirus vaccine passport could be opened up to British tourists and other non-EU holidaymakers, Brussels said on Monday..

Ursula von der Leyen said the EU-wide “Digital Green Pass” would be proposed this month and that it could be a first step towards a virus passport for travel from outside the bloc.

"The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the EU or abroad - for work or tourism,” the European Commission president said.

The UK said it was looking into the idea.

“The Department for Transport will work and speak to countries across the world in terms of how they may look to introduce passports," the Prime Minister’s spokesman said in London.

James Crisp has the full story here

02:18 PM

Finland declares state of emergency as Covid cases rise

Finland on Monday activated emergency powers as the government prepared to introduce tougher restrictions to stem a rising tide of coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin signalled the move was imminent last week when she warned that controls limiting restaurants to takeaway service would come into force for three weeks from March 8 in some parts of the country.

"The government along with the President of the Republic has declared a state of emergency in the country," Marin told a press conference on Monday.

Finland's constitution requires emergency legislation to enforce such a restriction, and the restaurant proposal will now go before parliament, Marin said.

The government also announced on February 24 that it had instructed local authorities in areas with high infection rates, including the capital, to restrict public and private gatherings to six people.

02:09 PM

Mother and daughter reunited as care-home visiting returns in Scotland

The daughter of a care home resident has said she hopes this is "the start of more hugs for many, many people" as she was able to meet her 90-year-old mother indoors for the first time in three months.

Coronavirus restrictions have been eased which means people can meet with their loved ones inside the homes.

Residents are allowed to have two designated visitors, with each visitor able to see their relative once a week.

Fiona Scott visits her mother Mary Cook at a nursing home for the first time since the lockdown started in Scotland - Pool
Fiona Scott visits her mother Mary Cook at a nursing home for the first time since the lockdown started in Scotland - Pool

Fiona Scott was at Queen's House in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders, on Monday to visit her mother, Mary Cook. It was the first time she was able to meet with the grandmother-of-four indoors for three months.

She said: "It's hard to put into words, you don't feel as separate. It's just normal isn't it?

"I just feel very sorry for all the folks that cannot get together like this."

02:02 PM

Covid-19 vaccine worth 1,032 doses wasted in Japan due to freezer malfunction

More than 1,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine went to waste in Japan after a freezer malfunction. Is is the country's first case of wasted vaccines.

Japan became the last member of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations to begin its vaccination drive against Covid-19 on February 17.

It has so far received three shipments of vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, comprising around 1.4 million shots.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at a temperature of around minus 75 Celsius (minus 103 Fahrenheit).

A medical institution reported that the freezer malfunction had occurred over the weekend, rendering 172 vials of the vaccine, or 1,032 doses, useless, the ministry said.

It declined to identify the name of the medical institution or the manufacturer of the freezer in question, but said the freezer maker would start looking into the cause of the malfunction on Tuesday.

01:52 PM

Tighter border controls needed to contain Brazilian variant, says former health secretary

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the discovery of six cases of the Brazilian P1 variant of the coronavirus in the UK showed the need for tighter controls.

"Absolutely we have got to look at what has gone wrong," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme.

"It shows that it needs to be tightened up still further because if we are going to protect the road map out of lockdown then the name of the game is going to be stop new variants coming in, some of which may end up being immune to the new vaccines.

"Where we need to get to is a much, much more thorough combination of test and trace and genetic sequencing so we are not just testing the people who have been near someone who tested positive, but we also are working out where the original infection happened and which variant it is.

"You can only do that if you bring the cases right down."

01:45 PM

Nigeria begins registering residents for Covid-19 vaccinations

Nigeria launched on online registration portal for Covid-19 vaccinations, one day before the first doses are expected to arrive for its 200 million people.

Osindeinde Ademilayo Abodede, a healthcare worker, was the first to register for the vaccine, according to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).

Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said: "Our goal is to introduce Covid-19 vaccines in a phased and equitable manner...ultimately vaccinating all eligible Nigerians within the next two years, to ensure herd immunity

Nigeria is expecting 3.92 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to land on Tuesday.

It will be the third West African country to take delivery under the COVAX scheme, after Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Follow Paul Nuki, our Senior Global Health Security Editor, for his dispatch on the vaccine rollout:

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01:37 PM

Comment: The manhunt for the Brazil variant shows it's impossible to contain a virus within a democracy

If we can’t leave and re-enter the country as we please come June, then we're back in the dark days of world war, writes Ross Clark.

The liberal ideal of a welcoming Britain with its doors open to the rest of the world now belongs to ancient history. The ‘enlightened’ course of action is now to erect barriers, incarcerate arrivals and set the dogs loose if an overseas traveller goes missing.It was one of the liberal-Left pin-ups, Jacinda Ardern, who pioneered this policy. Now Britain is going full-New Zealand. Yet we are doing so at a time when the experience of that country is beginning to show the futility of trying to fight Covid with a closed-borders policy.

Read Ross Clark's full comment here

01:33 PM

German hairdressers and florists reopen despite virus fears

Germans flocked to the salons today as hairdressers across the country reopened along with some florists.

It marks another cautious step toward normality as Germany balances a desire to loosen restrictions with concerns about more contagious virus variants.

Some German states have allowed florists to reopen - AFP
Some German states have allowed florists to reopen - AFP

The move came after many German elementary students returned to school a week ago, following a decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's 16 state governors.

They will confer again on Wednesday to decide how to proceed with the rest of Germany's restrictions which continue till the end of this weel.

Some German states also allowed businesses such as florists and hardware shops to open on Monday. Most outlets have been closed nationwide since December 16.

01:23 PM

Tokyo asks China to stop anal swab tests for Covid-19 on Japanese citizens

Tokyo has requested Beijing to stop taking anal swab tests for Covid-19 on Japanese citizens as the procedure causes psychological pain, a government spokesman has said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government has not received a response that Beijing would change the testing procedure, so Japan would continue to ask China to alter the way of testing.

"Some Japanese reported to our embassy in China that they received anal swab tests, which caused a great psychologial pain," Kato told a news conference.

It was not known how many Japanese citizens received such tests for coronavirus he said.

Some Chinese cities are using samples taken from the anus to detect potential Covid-19 infections as China steps up screening to make sure no potential carrier of the new coronavirus is missed.

China's foreign ministry denied last month that U.S. diplomats in the country had been required to take anal swab tests for Covid-19, following media reports that some had complained about the procedure.

01:14 PM

Hunt in Scotland for cases of Brazilian variant, says health secretary

All passengers on the flight from London to Aberdeen which the three people in Scotland confirmed to have the Brazilian variant of coronavirus were on will be contacted, the Health Secretary has said.

They travelled on flight BA1312, which left Heathrow Airport on Friday January 29.

Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Government's coronavirus briefing: "If you were on that flight and have not yet been contacted, you will be contacted shortly, so please wait for that."

She said there is currently no reason to believe the variant is in circulation in Scotland but the Government is doing "everything that's necessary" to check whether it could have been transmitted in Scotland and to identify and break any chains of transmission.

She added: "We know that current vaccines are effective against the strains of the virus which have already been established in the UK.

"However, more work is required to determine that this remains the case for emerging strains of the virus, such as the one we are highlighting today from Brazil."

01:08 PM

Mark Drakeford: Encouraging signs 'worst of the second wave is behind us'

There are "encouraging signs that the worst of the second wave is hopefully behind us", First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford said more than 100,000 people in Wales had received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, accounting for more than three per cent of the population.

The seven-day incidence rate of coronavirus across Wales has fallen to 64 cases per 100,000 people, with the rate below 100 cases per 100,000 people in every part of Wales.

Wales' R rate remains below 1 and the total number of coronavirus-related patients in hospital has fallen below 1,500, Mr Drakeford told a press conference in Cardiff.

"All of these are encouraging signs that the worst of the second wave is hopefully behind us and we can look forward together with confidence to more positive days and weeks ahead of us," Mr Drakeford said.

01:00 PM

Downing Street to discuss EU plans for vaccine passports

Downing Street indicated that UK officials would discuss the European Union's plans for a coronavirus passport with counterparts in Brussels.

The European Commission has set out plans for a "digital green pass" which would record vaccination status and test results, and could unlock travel for work and tourism.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have said that we are looking at the issue of vaccine passports.

"As you can expect, DfT (the Department for Transport) will work and do speak to countries across the world in terms of how they may look to introduce passports."

The spokesman would not pre-empt the outcomes of the UK Government's review.

12:54 PM

Boris Johnson: UK has 'very tough regime' at borders

Boris Johnson has insisted the UK has "one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world" despite the Brazilian coronavirus strain being detected.

The Prime Minister claimed the Government "moved as fast as we could" to launch its quarantine hotel policy.

 Boris Johnson made the comments during a visit to St Mary's Primary school in Stoke-on-Trent - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
Boris Johnson made the comments during a visit to St Mary's Primary school in Stoke-on-Trent - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

Public Health England has identified six UK cases of the concerning P1 variant first detected in the Brazilian city of Manaus - three in England and three in Scotland.

This has led to accusations that stricter and quicker restrictions should have been imposed on international arrivals. UK nationals or residents have continued to be allowed to return from Brazil using indirect fights.

Asked if the Government was too slow to implement quarantine hotel measures, the Prime Minister replied: "I don't think so - we moved as fast as we could to get that going.

"It's a very tough regime - you come here, you immediately get transported to a hotel where you are kept for 10 days, 11 days.

12:48 PM

Oxford vaccine pioneer proud as first Covax doses administered and jab goes global

The first Covax vaccines were administered to government ministers and essential workers in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana in West Africa this morning, formally signalling the long awaited start of the global vaccine programme against Covid-19.

The internationally funded and United Nations-led roll out – working to the axiom “it’s not over anywhere until it's over everywhere” – aims to reach 20 per cent of people in 92 low and middle-income nations with more than two billion doses of vaccine by end of the year.

Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are removed from a plane at Felix Houphouet Boigny airport of Abidjan, courtesy of Covax - AFP
Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are removed from a plane at Felix Houphouet Boigny airport of Abidjan, courtesy of Covax - AFP

As the first 0.5 millilitre shot of the Oxford AstraZeneca jab went into the arm of Secrétaire général de la présidence, Patrick Achi, at the Parc des Sports in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, he urged all the country’s 200,000 essential workers to follow his lead.

“Vaccination gives us hope to return to normal. To hug our friends, to go back to work, to live like we once did. To enjoy the human warmth we all know and miss,” he said.

“We hope that today you all, and especially our fearless military, follow us in getting vaccinated with smiling faces.”

Paul Nuki has the full story here

12:41 PM

Brois Johnson: No reason to think vaccines are not effective against variants

The Prime Minister has said there was no reason to think that Covid-19 vaccines were ineffective against new variants of the coronavirus.

"We don't have any reason at the present time to think that our vaccines are ineffective against these new variants of all types," Johnson told broadcasters.

Health authorities said on Sunday that up to six cases had been detected in the UK of the "P.1" variant identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus.

12:32 PM

Vaccine passports possible for Britons, says Brussels

Brussels raised hopes that travel to the EU will be possible this summer after suggestions plans for a bloc-wide vaccine passport could be opened up to Britons and other non-EU tourists.

Ursula von der Leyen said plans for an EU-wide Digital Green Pass would be proposed this month and that it could be a first step towards a passport facilitating travel from outside the EU.

"The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the EU or abroad - for work or tourism,” the European Commission president said.

"We’re of the view that in collaboration with the WHO there should be a way to scale this up globally. We work on a European solution now, this is where we start and then anything else would need to come after," the European Commission chief spokesman said.

"We need to take this step by step. Certainly that’s not the end of the story. There are lots of different angles that will need to be tackled,"

12:12 PM

Boris Johnson: Road map for easing restrictions is 'irreversible'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he still expected the road map for easing England's restrictions would be irreversible.

He told reporters at a school in Stoke-on-Trent: "What we are doing is embarking now on a journey, a one-way road map to freedom and it is designed ly cautious in order to be irreversible.

"That is what we are hoping to achieve. Some people say we should go faster, some people say we should be more hesitant.

Boris Johnson during his visit to a school in Stoke-on-Trent - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
Boris Johnson during his visit to a school in Stoke-on-Trent - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

He added: "I think we are going at the right pace, education is the priority, getting all schools open on March 8 is something that we have set our hearts on for a long time and I am confident we will be ready."

Mr Johnson defended the testing regime for schools, insisting "people do understand how to use them and we are very confident that they will be of use in helping to keep the disease under control, keep it going down as we get schools back open".

12:02 PM

Boris Johnson: Government moved 'as fast as we could' with hotel quarantines

Boris Johnson said that the Government moved "as fast as we could" with introducing hotel quarantine measures, calling it a "very tough regime".

Asked if the Government was too slow to implement quarantine hotel measures, the Prime Minister told reporters: "I don't think so, we moved as fast as we could to get that going.

"It's a very tough regime - you come here, you immediately get transported to a hotel where you are kept for 10 days, 11 days.

"You have to test on day two, you have to test on day eight, and it's designed to stop the spread of new variants while we continue to roll out the vaccination programme.

"We don't have any reason at the present time to think that our vaccines are ineffective against these new variants of all types."

12:00 PM

'Massive effort' to prevent import of new variants, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has defended the Government's measures to prevent new variants being imported into the country, despite the detection of cases of the Brazilian strain of coronavirus.

The Prime Minister told reporters: "We have got one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world for stopping people coming in to this country who may have variants of concern.

"If you look at what we have done in the case of the South African variant, a massive effort went in there.

"The same is going on now to contain any spread of the Brazilian variant.

There was "no reason not to think that our vaccines are effective against these variants of concern at the present time" and Public Health England "don't think that there is a threat to the wider public".

11:56 AM

Rail fares increased across Britain despite low demand for travel during pandemic

Rail passengers in England and Wales have been hit by above inflation fare rises despite the collapse in demand during the pandemic.

Ticket prices have increased by around 2.6 per cent, leading to accusations that the UK Government is "pricing the railways out of existence".

The figure represents the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation from July 2020, plus one percentage point.

Examples of fare hikes include a Brighton-London annual season ticket going up by £128 to £5,108 and a Manchester-Glasgow off-peak return rising by £2.30 to £90.60.

Demand for rail travel has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, with passenger numbers currently down 85 per cent on normal levels.

Network Rail boss Sir Peter Hendy said last week that the volume of journeys by commuters may only recover to 60 per cent of what it was before the outbreak.

11:49 AM

Montreal's Olympic Stadium opens to vaccinating elderly as Canada plays catch-up

Canada has ramped up it's vaccine drive with one of the country's largest stadiums preparing to receive thousands of over-85s for their inoculations.

A slow rollout of vaccines has recently dented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's popularity, with the lack of domestic production being blamed for Canada trailing many other developed nations in its vaccination drive.

From Monday, Montreal's cavernous Olympic Stadium, which once hosted young athletes during the 1976 summer games, will welcome residents aged 85 and over for vaccinations.

The stadium nicknamed the Big O has been transformed into a site aimed at inoculating almost 3,000 a day, equipped with wheelchairs and golf carts to help those unable to walk, organizers said.

"There are people who are coming out of their home for the first time since the start of the pandemic," said Caroline St-Denis, director of the vaccination campaign at the stadium.

11:39 AM

Israel's Supreme Court bans unlimited Covid-19 mobile phone tracking

Israel's Supreme Court today banned the government from using mobile phone tracking for carriers of Covid-19 calling the measure a grave infraction of civil liberties.

Used on and off since March 2020 in efforts to curb the pandemic, the Shin Bet counter-terrorism agency's surveillance technology matched carriers' locations against other mobile phones nearby to determine with whom they came into contact.

From the outset, civil rights groups had mounted court challenges over privacy concerns while lawmakers cast doubt about the efficacy of the contact-tracing tool.

In its ruling, the court said it feared the mobile phone tracing, imposed as a temporary emergency measure, was slowly becoming permanent.

It gave the government until March 14 to end indiscriminate use of the surveillance and limit it to confirmed coronavirus carriers who refuse epidemiological questioning.

11:29 AM

More than 34,000 people with dementia have died from Covid, say campaigners

More than 34,000 people with dementia have died from coronavirus, with thousands left to "die of sadness" amid the crisis in care homes during the pandemic, campaigners have said.

Research has found that 92 per cent of people with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease suffered a sharp deterioration during the last year, with isolation worsening difficulties in speaking and eating.

At least 70 per cent of care home residents suffer from dementia.

It comes as separate figures suggest the true Covid death toll for care home residents may be a third higher than thought – which could amount to almost 40,000 lives lost.

On Monday a coalition of charities, including the Alzheimer's Society, said too many lives had been "shattered". The Alzheimer's Society has published estimates, based on Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, which suggest more than 34,000 people with dementia have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

Laura Donnelly​ has the full story here

11:22 AM

Brazil variant in Scotland has clinical director 'not panicking but concerned'

Scotland's national clinical director said he was "not panicking, but concerned" about the discovery of a Brazilian coronavirus variant in the UK.

A total of six cases of a mutated form of Covid-19 first detected in Manaus, Brazil, have so far been discovered in the UK: three in England and three in Scotland.

Professor Jason Leitch said enhanced contact tracing and testing has been introduced in an attempt to "interrupt chains of transmission" but he was confident there had been no community spreading in Scotland.

"Three travellers from Brazil - via quite a circuitous route - had symptoms, while they were self-isolating, so there's no suggestion they had symptoms on the plane or were involved in lots of contacts," Prof Leitch told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme.

He continued: "It's the first time we [have found] this particular Brazilian strain in Scotland, and that worries us a little bit, but people shouldn't get too concerned. [There is] no community spread, no evidence it's gone anywhere else.

Speaking later on Times Radio, Prof Leitch said his level of worry was "not panicking, but concerned".

11:19 AM

Call for ICU beds review amid concerns some regions have 'insufficient capacity'

The NHS in England has "insufficient" intensive care beds, hospital leaders have said.

NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the pandemic has highlighted that there is not enough critical care capacity in the health service.

It said that England is "towards the bottom" of the league table for critical care beds, falling behind Germany, the US, France, Italy, Australia and Spain.

The organisation's chief executive said that it is "neither safe nor sensible" to increase capacity of intensive care beds "at the drop of a hat" as he called for a review into the critical care system going forward.

Chris Hopson also drew attention to regional disparities, with the East of England, South West and South East in particular falling short.

11:11 AM

Keir Starmer blames Government delay in 'securing borders' over spread of Brazil variant

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the discovery of the Brazilian coronavirus variant in the UK shows the Government has not "secured our borders in the way we should have done".

Speaking at a virtual meeting with Welsh businesses to mark St David's Day, Mr Starmer said: "It demonstrates the slowness of the Government to close off even the major routes, but also the unwillingness to confront the fact that the virus doesn't travel by direct flights.

"We know from last summer that a lot of virus came in from countries where it didn't originate in, but people were coming indirect, and that's the way people travel.

"I still think we haven't secured our borders in the way we should have done, and the sooner that's done the better."

11:08 AM

Transmission of Brazil variant will be identified 'very, very quickly'

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said community transmission of the variant first identified in Brazil will be identified "very, very quickly" through testing.

"One of the strengths of the UK's system is obviously our genome sequencing capability; we account for just shy of 50% of all the sequencing of the different variants of Covid-19," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We would pick up, as we have done obviously in these cases, pick up rapidly, both in terms of PCR testing capability - 800,000 capacity per day - and millions of lateral flow tests.

"We would pick up community transmission of this variant very, very rapidly, because we are able to genome sequence so quickly."

11:02 AM

Labour deputy leader charged taxpayer for £249 Apple earphones

Angela Rayner was found to have charged the taxpayer for a pair of £249 Apple wireless earphones.

Labour's deputy leader faced widespread criticism on Monday over including the Airpods alongside more than £2,000 of Apple equipment she purchased during the pandemic.

Other items claimed by Ms Rayner included a £1,619 iPad Pro, with £99 case, £199 keyboard and £131 digital pencil as well as a £70 office chair.

By April last year, she claimed over £2,100 for equipment, The Sun reported.

Due to changes in working arrangements due to Covid-19, MPs were last year allowed to spend an extra £10,000 on home office equipment for themselves and staff.

However, Ms Rayner had previously been pictured wearing a pair of AirPods in 2019.

The disclosure prompted a widespread backlash on social media, with critics pointing out that Ms Rayner had criticised Rishi Sunak for owning a £180 high-tech thermal coffee mug, which was bought by his wife as a present.

Matt Hancock also claimed AirPods for £159 in January last year, followed later by a headphone adapter and a second pair of £25.99 headphones.

10:56 AM

'We will see more variants in next six months', says Sage member

Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said challenges, such as the new Brazilian variant, could mean the nation needs to "go backwards" in terms of relaxing restrictions.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is a variant of concern but we are going to be faced with these in the next six months as we move towards relaxing measures - there are going to be challenges on the way - and there is always a risk that we might have to go backwards, and that's what nobody wants to do is to actually open up and then have to close down again.

"So monitoring these variants, keeping an eye on in terms of what they actually do - so sequencing, for example, viruses in hospitals - I think is a crucial step to know whether or not this variant and other variants in the future, what impact they're actually having."

10:55 AM

Windsurfers fined for skimming into strict lockdown region

Two Italian windsurfers have run afoul of the country's strict lockdown measures after inadvertently skimming across the waves from one region to another, reports Nick Squires in Rome.

The surfers were fined by police after leaving a beach in the region of Lazio and landing on another a few hundred yards north in neighbouring Tuscany.

They were taken to a police station in the Tuscan town of Orbetello and issued with fines of several hundred euros, then told to return to Lazio.

Under Italy's lockdown, it is illegal to move between the country's 20 regions unless for reasons of work, health or other pressing needs.

Italian regions are a patchwork of red, orange and yellow with the colour codes denoting different levels of anti-virus measures.

As of today, Sardinia has been designated a white zone - the first in Italy after a year of the pandemic - signifying the most relaxed set of restrictions and spurring hopes for a bumper tourist season.

10:46 AM

JCVI member 'optimistic' vaccine can counter variants

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said scientists are "optimistic" that the Covid-19 vaccines will still prevent severe disease when tested against new variants.

And all the vaccine manufacturers are working on preliminary steps to revise their jabs, he added.

He told BBC Breakfast: "At the moment, the evidence we have suggests that certainly the South African variant, and potentially this Brazilian variant - which is somewhat similar - the vaccines that we have at the moment are less effective at reducing at least mild disease and possibly transmission.

"We're optimistic that the vaccines will continue to prevent severe disease but the evidence for that is still fairly limited.

"I think all the manufacturers are now working on the preliminary steps, if you like, to revising the vaccines if that proves necessary.

"But for the moment the vaccines that we're using are very effective against the strains that are predominantly circulating in the UK and it's important that people understand that that's still the case because we do need people to get immunised as fast as possible to get things under control."

10:36 AM

Teachers no more likely to get Covid

School staff in England are not more likely to test positive for coronavirus antibodies than working-age adults, new figures suggest.

Of the 121 schools in the survey, 14.99% of school staff tested positive for antibodies between December 2 and 10, lower than the estimate of 18.22% for working-age adults, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The small sample of schools also found 14.61% of primary school staff tested positive for antibodies compared with 15.72% of secondary staff.

10:34 AM

Vaccine passports for theatres on the cards

Here's Andrew Lloyd Webber's take on the issue of vaccine passports.

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10:19 AM

Israel to vaccinate 120,000 Palestinian labourers

Israel has said that it will in the coming days vaccinate some 120,000 Palestinian labourers who frequently cross from the West Bank into the Jewish state, reports James Rothwell in Jerusalem.

A spokesman for Cogat, the Israeli defence ministry unit that manages civilian affairs in the West Bank, said the doses would be administered at checkpoints and in industrial zones.

"As part of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus and in accordance with the recommendation of Cogat and the Ministry of Health, the government approved a vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with work permits in Israel and Israeli settlements," a Cogat spokesman said.

The jab will be offered to the 87,000 Palestinians with work permits and a further 35,000 Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements.

Israel has already pledged around 5,000 doses to Palestinian authorities but has been accused of shirking its duties under international law to provide the Palestinians with medical support.

In response to this, Israel points to the 1990s-era Oslo Accords which state that Palestinian leaders are responsible for vaccinations.

Palestinians in the West Bank have also received around 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine while a separate batch of 20,000 Russian doses has been sent to Gaza.

It came as Palestinian leaders imposed a lockdown in the West Bank in response to a surge in cases, which has been linked to new variants such as the UK strain.

10:10 AM

Government didn't dither on border control, insists minister

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the UK's border controls, when asked if the Government had "dithered" over implementing hotel quarantine measures.

"I would say to you that the border controls that we have are pretty stringent," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Even countries that had hotel quarantine, like Australia, still have to deal with the variants actually challenging them in the same way they challenge us."

10:10 AM

Regular school testing can control spread, says PHE

Asked about lateral flow testing in schools, Dr Susan Hopkins said it is one way of controlling the spread of coronavirus.

The strategic response director at Public Health England told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Doing these tests regularly, and getting used to them as part of our lives as the restrictions ease, will reduce transmission in the community and in schools.

"We've already seen how it's been very effective in NHS and social care in reducing outbreaks.

"We have already seen how secondary school teachers and primary school teachers have taken them up, and we get reports on a daily basis about how thankful people are that they have this extra tool at their disposal.

"We want secondary school children to test on their way back in so that reduces transmission and spread in school, along with all the other measures they have.

"And, as people will know, we're also asking in primary school that families of primary school children and their support bubbles get tested, so that we reduce the transmission in primary schools too. All of this is yet another measure for to help us control it."

09:45 AM

PHE: We hope it won't become dominant variant

Dr Susan Hopkins said the P1 variant that emerged in Manaus in Brazil is similar to the variant from South Africa, with their mutations thought to increase transmissibility.

"Manaus in particular reported that a number of individuals were reinfected with this variant, and therefore that suggests that having had prior immunity from primary infection wasn't enough to reduce infection and transmission," she said. "And that may also impact on the vaccine."

However, the strategic response director at Public Health England told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that although cases have been detected in the UK, the hope is that it will not become a dominant variant.

"I think the importance here is that, while we're in national restrictions, while we have very transmissible variants that are circulating, then we hope that there are not any other variants that will be able to take over," she said.

"However, as we start to release national restrictions with the schools going back on March 8, that is where the risk starts to increase, and that's why we really are clamping down on a number of measures to prevent the spread of these variants."

09:30 AM

PHE appeal for potentially infected to come forward

Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at Public Health England, said the person PHE wishes to identify may have taken a home test and could be helped in locating their results and given further advice.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We're making an appeal for anyone out there who was tested on February 12 and 13, probably by a home test or a test that was a drop and collect from a local authority system, and may not have completed the form completely online, or may have thought they did, but still hasn't got their results.

"We are looking at where that test may have been sent from and to, working with the postal services, and the courier services.

"We're also looking to try and track where exactly that sample may have been sent to on a local authority system.

"But I think the public appeal is also a belt and braces approach to ensure that we've gone through every option to find this individual."

09:10 AM

'Big month' for vaccines

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said March will be a "very big month" for vaccinations.

"We have already been for now over 10 days reserving second doses," he told BBC Breakfast.

"You have seen the numbers tick up of second doses - yesterday I think we were at 800,000 second doses.

"And in March you will see that number increase even more, because obviously those who had the first dose in January will be getting their second dose.

"The NHS have got all the protocols in place to deliver that, as well as of course continuing to do the first dose.

"March will be a very big month for us. We'll probably going to be twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks."

09:00 AM

The five post codes targeted by Government

The Government have honed in on five post codes in South Gloucestershire in an attempt to make sure the Brazilian variant hasn't spread further than the known cases.

They are:

  1. BS32 0

  2. BS32 8

  3. BS32 9

  4. BS34 5

  5. BS34 6

Anybody who lives in or has travelled through or worked in these areas - which fall in Bradley Stoke, Patchway and Little Stoke - are being urged to get tested.

08:58 AM

ICYMI: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge warn against Covid lies on social media

You can watch the video again below:

08:49 AM

Andrew Lloyd Webber rehearsals for Cinderella begin

Andrew Lloyd Webber has announced rehearsals for his upcoming musical Cinderella have started following the Government's road map announcement last week.

The theatre boss, who took part in the trials for the Oxford jab, said in a statement: "I am buoyed by the government's road map announcement last week and am absolutely prepared to do my part to get theatre open again this summer. It is thrilling to see the big music festivals like Reading and Leeds on sale and that they have sold out in record time.

"I want to lead the way and give others confidence to follow suit by getting major musicals back open - they are the powerhouse of the West End - and have been out of action for almost a year now. So, I have put the wheels in motion for a summer reopening. We start rehearsals for my new musical Cinderella at The Gillian Lynne Theatre today.

"The script is by multiple Golden Globe-nominated Emerald Fennell and isn't like any Cinderella you will have seen. We have just finalised the new cast for The Phantom of the Opera, and Tim Rice and my first ever musical Joseph will return to The London Palladium this July.

"I cannot wait to welcome back audiences to live theatre and bring life, employment and joy back to our capital city after a harrowing past year."

08:41 AM

Surge testing is a 'precautionary measure'

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said surge testing in South Gloucestershire was a "precautionary measure", when asked if schools in the area might not reopen next week due to the Brazil variant being identified there.

He told BBC Breakfast: "It's really a precautionary measure because the particular family in question actually followed the rules very, very closely. But it's an important precautionary measure.

"Schools have had 50 million lateral flow tests delivered, they have already done about three million tests, even before we set out the road map to reopening by March 8.

"Teachers will be tested twice a week, even in secondary schools and colleges will be tested twice a week.

"There's a big infrastructure of testing going into schools."

08:37 AM

Minister defends missing variant case

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said Public Health England (PHE) were "pretty good" at locating variants of concern.

"Public Health England are working with the postal service to try and work out any more data points," he told BBC Breakfast.

"Public Health England are pretty good at locating these variants of concern, as we have being doing with the South African variant."

Asked why the test could not be traced back to where it had taken place, he said: "Part of the reason is because if they have had a home test kit or a test given to them by the local authority, they have to fill in this test card for their details.

"That is the reason that we think they haven't been identified in the same way as a PCR test would do.

"We are working with several data points to try and locate them, not least, of course, to try and highlight anyone who has had a test on (February) 12 to come forward if they haven't had a result."

08:27 AM

Government working with postal service to hunt missing variant

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said authorities were working with the postal service to locate a person infected with a concerning variant of coronavirus first found in Brazil.

Asked if it is known if the person had travelled to the UK or contracted the virus here, he told BBC Breakfast: "We don't. Part of the reason why we want to locate them quickly is to understand more about them and their movements.

"They could have had a home test kit or a test kit provided to them by their local authority. But they didn't fill in the contact details.

"We are working with the postal service to try and get other data to try and locate them, and this appeal is a belt and braces to try and make sure we locate them as quickly as possible."

08:18 AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

Haitians protesters march through the streets in Port-au-Prince - Reginald Louissaint Jr/AFP
Haitians protesters march through the streets in Port-au-Prince - Reginald Louissaint Jr/AFP
Hundreds of people enjoy the weather in spring-like temperatures on the banks of the Isar River - Peter Kneffel/Avalon
Hundreds of people enjoy the weather in spring-like temperatures on the banks of the Isar River - Peter Kneffel/Avalon
People gather on the banks of the Seine river to enjoy the sun before the 6pm curfew - Getty
People gather on the banks of the Seine river to enjoy the sun before the 6pm curfew - Getty

08:15 AM

Vaccines for over-40s to start this month

Over-40s will start being called for jabs this month, The Telegraph understands, as it emerged that more than 20 million people – almost four in 10 adults – have now had the vaccine.

Health officials are about to send the last batch of invitations to those over the age of 60.

NHS England said the latest batch of invitations will mean that everyone in the first seven priority groups, including everyone over 60 and younger people with underlying health conditions or factors that make them clinically vulnerable, will have been offered a jab.

As soon as next week, the programme will then move to offer jabs to around five million people in their 50s, which should take around two weeks to deliver if supplies remain constant.

07:53 AM

New variant similar to South African, says vaccines minister

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the P.1 variant first detected in Brazil was similar in terms of its mutations to the variant first detected in South Africa.

"In terms of its profile, this P.1 variant is much closer to the South African variant, which we've been dealing with now for several weeks by surge testing, genome sequencing and isolation," he told Sky News.

"This variant is a variant of concern, it is very similar in terms of its mutations to the South African variant. So, it is concerning."

On the two cases identified in South Gloucestershire, Mr Zahawi said one had travelled from Sao Paulo through Zurich to London prior to the hotel quarantine.

"They did take a pre-departure test and filled in their passenger locator form, which is why we are able to deal with them so effectively and work with South Gloucestershire Council," he said.

"There is minimal reason to believe that there may be further spread because they have been isolating correctly. But we will be doing asymptomatic testing in South Gloucestershire."

07:48 AM

Brazilian variant could slow roadmap, suggests ICL professor

Asked about how worried people should be about the Brazilian variant, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, told Times Radio: "Somewhat worried but not total panic, perhaps.

"It's somewhat more worrying than the UK variant, the Kent variant, that we're used to talking about, because it covers the double whammy, we think, of being more transmissible and somewhat better at evading neutralising antibodies."

On what it would mean for the vaccination programme if the variant became widespread, he added: "The way I think about it is it's a bit like, and I think about the effect that the Kent variant had on us, it just slowed everything up because suddenly things started to get a little bit worse again, and you know the end seemed a little bit further away.

"When I look at the data on how well this variant gets neutralised, it's not that all immunity is gone, it's that the vaccines look so much less potent, so there'll be more people who have low antibody responses where it can break through and get affected. It all comes back much harder."

07:36 AM

Brazil variant 'contained' insists health director

Sara Blackmore, Gloucestershire public health director, said the risk to the community from the new variants was "low" and the situation was "contained".

Speaking on the Today programme, she said: "Thanks to fast action, we've got a really clear picture.

"We've got a very contained situation ... and fast action has been taken.

"The risk to the community is low but the additional testing we're putting in place is a precautionary measure, it's a belt-and-braces approach to ensure we are controlling and containing the situation as best we can."

Ms Blackmore said asymptomatic testing was going live in the area on Monday that would be followed up with genomic sequencing where positive cases were identified.

"From a local authority perspective our role is to protect our communities as quickly and robustly as we can," she said.

07:18 AM

Hunt on for Brazilian variant in UK

A hunt is under way to locate one of the first people in the UK believed to have contracted the Manaus variant of coronavirus, a new strain that may spread more rapidly and respond less well to existing vaccines.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Sunday that six cases of the concerning P.1 variant first detected in the Brazilian city have been confirmed in Britain, three in England and three in Scotland.

Two were confirmed in South Gloucestershire but the third English case has not been located and could be anywhere in the nation, with PHE saying the person did not complete their test registration card so their contact details are absent.

Anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 and has not received a result, or has an uncompleted test registration card, is being asked to come forward immediately, as health officials scramble to track down the individual.

07:15 AM

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Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, March 1.

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05:38 AM

China accused of using pandemic to limit media freedom

China used coronavirus-prevention measures, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting in 2020, ushering in a "rapid decline in media freedom", the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said today.

For the third year in a row, no journalists told the group that working conditions had improved, the FCCC said in an annual report based on 150 responses to a survey of correspondents and interviews with bureau chiefs.

"All arms of state power - including surveillance systems introduced to curb coronavirus - were used to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview," it said.

Authorities cited public health concerns to deny reporters access to sensitive areas and threatened them with enforced quarantine, the FCCC said. Visa restrictions were also used to put pressure on reporting.

05:35 AM

'Let's get vaccinated, let's save lives'

The Philippines launched a vaccination campaign today to contain one of Southeast Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks but faces supply problems and public resistance, which it hopes to ease by inoculating top officials.

Cabinet officials, along with health workers and military and police personnel, were among the first to be vaccinated in six hospitals in Metropolitan Manila, after President Rodrigo Duterte and other top officials received 600,000 doses on Sunday of vaccine donated by China.

At the state-run Philippine General Hospital in Manila, hospital director Dr Gerardo Legaspi was inoculated first by a nurse in a televised event and was followed by Cabinet and Department of Health officials.

"Let's get vaccinated, let's save lives every day. We need to move on," Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said in a speech at the hospital, adding he would get vaccinated in about a week after health workers had been immunised.

04:57 AM

NZ PM frustrated by family of Covid rule-breakers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has urged New Zealanders to "call out" Covid-19 rule-breakers, as public anger builds over a series of infringements that forced the country's largest city back into lockdown.

A frustrated Ms Ardern said the breaches that led to Auckland being shut down for the second time in a month were intolerable.

She said some people involved in the latest outbreak had ignored clear instructions to remain in isolation and failed to fully disclose their movements to contact tracers.

"Those individuals are facing the judgement of the entire nation, there are consequences, undoubtedly," she said.

Jacinda Ardern is urging people to be honest and do the right thing to avoid infecting others - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Jacinda Ardern is urging people to be honest and do the right thing to avoid infecting others - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Ms Ardern said everyone needed to cooperate to keep the virus in check.

"If that means calling a family member or colleague out for not following the rules then we should do that. Do it with kindness, but do it," she said.

Concerns centred on a family where the chain of transmission was unclear, although it has since emerged they had contact with infected members of another family in defiance of isolation orders.

One of those involved visited a doctor, a college and the gym while awaiting the results of a test that eventually showed he had the virus.

Ms Ardern said "we're all paying the price" for their actions.

"Everyone is angry... I totally get that," she said.

"At the same time, how do we make sure people tell us the truth because there is nothing more valuable to us than knowing, in these scenarios, where contact has occurred?"

04:52 AM

Mexico's coronavirus chief recovering from Covid

Mexico's deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell  - REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
Mexico's deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell - REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Mexico's coronavirus chief has been hospitalised over the past five days for Covid treatment but is recovering well, a health official said on Sunday, as the country marks the one-year anniversary of its first confirmed infection.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the face of Mexico's response to the pandemic, has drawn criticism for downplaying the need for masks and for spearheading a strategy of limited testing.

Mexico has registered 185,715 fatalities from coronavirus, giving it the world's fourth-highest death toll from the pandemic.

Mr Lopez-Gatell, an epidemiologist, was admitted for "early hospitalisation" last Wednesday after his medical team determined he required supplemental oxygen, said Ruy Lopez, head of the National Centre of Preventative Programs and Disease Control.

"He has progressed well and we hope he can be released from the hospital unit tomorrow," Lopez told a news conference.

04:12 AM

PM Modi first in line for Indian vaccine

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inoculated with the first dose of a home-grown coronavirus vaccine today, kicking off an expansion of the country's immunisation campaign that began in mid-January with healthcare workers.

People above the age of 60, and those who are 45 or more and suffering from certain medical conditions, are now eligible for the vaccinations.

India, which has reported the highest number of Covid cases in the world after the US, has so far vaccinated more than 12 million health and frontline workers.

"Remarkable how our doctors and scientists have worked in quick time to strengthen the global fight against Covid-19," Modi said on Twitter, posting a picture of him getting the shot at a government hospital in New Delhi.

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02:11 AM

What you need to know about the Brazilian variant

Hot on the heels of the UK variant and the South African variant, coronavirus mutated again – this time morphing into an even more worrying version of the virus known as the Brazilian variant.

Ministers were so concerned that they banned travel from Portugal and South American countries in January.

However, officials said last night that six individuals infected with the "variant of concern" had been detected in the UK - three in England and three in Scotland.

READ MORE: Brazilian variant: what is the new Covid strain and should I be worried?

02:09 AM

Hunt for UK patient with Brazilian mutation

Health officials are hunting for a mystery Covid patient thought to be one of the first in the UK to have a Brazilian variant that may spread more rapidly and respond less well to vaccines.

Six individuals infected with the "variant of concern" have been detected in the UK, officials said on Sunday night.

Public Health England has admitted it has no idea who one of them is, nor where the person was tested.

Health officials have begun a scramble to try to find the person and track down hundreds of passengers on a series of connecting flights into the UK from Brazil earlier this month.

READ MORE: Scramble to hunt down patient with Brazilian Covid variant

02:02 AM

New Zealand's latest positive case made 'multiple mistakes'

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that the country's latest Covid-19 case had made "multiple mistakes" including making contact with an infected family.

The country is in a seven-day lockdown prompted by the case of a person who had been infectious for a week but not in isolation.

The person is said to have visited public venues even after taking a Covid test.

"It has had devastating consequences, no question," Ms Ardern said.

She said it was up to police to decide if any action would be taken against the person.

"People do dumb things but we're not going to get through this if people pillory them to the point they do not tell the truth," she said.

01:58 AM

Auckland mayor fears for city's future

The mayor of New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, said on Monday that its residents should be prioritised for vaccines after it was thrown into its fourth lockdown over the weekend, costing millions of dollars a day.

The seven-day lockdown of the population of nearly two million was prompted by the case of a person who had been infectious for a week but not in isolation.

Mayor Phil Goff said: "We need the vaccine roll-out to be prioritised in Auckland to help avoid future lockdowns, protect jobs and incomes, and ensure Auckland can play its role in supporting the national economic recovery."

01:44 AM

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