CORONAVIRUS case numbers in the UK are “better than anybody was expecting”, it was revealed today.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh Uni and a Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group member, said the new data showed Britain should end lockdown early.
“The data are indeed looking better than the models were predicting and – to the best of my knowledge – better than anyone was expecting,” he told The Telegraph.
“If the phrase ‘data-driven not date-driven’ has any meaning, then it must allow for the schedule for relaxing restrictions to be brought forward if the data are better than expected and not just putting the schedule back if the data are worse than expected.”
Although he urged caution on the risks of relaxing measures too soon, Woolhouse said there was “a public health imperative to relax measures as soon as it is safe to do so”.
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, also said new data showed that deaths in the over-65s, many of whom have now been jabbed, are now halving every week.
He added: “We all sort of hoped something like this might happen – but frankly it is better than anyone expected.”
Follow our coronavirus live blog below for the very latest news and updates on the pandemic…
ISLE OF MAN LOCKDOWN CONTINUED
The Isle of Man currently has 58 cases of coronavirus, three of which have no immediate link to identified clusters of the bug.
On February 18, Chief Minister Howard Quayle announced coronavirus infections which were not among people who had travelled there and entered self isolation.
They were linked back to a member of staff working for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, which runs ferries to and from Liverpool, Belfast, Dublin and Heysham, in Lancashire.
Under the new circuit breaker measures, which come into force just after midnight on Wednesday, schools and businesses will close and residents are urged to stay at home.
Mr Quayle said the island’s vaccination programme was on track to deliver first doses to all over 50s and clinically vulnerable adults during April.
A circuit breaker lockdown is in force on the Isle of Man after a spike in Covid cases
CIRCUIT BREAKER LOCKDOWN ON ISLE OF MAN AFTER COVID SPIKE
A circuit breaker lockdown is in force on the Isle of Man following a rise in coronavirus cases after a ferry crew member tested positive.
The island had come out of lockdown on February 1, with schools and businesses reopening after no reports of unexplained community cases of coronavirus for 17 consecutive days.
But, on Tuesday, Chief Minister Howard Quayle announced a new lockdown of 21 days as a result of “transmission in our community that we cannot see and that we do not understand”.
He said: “After lengthy discussions that weighed heavily on our minds, we have decided that we cannot allow anything to put this longer term exit at risk.
“We need to intervene now. If we do so now, and if everyone does their bit, we will again stamp out the current outbreak that seems to be moving under the surface of our community.”
CAA LAUNCHES ‘CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST RYANAIR’
The Civil Aviation Authority is taking “criminal proceedings” against Ryanair because it carried passengers with pre-departure coronavirus test results written in Italian and Germany, says the airlines CEO, Michael O’Leary.
Government regulations state that test results must be written in either English, French or Spanish.
Mr O’Leary told the Transport Select Committee: “The airline [is] facing criminal proceedings for bringing people into the UK, with Italian and German PCR tests validly done because they’re not in the Spanish, French or English language.
“It’s this kind of bonkers, non-joined up regulation which is designed to make bureaucrats at the Department of Health look like they’ve done something.
“Whereas in reality it’s completely nonsensical because it’s confined to three languages. So, regulation is not the way forward.”
P&O UK CRUISE STAYCATIONS CONTINUED
P&O says health and safety measures will be in place for its UK cruise staycations to “enable everyone to enjoy a wonderful holiday this summer”.
It had previously extended the suspension of sailings until next month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
P&O Cruises president, Paul Ludlow, added: “I really am so sorry for the disappointment these cancellations will cause but hope that the new UK cruises will enable everyone to enjoy a wonderful holiday this summer.”
He said once travel restrictions are lifted the firm will begin the “significant logistical task” of restarting international operations.
Customers with affected bookings will also automatically receive credit for a future sailing worth 125% of the cost of their original trip. They can also request a cash refund.
HOLIDAYMAKERS OFFERED SHORT UK STAYCATION CRUISES THIS SUMMER
P&O Cruises will offer a series of week-long UK sailings this summer.
The UK’s largest cruise line says holidaymakers will travel around the country’s coastal waters – offering a short summer break for customers.
Cruises, departing from Southampton, will go on sale later in March, with details about prices and dates to be announced.
P&O Cruises president, Paul Ludlow, said: “While holidays here in the UK will be the first to become a reality we will, of course, gradually see the return of international travel.
“But first we want guests to be able to enjoy a proper summer holiday at sea with the best in relaxation, entertainment and dining choice.”
COVIDIOTS SALSA DANCING WITHOUT MASKS IN PARK
Covidiots were spotted salsa dancing in a park – but they were let off by bungling cops.
A shocked passerby spotted the group of about ten people playing music and dancing without wearing masks.
Cops were called about the lockdown breachers, but didn’t turn up, so the couples were allowed to carry on dancing the night away in Battersea Park.
Passerby Andrea, who videoed the rule-flouters, said: “I was just shocked that they were less than two metres from each other.
“Nobody was wearing a mask. When you’re dancing you talk loudly, you breathe [heavily]. These are the spreaders.”
HOLIDAYMAKERS TO BE HELPED WITH COVID TEST APP
An app which stores evidence of a negative Covid test – and proof of vaccinations – is to be trialled by the International Air Transport Association.
The group said it will be testing “in the next couple of weeks” – with Singapore Airlines on a route between Singapore and London.
A spokesman told BBC Radio 4 that “quite a few” governments have shown an interest in the app.
In terms of data protection, he said information on the app would not be kept on a central database and that test and vaccine records would only “exist on your phone”.
GYM OWNER ORDERED TO STOP VIRTUAL SESSIONS CONTINUED
Charnwood Borough Council has now told Nick Wardle his workouts at the Body Transformation Centre in Loughborough CAN continue – and apologised if its initial advice ‘was not clear’.
Nick also told Leics Live: “I’m working from my business premises, which I’m still paying rent on, because I can’t from home as there are family and neighbours who I don’t want to disturb.
“I was more bothered about my clients. Some of them are really struggling with mental stuff.
“We know some of our clients are struggling and exercise is what’s keeping them sane.
“For us, that’s why we wanted to keep things moving.”
BAFFLED GYM OWNER ORDERED TO STOP ONLINE FITNESS SESSIONS BY COUNCIL
A baffled gym owner was told by council bosses to stop running ONLINE exercise classes from his fitness studio.
Nick Wardle, whose business has been forced to temporarily close under Covid rules, was putting on virtual sessions for members via the video conferencing service Zoom.
But after a member of the public claimed he was breaching lockdown restrictions, council officers visited his gym – the Body Transformation Centre in Loughborough, Leics – and ordered him to halt.
Describing Friday’s visit from the authority, Nick told Leics Live: “There was only me, my laptop and a telly on the wall there. There was nobody else who could have been infected or who could have infected me – just clients safe and sound on the other end of a Zoom call.
“But he wasn’t having any of it. He told me, ‘I don’t make the rules, the rules are there in black and white’.”
GOLFERS NABBED IN WALES CONTINUED
Golf club members in North Wales are angry after several golfers were removed from locked-down Moss Valley Golf Club in Wrexham.
A member said it was not the first time they’ve had reports of people illegally accessing the course during lockdown.
Some were reported to have had BBQs on one of the greens – with claims others had removed wooden fencing from the car park to access the locked grounds to take their dogs walking.
The anonymous member added: “It’s annoying because our members aren’t even allowed to exercise on their own there at the moment.
“Our senior section, who are from about 80 up to 89, who have been itching to just go and do a bottom loop just to do some exercise, are not even able to do that.”
KEEN GOLFERS NABBED PLAYING ON CLOSED COURSE
A rogue golfer was handcuffed by police after being spotted playing a round at a closed course.
Three rule flouters were reported to cops after being seen playing nine holes at Moss Valley Golf Club in Wrexham, North Wales, a country club closed to members due to the Covid lockdown.
A witness said: “They had clubs with them. They never had a bag. They just carried their clubs singly to play nine holes.”
A spokesman for North Wales Police, said: “Three men were reported for breaches at Moss Valley.
“One was arrested and they were sent on their way after being reported.”
SON LOSES BOTH PARENTS TO COVID WITHIN JUST SIX HOURS
A man who lost both of his parents within six hours of each other to Covid says he takes comfort from knowing “they are still together”.
Daryl Gilley, from Sittingbourne, Kent, endured the heartache of losing first his father, Chris, then just hours later his mother, Stella, after the family all caught coronavirus around Christmas.
The couple, who lived in Queenborough, Kent, were childhood sweethearts and died in Medway Hospital – with Chris passing away on January 14, followed by Stella six hours later, on January 15.
After Stella was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1998, Chris juggled three jobs to support the family before becoming her permanent carer in 2002.
Now Daryl is taking part in a Run with Mum fundraising challenge, to complete 140,000 steps in March, in memory of his mother to raise money for the Kent MS Therapy Centre in Canterbury, which supported Stella and provided respite for Chris.
MORE ON QUARANTINED FOOTBALLER
An hour before Leicester City Academy graduate Ben Starkie’s flight, he was shocked to be told by the airline that he had to book and pay for a government approved hotel in London costing £1,750.
His dad Richard Starkie said: “This is an 18-year-old boy who has no income, away from home with only about £250 in his bank account, being expected to book a hotel in London for an outrageous amount of money when he hadn’t even entered Tanzania.”
After his parents realised they didn’t have the money available to help, the family had to turn to friends to help raise emergency cash, and Ben arrived at Heathrow on February 27.
Mr Starkie said: “He was immediately detained by border officials despite having explained that he hadn’t been in Tanzania but only in transit and that he had been playing in an official and prestigious international football competition for the Tanzanian National Team.
“It should be noted that he had been tested many times in Mauritania during the tournament to comply with FIFA regulations.”
QUARANTINED FOOTBALLER CONTINUED
Tanzania is currently one of 33 countries on the Government’s so-called ‘Red List’.
This means that any British national who has “been in or through” the country in the previous 10 days must quarantine in a government approved hotel for 10 days.
Mr Starkie said his son “left the UK on January 23 for Tanzania for training prior to the competition – and the country’s designation as part of the Red List.
“He left with the team for Mauritania on February 12, arriving the following day – meaning that he had been outside Tanzania for the required time.”
PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER HELD ‘ILLEGALLY’ IN COVID QUARANTINE HOTEL
The father of a Leicester City Academy graduate claims his footballer son is being “falsely imprisoned” against his will in a Covid quarantine hotel.
Ben Starkie, whose family home is in Wistow, near Kibworth, Leicestershire, is currently holed up in a room at the Holiday Inn at London’s Heathrow Airport – having returned to the UK after representing Tanzania in a the Africa U-20 Cup of Nations.
The 18-year-old, a professional with German fourth division outfit FC Wilhelmshaven after spending several years as a young Fox, was invited to play for the country of his mother’s birth in the tournament, in Mauritania.
But his dad Richard, 79, said his son has effectively been under lock and key since arriving back in the UK on Saturday following a 60-hour round trip home via Turkey and Tanzania.
“Ben hasn’t committed a crime but has been imprisoned without trial,” he complained.
‘UP TO 60 FACTORY STAFF INFECTED WITH COVID’
A fishing industry news website, Undercurrent News, reported that between 50 and 60 members of staff have tested positive at the Hilton Seafood factory, according to its sources.
Hilton Seafood UK declined to comment further on these reports.
A spokesperson for North East Lincolnshire Council’s Public Health team said of the two Hilton Seafood employee deaths: “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives to this terrible disease.
“Very sadly, this outbreak demonstrates how quickly the virus can spread, and how vitally important it is that we continue to follow the rules and take those simple but key precautions.”
MORE ON FISH FACTORY WORKERS’ DEATHS…
Hilton Seafood is working with Public Health England to provide weekly testing for staff, stating that employee safety is its “number one priority”.
A spokesperson said: “Hilton Seafood is deeply saddened by the deaths of two of its staff over the past three days. We are in close contact with the families and will provide all the support we can at this difficult time.”
Last week, North East Lincolnshire Council confirmed the area has seen a spike in cases following outbreaks in factories.
In a coronavirus epidemiology report, it said: “The infection rate of Covid-19 in North East Lincolnshire has risen in recent weeks and is now close to the national average for infection rates following falls in other parts of the country.
“This is associated with a number of significant outbreaks that have occurred in factories.”
TWO FISH FACTORY WORKERS DIE OF COVID
Two workers at a Grimsby seafood factory have died in the past three days following a coronavirus outbreak at the site.
Hilton Seafood has confirmed that two staff members passed away after testing positive for Covid-19.
According to the company, the employees were being treated at Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in the Lincolnshire town before sadly passing away in the three days up to March 2.
The factory, formerly Seachill Ltd, employs more than 300 people, and is one of North East Lincolnshire’s major employers.
Covid vaccines may be stopping the spread of the virus “almost completely” and are working “better than any of us could have imagined”, experts claim.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Public Health England’s head of immunisation, said research suggests the jabs will have a major impact on halting transmission.
She told the BBC Today programme: “There’s really very good signs that this [vaccination] is going to at least reduce infection rates across the population, and hopefully… prevent people passing it on almost completely if they’ve been vaccinated fully.”
The fall in coronavirus deaths in England is three weeks ahead of the government’s estimates, new figures show.
On February 10, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M), which advises the government,estimated that fatalities would not drop below 200 a day until mid-March – but this point was reached on February 28 when 144 deaths were recorded.
The SPI-M model also suggested there would be 150 deaths a day by March 21 – but fatalities have hovered around this number in the past week.
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and a member of SPI-M, told the Telegraph: “The data are indeed looking better than the models were predicting and – to the best of my knowledge – better than anyone was expecting.
“If the phrase ‘data-driven not date-driven’ has any meaning, then it must allow for the schedule for relaxing restrictions to be brought forward if the data are better than expected and not just putting the schedule back if the data are worse than expected.” Read more here.
CAMERON GETS JAB
Former PM David Cameron received his first dose of the Covid jab yesterday.
He wrote on Twitter: “Huge ‘thank you’ to our brilliant NHS & all the amazing staff & volunteers working on the UK’s deeply impressive vaccine programme.
“I was proud to have my jab this morning & encourage everyone to take theirs when the call comes – it’s crucial we look after ourselves & each other.”
Covid deaths have plunged by 37 per cent in a week – as a top scientist said fatalities could drop below the normal rate by Easter.
A further 6,391 cases and 343 deaths were recorded today, as Matt Hancock hailed that “freedom is on horizon” with all adults set to be jabbed by July.
Today’s stats are a drop from last Tuesday, when 8,489 cases and 548 deaths in the UK were reported.
Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics also showed that fatalities not involving Covid-19 were below the five-year average in the third week of February.
HELP FOR THE SELF EMPLOYED
Rishi Sunak will today reveal extra help for 600,000 self employed Brits who have been shut out of Government support during the pandemic.
The Chancellor will reveal that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom became self-employed in 2019-20, will now be able to claim direct cash grants under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
Anyone who filled in a tax return in January – or is due to – will be able to get the extra help.
It means they will be able to access the £7,500 in extra help that others have been able to claim.
COVID DEATHS THREE WEEKS AHEAD OF GOV’S ESTIMATES
The fall in coronavirus deaths in England is three weeks ahead of the government’s estimates, new figures show.
Experts have called for lockdown restrictions to be eased more quickly as fatalities and cases continue to decline.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly stressed that he will be guided by “data not dates” as the country leaves lockdown.
But a steep fall in cases and deaths, combined with the success of the vaccine rollout, have prompted fresh calls to lift measures more rapidly.
FURLOUGH TO BE EXTENDED UNTIL END OF SEPTEMBER
The furlough scheme will today be extended until the end of September.
Rishi Sunak’s Budget vow means millions will have been paid to stay at home for a gruelling 17 months.
Employers will be asked to start chipping in from July in the hope of avoiding mass lay-offs.
The Chancellor’s vow “to do whatever it takes” to protect jobs will add £5billion a month to the pandemic’s £280billion support bill.
In July, business bosses will be expected to contribute ten per cent of the cost, increasing to 20 per cent in August and September, as the economy reopens.
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