LOCKDOWN lifting could be delayed for months beyond June 21, Rishi Sunak warned today.
Speaking to Sky News during a visit to Teeside, the Chancellor revealed he extended his multi-billion furlough scheme until September because the current lockdown roadmap plan “might change”.
“I wanted people to have the reassurance that we were ‘going long’, beyond the end of the road map, because of course things might change.
“Hopefully that won’t happen, we are making great progress… Things will take a bit of time to get back to the way they were, so I think it is important to provide that extra cushion,” he added.
The news comes despite coronavirus case numbers in the UK being “better than anybody was expecting”.
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”.
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WHO SEES RESURGENCE OF COVID-19 CASES IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE
The World Health Organization (WHO) is seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in central and eastern Europe as well as a rise of new cases in several western European countries, the head of its European office said on Thursday.
“Continued strain on our hospitals and health workers is being met with acts of medical solidarity between European neighbours. Nonetheless, over a year into the pandemic our health systems should not be in this situation,” Hans Kluge told reporters.
NORTHERN IRELAND: BELFAST NIGHTINGALE HOSPITAL ‘PRIORITISED FOR DE-ESCALATION’
Northern Ireland’s Nightingale facility at Belfast City Hospital has been “prioritised for de-escalation”, the region’s health minister has said.
Robin Swann said the move is to facilitate the rebuilding of services.
He told the Stormont Health Committee the health service is “de-escalating” ICU to rebuild elective care services.
“Belfast City Hospital normally hosts our complex high priority surgery on behalf of the region so I’m keen that we scale up this high priority surgery as quickly as possible,” he told MLAs.
“Elective care rebuild must reflect a regional prioritisation to ensure that those in most clinical need regardless of place of residence are prioritised,” he said
PEOPLE PUTTING IN LONGER HOURS WORKING FROM HOME – STUDY
Most people are working longer hours because they are based at home, often not having time for a lunch break, new research suggests.
Workers are also spending an average of just over £1,000 on converting their bedroom into an office, a survey indicated.
The poll of 2,000 workers by hotel chain Travelodge found that more than half have reconfigured their bedroom to become a “bedoffice”, spending money on new furniture, equipment and accessories.
The main purchases included a comfy high back executive chair, a spacious desk with lots of drawers, ambient room lighting, a printer, plants – and a jar of biscuits.
A third of respondents said they have created an artistic feature wall so they have an interesting backdrop for their Zoom calls
HANCOCK ‘CONFIDENT’ VACCINE WILL MEAN EASED RESTRICTIONS ON DOMESTIC TRAVEL
Mr Hancock said: “I very much hope that as we are able to lift restrictions then we are all able to travel across the UK.
“I’m confident because of the vaccine we will be able to make that progress and then be able to, all of us, to travel freely wherever we are within these islands.
“One of the factors that we have to be vigilant about in that road map is the emergence of new variants, in case the current vaccines are not as effective.
“I’ve said before that I’m optimistic for a great British summer and I’m now more optimistic about having a great British summer than I have been at any time, thanks to the speed and the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout. By great British summer, I absolutely mean people being able to enjoy travel across the whole of the UK.
“The travel rules for Scotland are a matter for the Scottish Government, but I think we can all see that we can make a stride down that roadmap thanks to the speed of the vaccine rollout.”
NO EVIDENCE CURRENT VACCINES LACK EFFECTIVENESS AGAINST KNOWN COVID VARIANTS
MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine said there is no evidence that current vaccines are lacking effectiveness against known coronavirus variants.
She said during a briefing with Health Secretary Matt Hancock: “Since December last year we have all been concerned about the appearance of variants – Kent, South Africa, more recently Brazil – and therefore we’re well-prepared to look at, when it’s needed, updates to ensure the vaccines being used in citizens are fully effective.
“Our goal is to ensure that the vaccine modifications in future that respond to the new variants can be available in the shortest possible time but without compromising in any way on safety, on quality and on effectiveness.
“What I would emphasise at the outset is that we don’t have evidence at the moment that the vaccines in use in the UK are significantly lacking in effectiveness but we are now well-prepared.”
HERO NHS NURSE DIES AFTER STRUGGLING TO DEAL WITH PANDEMIC
A hero nurse who held the hands of dying coronavirus patients has died after struggling to deal with the pandemic.
Trisha Roberts, 26, dedicated her working life to helping sick patients and was often the last person they saw.
But she struggled with her mental health and the “combined pressure of the Covid pandemic.”
The “bubbly, energetic” nurse, of Bangor, North Wales, worked at the nearby Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital.
She later got a role working on the trauma and orthopaedics wards at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton.
MATT HANCOCK SAYS NEW FAST TRACK APPROACH TO APPROVING NEW COVID VACCINES
Matt Hancock has said there will be a fast-track approach to approving new vaccines for coronavirus variants
During a visit to Glasgow Lighthouse Lab, the Health Secretary said: “We will have a fast-track approach to safely approving future vaccines that work against a variant of Covid-19.
“The vaccine programme has clearly been a huge UK success story, and part of the reason that we have been able to develop the vaccines so far so quickly is because of the MHRA’s rigorous yet flexible approach, which has been based entirely on looking as quickly as possible at the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
“I’m delighted that they’re taking that same principled approach to the approval process for vaccines that may work against variants.”
PUBLIC SHOULD BE OUTRAGED AT NUMBER OF POLICE OFFICERS SUBJECTED TO ‘COVID SPIT ATTACKS’
The chief of one of Britain’s biggest police forces says the public should be outraged at the number of times his officers are the victims of Covid ‘spit attacks’.
John Campbell, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, said there’s been a leap in cases of disgusting ‘spittle assaults’ on his crime busters.
Sometimes entire groups of people have turned on the police and spat at them, leaving them in fear of being infected with coronavirus.
Other times, prisoners have deliberately left dribbles of spit on officers’ faces – even yelling ‘You’ve got Covid now!’ The appalling attacks usually happen when police have arrived to break up groups of people congregating or partying, often in defiance of the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Campbell, whose force cover Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, said his officers ‘have been spat at hundreds of times by people using coronavirus as a weapon’.
LESSONS FROM COVID-19 PANDEMIC ‘COULD HELP TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE’
The director of a state-of-the-art bioscience facility has said lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic could be used to help tackle climate change.
Dr Jen Vanderhoven, director of the National Horizons Centre (NHC), a research, teaching and training facility that is part of Teesside University, said the collaboration between academics and industry that helped deliver coronavirus vaccines in less than a year could be used to address other global crises.
The NHC works in partnership with Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies, which is scheduled to produce millions of doses of the Novavax vaccine at its plant in Billingham, Teesside – training its staff in the skills needed to carry out the development and manufacture of vaccines.
Dr Vanderhoven said: “It’s about collaboration and how you take ideas from the lab bench right through to commercial manufacture at speed.
“It usually takes between four and 10 years to manufacture a vaccine and yet, when we’ve put our minds together on it and worked together on it, it’s been done in under a year, which no-one would ever have dreamt… it just shows that, when time is of the essence, it’s achievable.”
SALSA DANCERS COMMIT COVID BREACH
A BUNCH of ‘Covidiots’ were spotted SALSA DANCING in a park but were let off by bungling cops.
A shocked passerby spotted the group of around ten people playing music and dancing without wearing masks.
Cops were called about the lockdown breachers but didn’t turn up. The couples were allowed to carry on dancing the night away in Battersea Park.
Wandsworth Council said parks police were not alerted to the rulebreakers, who seemingly were allowed to carry on their lockdown-flouting.
Video shows the group, in pairs, dancing away as a crowd of onlookers watch on in puzzlement.
MODIFIED VACCINES FOR VARIANTS TO BE FAST-TRACKED WITHOUT SKIPPING ON SAFETY
Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to deal with variants will be fast-tracked without compromising on safety or effectiveness, the UK’s regulator has said.
The approach will be similar to the regulatory process for the modified flu vaccine, to deal with new strains each year, with a brand new approval not required.
Scientists have previously said a Covid-19 variant resistant to the current crop of vaccines is likely to emerge at some point, but vaccines can also be adapted quickly.
The guidance states coronavirus vaccine manufacturers will need to provide robust evidence that the modified jab produces an immune response. However, lengthy clinical studies deemed not to add to the regulatory understanding of their safety, quality or effectiveness will not be needed.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said researchers are in a better position to measure protection by looking at antibodies in the blood after vaccination, reducing the need to wait and see whether or not people in a trial become infected with the virus.
INFECTION DECLINE SLOWS AMID FEARS PEOPLE WILL GET ILL BEFORE THEIR JAB
The rate of decline in Covid-19 infections in England has slowed, figures suggest.
Experts urged people to stick to lockdown rules to give the vaccination programme “the best chance of working”.
One in every 213 people is still testing positive for Covid-19, the study found.
In some parts of the country the rate of decline has plateaued and in places there are hints that rates are increasing, the data suggest.
Researchers warned that if infection rates start to rise then people who are due their jab imminently may become infected.
WETHERSPOON DETAILS BEER GARDEN REOPENINGS
Wetherspoon is to open beer gardens, rooftop gardens and patios at 394 of its pubs in England when the lockdown continues to ease from April 12, the company has announced.
The pubs will be open from 9am to 9pm from Sunday to Thursday and 9am to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, although some will have restrictions on closing times.
They will offer a slightly reduced menu, with food available from 9am to 8pm seven days a week.
Customers will be able to order and pay through the Wetherspoon app, and staff will be able to take orders and payment at the table.
The pubs will not be operating a booking system.
Britain’s medical regulator on Thursday said it would fast-track vaccines for coronavirus variants, adding that the makers of already-authorised shots would not need new lengthy clinical trials to prove their adapted vaccines will work.
There is concern that some variants, such as those first found in South Africa and Brazil, may reduce the efficacy of the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines, and manufacturers are looking to adapt their shots.
The accelerated process is based on that used for seasonal flu vaccines each year, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said, and would be based on robust evidence that the shots create an immune response, rather than full clinical trials.
“Our priority is to get effective vaccines to the public in as short a time as possible, without compromising on safety,” said Christian Schneider, chief scientific officer at the MHRA.
“Should any modifications to authorised COVID-19 vaccines be necessary, this regulatory approach should help to do just that.”
Airline passengers will be able to administer their own coronavirus tests under plans to open international travel in time for the peak summer season, it has been reported.
British Airways was due to announce today that travellers will be able to buy a £33 test kit before leaving the UK.
They will be expected to take the 20-minute test over a video link with a health adviser to prove that they are free of the virus before flying back, The Times reports.
Results will be uploaded to BA’s “health passport” app, VeriFLY, which can be presented to airline staff and border officials to prove a passenger’s fitness to travel.
HERE WE CO
Texas has become one of the few places in the world to lift all Covid lockdown restrictions – despite warnings of a “fourth wave”.
It follows New Zealand, the first country to end lockdown last June, and the tiny Isle of Man which lifted all limits last month.
Unlike those islands – which were able to keep track of everyone coming in – Texas has 29million people spread over a vast area with open borders to the rest of the USA.
Governor Greg Abbott was accused of being “reckless” after his surprise announcement yesterday – Texas Independence Day.
He claimed vaccinations and improved treatment mean he can end a state-wide face mask mandate after eight moths.
And he ruled all businesses including bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity with no limits from March 10.
In bad news for France’s Emmanuel Macron, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Germany’s Angela Merkel, it revealed that Europeans were pointing the finger of blame at the EU.
Only one in six Germans and a quarter of French people think Brussels has done a good job. They believe Britain has managed the rollout far better.
Europe has so far distributed 34.5million doses to just 7.7 per cent of its population against 21.7 million shots in Britain where one in three has had a jab.
EU VACC TO DRAWING BOARD
Europeans turned on EU leaders yesterday over the Covid jabs rollout as experts urged officials to rethink their approach to save lives.
Scientists implored Brussels to stop dithering over doling out the Oxford AstraZeneca jab or else more sufferers would die needlessly.
It came as a study showed it and the Pfizer vaccine were already saving the lives of over-80s across the UK.
Daily cases plunged by a third in a week and deaths were down to 315, it was reported yesterday.
A bombshell poll, meanwhile, showed that people from across Europe are rapidly losing faith in their leaders following a series of vaccine rollout bungles.
Schoolkids have been told if they refuse to wear face masks they will be made to sit at the back of the classroom.
Parents are furious at the “mask apartheid” which will see pupils physically segregated from their peers when they return from March 8.
They fear their children will face discrimination and be forced to miss out on lessons and social activities.
Primary school kids do not have to wear masks when pupils return next week.
But secondary school students will be asked to wear them if it is not possible to socially distance at two metres apart.
They will also be asked to undergo twice weekly Covid testing.
Her now deleted post last week said: “My darling daughter took me to a Private Care Doctor for Covid 19 vaccine.
“A long wait for NHS waiting list. We had take away from Akber take away.”
Medics wearing PPE appears to be administering the doses to the two women in the photos.
The Government spokesman said: “It would be illegal to administer vaccines outside of the NHS and, if this happened, the MHRA would take enforcement action.”
A Labour councillor has been suspended after boasting on Facebook about visiting a “private” doctor for a Covid vaccination.
Jamila Azad, 65, posted photos on social media showing herself and another woman – believed to be her daughter – being jabbed.
She claimed there had been a “long wait for NHS waiting list” and her daughter took her to a “private care doctor”.
The government has said it is illegal to administer the Covid vaccines outside of the NHS.
Ms Azad, an Oxfordshire County and City councillor, is old enough to qualify for a vaccination under the government’s current rollout plan.
BUTT AND RUN
China has made “humiliating” anal Covid swabs compulsory for ALL international travellers arriving in the country.
Beijing claims the procedure – which involves a 5cm long saline-soaked swab shoved up a patient’s bum – is more accurate that other on-the-spot virus tests.
Doctors in China have been using the anal test on quarantined patients to check if they are free of the coronavirus. Li Tongzeng, a respiratory disease medic, told state media that Covid traces stay detectable for longer in poo samples than they do in the nose or throat.
STREET PARTY GUESTS URGED TO GET TESTED
A senior Government official has appealed to any young person who “slipped up” and attended a street party in Limerick to come forward for Covid-19 testing if they have concerns.
Liz Canavan, assistant secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, said it would not be fair to generalise following the scenes on the streets in Limerick as most young people were adhering to public health measures.
Videos on social media showed a large crowd of revellers in the Castletroy area of the city on Tuesday night.
Three people were arrested after gardai broke up the student street party.
Speaking at Government Buildings, Ms Canavan said: “If you have slipped up and were part of last night’s events, the best thing you can do is come forward for Covid testing.”
He added: “I don’t see a path to re-normalising international travel in May. And the third week of May is a long time in the course of a pandemic.
“And the June date, again I think that is optimism rather than taking a data-led approach.
“I’d love to be in a position where you can have music festivals and full stadiums, whether you’re watching (British and Irish) Lions’ games, or if Euro 2021 is moved here. That would be fantastic.
“If we could do that I’d be delighted – one of those occasions where you’d be delighted to be wrong.
“But that isn’t the advice that I see.”
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