Britain has recorded just one Covid death, with infection levels falling to the lowest levels since last September, latest official figures show.
The statistics come as the NHS hit the milestone of administering more than 50 million vaccines – meaning the UK is close to halfway to fully vaccinating all adults.
Latest daily figures show just one Covid death across the UK, a low which was last achieved in August of last year.
And the number of daily cases fell to 1,649, with the number of infections continuing to plummet, the Government figures show.
More than 50 million doses of vaccine have now been administered across the UK.
And more than 15 million of the most vulnerable have now received two doses.
As Britain reached the 50 million milestone, the Health Secretary hailed the achievement as “massive,” saying: “These jabs are saving lives and helping us get back to normal. Thank you to everyone who has played their part in our national effort. When you get the call, get the jab.”
Earlier, the Prime Minister said the results of the vaccine programme were “really starting to show” in the case numbers being reported, with levels low despite the relaxation of rules in recent weeks.
Indian witch doctors branding Covid patients with hot rods as oxygen supplies run out
At least 23 critical Covid-19 patients died in a hospital in the south of India after oxygen supplies ran out – such shortages are reported nationwide. With the healthcare system collapsing, some Indians are turning to dangerous witch doctor cures instead.
India has been overwhelmed by a more virulent, second wave of Covid-19. The nation’s official caseload is expected to surpass 20 million on Monday, having reported over 300,000 new infections for 12 consecutive days.
The actual number of cases is actually believed to be multiple times higher due to a nationwide lack of testing, while the Indian media reports that death tolls are being undercounted by twenty times in some cities.
On Monday, it was reported that 23 Covid-19 patients died overnight in a government-run hospital in the southern Indian state of Karnataka after running out of medical oxygen supplies.
Joe Wallen and Samaan Lateef have this dispatch from India.
Some mosques cite Covid restrictions as they close to women during Ramadan
Mosques across the UK are not allowing women in to pray during the month of Ramadan, an investigation has found.
In a survey of 29 of the biggest mosques in the UK, more than a fifth admitted barring women, citing Covid restrictions as the reason.
Over a quarter of British mosques do not have a space for women at all, the BBC discovered. In those that cater for both men and women, the spaces are not always the same size.
Anita Nayyar, who co-runs Open My Mosque to campaign for more inclusive spaces, said women often get “second class” areas which can be smaller, in basements, behind locked doors, up flights of stairs and sometimes only open sporadically, Ms Nayyar said.
She told the BBC: “We have received reports that, during the pandemic, mosques that used to accommodate women pushed women out either to create socially-distanced space for men or because they felt they could not organise stewardship to ensure the women’s facilities adhered to guidelines.”
Max Stephens has this report.
Don’t flick the syringe! The fine art of giving a jab
Down in the Covid-19 vaccination clinic, I have been busy trying to persuade the trainee vaccinators to modify some of the dubious techniques they seem to have been taught at medical school, writes Dr Michael Fitzpatrick.
Some are in the habit of measuring the distance from the top of the shoulder using two fingers and then jabbing the needle below – apparently in the belief that this best guarantees getting the vaccine into the deltoid muscle. Some seem inclined to massage the entire upper arm.
Others splay their hand to stretch the skin and, terrifyingly, insert the needle between their fingers. This looks to me like one of those circus acts in which the performer throws knives between an assistant’s arms and legs, carrying a significant hazard of needle-stick injury to the injector and a theoretical risk of transmitting infection to the patient.
I recommend a ‘no-touch’ technique, first making sure that the shoulder is fully exposed. I advise the students to take a cotton wool ball in their left hand and the vaccine syringe in their right.
They should then sharply jab the needle into the middle of the bulging muscle to the hilt (not push it in slowly!) and immediately inject with the thumb, withdraw and apply the cotton wool to mop the occasional drop of blood.
A ‘Great British summer’ lies ahead, says Health Secretary
In his video message (see 15.31), Matt Hancock has promised that a “great British summer” lies ahead.
“I want to say a massive thank you to everybody involved – the NHS of course, the scientists, the Armed Forces and the council personnel who’ve helped so much, and the volunteers who brought a real spirit to this programme,” he said.
“Seems like only yesterday that Margaret Keenan was getting the first clinically authorised vaccine in the world and now we’ve delivered 50 million.
“And it’s because of the vaccination programme that we’re able to keep going down this road map, and I know we’re going to have a great British summer.”
One Covid death recorded in last 24 hours
The UK has recorded one Covid death within 28 days of a positive test across all settings in the latest 24-hour period, official figures show.
This is the first time since August 30 – also a Bank Holiday weekend – that just one death has been reported.
It comes as a further 1,649 people tested positive for the virus.
34,588,600 Britons have had at least one dose of the vaccine, with 15,500,949 now fully vaccinated.
Narendra Modi pays price at the polls as India suffers another day of record deaths
Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, suffered a major blow after his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost a key regional election amid mounting criticism of his response to the country’s catastrophic outbreak of the coronavirus.
As the votes were counted for the state elections in West Bengal, a new daily record of 3,689 deaths from Covid was recorded yesterday, along with 390,000 new infections.
Britain announced last night that it was sending 1,000 ventilators to India. It comes on top of 200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators and 3 oxygen generation units dispatched last week to Indian hospitals.
Samaan Lateef and Lucy Fisher have the story.
‘Normality and viability’: Boris Johnson’s June 21 comments welcomed by hospitality chief
Hospitality chiefs have welcomed Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the one-metre plus rule is likely to be scrapped as of June 21.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said it gave pubs and bars the “hope of a return to normality and viability” by summer.
“Given pubs are financially unviable under the current restrictions they face, being able to reopen without any restrictions at all from June 21 is going to be vital to their survival,” she said.
“Our recovery only begins when the restrictions are removed, so we hope the Prime Minister will stick to his road map and promise of Freedom Day on June 21.”
How Britain leads the world in Covid sequencing
“I have to cancel our chat, I’m on an urgent call with India,” Prof Sharon Peacock writes in a last-minute email.
With the pandemic bringing the subcontinent to its knees, Peacock and her team of genomic sequencing experts at the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, known as Cog-UK, are offering technical expertise to their Indian counterparts on virus surveillance, writes Julia Bradshaw.
Monitoring the virus as it mutates by sequencing its genome is something Peacock and her team have, over the past year, become global experts on.
In March 2020 as the pandemic struck, Peacock, a Cambridge expert on sequencing pathogens and director at Public Health England, immediately realised the UK would need to create a country-wide sequencing network to monitor the virus variants.
She had a chat with Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, made a few phone calls, got 20 people into a room and together they wrote a blueprint for what is now Cog-UK.
Boris Johnson warns summer holidays risk ‘influx of disease’
Boris Johnson has said Britons do not want to see an “influx of disease” when leisure travel resumes on May 17.
He said this afternoon: “We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else.”
UK delivers 50 millionth jab
The UK has now administered more than 50 million vaccines, the Department for Health has confirmed.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, described it as a “massive achievement from the team”.
“These jabs are saving lives and helping us get back to normal,” he wrote.
“Thank you to everyone who has played their part in our national effort. When you get the call, get the jab.”
Boris Johnson: ‘Good chance’ social distancing rules will be scrapped on June 21
Boris Johnson has said there is a “good chance” that he will scrap the social distancing rules that force people to remain at least a metre apart on June 21.
The Prime Minister said May 17 – pencilled in for step three of his roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions – was “going to be good”.
The low prevalence of Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths in England has already allowed the Government to accelerate the removal of the cap on attendees at funerals. The move has been brought forward from step four, on June 21, to step three.
Looking further ahead to the fourth and final step in his route out of lockdown, Mr Johnson told reporters on Monday morning: “We’ve got a good chance of being able to dispense with the one metre plus on June 21.”
Lucy Fisher has all the details.
Michel Barnier admits UK vaccine success shows it is easier to act alone than under EU ‘bureaucracy’
Michel Barnier has conceded that Britain’s vaccine success proves that individual states can act faster than the unwieldy European Union, which displayed an “ideological mistrust of public-private partnerships” and has “not yet learned to take risks”.
The former Brexit negotiator, 70, who is bringing out a book on more than four years in the job called La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion) this week, also refused to describe Boris Johnson as a “statesman”, saying it was too early to use such a term for Britain’s “head of government”.
In an interview ahead of the book’s launch with France Inter, he was asked whether Britain’s vaccine success was an “extraordinary advert” for Brexit.
The UK is streets ahead of the rest of the bloc in terms of vaccination but the continent is now slowly catching up after a sluggish start.
More than half of the UK’s total population of 66.8 million has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. NHS data up to May 2 shows that of the 49,834,997 jabs given in the UK so far, 34,505, 380 were first doses.
Henry Samuel has the full story.
Europe may reopen for British tourists in time for summer under new EU plan
Britons could be allowed to holiday in Europe from as early as the start of June under EU proposals to ease Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The measures, put forward by the European Commission on Monday and expected to be debated by member states as early as Tuesday, would end the EU-wide ban on non-essential travel from countries with a good epidemiological situation.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU commission, said as she announced the proposals: “Time to revive EU tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle – safely.”
“We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation. But if variants emerge we have to act fast: we propose an EU emergency brake mechanism,” she wrote on Twitter.
Jack Parrock has more here.
The Bank of England’s next moves as the UK shifts from crisis to recovery
From its grizzly bears and wolf packs to its prairies and permafrost, Canada is a land of the wild frontier.
That also extends to economic policy. The Bank of Canada is leading the way into new territory when it comes to reining in quantitative easing (QE), the massive money-printing experiment that largely began in the financial crisis, then went into overdrive to combat the pandemic recession.
The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee (MPC) meets next week and faces a similar picture of rising growth forecasts and upward pressure on inflation.
Deutsche Bank analysts expect the MPC to hike its growth predictions for 2021 to around 7 per cent, up from 5 per cent in February’s Monetary Policy Report – enough to get the economy back to its pre-pandemic size this year.
Meanwhile, inflation is expected to hit 2.1 per cent, a touch over the Bank’s 2 per cent target.
Back in February, the Bank discussed negative interest rates, in case the economy needed more support. Now it has the opposite problem: deciding when and how to withdraw stimulus to rein in inflation, without spooking markets or harming the recovery.
Tim Wallace has this must-read analysis.
More than 250,000 vaccines administered across UK yesterday
254,552 new vaccinations were registered across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland yesterday, figures show.
70,777 first doses and 137,400 second doses were administered throughout England. In Scotland, 7,203 first doses and 28,935 second doses were given out, while 5,240 first doses and 4,997 second doses were recorded in Northern Ireland.
In England, 41.93 million vaccine doses have now been given out – 28.96 million first doses, and 19.7 million second doses.
Keeping schools open and testing pupils safer than closures, study finds
A new study in Germany argues it is safer to keep schools open and test pupils regularly than to send them home during the coronavirus pandemic, Justin Huggler reports.
The study by Munich university found asymptomatic infections were two to three times more likely to be detected in children at school than at home.
Scientists analysed only tests carried out shortly after the Easter holidays to rule out any cases where children became infected at school. They found that compulsory testing rules currently in force at many German schools are effective at detecting cases and isolating chains of infection.
“Our analysis clearly shows that open schools help fight pandemics, as long as testing is mandatory and rigorous,” Prof Göran Kauermann told Merkur magazine.
Schools are currently open in many German cities, but under a new law pushed through by Angela Merkel’s government they have to close anywhere the weekly incidence rises above 165 cases per 100,000 people.
“Statistically speaking, the risk of missing one infected pupil is many times smaller than the benefit of a large number of asymptomatic cases being filtered out in schools before further infections can occur,” said Prof Kauermann.
How Britons stepped up to send oxygen machines to Covid-stricken India
India is at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, with oxygen shortages and hospitals being overwhelmed.
The country today reported more than 300,000 new coronavirus infections for a 12th consecutive day, taking its overall number of cases to just shy of 20 million.
The crisis has motivated people in the UK to try and help people suffering in India, with the UK-based charity Khalsa Aid receiving hundreds of donations from people that will secure vital oxygen concentrators for those suffering.
Rishi Sunak: Nicola Sturgeon’s IndyRef plans jeopardise Scotland’s Covid recovery
Rishi Sunak has warned Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a second independence referendum jeopardise Scotland’s Covid recovery by “needlessly” dividing the country at the “worst possible time”, writes our Scottish Political Editor Simon Johnson.
The Chancellor insisted it was “vital” for the UK to “stick together, finish the job of getting through this health crisis” then rebuild the economy.
Speaking only three days out from polling day, he said the last year had demonstrated ” that in the darkest of moments, all four nations of the United Kingdom benefit from each other and our partnership.”
After highlighting how more than a million Scottish jobs have been protected by the Treasury’s furlough schemes, Mr Sunak concluded: “The undeniable truth is that Scotland is a stronger nation because it is part of a United Kingdom.”
Opinion polls indicate Ms Sturgeon is on the cusp of winning an overall SNP majority at Holyrood, which she plans to use to force Boris Johnson to drop his opposition to handing her the power for another referendum.
Germany ‘to end coronavirus rules for fully vaccinated’
Germany is reportedly to end coronavirus lockdown restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated, Justin Huggler reports from Berlin.
Angela Merkel’s government is planning to lift restrictions for anyone who has had both jabs as soon as next weekend, according to unconfirmed reports in the German press.
The fully vaccinated will no longer have to self-isolate if they came into contact with an infected person, and will be exempt from night-time curfews currently in force in much of Germany.
They will no longer be subject to limits on how many people can meet, and any number of vaccinated people could meet indoors or outside.
They will also be exempt from current rules which require a negative test before people can visit the hairdresser or go shopping for non-essential items.
It is not clear whether the new rules will apply to cross-border travel or exempt vaccinated people from mandatory self-isolation after arriving from high-risk countries..
Christine Lambrecht, the German justice minister, is believed to have told colleagues restrictions on fully vaccinated people are in violation of the German constitution.
Britons don’t want to see ‘influx of disease’ when travel resumes, says Boris Johnson
Britons do not want to see an “influx of disease” when leisure travel resumes on May 17, Boris Johnson has said.
On the campaign trail ahead of the Hartlepool by-election, the Prime Minister told reporters:
“We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else.”
“I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”
Asked about foreign holidays, the Prime Minister added: “We will be saying more as soon as we can.
“I think that there will be some openings up on the 17th, but we have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.”
Surge testing rolled out in Hounslow
Surge testing has been rolled out in Hounslow after the discovery of a case of the South African variant.
Additional testing will take place across the Woodlands area of the Middlesex borough, with everyone aged over 16 who lives or works in the area encouraged to get a test regardless of whether they have any symptoms.
All PCR tests taken will be sequenced at specialist laboratories, allowing the results to be sequenced to check for any further cases of the South African variant.
The confirmed case has self-isolated, according to the NHS, and their contacts have been identified.
Surge testing took place across the whole of Wandsworth and Lambeth last month after clusters of the South African variant were discovered.
Travel corridors: ‘Chopping and changing’ of last summer criticised by Sir Keir
Sir Keir Starmer has criticised what he labelled the “chopping and changing” of the travel corridors list introduced by the Government last summer.
“We need to be very careful. I think it’s clear that the virus is increasing in some countries around the world, so we have to be very, very careful,” the Labour leader said during a campaign visit to Lewisham ahead of Thursday’s local elections.
“What we can’t have is a repeat of last summer, where the lists were chopping and changing on a daily or even weekly basis.
“So I’ll wait and see what the Government has to say but I think we have to be very careful and very cautious.”
It comes as the Government prepares to formally confirm which countries will make the ‘green list’, removing the need for quarantine, should international travel resume as planned on May 17.
Nine signs that lockdown aged you on the inside, too
Have you got lockdown skin – tired, grey, the opposite of fresh and plump? Talking of plump, have you gained roughly a stone in the past year and some hard to break drinking habits?
These are, apparently, our main concerns coming out of lockdown. But what about the really alarming consequence that no-one seems to be talking about: the fact that we went into it one age and we’ve come out a decade older.
You might not have noticed this if you’re a pensioner or a 20something but the midlifers will have: we’re the ones who have been fast tracked, in the space of 12 months, into our retirement years.
Some of us went into this as 50somethings, determined not to succumb to the clichés of middle age, and we’ve come out the other side a bit wiser but a lot older – and we’re not talking about the elasticated waists and grey roots.
Shane Watson has more on how to spot the warning signs.
Schools back mass vaccinations for children
Schools have backed mass vaccinations for children, with headteachers saying that “peer pressure” will boost take up.
Education leaders would be willing to help facilitate a vaccine roll-out at schools around the country, according to Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), the largest union for secondary school heads.
“If ministers say the vaccine will be administered in schools, if a trained professional will administer it and if it is just one jab, that is something school leaders would support,” he told The Telegraph.
“I think there will be a sense of schools wanting to step up and play their part and explain to children why having the vaccine is important during assemblies and in tutor time.”
His remarks come after reports that health officials are drawing up plans to offer the Pfizer vaccine to secondary school pupils from September.
Camilla Turner has more here.
European Commission pushes Ireland to change tax rules for Covid recovery funds
The European Commission is pushing for Ireland to change its tax rules in exchange for a slice of recovery funds meant to help economies bounce back from Covid, Tim Wallace reports.
Each nation in the European Union is in line for a share of the €750bn (£652bn) Next Generation pot, but first must have its economic proposals signed off by Brussels in an attempt to ensure the money goes on projects that enhance long-term prosperity.
According to a document seen by The Irish Times, the Commission wants Ireland to increase taxes as part of the plan.
The country’s low tax rates have encouraged international businesses such as Apple to set up operations in Ireland, boosting its economy but also angering some European rivals who see this as unfair competition.
Paolo Gentiloni, the economy commissioner, told MEP Chris MacManus that taxes are on the table.
Clouds still linger over Europe saving its summer
With its rugged clifftops, clear Mediterranean waters and black lava beaches, Santorini is an island paradise just a four-hour flight from Gatwick Airport, writes Tom Rees.
But for most of the last year, that journey has seemed as impossible as a trip to the other side of the world.
Hopes are now high for a sizzling summer recovery as restrictions ease and millions of Covid jabs go into arms. Santorini’s luxury hotels, restaurants and yachts gear up for a big tourism reopening later this month.
“We’ve seen the reservations picking up, especially for July, August and September,” says George Filippidis, the manager of the upmarket Andronis hotel chain on the island.
Almost completely dependent on a flood of tourists in the summer months, the Greek islands are eagerly awaiting the industry’s return from the middle of May.
But will it be too little, too late to unleash the scorching catch-up summer that many had hoped for in Europe?
Moderna to provide up to 500 million doses to Covax scheme
Moderna has reached an agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide up to 500 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine for use in the Covax programme.
The Covax scheme is led by Gavi, the World Health Organisation, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (Cepi).
It aims to address what the United Nations has called the “wildly uneven” global roll-out by providing vaccines for use in poorer countries.
An initial 34 million doses will be delivered in the final quarter of 2021, while Gavi will reserve the option to procure a further 466 million doses next year.
Pakistan to close borders to foot passengers
Pakistan has said it will close its borders to foot passengers from neighbouring Iran and Afghanistan as it tries to stifle its own outbreak, Ben Farmer reports.
The nation of around 220 million is enduring its third and worst wave of infections of the pandemic so far, driven by the arrival of the UK variant.
The sight of India’s crisis has caused alarm among doctors that Pakistan will head towards a similar disaster unless greater precautions are taken. The border with India was closed last month and tense relations between the neighbours mean there are no direct flights.
Schools and non-essential shops have been closed and long-distance travel and holiday resorts will be halted for next week’s Eid holiday.
The low level of testing in Pakistan, which currently conducts around a fifth the number of tests per person as India, means epidemiologists have always found it difficult to assess the scale of the outbreak.
In recent days official figures have appeared to show infection levels plateauing.
Reopen Europe to fully vaccinated travellers, says EU Commission
Fully vaccinated foreign travellers should be allowed to travel into European Union member states without added restrictions, the European Commission has said.
The body has proposed the expansion of leisure and non-essential travel in order to allow everyone who has had both doses of a vaccine to enter.
“The Commission proposes entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU authorised vaccine,” it said.
“This could be extended to vaccines having completed the WHO emergency use listing process.
“In addition, the Commission proposes to raise… the threshold related to the number of new Covid-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted.”
The policy will also include an “emergency brake” which will allow for rapid action in response to significant outbreaks of the virus or new variants of concern.
US to start vaccine talks with WTO amid intellectual property calls
America will this week begin talks with the World Trade Organisation over expanding access to Covid-19 jabs, amid growing clamour to waive intellectual property protections on vaccines, writes Ben Farmer.
Talks will focus on how vaccines can be “widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared,” according to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
“We’re going to have more to say about that in the days to come,” he said.
Trade Representative Katherine Tai is leading the U.S. side, Klein said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, but stressed that intellectual property rights were only “part of the problem” and manufacturing is the biggest obstacle.
India, South Africa and other countries are seeking a WTO waiver to ease intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and allow other nations and factories to make them, increasing supply.
The US administration is reluctant to let countries force drug makers to turn over proprietary know-how.
June 21: End of hospitality restrictions ‘critical’ to save sector, says chief executive
One of Britain’s leading hospitality chiefs has described the removal of all restrictions from the sector in line with the existing Government roadmap as “critical” to ensure the survival of businesses.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, made the comments after reports which suggested the ‘one-metre plus’ rule will be removed as of June 21.
“These reports are very welcome if true. However, we must wait to see the full detail of plans as any restrictions in venues will continue to impact revenue and business viability,” she said.
“A return to unrestricted trading on 21 June is critical and will mean hospitality businesses come off life support and be viable for the first time in almost 16 months.
“We urge the Government to confirm reopening dates and these plans at the earliest opportunity, which will boost confidence and allow companies to step up planning and bring staff back.”
By order of the Coronavirus Act 2020
The producers of Peaky Blinders are being investigated over alleged breaches of Covid-19 restrictions, Max Stephens reports.
Crew members claim they were placed at risk after a staff member allegedly continued to work on set – despite testing positive.
The Birmingham-based gangster series is currently in production for its sixth and final series. Filming for the BBC show was suspended earlier this week, with a spokesman for the show saying at the time it was because of “a false positive test for a member of the crew”.
However crew members allege that filming carried on for a few hours after the result, until another member of the staff discovered and halted filming. A second test from the infected crew member then came back negative and shooting resumed.
A spokesman for the show declined to reveal who had the test, for “data protection” reasons, and said: “Filming was stood down on Peaky Blinders because of a false positive test result for a member of the crew.”
‘Healthy children simply do not need a Covid jab’
I won’t have been the only parent concerned by news last week that the Pfizer vaccine may be approved for use on children as early as June and potentially rolled out to school pupils from September, writes Molly Kingsley.
Healthy children are at almost no serious risk from Covid-19 – the recovery rate for this age group has been calculated at over 99.99 per cent. The argument that children should have the vaccine is not based on a belief that they need or benefit from it but on the logic that it would be good for our communities at large if children were jabbed.
As recently as December, Matt Hancock said that “this vaccine will not be used for children… [because] the likelihood of children having significant detriment if they catch Covid-19 is very, very low… this is an adult vaccine, for the adult population.” The Health Secretary has gone rather quiet now.
But the oddest aspect of the story is the timing of it: the majority of the adult population has now been vaccinated and last month UCL modelling suggested that the UK would reach herd immunity by April 12 – three weeks ago.
If we have already reached this threshold – or are even close to reaching it – why are we discussing medical interventions on children? What’s holding us back from reopening now is the fact that the Government seems scared to put its faith in the vaccine, not a lack of vaccinated people.
Why has India been hit by Covid so badly now – and where could be next?
With people dying on the streets and hospitals running out of oxygen, India’s situation is one of the worst the world has yet seen.
But why has India been hit now and might other countries follow?
India initially seemed like it might make it through the pandemic relatively unscathed, with a strict lockdown from March 25 to May 31 2020, saving it from the first wave of the virus.
After the lockdown was lifted, the country was hit by a wave of infections but hospitals were not overwhelmed.
The government was in a bind: the first lockdown stopped the virus but caused economic collapse and untold human suffering. Spooked, the state is now relying on local authorities to take action.
Jennifer Rigby and Sarah Newey look at why has India been hit so hard now.
Face masks and glass screens may stay beyond the end of lockdown
A Cabinet minister has said that face masks may have to be worn beyond the promised end of the lockdown roadmap next month, writes Lucy Fisher.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, declared yesterday that the nation is “very close now to really turning the corner” in the battle against Covid-19, but added that “some safeguards” would likely remain after June 21.
A sharp backlash erupted from the hospitality industry after he served notice that a series of measures could be kept after the fourth and final step in the Prime Minister’s roadmap.
Pressure is mounting on the Government to accelerate the removal of restrictions, amid falling infection numbers and the rapid rollout of the vaccination programme. The NHS confirmed on Sunday that 15 million people have now had their second jab in the UK.
Ministers will on Monday announce that they are bringing forward the removal of a cap on numbers attending funerals from step four of the roadmap to step three, which is scheduled for May 17.
Vaccinated but won’t go out? The rise of Covid anxiety
Renee Watson, a healthy 43-year-old, has received both her coronavirus jabs already. Meanwhile, the Covid infection rate has dwindled in the UK and the size of our vaccinated population has swelled.
Lockdown is easing, pavement cafes and beer gardens are teeming, and life is inching back to something more like normality.
But not so much for Watson, nor those like her who may be suffering – to a greater or lesser degree – from what has been termed Covid anxiety syndrome. Watson, an entrepreneur who was once “quite a risk-taker” feels far happier playing it safe now.
“I thought I’d spring back and return to being keen to go to restaurants and shopping,” says the mother-of-two from Oxfordshire.
“But I’ve really not wanted to at all. I’m still ordering everything online. It’s not like me, it’s strange. I’m normally a sociable person and like going to festivals but it feels like too much risk at the moment.”
Rosa Silverman has this report.
Leisure travel should be ‘discouraged’ this summer, more than 60 MPs say
A group of more than 60 MPs have said that foreign holidays for leisure should be “discouraged” by the Government even once they are legal.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has issued a new report which calls on ministers to consider “dangerous new Covid variants” in their travel advice.
“The UK government should discourage all international leisure travel to prevent the importation of new variants into the UK, in order to reduce the risk of a third wave and further lockdowns,” the report reads.
“This recommendation should be implemented immediately and reviewed on a quarterly basis.”
Vaccinate ‘everyone, everywhere’, Prince Harry pleads at charity concert
The Duke of Sussex has pleaded for vaccines to be “distributed to everyone, everywhere” at a charity concert in Los Angeles.
Prince Harry appeared along with a host of famous names from the worlds of music, film and politics at Global Citizen’s Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World, a charity event in aid of the international vaccination effort.
Speaking to a crowd of fully vaccinated guests, Prince Harry – who along with Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is the co-chair of the campaign – praised the world’s frontline medical workers, both at the concert and around the world.
“Tonight is a celebration of each of you here, the vaccinated frontline workers in the audience and the millions of frontline heroes around the world,” the Prince said.
President Joe Biden also appeared during the fundraiser, and said the US was “working with leaders around the world” to ensure the more equitable distribution of Covid vaccines.
India McTaggart has the story.
Summer holidays: Thomas Cook boss hails ‘great progress’ of popular European destinations
Portugal and Spain should be ready to welcome British tourists by the end of next month, the chief executive of Thomas Cook has said.
Travel bosses currently expect “Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth” to be open, Alan French told the Today programme.
“When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made,” he said.
According to the most recently available data, Portugal has an average seven-day case rate of just 3.9 per 100,000.
Spain has confirmed an average of 16.9 infections per 100,000 people, a lower figure than Greece (18.2) and Croatia (43.6).
Foreign Office minister says travel traffic light system will be done ‘at a pace that is safe’
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said he recognised a “natural desire to go further and to go faster” with the road map but the Government’s priority is to make changes when “safe” to do so.
Asked why the international travel traffic light system had not yet been announced, he told Sky News: “I get that a lot of people over the course of the last year or so have missed travelling, they have missed seeing family and loved ones – I totally, totally get that.
“I understand the desire to move forward as quickly as possible but we have always said we will do this at a pace that is safe, that gives the scientists enough time to properly analyse the data after each set of restrictions are lifted.
“I know that there will be a natural desire to go further and to go faster but the priority of the Government has always been to make these changes at a pace that is safe to do so.”
India’s Covid-19 case total nears 20 million
India on Monday reported more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day, taking its overall caseload to just shy of 20 million, while deaths from Covid-19 rose by 3,417.
With 368,147 new cases over the past 24 hours, India’s total infections stand at 19.93 million, while total fatalities are 218,959, according to health ministry data.
Medical experts say real numbers across the country of 1.35 billion may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.
Hospitals have filled to capacity, medical oxygen supplies have run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as the country deals with the surge in cases.
At least 11 states and union territories have imposed some form of restrictions to try and stem infections, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is reluctant to impose a national lockdown, concerned about the economic impact.
Holiday islands expected to be kept off UK’s ‘green list’
Holiday islands are expected to be excluded from the Government’s “green” list for foreign travel this week despite lower Covid rates compared to the mainland.
It comes as ministers from the Spanish, Greek and Portuguese islands appealed to the UK Government to stand by its pledge to create separate “travel corridors” with them when it lifts the foreign travel ban on May 17.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said last month the Government’s new traffic light ratings of countries will treat islands independently of any higher Covid rate or lower vaccination rate on the mainland.
But the “green” list for quarantine-free travel, to be unveiled on Thursday or Friday, is expected to be limited to a “tiny handful” of countries including Gibraltar, Israel, Iceland and Malta. Most European nations will be on the “amber” list requiring 10-day home quarantine on arrival back in the UK.
Prince Harry praises frontline workers at LA vaccine concert
The Duke of Sussex has praised the world’s frontline medical workers at a concert in Los Angeles in his first public appearance since the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
Prince Harry appeared along with a host of famous names from the worlds of music, film and politics at Global Citizen’s Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World, a charity performance in aid of the international Covid vaccination effort. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are campaign chairs for the event.
Speaking to an animated crowd of only fully vaccinated guests, Prince Harry pleaded for vaccines to be “distributed to everyone everywhere”, while also saluting frontline medical workers both at the concert and around the world.
“Tonight is a celebration of each of you here, the vaccinated frontline workers in the audience and the millions of frontline heroes around the world,” Prince Harry said. “You spent the last year battling courageously and selflessly to protect us all. You served and sacrificed, put yourselves in harm’s way, and acted with bravery, knowing the costs. We owe you an incredible debt of gratitude. Thank you.”
The rise of Covid anxiety syndrome
While many of us are enjoying the chance to socialise and travel normally, some are clinging fearfully to the safety behaviours enforced upon us during the pandemic.
What was once a rational response to danger has become a “maladaptive” response as the danger recedes.
Pandemic takes its toll on NHS medics
Thousands of exhausted doctors in the UK are planning to leave the NHS in the next year as they battle stress and burnout from pandemic demands.
Of 2,099 people who responded to a British Medical Association (BMA) tracker survey, half said they plan to work fewer hours, 25pc said they are “more likely” to take a career break, with a further 21pc considering leaving the NHS altogether for another career.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the BMA council, described it as a “deeply worrying” situation involving the potential departure of “talented, experienced professionals who the NHS needs more than ever to pull this country out of a once-in-a-generation health crisis”.
Many doctors said their workload, including the inability to take breaks, was among reasons for wanting to go.
The number of UK doctors considering early retirement has more than doubled in less than 12 months, with 32pc of respondents to April’s survey considering leaving the NHS early (compared with 14pc last June).
An acute speciality doctor who outlined their workload told the BMA: “My own mental and physical health will have to become a priority at some point.”
Thousands of revellers party in Liverpool
Thousands of revellers without face coverings danced shoulder to shoulder to live music for the first time in more than a year at a pilot music festival.
Around 5,000 people packed into Sefton Park in Liverpool on Sunday for the outdoor gig that included performances from Blossoms, The Lathums and Liverpool singer-songwriter Zuzu.
Everyone had to produce negative Covid tests to enter the event but did not have to wear face coverings or follow social distancing rules.
It is hoped that such test events will pave the way for festivals and venues across the country to reopen for mass gatherings.
Festival Republic hosted the event, with ticket holders required to take a rapid lateral flow test before entry, and they will also be asked to take a test after the event to gather further evidence on the safety of outdoor settings, reduced social distancing and the removal of non-pharmaceutical mitigations like face coverings, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said.
They will also have to provide contact details for NHS Test and Trace to ensure everyone can be traced in the event of a positive test, it added.
Researchers at the event will examine the movements and behaviour of the crowd as part of the Government’s Events Research Programme (ERP).
The ERP is looking at a range of settings and events including a business forum in Liverpool, club nights and the World Snooker Championship.
It will explore how different approaches to social distancing, ventilation and test-on-entry protocols could ease opening and maximise participation, the department said.
The ERP events will provide evidence to inform decisions around the removal of social distancing at stage four of the Government’s road map.
The Lathums tweeted: “We’ll cherish this moment forever.”
Headliners Blossoms tweeted: “That was unreal, we’re buzzin.”
More UK medical aid destined for India
The UK rushed to increase aid for India’s teetering health care system on Sunday, promising more ventilators and expert advice as doctors grapple with a surge in coronavirus infections that is killing thousands of people a day.
The government said it would send an additional 1,000 ventilators to India. In addition, the NHS is creating an advisory group to share its expertise with Indian authorities.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans a video meeting with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday to discuss further cooperation between the two countries.
India recorded 392,488 new infections, down from a high of more than 400,000 in the previous 24 hours. It also reported 3,689 deaths, raising overall virus fatalities to 215,542.
Aussie cricket shows its support for India’s crisis
Cricket Australia (CA) and the country’s players union have thrown their weight behind a fundraising drive with charity UNICEF Australia to respond to India’s Covid health crisis.
Governing body CA is making an initial donation of A$50,000 (£28,000), matching a donation made by Australia vice-captain Pat Cummins last week.
“Australians and Indians share a special bond and, for many, our mutual love of cricket is central to that friendship,” CA interim chief executive Nick Hockley said today.
“It has been distressing and saddening to learn of the suffering of so many of our Indian sisters and brothers during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and our hearts go out to everyone impacted.”
UNICEF Australia’s India Covid-19 Crisis Appeal is procuring and installing oxygen equipment in hospitals to treat seriously ill patients, providing testing equipment and “supporting acceleration of the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out”, the charity said.
Restrictions continue to ease in Wales
Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools are reopening in Wales with restrictions easing.
Organised children’s indoor activities and indoor adult fitness classes can also resume and two households will be able to form an exclusive bubble and meet indoors.
The Welsh Government said the changes meant Wales will have moved to Alert Level 3.
The next review of the coronavirus restrictions is due by May 13, which will take place after the Senedd elections on May 6.
Indoor hospitality and all tourism accommodation can reopen from May 17, subject to confirmation by the party that forms the next Welsh Government.
Funerals will no longer be limited to 30 mourners
Funerals will no longer be limited to 30 mourners from May 17, the Government has announced.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the legal limit on funeral-goers would be removed as part of the next stage of lockdown easing, expected on May 17.
Instead the capacity would be determined by how many people could be accommodated in venues such as places of worship or funeral homes while maintaining social distancing.
This would apply to both indoor and outdoor venues and all organisers must continue to be Covid-secure and follow social distancing rules, it said.
Today’s top stories
- Masks may have to be worn beyond the promised end of the lockdown roadmap next month, a Cabinet minister has said.
- Holiday islands are expected to be excluded from the Government’s “green” list for foreign travel this week despite lower Covid rates compared to the mainland.
- Funerals will no longer be limited to 30 mourners from May 17, the Government has announced.
- Schools back mass vaccinations for children, with headteachers saying that “peer pressure” will boost take up.
- Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, suffered a major blow on Sunday after his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party lost a key regional election amid mounting criticism of his response to the country’s catastrophic outbreak of coronavirus.
- The producers of Peaky Blinders are being investigated over alleged breaches of Covid-19 restrictions.
- Comment: The epidemic, in Britain, is over. Yes, the virus continues to circulate, as do many adenoviruses, rhinoviruses and, indeed, coronaviruses. But Covid-19 is no longer, by any normal definition, a major cause of death. Why, then, are we being so slow to open up?