Coronavirus live news: UK expands trial on mixing vaccines; France stops all flights from Brazil over variant fears

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “France to administer J&J vaccine as planned – as it happened” was written by Nadeem Badshah, Jedidajah Otte ,Martin Belam Helen Sullivan, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th April 2021 23.04 UTC

12.04am BST

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10.48pm BST

The US health panel agreed they wanted more data before voting to resume vaccinations with Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 jab, even as a US Food and Drug Administration scientist said warnings could mitigate the risk of rare but serious blood clots, Reuters reports.

The panel is reviewing six reported cases of rare brain blood clots in women who received the J&J vaccine, a day after federal regulators paused its use to assess the issue.

Dr Lynn Batha, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota health department, and several others spoke in favour of extending the pause to gather more safety information.

“By having more robust information, I think we can be more confident about how we talk about the safety of this vaccine,” she told other members of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel.

10.40pm BST

A healthcare worker waits for people to arrive for their Covid-19 vaccine at Florida Memorial University Vaccination Site in Miami Gardens. Florida Division of Emergency Management has opened a new permanent vaccination site at Florida Memorial University. The walk-up site will administer 200 doses of Moderna vaccine per day to any Florida resident over the age of 18.
A healthcare worker waits for people to arrive for their Covid-19 vaccine at Florida Memorial University Vaccination Site in Miami Gardens. Florida Division of Emergency Management has opened a new permanent vaccination site at Florida Memorial University. The walk-up site will administer 200 doses of Moderna vaccine per day to any Florida resident over the age of 18.
Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 10.43pm BST

10.40pm BST

A US health advisory panel on Wednesday did not make a decision related to the pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine and aims to reconvene possibly in a week or 10 days, Reuters reports.

Updated at 10.48pm BST

10.27pm BST

Consistency in Scottish government messaging has seen more trust in following Covid-19 guidelines than in England, according to an expert adviser.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said key differences between the approaches of Nicola Sturgeon’s and Boris Johnson’s administrations during the pandemic had contributed to changes in confidence.

She said: “We have a first minister – and this isn’t a political point – who is generally popular in the country, that has contributed and been very present throughout the pandemic.

“The daily briefings have been much more consistent, so people have known when they are taking place.

“The slogans have not chopped and changed much in Scotland, although they have changed recently.”

A UK government spokeswoman said: “Our top priority has always been to work in partnership with the devolved administrations and focus on defeating the coronavirus right across the UK.

“Throughout the pandemic we have set out consistent, targeted instructions to the public on how to prevent the spread of the disease and stay safe.

“Our data shows that our multi-channel communications approach continues to have a significant impact on people’s behaviour.”

Updated at 10.52pm BST

10.15pm BST

Mexico’s unwillingness to spend money, do more testing, change course or react to new scientific evidence contributed to the country being one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released this week by the University of California.

The country would have had a significantly lower death toll if it had reacted as well as the average government, according to the University’s Institute for Global Health Sciences, which also released a report sharply critical of the US response to Covid-19.

Mexico’s health department says there have been almost 210,000 deaths in the country of 126 million, but because so little testing is done, it acknowledges the real toll is about 330,000. The US and Brazil have higher total tolls but these are out of much larger populations.

The failure by officials to recommend face masks, institute travel restrictions, provide enough testing and protective equipment and institute social distancing measures were among the mistakes cited by the report, which was commissioned by the World Health Organization’s Independent Panel to the Institute for Global Health.

“Key decisions about how to confront the health crisis were based on unwarranted assumptions, without sufficient evaluation and judgement of the risks,” according to the report.

Updated at 10.53pm BST

10.03pm BST

The head of the World Trade Organization set out a series of proposals for countries, vaccine makers and international bodies to increase production of vaccines and make them more widely available, Reuters reports.

The WTO director general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, called a meeting of producers, governments and finance institutions and laid out challenges for each, including action to reduce export restrictions and progress in talks on a proposal to temporarily waive pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights.

Updated at 10.54pm BST

9.55pm BST

Venezuela is risking further delays to an already stalled Covid-19 vaccination campaign by seeking to use specific brands of vaccines while shunning readily available ones, opposition leader Juan Guaido said.

The Covax global vaccine program has offered to sell doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Venezuela, pending a payment arrangement, but the government of president Nicolas Maduro blocked its use following concerns about blood clotting, Reuters reports.

Guaido told a news conference that Maduro allies had internally discussed the idea of seeking out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that they had not mentioned it in talks with the opposition or formally requested access to the vaccine.

“Insisting on one type of vaccine over another means delaying, it means complicating” the vaccination campaign, he said.

“There are not enough vaccines on planet Earth to meet the needs at this time.”

Updated at 10.55pm BST

9.43pm BST

Lionel Messi has helped to obtain 50,000 Covid vaccines from China for an ambitious but controversial plan to inoculate all of South America’s football players before this summer’s Copa América tournament.

The deal with the Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac was secured after Messi donated three autographed sweatshirts. “Sinovac’s directors manifested their admiration for Lionel Messi, who kindly sent us three shirts for them,” tweeted the Conmebol official Gonzalo Belloso.

9.33pm BST

A new survey by biomedical institute Fiocruz found that 86% of beds in intensive care units (ICUs) in São Paulo are full, Reuters reports.

Nearly all of Brazil has ICUs suffering critical capacity shortages and 10 out of 26 Brazilian states have occupancy over 95%, the data shows.

Updated at 10.56pm BST

9.01pm BST

A summary of today’s developments

  • Turkey recorded 62,797 new coronavirus cases and 279 deaths in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, registering the highest daily death toll and rise in cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Portugal’s parliament extended on Wednesday a state of emergency for 15 days as health experts warned that a gradual relaxation of strict lockdown rules now underway could soon lead to a significant jump in coronavirus cases.
  • Mexico’s government reported 5,113 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 518 more fatalities, according to data from the health ministry on Wednesday. It brings the country’s total to 2,291,246 infections and 210,812 deaths, Reuters reports.
  • An NHS trust in England is planning to make Covid-19 vaccinations part of staff contracts, it has been reported. A letter from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust in London that is set to go out to staff is said to state: “We will be making Covid vaccination mandatory for all our employees and it will form part of the employment contract.”
  • Russia has announced the start of production of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Serbia, the first European country outside Russia and Belarus to begin manufacturing the jab.
  • France will use Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine as planned despite its suspension in the US, a government spokesman said, adding France had received a first shipment of 200,000 doses.
  • The pace of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine production is unlikely to speed up markedly in the next few months, though the drugmaker expects its manufacturing capacity to expand significantly by 2022, chief executive Stephane Bancel said during an investor call, Reuters reports.
  • Sweden’s Health Agency said it would pause plans to start vaccinations using Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine following reports of rare blood clots similar to those reported for the AstraZeneca shot.
  • EU countries will receive 50 millionm Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech by the end of June, the head of the EU commission said on Wednesday, as deliveries expected at the end of the year will be brought forward.
  • Denmark will permanently cease to administer AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, broadcaster TV 2 reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

8.57pm BST

Covid-status certificates being considered by ministers to help open up society could amount to unlawful indirect discrimination, the UK’s government’s independent equalities watchdog has advised.

As ministers decide whether the documents should be introduced as passports to certain events later this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has told the Cabinet Office they risk creating a “two-tier society”.

The watchdog also said employers should not be allowed to hire workers on a “no jab, no job” policy until all young people had been offered a vaccine, and that plans to make them mandatory for care workers helping older people may not be lawful.

8.49pm BST

Argentine president Alberto Fernández has been given his medical all clear on Wednesday after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, Reuters reports.

Fernández, 62, had received two doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for Covid-19 at the start of the year.

The Presidential Medical Unit said: “On Thursday 15th he will resume his usual activities. He will continue with the usual medical controls after having suffered from Covid -19.”

8.36pm BST

Portugal will do its best to avoid visitors having to quarantine on arrival this summer, its secretary of state for tourism said, Reuters reports.

Rita Marques told an online conference the country would try “at all costs to avoid quarantines and additional Covid-19 tests” if the travel pass plan goes ahead.
Marques said that, while this summer would not be “completely normal”, Portugal would “certainly bet on maintaining the basic principles of free movement of people and goods”.

8.25pm BST

Mexico’s government reported 5,113 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 518 more fatalities, according to data from the health ministry on Wednesday.

It brings the country’s total to 2,291,246 infections and 210,812 deaths, Reuters reports.

The government says the real case numbers are likely significantly higher, and separate data published by the health ministry suggested the actual coronavirus death toll may be at least 60% above the confirmed figure.

8.09pm BST

An NHS trust in England is planning to make Covid-19 vaccinations part of staff contracts, it has been reported.

A letter from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust in London that is set to go out to staff is said to state: “We will be making Covid vaccination mandatory for all our employees and it will form part of the employment contract.”

The Independent, which has seen a copy of the letter, reports the document is signed by the trust’s chief executive Lesley Watts and that 6,000 staff who have “chosen” not to be vaccinated are being called on to change their minds.

The newspaper states the letter says: “We will need to take into account your vaccination status in your occupational risk assessment and this may impact the range of duties you undertake and indeed the environment in which you work.”

It is also reported that the letter has been sent to other NHS bosses in London with the suggestion that they “adapt and use” it in their trusts.

7.57pm BST

Brazil’s supreme court has confirmed the decision that the Senate must install a special committee to investigate the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports.

7.46pm BST

The US administered 194,791,836 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country as of Wednesday morning and distributed 250,998,265 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, Reuters reports.

On Tuesday, US federal health agencies recommended pausing the use of J&J Covid-19 vaccine for a few days after six women under age 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the jab.

7.33pm BST

Covid-19 case rates have dropped below 100 cases per 100,000 people in all local areas of UK for the first time in seven months, analysis shows.

PA reports:

The highest rate anywhere in the country is currently 98.8 cases per 100,000 in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.

The lowest is just 1.0 in both Rother in East Sussex and North Devon, while the Orkney Islands and Western Isles are currently recording no cases.

The last time every local area of the UK recorded weekly rates below 100 was for the seven days to September 1 2020.

7.21pm BST

Spain is prepared to begin distributing the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine as soon as the European Medicine Agency gives a favourable view on the shot, health minister Carolina Darias said.

The first batch of 300,000 doses of the vaccine, which has been suspended in the US over clotting concerns, arrived in Spain earlier on Wednesday but will remain in storage until the EMA announces new guidelines, Reuters reports.

7.09pm BST

Russia has announced the start of production of its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Serbia, the first European country outside Russia and Belarus to begin manufacturing the jab.

AFP reports:

Serbia has become the first country in Southern Europe to produce Sputnik V,” the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has backed the financing of the vaccine, said in a statement.

Serbia said that manufacturing would begin on May 20.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is expected to visit Belgrade’s Torlak Institute, where the vaccine will be manufactured, on Thursday.

6.58pm BST

Care home staff in England could be required to get a coronavirus vaccine as a condition of deployment to protect elderly residents, the UK government has said.

PA reports:

The Department of Health and Social Care has launched a consultation on making vaccination a condition of deployment for staff at older adult care homes.

The five-week consultation will seek views on the proposal, any potential impact it could have on staffing and safety, how it could be implemented and who could be exempt.

Staff, care providers, residents and their families and other stakeholders are being urged to take part.

A decision is expected to be made this summer.
According to experts from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), 80% of staff and 90% of residents need to be vaccinated to provide a minimum level of protection against Covid-19 outbreaks.

The DHSC said nearly half of care homes for older residents in England are not meeting this threshold.

The government is urging all care home workers to take up a jab now to keep themselves and residents safe.

Latest vaccination figures from NHS England show that 78.9% of older adult care home staff have had a jab.

Currently the staff vaccination rate is below 80% in 89 out of 150 local authority areas, including all London boroughs. In 27 local authority areas less than 70% of staff have had a jab.

6.55pm BST

The pace of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine production is unlikely to speed up markedly in the next few months, though the drugmaker expects its manufacturing capacity to expand significantly by 2022, chief executive Stephane Bancel said during a Wednesday investor call, Reuters reports.

Moderna is still on track to deliver between 700 million and 1 billion doses in 2021, Bancel said. “Adding big chunks of capacity takes time,” he added.

6.46pm BST

Spain is confident it can maintain its current vaccination targets despite a US suspension of the Johnson & Johnson shot and delays to its European rollout over clotting concerns, Industry Minister Reyes Maroto said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Spain received an initial delivery of 300,000 doses of the single-shot drug on Wednesday, which the Health Ministry said would be kept in storage pending new guidance from the European Medicines Agency, expected next week.

The Netherlands adopted a similar stance, while France has decided to push ahead with administering the drug.

“Stopping the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine creates uncertainty, but we are confident the volume of vaccines Spain is due to receive allows us to be optimistic about hitting our objectives,” Reyes told a conference.

Spain aims to have half its population of 47 million fully inoculated by the end of July, and 70% by the end of summer. So far around 6.7% have been fully inoculated.

6.35pm BST

A vacant middle airplane seat could cut the risk of exposure to coronavirus by 23% to 57% compared with a full flight, according to a study on physical distancing onboard released on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kansas State University based their findings on laboratory modeling of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, on single-aisle and twin-aisle aircraft in November 2020.

The research is backed by results of a separate investigation of coronavirus transmission on a 10-hour international flight in March 2020, in which 16 people were infected, they said. That study found 75% of infected passengers were seated within two rows of a symptomatic passenger.

US airlines blocked middle seats early in the pandemic but have gradually opened them up, citing studies showing low transmission risk if everyone onboard wears a mask. Delta Air Lines is lifting its seating block beginning 1 May.

6.25pm BST

Vaccines are “successful” at reducing hospital admissions, the head of the NHS in England has said as a new study showed a 75% reduced risk of emergency hospital admission among people who have received the Pfizer jab.

PA reports:

A new study by the NHS and the University of Manchester found that older people who had received the jab were less likely to be admitted to hospital and less likely to have a positive test compared to unvaccinated people.

Researchers examined data on more than 170,000 people aged 80 to 83 who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine between December 15 and 20 last year.

They compared this information to “matched controls” aged 76 to 79 who had not yet received the jab.

The study, found on the National Institute for Health Research Greater Manchester website, found that 21 days after their first jab, hospital admissions reduced 50% in the vaccinated group compared to the unvaccinated group.

Infections were down 55%.

The results improved as time passed and three-quarters of the group had received their second dose of the vaccine. They found that between 35 and 41 days after the first vaccine, emergency admissions were 75% lower in the vaccinated group.

6.07pm BST

Of the 315 local areas in England, 65 (21%) have seen a rise in case rates over the seven days to April 10, 242 (77%) have seen a fall and eight are unchanged, PA reports.

Mansfield in Nottinghamshire continues to have the highest rate in England, with 108 new cases recorded in the week ending 10 April, the equivalent of 98.8 cases per 100,000 people.

This is up slightly from 97.0 per 100,000 in the seven days to 3 April.

Bradford has the second highest rate, up slightly from 85.0 to 89.3, with 482 new cases.

Barnsley has the third highest rate, down from 103.7 to 89.1, with 220 new cases.

The five areas with the biggest week-on-week rise are:
Ryedale (up from 9.0 to 25.3)
Copeland (14.7 to 27.9)
Canterbury (13.3 to 26.0)
Boston (69.8 to 79.8)
Reading (21.6 to 31.5)

The list has been calculated by the PA news agency based on Public Health England data published on 14 April on the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

5.56pm BST

Turkey logs record daily cases and deaths

Turkey recorded 62,797 new coronavirus cases and 279 deaths in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, registering the highest daily death toll and rise in cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

With Wednesday’s numbers, the total number of cases recorded in Turkey have surpassed 4 million. The total death roll rose to 34,737, according to the data.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday announced several new restrictions and a “partial closure” for the first two weeks of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to curb the surge in cases.
The measures went into effect at 1400 GMT on Wednesday.

A street vendor waits for clients near the iconic Hagia Sophia, in the historic Sultan Ahmed district of Istanbul Tuesday, 13 April, 2021.
A street vendor waits for clients near the iconic Hagia Sophia, in the historic Sultan Ahmed district of Istanbul Tuesday, 13 April, 2021.
Photograph: Emrah Gürel/AP

5.45pm BST

Portugal extends state of emergency

Portugal’s parliament extended on Wednesday a state of emergency for 15 days as health experts warned that a gradual relaxation of strict lockdown rules now underway could soon lead to a significant jump in coronavirus cases.

Reuters reports:

The state of emergency grants the government powers to take emergency measures such as imposing a nighttime curfew if deemed necessary, though the general trend is currently to ease a lockdown imposed in January to curb what was then the world’s worst Covid-19 surge.

Portugal started lifting restrictions last month and has since reopened some schools, restaurant and cafe terraces, museums and hair salons.

People have flocked out of doors to enjoy the warmer spring weather, to see loved ones and enjoy a meal outside after more than two months stuck at home.

If approved, the third phase of the government plan to ease the lockdown will come into force on April 19, allowing cinemas, shopping malls and indoor areas of restaurants to reopen under restrictions designed to reduce the risk of contagion.

Portugal has suffered 828,857 cases and 16,931 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Although the infection rate has slowed, health experts said it could take two weeks to one month for it to fall to the limit of 120 cases per 100,000 people set by the government in March.

Augusta street is pictured during partial lockdown as part of state of emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak in Lisbon, Portugal on 30 March, 2020.
Augusta street is pictured during partial lockdown as part of state of emergency to combat the coronavirus outbreak in Lisbon, Portugal on 30 March, 2020.
Photograph: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

5.40pm BST

Belgium will allow bars and restaurants to reopen for the first time in six months on 8 May, although only for outdoor consumption, after a four-week lockdown that has cut coronavirus infections but barely reduced pressure in hospitals.

Reuters reports:

Prime minister Alexander De Croo said the government was adopting a “prudent” approach.

“The face of the pandemic has changed. We are not fighting the same virus than a year ago. The virus and its variant are more virulent, contagious and aggressive now,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

Pressure has been mounting for a relaxation of the rules imposed on hospitality. Before an increase of the more infectious variant of the virus first detected in Britain, cafes and restaurants had been set to open fully on May 1.

“Right now, the world is still turning, people are at work, and we are at a standstill. We are punished,” Pascal Devalkeneer, chef of the Chalet de la Foret restaurant in Brussels, told Reuters ahead of the government announcement.

Schools will reopen across the country from Monday, when a ban on non-essential foreign travel will also expire, although De Croo urged people to travel as little as possible.

Belgians will also be allowed to go back to the hairdressers from April 26, when non-essential stores can also reopen. Flea markets and theme parks will be able to operate from May 8, along with gyms catering for up to 25 people.

The government put off until later allowing spectators or audiences at sports, shows and cultural events.

More than 22,000 people have died from coronavirus in Belgium, among the world’s highest per capita fatality rate. Infections, which have decreased, remain above 3,000 per day and the reproduction rate of 1 indicates Belgium’s battle against the virus is finely balanced.

A general view of the Osteria Agricola Toscana restaurant in the European Quarter, wrapped in some sort of paper in the style of the artist Christo, in Brussels, Belgium, on 11 March 2021. The owners Fabio Panchetti and his wife Barbara Langone wanted to pay a last tribute to their business since they had to file for bankruptcy. A note stuck on the wrapping reads ‘You realize how important something is when it’s not there’.
A general view of the Osteria Agricola Toscana restaurant in the European Quarter, wrapped in some sort of paper in the style of the artist Christo, in Brussels, Belgium, on 11 March 2021. The owners Fabio Panchetti and his wife Barbara Langone wanted to pay a last tribute to their business since they had to file for bankruptcy. A note stuck on the wrapping reads ‘You realize how important something is when it’s not there’.
Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

5.24pm BST

France saw the number of people in intensive care units with Covid-19 decline by 50 to 5,902 on Wednesday, health ministry data showed.

The country reported 43,505 fresh cases of the virus, up from 39,113 recorded on Tuesday.

297 further hosiptal deaths from Covid-19, compared to 345 logged yesterday and 421 a week ago.

5.10pm BST

Italy reported 469 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, versus 476 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 16,168 from 13,447.

Reuters reports:

Italy has registered 115,557 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 3.81 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 26,369 on Wednesday, down from 26,952 a day earlier.

There were 216 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 242 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients decreased slightly to 3,490 from a previous 3,526.

Some 334,766 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 304,990, the health ministry said.

People wearing protective face masks walk on the deserted Duomo square, on 15 March, 2021 in Milan, as three-quarters of Italians entered a strict lockdown as the government put in place restrictive measures to fight the rise of Covid-19 infections. Italy’s government announced tough new restrictions for much of the country following a fresh surge in infections of coronavirus that will see schools, restaurants, bars and museums closed.
People wearing protective face masks walk on the deserted Duomo square, on 15 March, 2021 in Milan, as three-quarters of Italians entered a strict lockdown as the government put in place restrictive measures to fight the rise of Covid-19 infections. Italy’s government announced tough new restrictions for much of the country following a fresh surge in infections of coronavirus that will see schools, restaurants, bars and museums closed.
Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

4.57pm BST

Top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci reaffirmed that the Covid-19 shots authorised in the country are safe, after US.regulators paused shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s shot amid reports it can cause blood clotting.

Reuters reports:

U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged Americans to keep their appointments for shots from Moderna Inc as the US government works to boost availability of the other authorized shots to offset the pause on J&J dose shipments.

“We believe that by empowering Americans with data in facts, we will strengthen the public’s trust in government, and increased their confidence in the vaccines,” said White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients at a press briefing on Wednesday.

US federal health agencies on Tuesday recommended pausing use of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine for at least a few days after six women under age 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.

4.39pm BST

Canada’s health ministry said on Wednesday it would not restrict use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at this time after a review showed the benefits outweighed the very rare risk of blood clots.

A separate advisory council had earlier recommended Canada stop offering the vaccine to people under 55, Reuters reports. The panel is now reviewing that advice, the health ministry said in a statement.

Canada on Tuesday said it had recorded its first case of blood clotting with low platelets after someone received the AstraZeneca jab.

Canada has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the US on Tuesday recommended to pause rolling out amid blood clot concerns, but hasn’t yet received any doses.

Health Canada, the federal health ministry, said on Tuesday it was working with the manufacturer, the US Food and Drug Administration and other international regulators.

The country is expecting 10 million doses of the J&J vaccine starting this month, CBC reports.

Dr Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the US Food and Drug Administration, said he believes there is a “similar mechanism” leading to the rare clotting disorders in the case of Johnson & Johnson and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

4.27pm BST

The UK reported 2,491 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, government data showed, up slightly from 2,472 on Tuesday.

The government reported a further 38 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19, meaning there were 234 deaths between 8 and 14 April, an increase of 9.3% compared with the previous seven days, Reuters reports.

A total of 32.37 million people had received a first dose of a vaccine against coronavirus and 8.17 million people had received a second dose.

4.17pm BST

Lithuania will roll out national digital Covid-19 immunity certificates by early May to allow some people to bypass restrictions on certain activities including dining indoors, attending sporting events and holding large parties.

A QR code called Freedom ID will be available to those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus as well as those who have previously contracted the virus and recovered. Those who test negative for the virus also will be eligible.

“This will be an incentive for the decision to get vaccinated”, prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė said.

The code will be issued on request by the country’s digitised health system, and would be eventually integrated with the Covid-19 travel certificate proposed by the European Union.

Lithuania’s government may pay for the antigen tests needed to get a temporary Freedom ID for few days, and will work to increase testing capabilities to cope with the expected demand.

Šimonytė rejected a similar initiative in January, saying then it could encourage people who wanted additional freedoms to get infected on purpose.

4.05pm BST

Brazil’s richest and most populous state, Sao Paulo, has warned its ability to care for seriously ill Covid-19 patients is on the verge of collapse as it runs perilously low on key drugs, according to a letter to the federal government seen by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Sao Paulo state said it expects to run out of crucial intubation drugs, needed to sedate patients, in the next few days, the paper reported on Wednesday.

“The supply situation regarding drugs, mainly neuromuscular blockers and sedatives, is very serious,” Sao Paulo health secretary Jean Gorinchteyn reportedly wrote in the letter. “Collapse is imminent,” he said.

Reuters reports Gorinchteyn confirmed the letter in a news conference on Wednesday, telling reporters: “We need the federal government to help us.”

The situation in Sao Paulo, which has one of Brazil’s most sophisticated public hospital networks, is a dire indication of the strain on Brazil’s healthcare system.

Brazil has for several weeks consistently had among the worst Covid-19 death tolls in the world, accounting for about a quarter of daily deaths attributed to the virus worldwide.

President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his handling of the pandemic, including downplaying the disease’s severity, promoting dubious treatments and repeatedly opposing social distancing measures.

Experts say his handling of the outbreak has encouraged the virus to run rampant, increasing the likelihood of mutations, such as the P1 variant which has raised alarms worldwide.

Brazil’s vaccination rollout also lags those of other large economies.

On Tuesday, the senate formally opened an inquiry into the federal government’s handling of the pandemic.

3.56pm BST

AstraZeneca said it respected the decision of Danish health regulators to stop using the company’s Covid-19 vaccine altogether because of a possible link to cases of a very rare type of blood clot.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by Sundhedsstyrelsen (health agency) in Denmark,” the company said in a statement, adding it was a matter for each country to decide over vaccination programmes based on local conditions.

“We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities in order to provide all available data to inform their decisions,” the group added.

Updated at 4.04pm BST

3.52pm BST

The Swiss government has announced a further easing of its Covid-19 restrictions, allowing restaurants to reopen outdoor terraces from next week and sports events to take place with audiences.

The government said cinemas, theatres and concert venues will also be allowed to readmit guests from 19 April, although visitors will have to wear masks and keep a safe distance apart.

Universities and adult education centres will be allowed to resume in person classes at reduced capacity, it added.

The steps comes despite the government saying the infection situation remained fragile and had actually worsened in recent days.

“Although the situation remains fragile, the risk of further opening is acceptable to the Federal Council,” the government said in a statement.

Switzerland’s easing contrasts with neighbouring Germany, where chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking temporary powers from parliament to enforce coronavirus lockdowns in areas with high infection rates to halt the advance of a third wave.

In Switzerland on Wednesday, the number of cases increased by 2,601. The death toll in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein rose by 14 to 9,844.

Updated at 4.05pm BST

3.50pm BST

Brazil’s P1 coronavirus variant, behind a deadly Covid-19 surge in the country that has raised international alarm, is mutating in ways that could make it better able to evade antibodies, according to scientists studying the virus.

Research conducted by the public health institute Fiocruz into the variants circulating in Brazil found mutations in the spike region of the virus that is used to enter and infect cells, Reuters reports.

Those changes, the scientists said, could make the virus more resistant to vaccines – which target the spike protein – with potentially grave implications for the severity of the outbreak in Latin America’s most populous nation.

“We believe it’s another escape mechanism the virus is creating to evade the response of antibodies,” said Felipe Naveca, one of the authors of the study and part of Fiocruz in the Amazon city of Manaus, where the P1 variant is believed to have originated.

Naveca said the changes appeared to be similar to the mutations seen in the even more aggressive South African variant, against which studies have shown some vaccines have substantially reduced efficacy.

“This is particularly worrying because the virus is continuing to accelerate in its evolution,” he added.

Studies have shown the P1 variant to be as much as 2.5 times more contagious than the original coronavirus and more resistant to antibodies.

Updated at 4.05pm BST

3.47pm BST

France to administer J&J Covid-19 vaccine as planned

France will use Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine as planned despite its suspension in the US, a government spokesman said, adding France had received a first shipment of 200,000 doses.

“The doses, which arrived earlier this week, are being shipped to city general practitioners and to chemists,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters.

France expects to receive 600,000 doses of the J&J vaccine by the end of the month, according to health ministry data.

After what critics depicted as a slow start, authorities are aiming to speed up France’s vaccination drive with the target of 30 million people having received at leat one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by mid-June.

US federal health agencies on Tuesday recommended pausing the use of the J&J shot after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving it. J&J also said it would delay rollout of the vaccine to Europe.

The halt follows restrictions imposed by many European countries on using an alternative vaccine from AstraZeneca, in response to similar reports of rare blood clotting among a very small number of recipients.

Updated at 4.05pm BST

3.22pm BST

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) is in talks with the British Film Institute (BFI) to use the latter’s cinema complex, BFI Southbank, as part of the forthcoming Oscars ceremony, according to a report in Variety.

Citing “multiple sources”, Variety says Ampas is looking to use BFI Southbank, in London’s Waterloo, as one of the international “hubs” for its awards show, which is due to take place on Sunday 25 April in Los Angeles.

Ampas was forced to change tack from its original plans for a “no Zoom” show after complaints that non-US based nominees would not be able to attend due to Covid regulations, and instead decided to set up a series of overseas event locations to allow participation for those unable to travel. France will have a “hub” at a studio in Paris.

If the London event goes ahead, it is likely to take place in the early hours of Monday 26 April, due to the time difference, and controls will be in place to ensure Covid compliance. These will include negative Covid tests, quarantine for non-UK participants, and a restriction on guest numbers.

However, government regulations state that “attendees converging on and congregating in a site for a specific discrete performance or activity” are still banned, so any large scale indoor event may require special permission.

Updated at 4.06pm BST

3.18pm BST

Hungary will allow restaurant terraces to reopen once 3.5 million people are inoculated against Covid-19, a target expected to be hit next Wednesday or Thursday, prime minister Viktor Orbàn said.

Orbàn also said schools can be reopened gradually, meaning kindergartens will reopen from next Monday, while classroom teaching will resume only in the first four grades of primary schools, with other years to go back to school on 10 May.

Updated at 3.35pm BST

3.05pm BST

Sweden pauses planned rollout of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after blood clot reports

Sweden’s Health Agency said on Wednesday it would pause plans to start vaccinations using Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine following reports of rare blood clots similar to those reported for the AstraZeneca shot.

Reuters reports:

The Health Agency said in a statement it would not start the vaccinations and await the findings of a review by the European Medicines Agency.

The vaccine has not yet been used in Sweden.

US federal health agencies have recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine after six recipients developed a rare disorder involving blood clots. Following the news, J&J said it was delaying the roll out of the vaccine to Europe.

2.56pm BST

Europe’s drug regulator said on Wednesday it expects to issue a recommendation on Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine next week and that it continues to believe that the benefits of the shot outweighed the risks of side effects.

The European Medicines Agency said J&J was in contact with national authorities, recommending to store the doses already received until the safety committee issues an expedited recommendation, Reuters reports.

2.47pm BST

There is “nothing to suggest” that the British public “aren’t behaving responsibly” since England’s and Wales’s lockdown was eased this week, according to Downing Street.

PA Media reports:

It comes after a warning from ProfAnthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), that scenes of “crowded spaces” in London could “push infection rates up”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “I think the Prime Minister, as he made clear in his clip [on Tuesday], wants the public – as the vast majority have done throughout – to continue to behave responsibly, follow the guidelines – hands, face, space and, importantly, fresh air as well.

“We’re confident that the public, as they have done throughout, will do that to help continue to drive down infections further.”

Asked if No 10 thought people understood the new rules, the spokesman added: “There is nothing to suggest that the vast majority of the public, as they have done throughout, aren’t behaving responsibly.”

The spokesman said Boris Johnson took the situation “very seriously” in the London boroughs in Lambeth, Wandsworth and Southwark, where surge testing for the South African variant is going on, and recommended for everyone to “take up that invitation” to get tested.

People in London on Monday following the change in lockdown restrictions
People in London on Monday following the change in lockdown restrictions.
Photograph: Robin Pope/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated at 3.39pm BST

2.34pm BST

American Airlines said on Wednesday it expects to fly more than 90% of its domestic seat capacity in the summer of 2021, compared with the same period in 2019, due to a strong rebound in bookings.

The US airline also expects to utilize 80% of its international seat capacity this summer, compared with 2019 levels.

Air travel has been impacted by travel restrictions around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, rising vaccination rates are widely expected to aid bookings later this year.

Passengers board an American Airlines flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport in Arlington, Virginia.
Passengers board an American Airlines flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport in Arlington, Virginia, on Sunday.
Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

American said it plans to operate more than 150 new routes this summer, as people increasingly travel for leisure.

“Today, [customers] are telling us they’re eager to get back to travel,” said Brian Znotins, American’s vice-president of network planning, in a statement.

Shares of American were up 1.5% at .94 in pre-market trading.

Updated at 3.40pm BST

2.26pm BST

Unemployment in Ireland will remain above pre-pandemic levels until at least 2025, reflecting some scarring from the crisis that will see national debt peak among the highest levels in the developed world, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

While Ireland’s economy has kept growing during Covid-19 thanks to its large and relatively pandemic-proof multinational sector, one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes is set to keep average unemployment at 16.3% in 2021, the ministry predicted.

Unemployment is set to fall to an average rate of 8.2% next year as economic activity fully returns to normal and dip to 5.5% by 2025, the furthest year new economic numbers published on Wednesday forecast to.
The average rate in 2019, before the pandemic hit, stood at 5%.

A huge increase in government spending to keep businesses and employees afloat will increase the national debt to 111.8% of modified gross national income (GNI) this year before steadily falling year-on-year to 100.1% by 2025.

Ireland’s debt, which rocketed during a banking and fiscal crash a decade ago, stood at 95.6% of GNI in 2019. Ireland uses a modified measure to strip out some of the ways its large hub of multinational firms can distort gross domestic product (GDP).

The updated forecasts also predict that the state’s finances will remain in deficit to 2025, when the budget deficit will be cut to just 0.2% of GDP from the 5% recorded last year.

2.15pm BST

The German chancellor Angela Merkel faced opposition on Wednesday to her plan to seek new powers to force coronavirus lockdowns on areas with high infection rates, with the imposition of curfews drawing particular fire given the country’s authoritarian past,

Reuters reports:

As infections rise rapidly and hospital beds fill up, Merkel’s government is pushing parliament to change the Infection Protection Act to enable federal authorities to enforce restrictions even if regional leaders resist them.

Reiner Haseloff, premier of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, said it was more important to motivate people to cooperate in order to get infections under control rather than banning them from leaving home at night.

“If no one cooperates anymore, then we have a problem. Then it doesn’t matter how many laws we make,” Haseloff, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told MDR television.

Haseloff’s Saxony-Anhalt region currently has the third highest infection rate in Germany, behind Thuringia and Saxony, all in the former Communist east.

Georg Maier, interior minister in Thuringia, also expressed concern about imposing night-time curfews, saying it would be hard for the police to enforce them in the whole region.

“Especially here in eastern Germany, this is very sensitive,” Maier told the newspapers of the RND network, adding that curfews only work if they are accepted by the population.

Unlike Britain and France, Germany has been reluctant to impose drastic limits on movement in a country fiercely protective of democratic freedoms due to its Nazi and Communist past.

Opponents of the lockdown have held demonstrations across Germany, but particularly in the former east, which is more supportive of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which has criticised restrictions.

Updated at 3.40pm BST

2.04pm BST

The first study to directly compare immune reactions between Pfizer’s and AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines found strong and broadly similar antibody responses in people 80 and over after a first dose of either shot, scientists said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

The UK study also found that a critical component of the immune system known as T cells showed a more enhanced response in those who got the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine than in those who got the Pfizer/BioNTech one.

The scientists behind the study, which analysed blood samples from 165 people in Britain aged between 80 and 99 who had been given a first Covid-19 vaccine dose, said that finding merited further investigation.

While antibodies can block the coronavirus’ ability to enter human cells, T cells can act as broader protection by attacking and killing any cells that have been infected with the virus.

“These vaccines are both equivalent and effective at inducing antibody responses in the great majority of people [in this study], even after one dose,” said Paul Moss, a professor of haematology at Britain’s Birmingham University who co-led the research.

“Both vaccines are good,” he told a briefing on the findings.

The study was published online as a preprint before being peer reviewed. It found that key antibodies were present and at similar levels in 93% of the 76 study participants who got the Pfizer single Covid-19 vaccine dose, and 87% of the 89 participants who got the AstraZeneca shot.

Updated at 2.18pm BST

1.57pm BST

Armenia has reached a deal for 1m doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, Russia’s state-run Tass news agency cited Armenian authorities as saying on Wednesday.

The Armenian health ministry approved the vaccine for domestic use on 1 February, Reuters reports.

Updated at 2.18pm BST

1.52pm BST

A US health advisory panel on Wednesday is set to review six reported cases of rare blood clots in women who received Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine one day after federal regulators paused the use of the shot to assess the issue.

Reuters reports:

The six cases, in women aged between 18 and 48, were reported out of 7.2 million doses of the J&J vaccine administered in the United States, and were a risk US officials and immunology experts said appeared extremely low, given the novel coronavirus’ heavy toll.

J&J’s single-dose shot is less widely used across the country compared to the 185 million doses delivered of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s two-shot vaccines, but has been seen as a critical option to expand protections to harder-to-reach populations.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunisation experts will review the clotting cases and vote on recommendations for future use of the shot. The Food and Drug Administration, which approved the vaccine, will then review the analysis and determine the next steps.

The administration of President Joe Biden said on Tuesday it did not expect the pause in the vaccine’s use to impact its fight against the pandemic, as it has enough doses of the two other vaccines to stay on track.

The FDA said the halt should only last a few days and would also help physicians understand and address any clot risk.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical officer, said on Wednesday the pause would allow regulators to see if there were other possible clot cases.

Asked if thought there could be many more clotting cases, he told CNN: “No, I don’t.” The FDA’s pause “very well may be quite temporary,” he said separately on MSNBC.

Following the CDC review, the FDA could decide to resume use of J&J’s vaccine, allow its use with some changes, or decide against its continued use, he said.

Fauci said it was up to the regulatory agency but that “very likely, they’ll say we looked at it, and now we will go back, maybe make some modifications.”

J&J has said that no clear causal relationship has been established between the clots and its vaccine, but that it was working closely with regulators in the United States and Europe, where it also voluntarily paused its rollout.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to US president Joe Biden, answers questions during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, 13 April 2021.
Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to US president Joe Biden, answers questions during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, 13 April 2021.
Photograph: Leigh Vogel/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

1.44pm BST

Finland is to extend its pause on the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people under 65, the Finnish health institute said on Wednesday.

YLE Radio reported on Monday that the Finnish capital will soon run out of people over 65 to vaccinate with the AstraZeneca jab.

Helsinki received a shipment of 16,000 doses of the vaccine a week ago and expects to take delivery of another 16,000 doses in two to three weeks’ time.

Meanwhile, the number of people 65 and over yet to be vaccinated stands at roughly 26,000, according to Timo Luukkarinen, a medical director at the City of Helsinki.

“We’re indeed dealing with the challenge that we could run out of arms and muscles to inject these into,” he told YLE.

Updated at 1.51pm BST

1.25pm BST

The Danish Health Authority confirmed on Wednesday it would halt entirely the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in its inoculation programme.

“The Danish Health Authority has decided to continue the vaccination against Covid-19 without the vaccine from AstraZeneca,” it said in a statement.

Updated at 1.53pm BST

1.23pm BST

The suspension of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine could delay efforts to vaccinate most people in the EU by over two months to December, scientific information and analytics company Airfinity forecast on Wednesday.

“If the EU can’t use the J&J vaccine indefinitely it could push the timeline for vaccinating 75% of the population back into December,” London-based Airfinity said in a forecast update provided to Reuters.

Without J&J, the EU would reach 75% coverage – viewed as a benchmark for achieving herd immunity – by 8 December, Airfinity projected, representing slippage of more than two months from an earlier expected date of 30 September.

In the US, a lack of J&J would push back reaching the 75% threshold to 17 September from 22 July, it estimated.

Updated at 1.53pm BST

1.17pm BST

Sweden registered 8,879 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, health agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 60 new deaths, taking the total to 13,720. The new deaths have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.

Sweden had reported Europe’s highest number of new coronavirus infections per head over the past week and has more patients in intensive care than at any time since the pandemic’s first wave.

Updated at 1.54pm BST

1.12pm BST

UK regulators examine safety data about vaccines almost on an daily basis, an expert has said.

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said that picking up rare adverse side-effects shows the regulation system is
working “perfectly”, PA Media reports.

He was speaking after the US proposed a “pause” in administering the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted on Tuesday that Johnson & Johnson’s decision to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe would not derail the UK’s programme to offer a jab to all adults by the end of July.

The UK has 30m doses of the product on order, but it has yet to be authorised for use by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Prof Harnden told Good Morning Britain:

It is of concern and we will keep a very close review of the situation.

We will keep a very close eye on this situation – this is a rare and exceptional adverse event, but it’s an important one.

The public can be reassured that our regulator the MHRA, and us on JCVI, look at this data almost on a daily basis and we will make the most appropriate decisions for the public according to the evidence that we see.

Updated at 1.54pm BST

1.00pm BST

Pfizer/BioNTech to fast track additional 50m vaccine doses for EU

EU countries will receive 50 millionm Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech by the end of June, the head of the EU commission said on Wednesday, as deliveries expected at the end of the year will be brought forward.

Reuters reports:

Ursula von der Leyen said the earlier deliveries, which will start this month, will take total supplies to the EU from Pfizer to 250m doses in the second quarter of this year.

She also confirmed the commission was in talks with the two companies for a new contract for 1.8bn doses to be delivered in 2022 and 2023, confirming a Reuters report last week.

The EU has already signed two contracts with Pfizer and BionTech for a total of 600m doses to be delivered this year.

Von der Leyen thanked BioNTech and Pfizer for always having been reliable.

In order to prepare for the future, one must learn lessons from the past, she said, adding that the vaccinations must be adaptable with regard to mutations. Von der Leyen said the mRNA technology was promising and had proven itself.

“We will win the fight against this pandemic,” she said.

200 million vaccine doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab are to be delivered to the bloc in the second half of 2021, she added.

Updated at 1.55pm BST

12.49pm BST

EU countries formally agreed on Wednesday to launch Covid travel passes as a step towards reopening to tourism this summer and will negotiate details with the bloc’s lawmakers in May, two diplomatic sources said.

Reuters reports:

The certificates would allow those vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or with negative test results to travel more easily in the EU, where restrictions on movement have weighed heavily on the travel and tourist industry for over a year.

The 27 EU member states “underlined their commitment to have the framework ready by the summer of 2021,” said a document endorsed by national envoys and seen by Reuters.

The European Parliament, which must also agree to the proposal for it to take effect, is due to agree its own position later this month and final talks between the lawmakers, national envoys and the bloc’s executive are expected to start in May.

EU countries are working in parallel to ensure “that the necessary technological solutions are in place”, the EU27 decision read, so that the new digital or paper certificates can be put to use once approved.

The member states’ agreement includes provisions against discrimination towards those who cannot or do not wish to get vaccinated and allows for a range of tests to prove recovery.

While member states would be obliged to recognise EU-approved vaccines, specific countries could also issue certificates covering jabs Russia’s Sputnik or China’s Sinovac vaccines that are only authorised on their territory.

Other EU countries would decide whether to accept a certificate referring to a vaccine not approved by EU regulators.

12.29pm BST

Greece plans to lift quarantine restrictions on travellers from some countries

Greece plans to lift quarantine restrictions from next week for travellers from the EU and five other countries, including the UK, who have been vaccinated or test negative for Covid-19, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Last month, the country lifted a one-week quarantine rule for Israeli travellers who have been inoculated and test negative.

Greece, which emerged from a decade-long financial crisis before the pandemic last year, has said it will open its tourism sector, a key growth driver for its economy, from the middle of May.

“We will gradually lift the restrictions at the beginning of next week ahead of the opening on May 14,” a senior tourism ministry official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The official said citizens from the European Union, the US, Britain, Serbia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will be allowed to travel to Greece via the airports of Athens, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu, and two border crossings.

Passengers from those countries will not be quarantined, as long as they prove that they have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine or show a negative PCR test carried out 72 hours prior to their arrival, the official said, adding the tourists would be subject to domestic lockdown restrictions.

Under current rules, all foreigners arriving in Greece should test negative and quarantine for seven days. For passengers from Britain and the United Arab Emirates, a second mandatory test is also required upon their arrival.

Greece has fared better than other EU countries in containing the first wave of the pandemic but a resurgence in Covid-19 infections has forced the country to impose lockdown restrictions since November.

Greece has reported a total of 301,103 cases and 9,054 deaths so far.

Colorful greek orthodox chapel by the sea near Chania in Crete, Greece.
Colorful greek orthodox chapel by the sea near Chania in Crete, Greece.
Photograph: Delphotos/Alamy

Updated at 1.56pm BST

12.15pm BST

The Ukrainian capital Kyiv will stay in strict lockdown until 30 April amid rising case numbers and fatalities, despite tight restrictions imposed in March, the mayor said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

“We have no other choice, otherwise the medical system will not cope with such a number of patients, otherwise there will be even more deaths,” mayor Vitali Klitschko told a televised briefing.

Earlier, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Kyiv limited its public transport services, closed schools and kindergartens, theatres and shopping centres, and banned spectators from sporting events. It allowed cafes and restaurants to provide only takeaway food, and recommended that all state employees to work from home.

However, Kyiv continues leading other regions with about 1,500 new coronavirus cases and over 40 coronavirus related deaths registered daily.

“The epidemiological situation is not improving significantly, that is why the city will keep previously introduced restrictions,” said Klitschko.

Ukraine has registered almost 1.9 million infections and 38,225 deaths since the pandemic started last year.

Passengers in face masks practise social distancing on a Kyiv Metro train, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine on 6 April, 2021. Only commuters who have special passes are allowed to use public transport from 5 April till 16 April to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Passengers in face masks practise social distancing on a Kyiv Metro train, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine on 6 April, 2021. Only commuters who have special passes are allowed to use public transport from 5 April till 16 April to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Photograph: Ukrinform/REX/Shutterstock

12.04pm BST

Covid-19 case numbers in Scotland are being underestimated by more than half, according to a leading expert in infectious disease.

Professor Mark Woolhouse said data from SPI-M, a sub group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), shows there is a “persistent problem in Scotland and indeed the whole of the UK with missing Covid-19 cases”, PA reports.

Prof Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said official figures show Scotland had around 2,000 cases per day in late December and early January.

But data from SPI-M and the Office for National Statistics shows the true figure to be 4,000-5,000 daily infections.

He told an online symposium by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh:

What those numbers imply is that we’re consistently underestimating in Scotland the size of our epidemic terms of case numbers by roughly 50 or 60%. That’s quite a large disparity, and it’s a problem.

He said as these infectious people will not be having their contacts traced and may not be self-isolating, it is “handicapping our ability to control the spread of infection”.

By expanding the range of coronavirus symptoms that people should report, “you can pick up perhaps at least half of the missing cases”, he said.

There is a “need for much wider testing, mass testing, basically, in order to find these missing cases”, he added.

11.55am BST

Japan, for the first time in nearly four months, recorded more than 4,000 new cases on Wednesday, while its Osaka Prefecture reported a record 1,130 daily coronavirus cases, as the area struggles with a surge in infections driven by a highly contagious variant of the virus amid concerns that the country has entered a fourth wave of infections.

The Japan Times reports:

Osaka logged 1,099 Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, topping 1,000 for the first time.

Also on Wednesday, the nationwide daily tally of new cases surpassed 4,000 for the first time since late January.

The same day, the head of the government’s coronavirus panel acknowledged that Japan had entered the fourth wave and urged more of a sense of crisis over the situation.

Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who chairs the government’s subcommittee, said in parliament the government should expand areas subject to tougher anti-virus measures due to rising cases “in an extremely swift and nimble manner.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, took a cautious stance as to whether the country has entered the new phase of infections, playing down concerns at an Upper House plenary session.

“I don’t see a big wave (of infections) nationwide,” he said.

Omi’s warning came as the government is considering adding some prefectures to the list of areas requiring the quasi-state of emergency that involves shorter business hours for restaurants and bars, among other anti-virus steps.

The quasi-state of emergency is already in place in six prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka. The capital on Wednesday reported 591 new infections and Hyogo Prefecture, which neighbors Osaka Prefecture, reported a record 507 cases. Okinawa Prefecture, meanwhile, confirmed 137 cases, topping 100 for the second straight day.

The figure in the capital was the highest since the government’s second state of emergency ended on March 21 and more than the last two Wednesdays — 555 on April 7 and 414 on March 31.

People wearing face masks walk near a train station in Osaka, western Japan, Wednesday, 14 April, 2021.
People wearing face masks walk near a train station in Osaka, western Japan, Wednesday, 14 April, 2021.
Photograph: Hiro Komae/AP

11.48am BST

Asked when the British government will announce which countries will be in which categories for foreign travel rules, aviation minister Robert Courts told MPs: “I anticipate that at the early part of May we’ll be able to give more detail.”

He insisted “we are giving as much notice as we can” and acknowledged “there is a logistics issue” in giving customers and business enough time to prepare for the potential resumption of foreign holidays from England on 17 May.

Courts added:

I accept this is a cautious unlocking of international travel. It is meant to be because it’s meant to be robust and it’s meant to be something that is sustainable and that protects public health and ensures that we don’t have to go backwards again.

So it is intended to enable people to travel, but to do so in a way that is safe, secure and not reversible.

11.36am BST

Most popular European holiday destinations such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal should be on the UK government’s “green list” for foreign travel, the boss of budget airline easyJet said on Wednesday.

PA reports:

Chief executive Johan Lundgren said he “would expect almost all major European countries” to be put in the low-risk category when overseas holidays from the UK are allowed to resume.

Under the new traffic light system, people arriving in the UK from a “green” country will not be required to self-isolate, but those entering from an “amber” destination must quarantine for 10 days.

Existing rules for arrivals from “red” locations will continue, including the mandatory stay in a quarantine hotel.

Everyone returning to or visiting the UK will be required to take at least one coronavirus test prior to departure and after they arrive.

The earliest date that foreign holidays could be permitted for people in England under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s road map for easing restrictions is May 17.

Mr Lundgren was asked if he expects destinations such as France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey to be on the “green list”.

He replied: “Yes, by the time we open up for travel on the 17th of May and if the government continues to have the plan in place on the two-test system.

“I wouldn’t see a reason why you wouldn’t have the majority of the countries of Europe in there.”

11.23am BST

Russian president Vladimir Putin has received the second shot of a Russian Covid-19 vaccine, the Interfax news agency cited him as saying on Wednesday.

The Kremlin said last month that Putin had received the first shot without disclosing details or providing photographs, Reuters reports.

It has not said which of Russia’s three vaccines, the most well-known of which is Sputnik V, he has received.

11.17am BST

Denmark to stop use of AstraZeneca vaccine permanently

Denmark will permanently cease to administer AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, broadcaster TV 2 reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

The move will delay Denmark’s vaccination roll-out by a few weeks, TV 2 said.

The Copenhagen Post reports:

Without the J&J and AstraZeneca jabs, experts warn that Denmark’s vaccination program might not be completed before the end of the year.

J&J accounted for 8.2 million of Denmark’s vaccinations. Even better, only one jab is necessary to vaccinate. On its own, it could have covered the whole country … and Latvia. Its withdrawal was unthinkable.

But its departure leaves Denmark with only Pfizer and Moderna in its arsenal.

“We can get to the finish line with Pfizer and Moderna,” Professor Jan Pravsgaard Christensen from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen told DR.

“But then I think we will not be completely vaccinated until the end of 2021.”

I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be taking over for the next few hours. Feel free to get in touch with tips and updates, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can email me.

Updated at 11.20am BST

11.09am BST

Today so far…

  • A major UK study examining whether Covid vaccines can be safely mixed with different types of jabs for the first and second doses is to be expanded. Launched in February to investigate alternating doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, it will now also include the Moderna and Novavax vaccines.
  • The latest figures from the ONS suggest an estimated 54.9% of people in private households in England were likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week to 28 March – largely unchanged on the previous two weeks. The presence of Covid-19 antibodies suggests someone has had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.
  • People aged under 60 who have been given a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Germany will receive a different jab for their second dose, federal and regional health ministers agreed
  • France is suspending all flights to and from Brazil to contain the spread of a highly contagious new Covid-19 variant picked up in the country.
  • Brazil’s senate, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Ireland is considering extending the gap between injections of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to more than four weeks to keep its vaccine programme on track while other vaccines are restricted.
  • Poland will reopen kindergartens and allow open-air sports from 19 April, but other restrictions will be extended by a week.
  • Romania’s prime minister Florin Cîtu has fired health minister Vlad Voiculescu after weeks of mounting tensions over how to handle the pandemic.
  • Denmark will allow people from countries in the European Union and Schengen Area to enter the country from May if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • Rising case numbers in India have not stopped the weeks-long Kumbh Mela religious festival. The inspector general of police at the festival said around 650,000 people had bathed in the Ganges on Wednesday morning. “People are being fined for not following social distancing in non-crowded ghats (bathing areas), but it is very hard to fine people in the main ghats, which are very crowded,” he said.
  • Thailand reported on Wednesday 1,335 new Covid cases, the biggest daily rise since the start of the pandemic and the third record rise this week, as the country struggles with a new wave of infections.
  • Australia’s national cabinet will begin meeting twice a week from Monday, marking a return to a “war footing” in the country’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic amid turmoil in its national vaccination programme. The country has fallen to 100th in the world for the number of Covid-19 vaccinations administered for every hundred residents, and is only 44th in total doses administered.

That is it from me, Martin Belam, in London this morning. I will be back with you tomorrow. Jedidajah Otte is here now to take you through the rest of the day’s global and UK coronavirus news…

11.06am BST

Australia should make Covid vaccine rollout ‘top priority’, Anthony Fauci says

Covid vaccination must be “top priority” and allocated significant resources, the chief medical adviser to the White House, Dr Anthony Fauci, has said when asked what Australia could learn from the US rollout.

So far in the US, more than 35% of the population has received their first dose since the program began in December. In Australia, just 1.3m doses have been administered.

“What president [Joe] Biden did is that he made it the very, very top priority,” Fauci said. “What he’s done, for example, is open up community vaccine centres, get vaccines to the pharmacies, develop mobile units to go out to get the people who are in poorly accessible areas, and got people who would be administering the vaccine out into the field as fast as he could.

“Those are retired physicians, military personnel, nurses, medical students, as many people as you possibly can to get out there and administer it. So it was really making it the highest priority to get vaccine into people’s arms – and it works.”

The US on Monday performed a record 4.6m vaccinations in a single day. As of 12 April, about 57 vaccination doses had been administered for every 100 people in the US population.

“If we keep doing that over the next few months I believe we will finally get the overwhelming majority of the people vaccinated, which I hope will then turn things around and get that level of daily infections down to a manageable level,” Fauci said.

Fauci made the comments during the inaugural David Cooper Lecture for the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW. It was pre-recorded on Tuesday and broadcast on Wednesday night.

Read more of Melissa Davey’s report here: Australia should make Covid vaccine rollout ‘top priority’, Anthony Fauci says

10.45am BST

Eleanor Morgan writes for us this morning on her experience spending four months helping administer the vaccination programme in the UK:

When I saw an advert for people willing to train as vaccinators in early January, I applied at once. The idea of being an active part of a historic vaccination rollout was thrilling. I have clinical experience as an assistant psychologist, can put people at ease and was very ready for a meaningful break from spending 10 hours a day looking at a screen alone in my flat. The training was delivered by a group of witty, absolutely zero-bullshit female clinicians wearing Crocs. The conversation was sharp; I adored them immediately. We covered infection control (including a sobering experiment with UV gel; trust me, you need to clean your thumbs), PPE, life support and, of course, learning to inject. I remember a surreal moment, looking around a room full of lawyers, medical students, psychotherapists, cycling instructors and shop managers in full PPE, all bound by the shared purpose of wanting to do something.

On my first shift, vaccinators were led to the pharmacy where an enormous fridge buzzed away. The only contents were two slim boxes on the middle shelf: the vaccine. It was the centre’s opening day and only a modest number of patients were booked in. The pharmacist joked about the anticlimax of seeing something so inconspicuous, but inwardly, I was squeaking. The pain, isolation, loss, boredom and fear people have experienced during the pandemic is complex and individual, but the hope of freedom sat in those vials, each containing a few crystalline millilitres of scientific brilliance. When I signed out my first vial, I stared at the label and grinned.

My stomach lurched when I welcomed my first patient into my vaccination “pod”. I was supervised by a nurse until she was comfortable with my technique, but the floor was mine. I felt the patient deserved to be greeted with an air of confidence and hoped that my face, flushed and clammy with emotion, didn’t give me away. In a year that has been defined by the lack of touch for so many, the moment my hand felt the warmth of this stranger’s skin felt profound. The first injection went well. So did the next 20. I was sad to leave when my shift ended, but so tired I could have fallen asleep standing up. That tiredness was delicious; the feeling of having made myself useful, after a year of feeling anything but. I kept my purple “vaccinator” lanyard on for my cycle home.

Read more here: Hope, humour and zero-hours contracts: what four months as a vaccinator has taught me

10.37am BST

Ireland is considering extending the gap between injections of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to more than four weeks to keep its vaccine programme on track while other vaccines are restricted, the health minister said on Wednesday.

Conor Humphries for Reuters reports that Stephen Donnelly told journalists: “We are looking for options for how we can keep the pace of the vaccine programme going given the news we’ve had. Certainly extending the interval for Pfizer beyond the four weeks is something that is being looked at,” he said.

10.34am BST

Busaba Sivasomboon reports for Associated Press a little more detail from Thailand, which recorded more than 1,300 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, setting another daily record. The numbers are adding pressure on the government to speed up a nearly nonexistent vaccination drive, and to do more to control a surge that comes amid mass travel as the country celebrates its traditional New Year festival.

The 1,335 new infections brings the number of new cases to nearly 7,000 since 1 April, when a cluster linked to nightclubs and bars in central Bangkok was found. Most of the new cases reported today were yet again in Bangkok, but also seeing hefty increases were the northern province of Chiang Mai and the southern seaside province of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

A health worker checks the temperature of a man falling in line for a Covid-19 swab test in Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand.
A health worker checks the temperature of a man falling in line for a Covid-19 swab test in Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photograph: Somchai Chanjirakitti/AP

Many of the new infections are a more contagious variant of the virus first found in the UK and that coupled with widespread travel for the Songkran festival, or Thai new year, is fuelling the surge, said Dr Opas Karnkavinpong, the director general of the Disease Control Department. The festival officially began Tuesday and lasts for three days, but many people travel for a week.

Large daily increases in new infections had been rare for Thailand, which has weathered the pandemic far better than many nations through measures including strict border controls that have damaged the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

With millions of Thais moving around the country – often from urban areas to rural villages – for Songkran, prime minister Prayauth Chan-ocha and his government have faced questions as to why they didn’t prevent people from traveling as they did last year, when they canceled the festival at a time when the country was reporting far fewer infections.

Opas said that Thailand’s policy of hospitalizing all infected patients whether they have symptoms or not needed to continue as the “main strategy” to control the current surge. “We cannot risk more infections caused by those who break their home quarantine and wander to other places,” he said at a daily press briefing.

People queue to pour water on a Buddhist statue as they celebrate Songkran at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
People queue to pour water on a Buddhist statue as they celebrate Songkran at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photograph: Anusak Laowilas/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

The policy coupled with the pace of new infections has caused shortages of hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in major cities including Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Rewat Wisutwet, the deputy chief of the opposition political party Sereeruamthai and a former Health Ministry official, said increasing the vaccination rate was critical to blunting the spread of the virus.

“Thailand’s rate of vaccination is very low – too low to be effective in prevention. And we might eventually see the country’s healthcare system fail if the number of infections keeps rising quickly,” he told AP by phone. “The government must find the money to spend on vaccines … and do it fast..”

So far, Thailand has been using a relatively small supply of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, until a local plant can start producing and distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine mid-year.

Updated at 10.36am BST

10.22am BST

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd is pointing his Twitter followers to our report from Josh Nicholas this morning on how Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout compares with other countries.

Rudd, who was prime minister from 2007-2010 and again in 2013 said: “100th in the world … Under Morrison’s bungled Covid vaccine rollout, Australia has slipped tragically through the ranks. Sourcing vaccines is Morrison’s responsibility exclusively. Not the states’.”

You can read the report on our datablog here: How Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout really compares with other countries

Updated at 10.28am BST

10.13am BST

Some very strong words from George Monbiot on our opinion pages today –Apparently just by talking about it, I’m super-spreading long Covid:

Rejoice! A mystery has been solved. We now have an explanation for long Covid, a condition afflicting many thousands of people. A super-spreader has been identified. Important as this finding is, I’m reluctant to call for the vector to be eradicated. Why? Because it’s me.

In a presentation to the reinsurance giant Swiss Re, Michael Sharpe, a professor of psychological medicine at the University of Oxford and founder of a long Covid clinic, proposed that one of the causes of the syndrome was “social factors”. The social factor at the top of his list was an article I wrote for the Guardian, describing the suffering of patients with the condition.

I listed the symptoms of long Covid and compared some of them to myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), the debilitating condition that afflicts around a quarter of a million people in the UK. Press coverage like this, Sharpe claimed, as well as the work of support groups and sympathetic doctors, could induce people to believe they had the illness, thereby spreading it. Long Covid, he appeared to suggest, is partly a psychological condition, so “the best treatment is psychologically informed rehabilitation”. This, we can only hope, will cure people of the fearful pox of Guardian journalism.

I was bemused by the fact that none of the references he gave at the end of the presentation supported these claims. So I wrote to Sharpe asking for his sources. He told me the evidence consisted of “patient reports”, and that “we are seeing many improve with reassurance about the absence of damage and with supported rehabilitation”. But assertions like this do not meet the standard of scientific evidence. Unfortunately, he told me, “I am unable to engage in further correspondence”.

A scientific assessment of the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a form of “psychological rehabilitation” that Sharpe has repeatedly championed – suggests that it’s of no use in treating other post-viral syndromes, and is unlikely to “reduce disability or lead to objective improvement in long Covid”.

But what if, despite the lack of evidence, he happens to be right? What if, by discussing the problem, I’ve caused it? As I look back on my work, my heart sinks. I’ve covered many terrible issues, and the more I’ve written about them, the worse they’ve got. I might be responsible for more human suffering than the entire cast of Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Read more here: George Monbiot – Apparently just by talking about it, I’m super-spreading long Covid

9.57am BST

Poland to reopen kindergartens and allow open-air sports from 19 April

Poland will reopen kindergartens and allow open-air sports from 19 April, but other restrictions will be extended by a week, Reuters reports.

Hotels will remain closed until 3 May, health minister Adam Niedzielski also said this morning.

Updated at 10.05am BST

9.55am BST

Iman Amrani writes for us this morning on how as Britain starts to open up, Ramadan begins. For her, it feels like perfect timing:

It might be that we’ve been in lockdown for too long, but on a personal level the timing feels divine. Just as the UK nations are starting to open up, a holy month begins that centres on discipline, restraint, community and charity – a welcome antidote as the floodgates of consumerism reopen.

Religion has become incredibly unfashionable in recent decades. But lockdown has made a lot of us think a little harder about the big questions. What’s it all about and how can we be happier, better people? How do we decide what we value and then live in a way that might protect the things we hold dear?

One thing that has been consistently in my mind this year is the overarching importance of intention. An intention is different to a goal. It is like the energy that guides you in a process: the objective that continues even when the goalposts move, or that can overcome the challenges or obstacles you encounter along the way.

Several times this year I’ve deactivated my Instagram account and come off Twitter because social media feels like the antithesis of intention-setting. You scroll aimlessly and allow whatever you see to affect your mood and energy, often as a result of boredom, or trying to make sense of what is going on. Reading is the obvious answer to this. As you pick up a book, you make an intention – whether it is escapism or knowledge that you are reaching for.

Read more here: Iman Amrani – As Britain starts to open up, Ramadan begins. It feels like perfect timing

9.52am BST

PA Media has the latest figures from the ONS, which suggest an estimated 54.9% of people in private households in England were likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the week to 28 March – largely unchanged on the previous two weeks.

The presence of Covid-19 antibodies suggests someone has had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.

The ONS said antibody positivity has levelled off in England, Wales and Scotland.

In Wales, the latest estimate is 49.1% and for Scotland it is 46.0%. In Northern Ireland, an estimated 54.5% of people were likely to have Covid-19 antibodies in the week to 28 March – up from 50.0% in the previous week.

Updated at 9.54am BST

9.47am BST

France suspending all flights to and from Brazil over Covid variant fear

France is suspending all flights to and from Brazil to contain the spread of a highly contagious new Covid-19 variant picked up in the country.

Prime minister Jean Castex said the so-called Brazilian variant, known as P.1, is extremely virulent and partly to blame for fuelling the third coronavirus wave in France last month.

“We have noted that the situation is becoming worse, which is why we have decided to suspend all flights between Brazil and France until further notice,” Castex told MPs in the Assemblée Nationale.

The P.1 variant was first picked up in travellers from Brazil who were tested when they arrived at a Japanese airport in early January. In Brazil, the official death toll from Covid-19 has risen from 200,000 to more than 35,000 since the start of the year. France reported four cases of P.1 variant in early February.

All travellers embarking in Brazil must already have a negative Covid tests before leaving and upon arrival in France and are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

On Tuesday, health minister Olivier Véran said the Brazilian and South African variants were “less contagious than the English variant”. Véran told MPs more than 80% of new cases in France were what is known in the UK as the “Kent variant”.

The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised for his handling of the Covid crisis in his country that has one of the highest infection rates in the world after the US and India. The Brazilian Senate has opened an inquiry into what has gone wrong in the South American country.

Updated at 9.54am BST

9.44am BST

Here’s more on the latest situation in India from Rafiq Maqbool and Aniruddha Ghosal at the Associated Press. They report that India’s worst-hit and richest state Maharashtra will impose stricter restrictions for 15 days from today in an effort to stem the surge of coronavirus infections that is threatening to overcome hospitals.

Top state officials stressed that the closure of most industries, businesses, public places and limits on the movement of people didn’t constitute a lockdown.

Last year, a sudden, harsh, nationwide lockdown left millions jobless overnight. Stranded in cities with no income or food, thousands of migrant workers walked on highways to get home. Since then, state leaders have repeatedly stressed that another lockdown wasn’t on the cards.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said that most public places, shops and establishments will be shut starting 8pm Wednesday, except for essential services such as grocery shops and banks.

Although the state has announced a relief package of 8m (£527m) that will include assistance for the poor, industry experts say that the new restrictions might prove fatal for businesses that were only just recovering from last year’s economic recession.

“Livelihoods are important, but life is more important,” Thackeray said, echoing a difficult choice faced by other states in India.

The scenes playing out in Maharashtra in the past week mirror those developing in other parts of the country which confirmed a national one-day record of 184,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours today: patients gasping for air turned away from hospitals that are running out of oxygen and weeping families waiting their turn to bid farewell to their loved ones at crematoria.

Updated at 9.48am BST

9.36am BST

Romania’s health minister fired over handling of Covid pandemic

Romania’s prime minister Florin Cîtu said this morning he has fired health minister Vlad Voiculescu after weeks of mounting tensions over how to handle the new coronavirus pandemic.

Reuters report deputy prime minister Dan Barna has been appointed interim health minister, Citu said in a statement.

Updated at 9.55am BST

9.29am BST

Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford and chief investigator on a trial exploring whether different vaccines can be safely mixed for the first and second doses, has told Times Radio this morning his research was planned at the end of 2020.

Asked about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been delayed across Europe following concerns in the US about a small number of blood clots, he said: “We knew that there was a high chance of unpredictable things happening, whether it be a problem with aa manufacturer, or various supply to different countries, or things such as these safety signals.”

He added: “So it kind of emphasises the need for these kinds of studies that look at how do you bring great flexibility and resilience to the immunisation schedule by looking at all possible combinations.”

PA Media reports that he also said that research on animals gives some suggestion that combining doses of different coronavirus vaccines may provide a better immune response. He was asked why it might be the case that mixing vaccines is a good or bad thing.

He responded: “Ultimately, they are all actually generating an immune response against the spike protein and it’s being delivered by different platforms. So we think, actually, it is likely that you will see a good response with these different combinations, but we don’t know until we look at it.

Prof Snape added: “We need the evidence before we can make those decisions to whether or not it’s the right thing to do. There’s some suggestions from animal studies in mice that actually you may get a better immune response if you, for example, combine the AstraZeneca-type vaccines with an RNA-type vaccine, and that actually seems to generate in some aspects a better immune response.

“So it will be interesting to see if we see that in humans also.”

Updated at 9.32am BST

9.17am BST

Germany is gripped by a third wave of the pandemic, which has brought an increased number of infections of the more contagious British variant and left many younger patients sick. “The third wave is clearly upon us,” 42-year-old Thomas Marx, medical director of a hospital in Freising, Bavaria, told AFP.

Of the clinic’s 14 intensive care beds, five are occupied by Covid-19 patients. The patients are also younger now, with most of them “between 40 and 60”, according to Marx. “They often have to be intubated and then face a long fight with the virus,” the doctor sighed, adding that one in four do not survive their battle with Covid-19.

In one bed at the intensive care unit, a man of about 40 looked exhausted as he struggled to breathe through an oxygen tube. “We were ready to intubate him a few days ago, but we managed to avoid it,” said Marx. Nevertheless, his recovery will still take a long time, the doctor explained at the man’s bedside.

Senior doctor Thomas Marx puts on his personel protective gear before he enters the room of a patient infected with Covid-19 in an intensive care unit at the hospital in Freising, southern Germany.
Senior doctor Thomas Marx puts on his personel protective gear before he enters the room of a patient infected with Covid-19 in an intensive care unit at the hospital in Freising, southern Germany.
Photograph: Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images

After coming through the first wave of the pandemic relatively unscathed, Germany has been rocked by a rough third wave. The number of hospitalised patients aged 35 to 49 has “strongly increased” lately, said Lothar Wieler, the head of the RKI infections disease control agency.

Despite repeated warnings from health workers about the urgency of the situation, German authorities remain entangled in a fierce political debate over restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic.

While Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pushing for tougher measures to keep the population home and avoid contagion, some of the country’s powerful regional leaders are refusing to sign up.

Fed up with the dithering states, Merkel’s government agreed a law change which would give Berlin more centralised power to impose tougher measures such as night-time curfews in hard-hit areas.

Senior doctor Thomas Marx (L) talks to a patient infected with the novel coronavirus Covid-19 in an intensive care unit at the hospital in Freising.
Senior doctor Thomas Marx (L) talks to a patient infected with the novel coronavirus Covid-19 in an intensive care unit at the hospital in Freising.
Photograph: Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images

“When I look at the news and I see that the measures are not enough, it’s difficult to take,” admitted Marx.

Marx voiced fears about the days ahead. “It’s not just a question of treating those with Covid-19, it’s also about dealing with all the other patients and making sure we don’t reduce the quality of their care,” he said.

Updated at 9.33am BST

9.05am BST

Denmark will reopen borders to some fully vaccinated people from 1 May

A quick snap from Reuters here that Denmark will allow people from countries in the European Union and Schengen Area to enter the country from May if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, the foreign ministry said in a statement late last night.

Denmark’s government agreed with parliament late on a plan to gradually reopen the Nordic country’s borders, starting on 21 April.

As of 1 May, fully vaccinated people, including tourists, in EU or Schengen countries with low infection rates will be allowed to enter Denmark with no demand that they present a negative Covid-19 test or go into quarantine.

Updated at 9.05am BST

8.57am BST

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford on the outskirts of London, who before Christmas was repeatedly in the media arguing against stricter lockdown measures – he for example described putting London into tier 3 just before Christmas as a “blunt instrument” with “a horrifying amount of collateral damage” – has been on the airwaves this morning crediting January’s lockdown with saving many lives. He said:

In the earliest stages, the lockdown before people were vaccinated in anything like the numbers they have been vaccinated, back in January, of course it was the lockdown that had probably the biggest impact at that particular stage. The reality was at the beginning, maybe, certainly the lockdown had an effect. Professor Spiegelhalter was on, I heard him earlier on today saying that it was in the early stages, definitely the lockdown.

However, his main thrust was that the prime minister was wrong to credit lockdown as the main reason for the drop in cases – it was, he said, vaccines.

Those quotes from Spiegelhalter he referenced were probably these from the Today programme earlier [see 7.40am]:

It is the lockdown that has caused the major drop, of course, because we’ve seen that happen in the huge reduction in the people who haven’t been vaccinated. We’ve estimated that the vaccination programme has maybe saved 10,000 lives – a fantastic success. But that is not what has brought the enormous reduction since earlier in the year – that is lockdown.

Updated at 9.13am BST

8.46am BST

‘Testing is going to be a major barrier to travel this summer’ – UK travel industry spokesperson

There is plenty of lobbying on UK media this morning about the government’s proposed plans for allowing limited foreign travel in the summer. Latest on the airwaves is Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s director of public affairs. Abta is the Travel Association, which was formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents.

He has told Sky News that the travel industry feels “an overriding sense of frustration” with the “lack of detail” in the UK government’s recent report on how international travel could safely return. PA Media reports him saying that the sector needs to know the criteria by which countries are going to be assessed to determine their risk levels.

Petherbridge said: “Testing is going to be a major barrier to travel this summer – we need the government to engage with the industry on how we can bring down the cost of testing.”

Commenting on the recommended approach to potentially low-risk countries, he said: “We cannot understand why countries in the green category should require a PCR test. We believe a double lateral flow test approach would be a more proportionate approach to follow in that category.”

He also highlighted that the recent report “doesn’t say anything about the treatment of vaccinated individuals and whether or not they will be exempted from testing requirements. It doesn’t talk about whether children will require a test or not.”

Brian Strutton, the general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, has chipped in with another comment on Sky News, saying: “I think the government should kick-start the whole of international travel by offering all the tests free to our frontline key workers – they deserve that, they deserve a holiday. It would be a really good way to get this initiative under way.”

Updated at 9.14am BST

8.30am BST

My colleague Sarah Marsh has a fuller report on the UK study into mixing Covid vaccines between jabs being expanded. Particularly worth noting are the words of Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

He has told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that people will eventually “have to” mix Covid-19 jabs.

It’s practically going to have to be that way because, once you’ve completed a course of, say, the Moderna or Pfizer or the AstraZeneca with two doses, in the future it’s going to be quite difficult to guarantee you get the same type of vaccine again.

You can read more here: UK study on mixing Covid vaccines between jabs to be expanded

8.21am BST

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has been out doing the morning media round in the UK. He urged people “not to go wild” after restrictions were eased, warning that it could lead to the variant first identified in South Africa becoming “more prevalent”.

“From a vaccine point of view the South African variant is of concern”, he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“We know from studies that none of the vaccines are as effective against the South African variant – though the vaccines still prevent against severe disease and death even with the South African variant.

“The problem is, they may not protect against infection which allows infection to transmit, and if we allow transmission through the community in large numbers with high infection rates then we could see other variants emerging.”

PA Media reports she added: “We’ve all been desperate for our freedoms – and it has been great this week when we can get out to the pub gardens and enjoy the outside space – but we must not go wild.

“If we start going wild and completely ignore all the basic rules then we will see more transmission and things like the South African variant will become more prevalent.”

Updated at 9.14am BST

8.16am BST

Raimundos Oki in Dili, Timor-Leste, reports for us as part of our Pacific Islands project this morning:

The former prime minister of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmão has been filmed slapping family members of a man who died in the capital, Dili, in what the government said was the country’s second Covid-related death.

Gusmão – the young country’s first president and a national hero – disputes the government’s assertion that Armindo Borges, who died aged 47 on Sunday night, died from Covid-19, with Gusmão claiming he died from a stroke. Borges’s body has been kept in the Covid isolation room at the Vera Cruz health centre.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the health centre on Monday, including Borges’s son. A video shows Gusmão arriving at the centre and repeatedly slapping the son in the face and also repeatedly and angrily slapping a woman, believed to be Borges’s sister. She is weeping as he hits her.

Gusmão said he had hit them because he believed their angry protests outside the hospital were not the way to get the action they wanted. “You guys don’t scream here,” Xanana told local television channel RTTL he explained to Borges’s son. “Please be quiet, don’t make a fuss. You also don’t scream, have to be quiet. Your father is dead, and you must not scream.”

Xanana said he did not accept the government’s explanation that Borges died from Covid. “To convince the public to believe in Covid-19, the government must work well,” he said. “Otherwise the people will say we lied to them …

“I am also following the development of Covid-19 in the world, I know, but the situation that is happening here makes me disbelieve.”

Timor-Leste has recorded two deaths and just shy of 1,100 cases of Covid, according to the World Health Organization, with cases escalating dramatically since the beginning of March.

Read more of Raimundos Oki’s report here: Former president of Timor-Leste slaps mourners and sleeps in street outside hospital in Covid-19 protest

8.06am BST

Whether people in the UK will be able to take summer holidays abroad this year has been a repeated question for government ministers.

Budget airline easyJet has said this morning it is ready to “ramp up” services for the summer holiday season as it prepares to start offering more flights from late May after restrictions ease.

PA Media reports the carrier said it expects to fly up to 20% of 2019 capacity levels between April and June, with most countries planning to resume flying at scale in May. It flew just 14% of its 2019 flight programme between October and the end of March.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: “We welcome the confirmation by the UK government that international travel is on track to reopen as planned in mid-May. EasyJet was founded to make travel accessible for all and so we continue to engage with government to ensure that the cost of the required testing is driven down so that it doesn’t risk turning back the clock and make travel too costly for some.”

Ministers say that from 17 May at the earliest international travel for leisure may be able to resume, and that countries would be placed in a traffic light system, with green, amber and red lists that would set out the rules for things such as testing and quarantining for those returning to England:

Green: passengers will not need to quarantine on return (unless they receive a positive result) but must take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on arrival back in the UK. A handful of countries and territories are on the initial green list including Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Portugal and the Falkland Island.

Amber: travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests (on day two and day eight) with the option of paying for a private Covid-19 test on day five (the test to release scheme) to end self-isolation early.

Red: arrivals will be subject to restrictions currently in place for red list countries, which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as pre-departure testing and and two PCR tests.

Which list a country is put on will depend on a number of factors including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, infection rates and the prevalence of “variants of concern”.

Given travel is a devolved matter, the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide whether to follow suit or adopt a different approach.

Rupert Jones and Aubrey Allegretti

Brian Strutton, the general secretary of pilots’ union Balpa, has been less impressed with the government’s efforts. He told Sky News this morning: “Airlines, aviation and the whole travel sector are on their knees, being crippled by the coronavirus crisis.”

He said passengers had been hoping that the findings from the government’s global travel taskforce would reveal when they could go on holiday abroad this summer. “But the report that came out the other day, the government called it a roadmap, but I’ve never seen a roadmap with all the destinations blanked out,” Strutton added.

“We won’t know until next month which countries the government say are on this so-called green list that it’s OK to travel to, or on a red list or an amber list. People are going to have to take expensive tests.

“People actually want to know when they can go and where they can go, those are the answers we need.”

Updated at 8.17am BST

7.51am BST

The rising case numbers in India have not stopped the weeks-long Kumbh Mela religious festival.

Saurabh Sharma and Sumit Khanna report for Reuters that hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus gathered to bathe in the Ganges river on the festival’s third key day.

Naga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men participate in a procession to take a dip in the Ganges river during Kumbh Mela today.
Naga Sadhus, or Hindu holy men participate in a procession to take a dip in the Ganges river during Kumbh Mela today.
Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Sanjay Gunjyal, the inspector general of police at the festival, said around 650,000 people had bathed on Wednesday morning.

“People are being fined for not following social distancing in non-crowded ghats (bathing areas), but it is very hard to fine people in the main ghats, which are very crowded,” he said.

Hindu devotees take a holy dip in the Ganges river.
Hindu devotees take a holy dip in the River Ganges.
Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

There was little evidence of social distancing or mask-wearing, according to a Reuters witness. More than a thousand cases have been reported in Haridwar district, where the festival is located, in the last two days, according to government data.

You can read more about India’s Covid crisis from my colleague Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi here: ‘A tsunami of cases’: desperation as Covid second wave batters India

Updated at 8.17am BST

7.40am BST

You can imagine that the arguments around lockdown scepticism will rage for years, but this morning on the radio in the UK, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, has expressed no doubts about their effectiveness.

PA Media reports him telling the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that prime minister Boris Johnson has been right to suggest lockdown had played a significant part in reducing coronavirus infection levels.

He said: “It is the lockdown that has caused the major drop, of course, because we’ve seen that happen in the huge reduction in the people who haven’t been vaccinated. We’ve estimated that the vaccination programme has maybe saved 10,000 lives – a fantastic success. But that is not what has brought the enormous reduction since earlier in the year – that is lockdown.

“We only have to look over the Channel to mainland Europe to see this huge surge going throughout the continent – case rates are 10 times as high in Germany, 20 times as high in Sweden, death rates 10 times as high in France and Italy and going up.

“I think there is, quite reasonably, an anxiety about what might happen, but there is definitely a considerable caution at the moment because ministers have said they are not going backwards, and so I think that is dictating the caution of the policy and does seem to have considerable public support.”

Updated at 8.18am BST

7.28am BST

We mentioned earlier an expansion of the trial in the UK to mix vaccines to see if they improve protection against the coronavirus [see 6.26am]. The programme, which was already mixing shots of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs, will be extended to include the Moderna and Novavax vaccines.

It’s not the only trial of its kind in the world – China has already been carrying out a similar effort in Hong Kong, as Grady McGregor noted for Fortune magazine earlier this week:

One mixed trial involving a Chinese vaccine is already underway on Chinese soil in Hong Kong. In March, Hong Kong University’s Department of Medicine announced that it was recruiting participants for a trial that would mix doses of China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine and Germany’s BioNTech vaccine.

The trial, which will involve roughly 150 volunteers over the age of 18, will give participants four different vaccine regimens. One group will get a BioNTech dose followed by the Sinovac dose, while other groups will get full regimens of either BioNTech’s vaccine, Sinovac’s shot, or placebo jabs.

Dr Ivan Hung, a professor at Hong Kong University and adviser to the city’s Covid-19 response, said in late March that the research will be important to determine if mixing the vaccine jabs boosts immunity against Covid-19. But he said that because of a lack of clinical data he does not recommend that Hong Kong mix vaccine doses.

The outcome of the trial may have implications for China. China has secured 100m doses of BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine, but regulators have yet to approve it for distribution within China even though the shot has been approved in Hong Kong and dozens of other countries around the world.

Updated at 7.37am BST

7.17am BST

Brazil senate to push forward with probe of Bolsonaro’s Covid response

Brazil’s senate has launched an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Maria Carolina Marcello reports for Reuters that the congressional investigation, known by its Portuguese acronym as a CPI, can result in a number of actions, including the referral of possible wrongdoing to law enforcement. In practice, the inquiry is more of a political headache for Bolsonaro, who is already facing record disapproval amid Brazil’s worst coronavirus wave.

Overnight, senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco said that a congressional inquiry into the federal response to the pandemic would be combined with an investigation into how federal resources were distributed to states.

President of Brazil’s Senate Rodrigo Pacheco looks on during a session of the Federal Senate in Brasilia, earlier this year.
President of Brazil’s senate Rodrigo Pacheco looks on during a session of the Federal Senate in Brasilia, earlier this year.
Photograph: Adriano Machado/Reuters

That hasn’t pleased everybody. Some Bolsonaro-aligned lawmakers had pushed for an inquiry to investigate how states and municipalities have handled the pandemic, though Pacheco argued such a move could infringe on the jurisdiction of state assemblies.

The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing Brazil’s medical system to the limit in many parts of the country, partly due to the so-called P1 variant, which many medical experts believe is particularly infectious and deadly. The country registered 3,808 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday and 82,186 further coronavirus cases, according to data released by the country’s health ministry.

Updated at 7.26am BST

6.50am BST

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today.

P.S. why not read about donkeys:

Updated at 6.54am BST

6.45am BST

Australia returns to ‘war footing’ amid vaccine challenges

Australia’s national cabinet will begin meeting twice a week from Monday, marking a return to a “war footing” in the country’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic amid turmoil in its national vaccination programme, Reuters reports.

No new cases have been reported on most days this year and officials have swiftly contained small outbreaks, but the country’s vaccination programme has hit major roadblocks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday the return to more frequent meetings of the group of federal and state government leaders was necessary to address “serious challenges” caused by patchy international vaccine supplies and changing medical advice.

6.26am BST

UK expands trial on mixing vaccines

A study looking at whether the Oxford/Astrazeneca and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines can be safely mixed for the first and second doses will be expanded to include two additional jabs, PA reports.

Researchers running the Com-Cov study, launched in February to investigate alternating doses of the first two jabs to be rolled out across the UK, have announced the programme will be extended to include the Moderna and Novavax vaccines.

Led by the University of Oxford, the extra study will seek to recruit adults aged over 50 who have received their first vaccination in the past eight to 12 weeks.

Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford, who is chief investigator on the trial said: “The focus of both this and the original Com-Cov study is to explore whether the multiple Covid-19 vaccines that are available can be used more flexibly, with different vaccines being used for the first and second dose.

“If we can show that these mixed schedules generate an immune response that is as good as the standard schedules, and without a significant increase in the vaccine reactions, this will potentially allow more people to complete their Covid-19 immunisation course more rapidly.

“This would also create resilience within the system in the event of a shortfall in availability of any of the vaccines in use.”

The volunteers, who will have received either the Oxford/AstraZeneca, or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, will be randomly allocated to receive either the same vaccine for their second dose, or a dose of the jabs produced by Moderna or Novavax.

Updated at 6.39am BST

6.20am BST

Thailand posts national record daily case rise

Thailand reported on Wednesday 1,335 new Covid cases, the biggest daily rise since the start of the pandemic and the third record rise this week, as the country struggles with a new wave of infections.

No new deaths were reported. The new cases took the total number of infections to 35,910, with deaths remaining at 97.

6.11am BST

100 days to go until Tokyo Olympics

When Japan won the bid to host the Olympic Games eight years ago, it billed Tokyo as a reliable and secure location, contrasting it with rivals struggling with finances and political instability, Reuters reports.

But 100 days before the start of the Olympics, the organisers face a deluge of challenges and growing uncertainty as the pandemic rages around the world, affecting decisions on everything from athlete safety to spectator numbers to ticket sales.

The biggest headache is the resurgent coronavirus, with countries like India and Brazil battling new variants and a fresh rise in cases. In Japan, vaccinations have been the slowest among developed economies, as Tokyo has lurched in and out of soft lockdowns. Infections are on the rise, and experts worry the city is on the cusp of an “explosive” jump in cases.

As a result, foreign spectators have been barred, parts of the torch relay have been re-routed, and the organisers are yet to decide what to do with the domestic audience. This has caused major challenges for sports venues and travel agencies, already grappling with restrictions to block the virus.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascot Miraitowa and Buddhist monks wearing protective face masks attend a ceremony to unveil a display of Olympic Symbol on Mt. Takao in Hachioji, west of Tokyo, Wednesday, 14 April 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Olympic Games.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games mascot Miraitowa and Buddhist monks wearing protective face masks attend a ceremony to unveil a display of Olympic Symbol on Mt. Takao in Hachioji, west of Tokyo, Wednesday, 14 April 2021, to mark 100 days before the start of the Olympic Games.
Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/AP

“The situation is constantly shifting. Even in the last few months the coronavirus situation has changed massively, and it will continue to do so, and it’s very challenging to continue preparations when we don’t know what the situation will be in the future,” said Hidemasa Nakamura, the top organising committee official overseeing logistical preparations for the Games.

His team has created the first “playbook” with Covid countermeasures, including rules banning visits to shops and restaurants. If visiting athletes break protocol, it could result in their being barred from competing.

But Nakamura pledged to overcome the challenges as “one team” and told Reuters it was “important to show what we have now, receive feedback, and finalise the playbook step by step, not to have these discussions behind closed doors.”

The next update to the rules is expected this month, he said.

Updated at 6.11am BST

6.10am BST

India posts record new cases

India has confirmed a national one-day record of 184,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, according to government ministry figures. The previous record was 168,900 cases in a single day.

The country’s infection total now stands at 13.87 million.

At least 1,027 people died, bringing the total death toll to 172,085.

5.58am BST

Germany to give different second jab to AstraZeneca recipients under 60

People aged under 60 who have been given a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Germany will receive a different jab for their second dose, federal and regional health ministers agreed Tuesday, AFP reports.

Germany announced on March 30 that it would no longer offer the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 60 due to concerns over a possible link to rare cases of blood clots.

DPA news agency said ministers agreed at a meeting that people in the younger age group who received a first AstraZeneca dose before the March 30 announcement will be offered either the BioNTech-Pfizer jab for their second dose, or the Moderna vaccine.

“The solution that has been found will offer a good level of protection,” Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek told DPA.

The new policy is in line with recommendations released last week by Germany’s vaccine commission, which also recommended the second injection be given 12 weeks after the initial AstraZeneca dose.

Germany is among numerous countries that have restricted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to older people after rare blood clots were detected in a small number of younger people who had received the jab.

The European Medicines Agency last week said that unusual blood clots should be listed as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, while stressing that overall benefits in preventing Covid-19 outweighed the risks.

There were 222 cases of these atypical thromboses out of 34 million AstraZeneca injections carried out in the European Economic Area (EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein) and Britain, as of April 4, according to the EMA. And there were 18 deaths, as of March 22.

Most of the cases reported were in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination.

According to Germany’s health ministry some 2.2 million people aged under 60 have received an AstraZeneca dose in recent weeks.

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine has come under similar suspicion for the same issue, with US health authorities recommending Tuesday that it be paused while they investigate six cases of clotting.

The World Health Organization has said it cannot recommend switching vaccine between two doses as a protection against Covid-19, due to insufficient data showing the effects.

5.44am BST

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.

People aged under 60 who have been given a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in Germany will receive a different jab for their second dose, federal and regional health ministers agreed Tuesday.

Germany announced on 30 March that it would no longer offer the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged under 60 due to concerns over a possible link to rare cases of blood clots.

Meanwhile India has again posted a national record number of new coronavirus cases, with 184,00 in a single day, according to the health ministry.

Here are the other key developments from the last few hours:

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was reviewing cases of rare blood clots in women who had taken Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine after US federal health authorities recommended pausing the use of the shot.
  • Johnson & Johnson has made the decision to “proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe”, the company said.
  • Canada said it had recorded its first case of blood clotting with low platelets after someone received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, according to a health ministry statement. The person, who was not identified and who received the inoculation produced at the Serum Institute of India, is at home and recovering.
  • Canada is to reinstate enhanced screening measures for travellers who have been in Brazil in the previous 14 days, Reuters reports.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court justice has ordered health regulator Anvisa to decide within 30 days whether it would approve the emergency import of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine by the government of Maranhao state, Reuters reports.
  • South Africa has temporarily suspended the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, its health minister said on Tuesday, after US federal health agencies recommended pausing its use because of rare cases of blood clots.
  • Turkish president Tayyip Recep Erdogan announced several new restrictions and a “partial closure” for the first two weeks of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to curb a rise in coronavirus infections.

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