This article titled “Covid live: Saudi Arabia reveals Mecca restrictions; Italy reports almost 300 daily deaths” was written by Harry Taylor (now); Yohannes Lowe and Nicola Slawson (earlier), for theguardian.com on Monday 5th April 2021 21.04 UTC
An investigation has been launched in France after a TV exposé revealed “clandestine” luxury dinners in Paris despite the pandemic.
The M6 channel showed the nation’s political elite were brazenly ignoring rules they had set for the public, according to AFP. Its report included hidden camera footage from a restaurant in a high-end part of Paris, where neither the staff nor diners were wearing masks. Government ministers are thought to have attended the restaurant.
“We don’t wear a mask here. Once you pass through the doors, Covid no longer exists. We want people to feel at ease,” a staff member told the undercover team.
All restaurants and cafes have been closed in France for dining in for the last five months. This week the country began a new national lockdown to deal with another surge in Covid infections.
Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened into putting the lives of others at risk.
The investigation would assess “if these evenings were organised in defiance of health rules and to determine who were the possible organisers and participants.”
People aged under-30 in the UK may stop being given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, over concerns about rare blood clots, according to Channel 4 News.
Several countries across Europe have suspended its use in their vaccine programmes over the concerns, and data on Friday showed that seven people had died from blood clots in the UK after getting the jab.
“Two senior sources have told this programme that while the data is still unclear, there are growing arguments to justify offering younger people – below the age of 30 at the very least – a different vaccine,” the broadcaster reported on Monday night.
The UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said no decision had been taken. The body, along with several scientists, said the benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid far outweigh the small risks of blood clots, and continue to encourage people to get their jabs.
Chief executive June Raine said: “Our thorough and detailed review is ongoing into reports of very rare and specific types of blood clots with low platelets following the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca.
“No decision has yet been made on any regulatory action.”
Mexico’s government has reported another 252 more deaths from Covid, and a further 1,247 cases, according to the health ministry on Monday.
It means that 204,399 have now died from the virus, and there have been 2,251,705 infections. The country’s government says that real both figures are likely to be significantly higher, and the death toll itself may be 60% above the confirmed figure, Reuters reports.
Hospitals are coming under mounting pressure in Poland, where daily infections have been above more than 35,000 in each of the last two days.
New restrictions have been ordered to prevent large gatherings over Easter, according to Associated Press.
On Sunday, Covid patients filled all of the beds in the hospital in Bochnia, 40km east of Kraków. One patient Edward Szumanski, 82, said some still refused to see the virus as a threat. About 55,000 people have been killed by the virus in the country.
“The disease is certainly there, and it is very serious. Those who have not been through it, those who do not have it in their family, may be deluding themselves, but the reality is different,” he said.
Authorities in neighbouring Ukraine have also introduced tighter restrictions after a spike in recent cases. Schools have been closed by its government for the next fortnight, and public transport access has been restricted.
The US has now administered 167,187,795 vaccines and distributed a total of 207,891,395 to clinics, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.
The tally includes Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson jabs, according to the agency.
Travel companies in the UK have expressed frustration after Boris Johnson held off from confirming a date for international travel to resume.
All shops in England will be allowed to reopen from next Monday, while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors, in line with the previously announced roadmap for easing restrictions.
However, the travel industry was disappointed with the lack of clarity on whether holidays will be allowed on 17 May, the date by which the government is aiming to restart international travel.
Saudi Arabia reveals Covid restrictions for umrah
Authorities in Saudi Arabia said only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or had the virus, will be able to do the umrah pilgrimage from the start of Ramadan this month.
The hajj and umrah ministry said three categories of people will be considered “immunised,” those who have had two doses of the jab, those who have had a single dose more than two weeks previously or people who have had Covid.
Only people falling into those groups will be able to perform umrah, as well as to attend prayers in the great mosque in Mecca, according to AFP.
The conditions also applies for entry into the prophet’s mosque in Medina. The umrah usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year.
Data from Spain’s health ministry shows that its coronavirus infection rate is accelerating.
Latest figures, according to Reuters, indicate that the infection rate over the last fortnight is 163.4 cases per 100,000 people – up from 151.8 cases.
Health chief Fernando Simon said pressure on the health system was beginning to increase but added it was far milder than in previous waves. Another 10,360 cases were reported on Saturday, and the country’s death toll rose by 85 to 75,783.
“What is clearly decreasing is the number of deaths, which has a lot to do with the immunisation of the elderly and the most vulnerable,” he told a news conference.
UK firms will need help with the “ethical, legal and practical” challenges of Covid passports, according to the Confederation of British Industry.
John Foster, the body’s director of policy, said the government’s confirmation that retail and outdoor hospitality could reopen on 12 April meant the sector could “gear up with certainty and confidence”, according to PA Media.
He added: “The government has listened to industry concerns and is seeking to deploy them in a targeted way. These first trials will be watched with great interest.
“Any introduction ought to come with rigorous guidance and enforcement to help firms navigate ethical, legal and practical implementation challenges.”
Goldman Sachs is preparing for hundreds of staff to go back to its London office this week in the latest sign of companies eyeing a return to more normal working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bankers were classed as key workers if their jobs support the functioning of the economy and financial stability, meaning some have been allowed to go to the office throughout the pandemic.
Turkey nearly saw another all-time high level of Covid-cases, as 42,551 tested positive in the last 24 hours.
The country broke its record over the Easter weekend, and ranks fifth globally for the most daily cases based on a seven-day average, according to Reuters.
Cases have risen sharply since the government eased measures to curb the pandemic in early March. Saturday saw a record high of 44,756.
Last week president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reintroduced a tightening of measures, including full-national weekend lockdowns during Ramadan, which starts on 13 April. 32,456 have died of the virus in the country.
Another 296 deaths in Italy
Nearly 300 more people died from Covid in Italy on Monday, according to its health ministry, as the number of new infections also saw a fall compared to Sunday.
Its government said 296 people had died, bringing the total to 111,326 since the start of the pandemic in February 2020 – the second highest in Europe. 326 were reported as dying on Sunday.
As new infections fell in the same time period from 18,025 to 10,680, patients in intensive care rose slightly from 28,432 to 28,785.
Earlier the country shortened quarantine requirements for visitors from 30 countries, including the UK, under regulations taking effect from Tuesday.
Away from the UK, in France the number of people in intensive care units with Covid rose by 92 to 5,433 on Monday – higher than the peak of the second wave.
The country, where a third national lockdown was imposed on Saturday, reported 197 more Covid-19 deaths in hospitals over the last 24 hours according to Reuters. A total of 70,771 have now died from the virus in French hospitals.
Some reaction is starting to filter through, the CEO of London’s Heathrow airport said it was disappointing Johnson didn’t say when international holidays would start again.
The government said it was too soon to confirm whether holidays could happen this summer, suggesting it could be pushed back beyond 17 May.
“Now that a safe, scientifically-backed process has been agreed upon, a clearer timeline for the return to international travel is needed,” its CEO John Holland-Kaye said.
“The roadmap continues to be one we are sticking to like glue,” Johnson says, rounding off the briefing. “All the data suggests that we have no reason to deviate from it, we are going to get to step two on 12 April and at the moment things seem set for 17 May but we will keep things constantly under review.”
And that’s the end of it.
Final question from CityAM, who asks whether there be clarity and certainty for the aviation industry ahead of further unlocking, and says whether there will be more support for London – including a long term financial settlement for Transport for London (TfL)
Johnson says he will give as much notice as possible to the aviation industry, and adds that the London economy is capable of “bouncing back”, and that he wants to get people moving again and back into central London.
“That requires people to be safe, that requires people to be confident and requires the vaccine rollout to continue to be successful until we get to steps three and four, then you will see a big change in the way we live our lives,” he said.
The prime minister also says he believes there’s a paradox in that the more people work remotely, the more they will want to work together in person. He ends by saying he left TfL’s finances in “robust order” and blames London mayor Sadiq Khan for its financial problems.
A question for the scientists from the Daily Express’ Macer Hall, who asks for an update on an end to social distancing measures, on when they can hug friends and family.
On Covid certificates, he raises the idea that Covid certificates are “un-British,” asking the PM if this is the case.
Vallance says it will be hard to assess the impact of the changes in the roadmap until later, and that scientists still don’t know the impact of the relaxation on 29 March. Social distancing measures like hand hygiene and people staying at home if they are ill, are likely to be important measures.
On vaccine passports, Johnson says some medical professionals already have to show they have had jabs for work, but full plans are still a way off – and encourages people to get their jabs.
Jane Merrick from the i, asks about children and vaccination passports – and asks whether Johnson, a year since he was admitted to hospital, expected to be in this position now.
Johnson repeats his line about people taking their fences too early, including on the idea children will have to produce them. He says that a year on he is filled with “amazement” that science has produced so many vaccines. “I was a great believer in testing being the way through, I could see this going for a long time, but I would never thought we’ve have had so many workable vaccines.”
Whitty said it’s no surprise the virus is still in the population and it isn’t going to disappear. He said his surprise is the speed with which the vaccines have been produced. Vallance agrees, adding that the second and third waves he feared have been borne out.
Beth Rigby from Sky asks whether twice-weekly testing and Covid certification is Johnson’s “vision for freedom”.
She asks Whitty on whether the UK can learn anything from Chile, who has one of the world’s fastest vaccination rates but has recently closed its borders to stop new variants entering.
Johnson said: “On the vision for the future of Britain after 21 June, many things will depend on the vaccine roll out and us satisfying the four tests, and if things continue to go well, for many people life will begin to get back to at least some semblance of normality.
“A world in which we continue to have testing is not gong to be too onerous, but you’re slightly putting the cart before the horse, we need to make sure we get through stage two right and get through 12 April openings, 17 May openings and then 21 June 21, we finally open up a lot of things we couldn’t open up last year. Things will feel very different for the first time in a long time.”
On Chile, Whitty says both Chile and Israel provide two differing examples, and the UK needs to learn from countries ahead of it, but there are others. “Information from other countries and ourselves will show how much we need to lower our guard.”
Question on support for business from Shehab Khan, from ITV, on vaccine passports and whether there will be any support for businesses and low compliance levels with test, trace and isolating.
Johnson says there will be more information to come on when vaccine passports might be used. He adds that testing has been a great success, in helping identify variants.
First question from the media is from the BBC on whether there will be a vote on vaccine passports in parliament, and saying that 40 Conservative party MPs have already said they will opposite them.
Johnson starts by saying the vaccine passports would not be used for the opening up of the country in step two being confirmed today, but envisages it being used for international travel and “mass events”.
He adds: “There are complicated ethical and practical issues raised by the idea of vaccination status certification. Using vaccination alone, many people for one reason for another may be unable to get the vaccination for medical reasons, perhaps because they’re pregnant, so you’ve got to be very careful in how you handle this.”
On a vote, he says: “We are taking too many fences at once, we need to work out exactly what the proposal might be, but certainly if there is something to put to parliament, I have no doubt we will do that.”
The next is from Matthew in Norwich, who asks whether Covid-19 mutations could end up affecting children more.
Vallance says that there are few signs that the virus affects children but that trials have begun to see how safe it would be for children to have the vaccine.
First question from the public, Catherine from Basingstoke, who asks when care home residents can leave for a walk, or a visit to a cafe, saying she’s asking on the behalf of her 94-year-old grandmother.
Johnson replies that more people are able to visit elderly relatives in care homes now, and that a review is taking place on her request, to get it going in a “reasonable and safe way”.
Data shows 37m vaccines have been given in UK
Prof Whitty has moved on to the slides, which show that hospitalisations from Covid are continuing to fall from the peak in January. “Alongside this, the number of people who are dying is decreasing,” he adds, attributing it to both the vaccination programme and restrictions.
Government data up to 4 April shows that of the 37,013,749 jabs given in the UK so far, 31,581,623 were first doses – a rise of 48,055 on the previous day. Some 5,432,126 were second doses, an increase of 47,708.
He turns to variants, detailing four; Kent, South Africa, Japan/Brazil and Bristol. The Kent variant is dominant in the UK, with 173,043 confirmed cases. The South Africa variant rates are stable, Whitty says. “Variants will remain an issue, but there’s no reason to believe this changes our position. We always believed it would be a risk.”
“We are setting out our roadmap to freedom and we are sticking to it,” Johnson continues. “We see no sign in our present data to think that we will have to deviate from the programme.
“But it is by being cautious and monitoring the data at every stage and by following the rules, remembering hands, face, space and fresh air, that we hope, together to make this roadmap to freedom irreversible.”
Shops and pubs to reopen in England from 12 April
After praising people’s efforts in following Covid-19 guidelines, Johnson confirms that England will move to the second part of the roadmap to relax restrictions, and that shops, pubs with outdoor space, hairdressers, gyms and other services will reopen on 12 April.
“This is paying off, your collective efforts and our collective efforts to give the time and space to vaccinate 31 million people,” he says.
Boris Johnson, flanked by the government’s chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance and its chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty, has just taken up position at Downing Street’s press briefing room.
That is me done for the day. But my colleague Harry Taylor is taking over the blog for the rest of the evening, so feel free to send any story tips to him.
Here is a quick re-cap of the main Covid related events from around the world:
- Italy has shortened quarantine requirements for visitors from 30 countries, including the UK, under regulations taking effect from Tuesday.
- Greece has allowed shops to reopen under controlled conditions, despite intense strain on its health services.
- In the UK, the shadow health secretary said he worried that introducing vaccine passports would make people feel they were being forced into having a jab.
- Japanese health authorities are concerned that Covid variants are driving a nascent fourth wave, with just 109 days remaining until the Tokyo Olympics.
- All people in England will be offered two Covid tests a week from Friday.
- India recorded 103,558 new Covid cases on Monday, its biggest one-day figure, data from the health ministry showed.
Thailand’s capital Bangkok will close 196 entertainment venues for two weeks, the city’s governor has said, following a new surge in Covid cases, Reuters reports.
The venues will be closed from Tuesday until 19 April as they are located in three districts where some venues are linked to a new cluster of more than 100 people who tested positive for coronavirus in recent days, said Asawin Kwanmuang, governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
Haiti does not have a single vaccine to offer its more than 11 million people over a year after the pandemic began, raising concerns among health experts that the wellbeing of Haitians is being pushed aside as violence and political instability across the country deepen.
Read the full story here:
In the UK, 26 more people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, and there has been 2,762 new cases, according to government data.
Both marked a rise from the figures released on Sunday, although the data was distorted over the long Easter weekend.
You can read the official release here.
A total of 31,090,290 Covid vaccinations took place in England between 8 December and 4 April, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 66,108 on the previous day.
NHS England said 26,746,039 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 26,617 on the previous day, while 4,344,251 were a second dose, an increase of 39,491, PA Media reports.
Pfizer has withheld a delivery of 700,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to Israel after the country failed to pay for a previous shipment, the Jerusalem Post reports.
According to the paper, the company halted the delivery, which was expected to arrive on Sunday, after Israeli officials failed to approve transfer of payment for the last 2.5 million doses supplied to the country.
According to the Jerusalem Post:
Senior officials at Pfizer have said they are concerned that the government-in-transition will not pay up and the company does not want to be taken advantage of. They said that they do not understand how such a situation can occur in an organised country.
Israel has been hailed for conducting one of the world’s fastest coronavirus mass vaccination campaigns.
Italy shortens quarantine to five days for visitors from 30 countries
Italy has shortened quarantine requirements for visitors from 30 countries, including the UK, under regulations taking effect from Tuesday.
Instead of the two-week quarantine previously in force, travellers from the countries on the list, most of which are in the European Union, need only spend five days in isolation, according to the AFP news agency.
People from countries on the list with fewer restrictions still have to submit a negative test taken within 48 hours of arrival in Italy, and take a second test following their five-day quarantine.
In January, Italy banned travellers who had stayed in, or passed through the UK as a new, more infectious coronavirus strain first detected in Kent spread.
Italians spent Easter under lockdown after the whole country was made a restricted “red” zone. From Tuesday, some regions will return to “orange”, with slightly loosened restrictions on movement, but bars and restaurants remain shut, with only takeaway service allowed.
Healthcare authorities in Rwanda have issued an important corrective to a businesswoman who claimed on Twitter that she would no longer need to be tested for coronavirus after receiving her vaccine.
After receiving her second dose of vaccine yesterday, Lina Higiro, the chief executive of NCBA Bank Rwanda, had tweeted: “Got my Covid certificate! No more tests … Gift of a lifetime.”
In response, the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Rwanda’s integrated healthcare agency, told her:
So there you go.
Greece allows some shops to reopen
Greece allowed shops to reopen under controlled conditions on Monday, despite heavy pressure on its health services, Reuters reports.
Last week, the government announced the easing of some restrictions, allowing small retail shops selling non-essential goods to reopen.
Under the rules, consumers must make appointments and comply with a three-hour limit for shopping, and retailers cannot allow in more than one customer per 25 sq metre.
The measure excludes shopping malls and department stores in the Athens area, which will remain closed. Shops will also remain closed in three regions with severe infection levels, including the major northern city of Thessaloniki.
Oman will only allow citizens and residents to enter the Gulf Arab state from 8 April following an increase in Covid-19 cases that is pressuring the health care system, the country’s coronavirus committee said on Monday.
The committee also extended an evening ban on all commercial activities until the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is due to start in mid-April this year, according to a statement on state media.
A curfew imposed on 28 March on movement of vehicles and people outdoors between 8 pm and 5 am would be lifted, as scheduled, on 8 April but would be reinstated during the month of Ramadan from 9 pm to 4 am, the statement added.
Calls are growing in Germany for the introduction of nationwide coronavirus restrictions amid confusion and frustration over patchwork arrangements across the country as the infection rate continues to rise, my colleague Kate Connelly writes.
The majority of Germans are in favour of a more unified approach to tackling the virus, now in its third wave, according to a poll, ahead of an expected tightening of rules after the holiday weekend.
Fifty-three per cent of Germans have said they would like to see the government setting the rules without the support of the 16 states, according to a poll by YouGov, in order to introduce more clarity.
The chancellor, Angela Merkel, has persistently called for tighter, more unified rules across the country, but has frequently been overruled by the leaders of the states, leading to a weakening of her standing.
Here is the full story:
Patients were aged between 51 and 90 and all had known underlying health conditions.
The deaths occurred between 21 March and 4 April, with the majority being on or after 1 April, PA Media reports.
Scotland recorded 248 new Covid cases and no deaths of coronavirus patients in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data.
UK opposition fear vaccine passport could force people into having jab
The senior Labour MP told BBC Radio 4’s World at One:
My concern is that if you want to drive up vaccination rates further – and to be fair, vaccine hesitancy has fallen in this country and we are doing very well. But all the evidence has always suggested that if you want to maintain confidence in vaccination, that you don’t make it compulsory, don’t force people to be vaccinated – you encourage people, you persuade people. And my worry with what the government are suggesting is they are effectively trying to force people into taking a vaccine and I think in the end that will be counterproductive.
Cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd has said it would require mandatory vaccinations for guests and crew when it restarts trips from US ports from July, Reuters reports.
The company’s announcement follows the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance last week to the cruise ship industry, including the need for Covid vaccinations.
This is from Susan Michie, who is on the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science:
Indian biotech firm Panacea Biotec Ltd has agreed to produce 100m doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine annually, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets the shot internationally, said on Monday.
RDIF did not say when production would begin, according to Reuters.
The news comes after Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, discussed the Russian vaccine and its use in Europe with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron last week.
My colleague Jon Henley reported on the talks:
A further eight people have died with Covid-19 in Wales since Saturday, health officials have reported.
It means the total number of deaths reported to Public Health Wales since the pandemic began stands at 5,519.
Labour has said it is “completely outrageous” that up to 8,000 tourists may be arriving in Britain every day and demanded the government tighten up its hotel quarantine system to avoid new coronavirus variants being brought into the country.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said ministers were not doing enough to secure the borders after the Times reported the statistic, as well as other figures including that as many as 90% of arrivals at Gatwick airport are tourists.
Aubrey Allegretti, one of the Guardian’s political correspondents, has the latest:
French authorities are investigating accusations that government ministers and others dined in secret restaurants in violation of pandemic restrictions, AP reports.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said an investigation was opened Sunday into possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labour, and to identify the organisers and participants of the alleged gatherings.
A documentary that aired on French network M6 over the weekend included an unidentified man saying that he had eaten in two or three clandestine restaurants “with a certain number of ministers”.
Government members quickly denied knowledge of such wrongdoing. Interior minister Gérald Darmanin asked police to look into the claims.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on LCI television on Sunday night that authorities have been investigating reports of clandestine parties and restaurants for months, and 200 suspects have been identified and face “heavy punishment”.
Japan fears Covid variants are behind possible fourth wave
Japanese health authorities are concerned that variants of the coronavirus are driving a nascent fourth wave in the pandemic with just 109 days remaining until the Tokyo Olympics.
The variants appear to be more infectious and may be resistant to vaccines, which are still not widely available in Japan. The situation is worst in Osaka, where infections hit fresh records last week, prompting the regional government to start targeted lockdown measures for one month from Monday.
A mutant Covid-19 variant first discovered in Britain has taken hold in the Osaka region, spreading faster and filling up hospital beds with more serious cases than the original virus, according to Koji Wada, a government adviser on the pandemic.
“The fourth wave is going to be larger,” said Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare. “We need to start to discuss how we could utilize these targeted measures for the Tokyo area.”
Germany will have immunised 20% of its population against Covid-19 by the beginning of May, its health minister Jens Spahn has said.
Spahn, speaking at a vaccination centre in Berlin, said Germany had taken three months to get shots to the first 10% of its people who have been vaccinated, Reuters reports.
We will manage the next 10% in a month in light of the expected deliveries (of vaccinations).
Hello everyone, this is Yohannes Lowe. I’ll be running the blog until the early evening (UK time). Please feel free to drop me a message on Twitter if you have any coverage suggestions.
The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has tweeted that everyone will be able to take a free rapid coronavirus test twice a week from 9 April.
In the statement, which he linked to in the tweet, Hancock said:
Around 1 in 3 people who have Covid-19 show no symptoms, and as we reopen society and resume parts of life we have all dearly missed, regular rapid testing is going to be fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks.
The vaccine programme has been a shot in the arm for the whole country, but reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.
The British public have shown over the last year that they quickly adapt and always do what it is right in the interest of public health, and I know they will do their bit by getting tested regularly in the months ahead.
Britons hoping to travel abroad when lockdown restrictions are eased will likely have to bear the cost of Covid-19 tests themselves, the health minister has said.
Speaking ahead of a Downing Street press conference led by the prime minister this evening, which will set out further detail on testing and and the possibility of international travel this year, Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment, testing for essential travel is paid for by the traveller, that model is likely to continue.”
Argar said the government would be focused on the use of PCR tests in the context of travel and that the testing regime would be key for the travel industry and travellers.
Non-essential overseas travel is currently illegal under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, with departures not expected to be allowed until 17 May at the earliest. Many countries have already set out that they will require a negative PCR test result (or proof of Covid antibodies or vaccination) for entry.
UK travellers are not permitted to use NHS tests for travel, except for freight drivers in limited circumstances. With private PCR tests costing as much as £120 on the high street, travel industry figures have previously said the cost of these tests will make international travel unviable for some, particularly families seeking to go on holiday.
Argar was keen to stress that at the moment, due to the ongoing risk of importing new variants from abroad, people should not be travelling purely for tourism and should only do so for essential reasons. He also did not recognise a figure put to him that 40% of travellers currently arriving in the UK are tourists.
The minister also said he would likely be staying in the UK this summer. He told Sky News that he understood people’s “desire to get away on holiday” after the events of the past year but said he expected he would spend his own break “at home in sunny Leicestershire”.
Boris Johnson will lead a Downing Street press conference at 5pm this afternoon.
The British prime minister will be joined by England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Everyone in England to be offered twice-weekly Covid tests, PM to say
Boris Johnson is to unveil a plan for routine, universal Covid-19 tests as a means to ease England out of lockdown, as the government faced a renewed backlash over the idea of app-based “passports” to permit people entry into crowded places and events.
Six months after Johnson unveiled plans for “Operation Moonshot”, a £100bn mass testing scheme that never delivered on its stated aim of preventing another lockdown, all people in England will be offered two Covid tests a week from Friday.
The prime minister is to announce the rollout of the lateral flow tests at a press conference on Monday afternoon, at which he will also outline a programme of trial events for mass gatherings, as well as proposals for potentially restarting foreign travel.
The testing scheme, involving kits for use at home or at test centres, workplaces and schools, is billed as a means to limit any continued community transmission of the virus, in parallel with the vaccination programme, and as a way to track outbreaks of potentially vaccine-resistant Covid variants.
In Thailand, it’s the all-important tourism sector that has jumped to the head of the Covid-19 vaccination line, with the country’s most popular resort island embarking on a mass inoculation programme two months ahead of the rest of Thailand.
The island of Phuket aims to deliver shots to at least 460,000 people – the majority of its population – as it gears up for 1 July, when vaccinated overseas visitors will no longer be required to quarantine.
Phuket also has its own international airport, which means tourists should be able to visit the island without posing any coronavirus risk to the rest of Thailand’s population.
“If we can build immunity for 70-80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong told Reuters.
Read the full story here:
A barber reopened at 6am on Monday to welcome back customers as further coronavirus restrictions were lifted in Scotland.
Hairdressers and barbers can reopen from Monday along with some non-essential shops, including garden centres and homeware stores, as lockdown measures are eased, PA Media reports.
Tony Mann opened his barber shop in Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, at 6am to enable people to get their hair cut for the first time in months.
It will be a busy day for the four barbers working, with 96 customers booked in on 5 April when the shop is open until 8pm.
Mann said: “It’s been four months since the last day we cut hair so the feeling today is slight anxiety and slight worry, like ‘is everything going to go to plan?’, but I’m also feeling really excited and happy because my shop is open again.”
The barber said customers have been delighted to be able to book haircuts again.
Mann said: “It’s mental health. Metting a haircut and making yourself feel good is a big part of life, and if you can’t make yourself feel good and you only get it from a small variety of places then you’re not going to be in a particularly good place.”
His brother Maxx Mann was one of the first people in Scotland to get a haircut on Monday and was delighted with the result.
He said: “It’s a good feeling … I usually get my hair cut once every week or once every 10 days so to go months and months without isn’t ideal. I’m sure the general public probably feel the same.”
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said Labour had “many reservations” about the use of vaccine passports in the UK.
The senior opposition MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today:
We have an amazing take-up of the vaccine, it is being rolled out incredibly successfully by the NHS – it is not totally clear to me that we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here.
The big priority has got to be ensuring that everybody is vaccinated so we can get back as quickly as possible to the things we love doing, whether that is going to the pub, the restaurant, the football match or the concert.
The priority should be ensuring that the vaccine is rolled out, that we have a Test and Trace (system) that works properly but the government does not have a great track record in introducing new IT systems and what we don’t want to see is more taxpayers’ money wasted, more bureaucracy and red tape for businesses who have already gone through an incredibly tough year.
So we will see what the government bring forward and their rationale for it – we’ll keep an open mind but at the moment we have many reservations around what the Government looks like it might be suggesting.
Russia reported 8,646 new Covid-19 cases, including 1,876 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 4,589,540.
The government coronavirus taskforce said 343 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its death toll to 100,717, Reuters reports.
The statistics agency has kept a separate count and reported a much higher toll of 225,000 from April 2020 to February 2021.
Leading UK scientific adviser Prof Neil Ferguson said testing everyone coming from continental Europe could be required to keep coronavirus variants of concern under control.
Asked about the risks with opening up to international travel, the Imperial College London academic told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
I think the key thing is the risk of importing variants which might undermine our vaccination programme and the one we’re particularly concerned about at the moment is the South African variant called B.1.351.
The concern here … is the proportion of cases reported in a number of European countries which are this variant is now up to anywhere from 4-5% in France and up to 17%, nearly 20% up in Luxembourg.
So rather than some of the ‘red list’ countries which are far away, I think where the real policy challenge lies in terms of mitigating risk is around what to do around travel to Europe and back.
I think that (testing everyone from European countries) would be sensible and reconsidering the exemptions in place at the moment.
At the moment, there is a very long list of exemptions for jobs and professions – if you’re a truck driver or travelling on government business, then you don’t have to quarantine and you don’t have to even test.
I think it would be sensible for at least everyone to be tested when they are coming in.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Flintham, managing director for Tui UK and Ireland, said there was still time before the summer season for European countries to get coronavirus cases under control again.
Asked on BBC Breakfast on Monday what the most likely destinations will be when foreign travel resumes, he said:
Cyprus have come out and been very positive, Greece and Turkey have come out and been very positive, and Spain again.
So I think all these European countries, whilst to a degree they are struggling with their rates at the moment, we are still a significant period away from the summer season properly opening up, we are probably 11 weeks away.
The world has been changing on a weekly basis, never mind an 11-weekly basis. So we are still positive about those destinations. We are also positive that the Caribbean and some of those destinations will open up.
India’s daily virus cases breach 100,000 in 24 hours
India recorded 103,558 new Covid cases on Monday, its biggest one-day figure, data from the health ministry showed – taking the national total to 12.59 million cases.
The country added 478 new deaths, raising the toll to 165,101. India has the world’s third-highest number of cases after the US, with 30 million, and Brazil, with just under 13 million.
Single-day infections have been rising since early February when they fell to below 9,000 after peaking at almost 100,000 in September.
India’s wealthiest state, Maharashtra, home to the financial capital, Mumbai, will impose a weekend lockdown and night curfew on its 110 million people in response to the rise in cases, authorities announced on Sunday.
From Monday night until the end of April a night curfew will be imposed, gatherings of more than four people banned, and private offices, restaurants, cinemas, swimming pools, bars, places of worship and public places such as beaches shut.
On weekends only essential services will be allowed to operate.
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UK health minister denies government U-turn on vaccine passports
In the UK, the health minister has denied that the government has changed its mind on the use of so-called vaccine passports.
Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi had previously called them discriminatory but the concept is set to be tested during upcoming pilot events.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the government had changed its mind, Edward Argar said:
I don’t think it is that at all. What we are seeing here is that there are a number of things we’ve had to do as a country and individuals over the past year that I don’t think any of us would choose to do or want to do but the nature of this disease has meant we’ve had to do some fairly unpalatable things that we would not have chosen to do.
And in this context, and I don’t want to pre-empt the review that (Cabinet Office minister) Michael Gove is undertaking, but he has been clear that if you look at for example other countries like Israel, which have had a high level of vaccination and are beginning to see how they can open up their economy and country faster – I think they have something called ‘green passes’ – I think it is right that we look at this and see if there is a way that, while balancing all of those practical, ethical and fairness considerations, is there a way this could, in the short-term, speed-up our reopening of the country and getting back to doing the things we love?
I don’t think anyone would wish to do it but I think it is right that it is looked at as: ‘Can this help us go a little bit faster and get our country back to normal?”
Argar also said that he expected those returning to work in the coming weeks to be among the first to use the lateral flow tests on offer.
He said: “I suspect in the first instance, a lot of them will be used by people who are starting to go back into their workplace again, as the economy starts opening up again, as pubs start opening for outside drinks and shops start opening again and as people start going back to their offices and businesses.
The Conservative MP said the cost of supplying the quick-fire result tests to everyone in England would be met by the two-year £37bn NHS test and trace budget.
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