Corona Virus, Health, India, World

Coronavirus live news: WHO warns of risk of second wave in Africa; India cases rise by world record 414,188

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: WHO warns of risk of second wave in Africa; India cases rise by world record 414,188” was written by Helen Sullivan, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th May 2021 04.29 UTC

Summary

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

We’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next while.

The World Health Organization on Thursday warned of a new wave of Covid-19 infections in Africa due to delayed vaccine supplies, a slow rollout and new variants. The African bureau of the UN agency said the continent had to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of vaccine rollouts.

India on Friday reported a record daily rise in coronvirus cases of 414,188, while deaths from Covid-19 swelled by 3,915, according to health ministry data.

India’s total coronavirus infections now stand at 21.49 million, while its total fatalities have reached 234,083. The South Asian nation has added 1.57 million cases and nearly 500 deaths this week alone.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Denmark has eased more Covid restrictions with a “corona pass.” Gyms, theatres and cinemas opened on Thursday as part of the country’s Covid-19 relaxation programme.
  • Support for vaccine patent waivers grows across the globe despite Germany’s opposition.
  • England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty has said that Covid-19 is unlikely ever to be eradicated, and the outlook for the pandemic remains “pretty bleak” in the medium term.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a new wave of Covid-19 infections in Africa due to delayed vaccine supplies, a slow rollout and new variants.
  • The United States has administered 251,973,752 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in the country and distributed 324,610,185 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday.
  • Brazil registers 73,380 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases above the 15 million mark.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1482

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, World

Japan to extend Covid emergency in Tokyo as Olympics loom

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Japan to extend Covid emergency in Tokyo as Olympics loom” was written by Justin McCurry in Tokyo, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th May 2021 03.30 UTC

Japan is to extend a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until at least the end of the month in an attempt to arrest a surge in cases less than 80 days before the start of the Olympics.

The economy minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, conceded on Friday that targeted measures introduced at the end of last month that were due to end on 11 May had failed to check a dramatic rise in infections.

Restaurants serving alcohol and large shops in the capital, along with Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures have been asked to close – with fines imposed on these who fail to comply – while “dry” establishments are encouraged to close at 8pm.

Residents have been advised to avoid non-essential outings, but analysis of foot traffic suggests that many people are unwilling, or unable, to stay home.

Japan has reported 620,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, and 10,600 deaths – the highest in east Asia. While cases have fallen in Tokyo in recent days, the drop has been attributed to far fewer tests than usual being conducted during the Golden Week holidays, which ended on Wednesday.

“Based on the analyses from various angles, my thinking is that we need an extension of the state of emergency,” Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said.

Osaka – currently the epicentre of Japan’s fourth Covid-19 wave – has run out of hospital beds for patients with serious symptoms and is in “quite a dangerous situation,” Nishimura said at the start of a meeting with medical experts. Several people in the prefecture have died of home while waiting for treatment, according to reports.

The prefectures of Aichi and Fukuoka will be added to the list of areas placed under the strictest measures, with Hokkaido and two other areas put under a “quasi” state of emergency.

The prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, who has come under fire for his response to the latest outbreak and Japan’s slow vaccine rollout, is due to hold a press conference after the measures have been formally approved later on Friday.

The latest attempt to bring case numbers down comes a day after Pfizer/BioNTech announced they had reached an agreement with the International Olympic Committee [IOC] to offer vaccinations to athletes taking part in this summer’s Games in Tokyo who are unable to receive jabs as part of their home country’s rollout.

The announcement drew criticism on social media, amid reports that members of the host nation’s Olympic team would also be offered doses.

An online petition calling for the Games to be cancelled has attracted almost 200,000 signatures in the space of a couple of days.

“We strongly call for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihoods by using available resources to stop the Olympics,” said Kenji Utsunomiya, a prominent lawyer and former candidate for Tokyo governor who organised the petition.

Japan started its vaccine rollout in mind-February but has yet to finish inoculating medical workers and has barely starting administering jabs to people aged 65 and over. So far about 2% of the population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only vaccine to have been approved by the health ministry.

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers agreed to ban overseas sports fans from attending the Games but have put off a decision on Japanese spectators until next month.

The torch relay, which has been banned from public roads in several locations due to virus fears, faces further disruption. On Thursday, the governor of Fukuoka prefecture said it would be difficult to host the event over two days next week while the area was subject to emergency measures.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1294

Read more

World

Beijing accuses G7 ministers of interfering in China’s affairs

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Beijing accuses G7 ministers of interfering in China’s affairs” was written by Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 6th May 2021 14.38 UTC

China has rejected accusations of human rights abuse and economic coercion, made by G7 foreign ministers, accusing them of “blatantly meddling” in China’s internal affairs, calling their remarks groundless.

“Attempts to disregard the basic norms of international relations and to create various excuses to interfere in China’s internal affairs, undermine China’s sovereignty and smear China’s image will never succeed,” said the foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin. “They should not criticise and interfere with other countries with a superior mentality, and undermine the current top priority of international anti-epidemic cooperation.”

The officials from the G7, which includes the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada, met in London this week to discuss issues of common concern. Analysts said that although topics such as pandemic relief were discussed, China’s challenge to the existing “liberal world order” was chief among their concerns.

China’s treatment of its ethnic minority populations, its policy on Hong Kong and the situation in the Taiwan Strait, were mentioned in a lengthy communique released by the group on Wednesday.

It said: “In line with its obligations under international and national law we call on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, among delegates at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in London, 5 May
Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, among delegates at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in London, 5 May. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/European Commission/AFP/Getty Images

The foreign ministers urged China “to participate constructively in the rules-based international system”. The communique also called for “meaningful participation” by Taiwan in World Health Organization forums and the World Health Assembly, and recognised its “successful contribution” towards tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wang responded by saying that Taiwan’s participation in international organisations had to be handled in accordance with the “one China principle”. Beijing regards Taiwan as a part of its own territory.

Yet despite their concerted calls on Wednesday for China to play a “constructive role” in international affairs, the G7 foreign ministers’ statement refrained from spelling out concrete steps to confront Beijing. Analysts said this was because countries such as Italy and Germany were particularly concerned about potential reprisals if the language was too threatening.

The G7 group has recently been increasingly critical of China’s domestic policies. It condemned the Hong Kong national security law and in March issued a statement expressing “grave concerns” over electoral changes in the Chinese territory.

Wang urged the G7 countries to actively contribute to the global economic revival and help developing nations, “rather than cause frictions in international society, and disrupt the process of global economic recovery”.

He added: “We urge relevant countries to face up to their own problems, correct their selfish behaviour in the fight against the pandemic, and stop the wrongful generalisation of the concept of national security.”

Wang also cited a recent poll, commissioned by the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, that showed the US was seen around the world as more of a threat to democracy than Russia and China. He observed that the G7 countries had not commented nor taken any action with regard to the survey.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1287

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, World

Coronavirus blog as it happened: surge testing to begin in east London after variants detected; WHO approves Moderna vaccine

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus blog as it happened: surge testing to begin in east London after variants detected; WHO approves Moderna vaccine ” was written by Nadeem Badshah,Mattha Busby,Clea Skopeliti, for theguardian.com on Saturday 1st May 2021 23.11 UTC

That’s it for today from the global blog team. Thanks for following our coverage – more to follow in a few hours.

Updated

Protesters demand the vaccine against coronavirus, during a demonstration marking International Workers’ Day, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Protesters demand the vaccine against coronavirus, during a demonstration marking International Workers’ Day, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The Duke of Sussex has expressed pride that his Sentebale charity has managed to continue helping children in Africa during a year which “hasn’t been easy” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prince Harry co-founded Sentebale in 2006 to help vulnerable children in Lesotho, Botswana and Malawi, including those who are affected by extreme poverty and the HIV/Aids epidemic, PA reports.

Covid-19 meant that tried-and-tested programmes, which involve people coming together in groups, were ruled out at a time when support for children and young people was “needed more than ever”, Harry and Sentebale co-founder Prince Seeiso of Lesotho stated.

The princes said: “Our role as a communicator was a valuable asset, enabling us to reach out and support communities when they needed it most.

“Despite limited resources, we are proud to say that Sentebale stepped up to meet the moment.

“This is a testament to our staff and volunteers – to their creativity, flexibility, and passion.

“As we begin recovering from Covid-19, now is also the time for Sentebale to look to the future and the role we will and must play.”

Updated

Brazil registered 2,656 Covid-19 deaths on Saturday and 66,964 new confirmed cases, according to data released by the nation’s health ministry.

The South American country has now registered 406,437 total coronavirus deaths and 14,725,975 total confirmed cases, Reuters reports.

Thousands of people attended the first day of the Wuhan Strawberry Music Festival on Saturday in China.

The festival was making a return in the city, where Covid-19 first emerged, after it was forced to be online only last year due to lockdown restrictions.

A representative for the organisers told Reuters that numbers were being restricted this year, adding that around 11,000 people were there on Saturday.

Barriers were set up in front of each stage and security personnel restricted numbers in those areas. Some spectators wore masks, but many did not.

Updated

Jordan has detected three cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant in people who had not travelled.

“Two cases were recorded in Amman and one in Zarqa in people who did not travel, which confirms that the emergence of mutated cases does not necessarily have to come from outside, but rather as a result of specific reproduction,” health minister Firas Al-Hawari told Al Mamlaka TV.

Jordan recorded on Saturday 704 cases of Covid-19 with 35 deaths, bringing the total cases detected in the kingdom to 712,077 with 8,871 deaths, according to the health ministry, Reuters reports.

Updated

Spectators view a theatre performance held as a sport event by Cirk La Putyka artistic group in Prague after the Czech government allowed a limited number of spectators for sport events only as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Spectators view a theatre performance held as a sport event by Cirk La Putyka artistic group in Prague after the Czech government allowed a limited number of spectators for sport events only as part of an easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Photograph: David W Černý/Reuters

Updated

Australia received its first delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in mid-February and has begun the mammoth task of immunising every willing adult in the country.

Repeated delays to Australia’s vaccine rollout – triggered by supply issues, logistical failures and changing health advice – have dramatically reshaped the government’s plan for vaccinating Australians.

The target of fully vaccinating the entire population by the end of October has been pushed back and the changing advice surrounding the AstraZeneca and associated blood-clotting risks for younger Australians has meant Pfizer vaccines are preferred for that cohort.

Updated

 

A summary of today’s developments

  • Spain has announced passengers arriving from India must go into quarantine for 10 days to avoid spreading Covid-19, Reuters reports.
  • Portugal has extended flight restrictions until 16 May that prevent non-essential travel from countries including Brazil with high coronavirus incidence rates, and added India to the list.
  • There have been 1,907 new coronavirus cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,418,530. The death toll has increased by seven today, which increases the total to 127,524.
  • Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has lifted the lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools, as the rate of infections eases in the east African country.
  • Mexico’s health ministry reported 3,025 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 261 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,347,780 and fatalities to 217,168.
  • France reported 25,670 new confirmed Covid-19 infections, taking the total to 5.6 million, Reuters reports.
  • Crowds gathered in the capitals of Finland and Sweden on Saturday as hundreds marched in protest over their governments’ measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, AFP reports.
  • Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to clear a crowd of several hundred gathered in a park to protest against Covid lockdown rules.

World leaders have been warned that unless they act with extreme urgency, the Covid-19 pandemic will overwhelm health services in many nations in South America, Asia, and Africa over the next few weeks.

Only billions of pounds of aid and massive exports of vaccines can halt a humanitarian catastrophe that is now unfolding rapidly across the planet, scientists and world health experts said.

 

Mexico’s health ministry reported 3,025 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 261 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,347,780 and fatalities to 217,168.

Separate government data published in March suggested the real death toll may be at least 60% above the confirmed figure, Reuters reports.

A total of 41,277,728 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between 8 December and 30 April, according to NHS England data, which is a rise of 477,124 on the previous day.

NHS England said 28,771,540 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 115,366 on the previous day, while 12,506,188 were a second dose, an increase of 361,758, PA reports.

Updated

For British IT consultant Yogen Shah, India’s Covid-19 crisis is deeply personal.

Associated Press reports:

Shah joined volunteers from one of Britain’s largest Hindu temples who set out to raise £500,000 by racking up 7,600 kilometers (4,722 miles) on stationary bikes — roughly the distance from London to Delhi — in 48 hours.

“I think every single person of Indian origin will have someone affected over there,” Shah, 40, said outside the temple in London.

“And anywhere around the world that you have Covid, you feel for that human being, you feel for that person, whether they’re Indian origin or not.”

India recorded more than 400,000 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the first time daily infections topped that milestone.

The country reported 3,523 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours, raising overall fatalities to 211,853.

Updated

A potential for coronavirus cases to “reignite” remains as many adults are still unvaccinated, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK’s government has warned.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the country was on the cusp of being able to loosen more restrictions.

But he warned that, with around 35% of adults not yet vaccinated, there was the potential for the “spark to reignite” and cases to rise again.

Prof Walport added: “We are on the cusp of being able to move to the next step of relaxation, it’s absolutely right that vaccines have been spectacularly successful but not everybody is protected.

We’ve got 35% of adults who are not vaccinated and 60% who have only had one dose and the truth is the virus has not gone away.

“The mistake that has been made repeatedly really is relaxing just slightly too early. What we need to do is get the numbers right down, it’s important that we don’t act as an incubator for variant cases that might be able to resist immunity.”

Updated

Pope Francis kicked off a month-long marathon of worldwide Roman Catholic prayer on Saturday to ask God for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and said money spent on armaments should be used instead to prevent future outbreaks.

Francis presided at the recital of the rosary in St. Peter’s Basilica on the first day of May, a month Roman Catholics traditionally dedicate to daily prayer to the Madonna, Reuters reports.

Each day during the month, Roman Catholics have been asked to pray for a specific category of people affected by the pandemic, such as those who were unable to say goodbye to their dying loved ones, health workers, the poor, the homeless and those thrown into economic difficulty.

The pope prayed that “this difficult trial ends and that horizons of hope and peace return”.

France reported 25,670 new confirmed Covid-19 infections, taking the total to 5.6 million, Reuters reports.

Updated

Kenya Airways announced later on Saturday that it would resume domestic flights between Nairobi and two cities, Kisumu and Mombasa, on Sunday.

It comes after Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the Covid-19 lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools as the rate of infections eases.

Curbs on travel in the capital Nairobi and four surrounding counties will be lifted, and schools will be allowed to reopen following an Education Ministry calendar.

Updated

Crowds gathered in the capitals of Finland and Sweden on Saturday as hundreds marched in protest over their governments’ measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, AFP reports.

A protest in Helsinki that drew around 300 participants resulted in about 50 arrests, Finnish police tweeted.

In Stockholm between 500 and 600 people marched with banners demanding “freedom and truth”, in an event that lasted more than two hours despite police attempts to disperse the crowd.

Updated

Pakistan will reduce the number of international flights by 80 per cent to help curb rising Covid-19 cases, the government said on Saturday.

The restrictions will come into effect on May 5 and will run to May 20, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement, though it did not specify which flights or destinations would be affected by the measure, Reuters reports.

The controls will be reviewed on May 18, the government said in a statement endorsed by the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s response to the pandemic.

The restrictions will be applied to chartered and private flights as well as scheduled services.

All international passengers upon arrival at Pakistani airports on remaining services would be required to undergo rapid antigen testing (RAT) and will also have to show an RT-PCR test conducted within 72 hours before boarding a Pakistan-bound flight.

Passengers with a negative Covid-19 test will still undergo self-quarantine at home for 10 days, and those found positive will be shifted to a self-paid facility for the same period of time. Inbound passengers will also need to download an app on to their phones to help monitor their movements.

There will be exemptions on these controls for children younger than 12 years old, disabled persons, high-level international dignities and Pakistani deportees.

Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to clear a crowd of several hundred gathered in a park to protest against Covid lockdown rules.
AFP reports:

The defiant, mainly young crowd had assembled for the so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, as a follow up to an action that was broken up last month.

The prime minister, Alexander de Croo, had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed before the order to clear the park was given

AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown before police moved in.

“We see that health measures are not being respected,” police announced on Twitter, after drones equipped with loudspeakers called for masks and distancing.

“Brussels police will proceed to clear the area,” the tweet read.

Updated

The number of people in intensive care units in France with Covid-19 fell for the fifth day running, decreasing by 94 to 5,581, health ministry data showed on Saturday.

The ministry also reported 195 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals, compared with 270 on Friday, Reuters reports.

Updated

A suspected Covid-19 patient receives oxygen supply at a Sikh shrine, or gurdwara, where oxygen is made available for free by various Sikh religious organizations in New Delhi, India. The country has reported a record number of 400,000 new Covid-19 cases in one day.
A suspected Covid-19 patient receives oxygen supply at a Sikh shrine, or gurdwara, where oxygen is made available for free by various Sikh religious organizations in New Delhi, India. The country has reported a record number of 400,000 new Covid-19 cases in one day.
Photograph: Idrees Mohammed/EPA

Surge testing is to be deployed across parts of east London after several cases of the South African and Brazilian variants were detected.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said NHS Test and Trace was working with Tower Hamlets council to provide additional testing and genomic sequencing in targeted areas within the E1 postcode from Sunday.

It follows the identification of “several” confirmed cases of the variant B.1.351, first seen in South Africa, and the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.

The department said all the confirmed cases were self-isolating and that there were no links between the new cases and the cluster of cases recently identified in the south London area.

Everyone aged 11 and over who lives, works or is educated in these postcodes is being encouraged to take a test when invited, whether they are showing symptoms or not, the DHSC said.

Updated

Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25% higher than the same period a year ago.

Associated Press reports:

More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year in Russia, compared with 460,000 for those months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report.

The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russian officials underplay the severity of the pandemic in the country.

The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from Covid-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number.

The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which Covid-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which Covid-19 influenced other diseases and accelerated death.

Updated

A fire in a Covid-19 hospital ward in western India killed 18 patients on Saturday, as the country grappling with the worst outbreak yet stepped up a vaccination drive for all adults even as some states said they did not have enough jabs.

Associated Press reports:

India on Saturday set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. Another 3,523 people died in the past 24 hours, raising the overall fatalities to 211,853, according to the Health Ministry. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

The fire broke out in a Covid-19 ward on the ground floor of the Welfare hospital in Bharuch, a town in Gujarat state, and was extinguished within an hour, police said. The cause is being investigated.

Thirty-one other patients were rescued from the blaze by hospital workers and firefighters and their condition was stable, said police officer BM Parmar.

India’s government on Saturday shifted its faltering vaccination campaign into high gear by saying all adults aged 18 and over could get jabs.

Updated

UK records further 1,907 Covid-19 cases

There have been 1,907 new coronavirus cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,418,530.

The death toll has increased by seven today, which increases the total to 127,524.

Updated

Spain has announced passengers arriving from India must go into quarantine for 10 days to avoid spreading Covid-19, Reuters reports.

Earlier, Portugal extended until 16 May flight restrictions that prevent non-essential travel from countries including Brazil with high coronavirus incidence rates, and added India to the list.

Updated

Hundreds of mainly young Belgian people have gathered in a Brussels park in defiance of coronavirus restrictions and police orders.

 

AFP has the story:

The so-called “Boum 2” protest, organised online, is a follow-up to an action last month that was broken up by police with horses and water cannon, causing injuries. Ahead of the event, prime minister Alexander de Croo had urged the crowds to stay away, and hundreds of officers were deployed.

By late afternoon, AFP reporters in the Bois de la Cambre, a large park in the city, saw fireworks set off and some missiles thrown as police moved in. “We’re here to protect our freedom. Masks? I don’t wear them anymore. I want to be free,” said an 18-year-old high schooler from Flanders.

Police officers ride horses next to people gathering at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called “La Boum 2”.
Police officers ride horses next to people gathering at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park for a party called “La Boum 2”.
Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

As a police car rolled on to the grass close to the heart of the gathering, the merry-makers chanted: “Freedom, Freedom.” A helicopter and a drone hovered overhead, but the protesters’ music all but drowned out police demands for masking and social distancing.

“It’s been a year,” a 21-year-old from the capital told AFP. “A whole year we can’t go out. After a while you need an alternative.”

Belgium is under its second national lockdown as a coronavirus prevention measure and bars and restaurants have been shut since late October. But a vaccination drive is picking up speed and outdoor dining and drinking is due to resume on 8 May, and authorities have appealed for calm.

Norton, a 23-year-old cook who has lost his restaurant job, said the plan was not to provoke violence but to demand an end to what he called “illogical” anti-virus measures.

Police officers scuffle with a man at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park as people gather for a party called “La Boum 2” in defiance of Belgium’s coronavirus measures on 1 May.
Police officers scuffle with a man at the Bois de la Cambre/Ter Kamerenbos park as people gather for a party called “La Boum 2” in defiance of Belgium’s coronavirus measures on 1 May.
Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

Elsewhere in the Belgian capital, people demonstrated to mark International Workers’ Day.

People attend a parade on International Workers’ Day amid the coronavirus pandemic on 1 May in Brussels, Belgium.
People attend a parade on International Workers’ Day amid the coronavirus pandemic on 1 May in Brussels, Belgium.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

The World Health Organization has listed Moderna’s Covid vaccine for emergency use, the agency said, the fifth to be given the status meant to expedite countries’ own approval of shots.

Reuters has the story:

“The objective is to make medicines, vaccines and diagnostics available as rapidly as possible to address the emergency,” the WHO said in a statement.

WHO assistant director-general Mariangela Simao said it was important to have more vaccines available because of supply problems for other shots, including from India, a main source of vaccines for the global Covax vaccine sharing programme. India has restricted exports because of a crisis of infections.

Moderna announced this week an expansion plan for its production network to boost its capacity to up to three billion doses in 2022.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) already in January had recommended Moderna’s vaccine for all age groups 18 and above.

The Geneva-based health organization is still considering COVID-19 vaccines from Chinese companies Sinopharm and Sinovac following an extended review, with decisions due by the end of next week.

Experts have warned of backlogs of undiagnosed dementia cases and worsening standards of care after official figures revealed a collapse in assessing and monitoring patients in England during the pandemic.

NHS data shows the number of people who were assessed for dementia has fallen to less than half the level before the pandemic – 10,535 in February 2021 compared to 23,392 in February 2020.

In that time, the number of people receiving an initial memory assessment fell by two-thirds, while the number of referrals to memory clinics – which help diagnose dementia – fell by 42%. Partly as a result, the total number of patients aged over 65 with a dementia diagnosis fell by just over 43,000 – a drop of 10%.

“When I talk to people with dementia, their families, the absolute lack of contact and support is very apparent, and accessing things like GPs has been a challenge,” said Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK.

Thousands of people have also joined 1 May rallies in more than 70 cities across Spain today in the first Labour Day demonstrations since the pandemic began.

AFP has the story:

Wearing masks and observing social distancing, demonstrators marched through the streets waving banners although in many places, numbers were capped to ensure anti-Covid measures were respected.

The main demonstration in Madrid, which was limited to 1,000 people, began at midday local time under the slogan “Now it’s time to deliver” with the participants marching from the town hall to the city’s Puerta del Sol square.

Seven government ministers attended the march, including labour minister Yolanda Diaz as well as representatives of the three left-wing parties running in Tuesday’s regional election in Madrid.

At the rally, union leaders Pepe Alvarez of the UGT and the CCOO’s Unai Sordo urged the government to honour commitments delayed by the pandemic, such as repealing a controversial labour reform, raising the minimum wage and approving a law on equal pay.

Alvarez said it was critical to ensure the funds were used “to face up to the needs of its citizens and … to make a change to its production model”.

People march during a protest to mark the International Labour Day in Madrid, Spain, 1 May.
People march during a protest to mark the International Labour Day in Madrid, Spain, 1 May.
Photograph: Sergio Pérez/Reuters

Thousands of people have joined traditional May Day protests across France today, gathering despite Covid-19 restrictions to demand social and economic justice and voice their opposition to government plans to change unemployment benefits.

Reuters has the story:

About 300 rallies were organised in Paris and other cities including Lyon, Nantes, Lille and Toulouse. In the French capital, trade unionists were joined by members of the “Yellow Vest” movement that triggered a wave of anti-government protests three years ago and by workers from sectors hit hard by pandemic restrictions such as culture.

Marchers, most wearing masks in line with Covid-19 rules, carried banners reading: “Dividends, not unemployment benefits are the income of lazy people” and “We want to live, not survive”.

“Loads of money is going to those who have plenty and less tor those who have nothing as reflected in the unemployment insurance reform plan that we want scrapped,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT labour union said.

Most demonstrations were peaceful, although Lyon police scattered a group of about 200 people who were throwing fireworks, the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes prefecture said on Twitter.

Protestors wave trade unions flags as they take part in the annual Labour Day workers’ demonstration, in Paris on 1 May.
Protestors wave trade unions flags as they take part in the annual Labour Day workers’ demonstration, in Paris on 1 May.
Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Scotland has recorded one new coronavirus death and 175 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to latest data.

PA reports:

It means the death toll under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – stands at 7,660. Scottish Government figures published on Saturday show the daily test positivity rate remained at 1.1%.

There were 67 people in hospital on Friday with recently confirmed Covid-19, which was no change over 24 hours. Of these patients, nine were in intensive care, also down three.

So far 2,811,343 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and 1,263,862 have received their second dose.

India should go into lockdown for several weeks to arrest the current devastating surge in Covid cases, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci has said.

AFP reports:

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has resisted imposing a national lockdown after a nationwide shutdown a year ago caused widespread human suffering and a painful economic hit.

“I think the most important thing in the immediate is to get oxygen, get supplies, get medication, get PPE, those kinds of things,” the Indian Express daily quoted Fauci as saying in an interview. “But also, one of the immediate things to do is to essentially call a shutdown of the country,” he said.

“And if you shut down, you don’t have to shut down for six months. You can shut down temporarily to put an end to the cycle of transmission,” he added. No one likes to lock down the country… But if you do it just for a few weeks, you could have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.”

Many states have imposed heavy restrictions on activity, particularly in the western state of Maharashtra and the capital New Delhi where hospitals are at breaking point. The capital extended its shutdown for another week today.

Russia’s state statistical service says the number of deaths nationwide in the first three months of 2021 was more than 25% higher than the same period a year ago, and it reported thousands more deaths due to Covid-19 in March than tallied by the country’s coronavirus task force.

Associated Press reports:

More than 583,000 people died in January-March of this year, compared with 460,000 for those months in 2020, the Rosstat agency said in a report issued Friday.

The agency did not provide an explanation for the sharply higher death toll, but critics have suggested that Russia underplays the severity of the pandemic in the country.

The national coronavirus task force counted more than 12,300 deaths from Covid-19 in March, but Rosstat gave a substantially higher number. The agency said there were 15,003 deaths that month in which the coronavirus was the leading cause, along with 2,454 cases in which Covid-19 was believed to be the leading cause and 1,401 deaths in which Covid-19 influenced the development of other diseases and accelerated death.

According to the task force, throughout the pandemic 110,502 people have died in Russia of Covid-19 as of Saturday — 392 of them in the past day. The country has recorded more than 4.8 million confirmed cases.

Portugal is to extend until 16 May flight restrictions that prevent non-essential travel from countries with high coronavirus rates, including Brazil and India – a new addition to the list.

Reuters reports:

Travellers from countries where 500 or more cases per 100,000 people have been reported over a 14-day period – which also include South Africa, France and the Netherlands, among others – can only enter Portugal if they have a valid reason, such as for work or healthcare, the government said. They must then quarantine for 14 days.

People from countries where the incidence rate is 150 or more Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, such as next-door Spain and Germany, can also travel by plane to Portugal only for essential reasons.

They will have to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure for Portugal. Those without a test will have to take one upon arrival and wait for the result at the airport.

Portugal’s 1,200-km-long land border with Spain reopened today after more than three months of restrictions and border checks.

Nightclubs and bars have launched legal action against the Scottish government’s coronavirus restrictions, describing the curbs as “no longer justifiable or proportionate”.

The trade body Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland said it was mounting an attempt to end caps on venue numbers and limited opening hours. In Scotland, hospitality venues are currently allowed to serve customers alcoholic drinks outdoors only, while the limited return of indoor hospitality has come with an 8pm curfew.

Announcing the judicial review, the NTIA said:

The hospitality sector in general, and late-night sector in particular, has been driven to the edge of insolvency by the severe restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic.

Scottish government support has been wholly inadequate to compensate for operating losses and a majority of businesses have now incurred unsustainable debt as a result.

Even worse, all strategic framework funding has now ended while there is no end date for the restrictions that make these businesses commercially unviable.

Turkish police have detained more than 200 people attending May Day marches amid a coronavirus-related curfew, Reuters reports, citing witnesses and the Istanbul governor’s office.

A total of 212 demonstrators were arrested as police threw people to the ground before detaining dozens of them near Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The governor’s office said some unions were permitted to hold memorials to mark the annual holiday, while others who had “gathered illegally” in violation of the lockdown, and ignored calls to disperse, were detained.

State-owned Anadolu Agency said 20 protestors were also detained in the western city of Izmir.

Turkey entered a 17-day lockdown this week, imposing stay-home orders and closing schools and some businesses, to curb a wave of coronavirus infections.

India has received 150,000 Sputnik-V vaccine doses from Russia, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry has said in a statement reported by Reuters.

“Millions of doses” of the vaccine, which will be sold in India by Dr Reddy’s Labs Ltd, will follow, the spokesman added.

As of Saturday, everyone in India over the age of 18 is eligible for a vaccine, but the country is reportedly running out of doses. State governments in Rajasthan, Punjab, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have reported shortages or a complete lack of availability of jabs.

The country is battling a dramatic surge in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals, leading to shortages of medical oxygen and beds.

In Delhi, where it is estimated that a person dies from Covid-19 every four minutes, crematoriums are expanding at a rapid pace, attempting to increase capacity to cope with 1,000 cremations a day.

Updated

The Netherlands has delayed its next phase of lockdown easing by at least a week as cases and pressure on hospitals remains high.

“We are passing the peak of the third wave. But the decline [of the infection rate] is not strong enough yet,” health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Twitter.

Gyms, zoos and amusement parks had been due to reopen on 11 May, but this has now been postponed to at least 18 May, Reuters reports.

The country slightly relaxed its restrictions last week, lifting a night-time curfew and allowing bars and restaurants to serve small groups outdoors between midday and 6pm.

The number of coronavirus patients in Dutch intensive care wards has surged in recent weeks to its highest in a year as infections swelled to levels last seen at the start of the year.

Updated

People are being urged to remain patient before the next relaxation of lockdown restrictions as there is still a possibility for coronavirus cases to “reignite”, amid reports that family and friends in England could be allowed to hug in just over a fortnight.

The success of the vaccine rollout and sharp reduction in coronavirus cases and deaths has led ministers to support the move, according to the Times. If approved, this would mark the first time that people in England have been allowed to have physical contact outside of their household or bubble for more than a year.

Updated

Hello, this is Clea Skopeliti taking over the blog for the next hour. You can get in touch with me on Twitter or by email with any story tips. Thanks in advance.

As coronavirus rages through Delhi, India, it has become nearly impossible to get a Covid test, writes Mukul Kesavan, essayist and author who teaches history at Jamia Millia Islamia university.

If you are lucky enough to get one, it takes up to a week to get the result. Until it arrives, if you have a severe case of Covid and need hospitalisation, you can’t be admitted to a hospital because you don’t have the paperwork to prove you are positive.

Delhi’s state government imposes a curfew to break the chain of transmission. Thirteen months on from the imposition of the first lockdown, it’s clear that we aren’t back to square one; we have been transported, unaccountably, to some strange circle of hell.

Updated

Cambodia’s army has begun a drive to vaccinate nearly half a million people in the parts of Phnom Penh worst-hit by Covid, but there is criticism of the use of the military as the south-east Asian nation looks to step up the pace of inoculations.

Reuters reports:

The country, which had been one of the least affected by the pandemic, is seeing a rise in coronavirus cases that has seen the total number of infections jump from about 500 to 13,790 since late February, including all 96 of the deaths it has recorded.

Phnom Penh is under lockdown until 5 May and has declared some districts of the capital “red zones”, banning people from leaving their homes except for medical reasons.

Senior military official Eth Sarath said 471,573 people would be inoculated with China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac shots during a one-month campaign led by the military, according to a Ministry of Defence statement posted on Facebook.

“To date, more than 1.3 million Cambodians, including foreigners, diplomats and civil society workers in Cambodia, have been vaccinated,” the defence ministry said.

Soeung Senkaruna, senior human rights worker at local rights group ADHOC, criticised the use of the military, saying people might feel intimidated.

“Whether they want it or not, seeing soldiers like these, they are worried, they are scared in case they do not want to make a decision, do not want to get the jab,” he said.

Updated

Kenya lifts lockdown as infection rate falls

Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has lifted the lockdown he imposed last month, allowing for a reopening of bars and restaurants, religious services and schools, as the rate of infections eases in the east African country.

Reuters has the story:

Curbs on travel in the capital Nairobi and four surrounding counties are to be lifted, and schools will be allowed to reopen. Religious services will resume with some restrictions, while political gatherings would still be banned, he said in a speech.

An evening curfew that currently starts at 8pm will now be 10pm. The changes will be in effect from midnight on Saturday, Kenyatta said. Under the restrictions now being relaxed, Nairobi and surrounding counties were treated as one zone, with residents barred from traveling to other areas.

Cases in Kenya, the richest country in East Africa, have fallen from last month’s peak but it is still among the top five nations in Africa reporting new infections and deaths, according to a Reuters tracker.

Kenya reported 497 new infections and 17 deaths within the past 24 hours, according to the latest health ministry data released on Friday. Overall, the country of 53 million has recorded nearly 159,000 cases and around 2,700 deaths.

Updated

A Covid-19 vaccine campaign has begun in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave, with a 45-year-old frontline nurse becoming the first to receive a UN-secured jab.

The Associated Press reports:

Nizar Fattouh, a nurse in Ibn Sina Hospital in Idlib city, received one of 53,800 AstraZeneca vaccines delivered to northwest Syria through Turkey on 21 April.

The vaccines come amid a new surge of infections in the war-torn country. Syrian supplies of oxygen are depleted and its hospitals were already overwhelmed from 10 years of conflict and deteriorating health care services.

The AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered to the rebel-controlled area through a border crossing with Turkey, the northwestern territory’s only gateway to the outside world.

He said the small quantity of jabs is set to prioritise health care workers and aid personnel who are on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus. Infections among health care workers in the enclave have been high, accounting for as many as 30% of confirmed cases at one point.

There are over 21,000 confirmed infections in the rebel-held enclave, home to 4 million people, most of them displaced from different parts of Syria by the conflict. At least 641 have died in the area from Covid-19 related complications. Conflict has subsided in the area, but outbreaks of violence are still reported.

Updated

UK-based doctors of Indian heritage are deploying telemedicine to their colleagues in the South Asian nation to help them battle the escalating coronavirus crisis there.

PA Media reports:

Members of the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) are working to help their counterparts get some breathing space as case numbers grow.

A BAPIO member, Prof Parag Singhal, told Sky News: “We are trying to do as much as we can in the form of fundraising to send equipment in the form of oxygen concentrators, creating capacity for ICU beds.

“So that’s one stream of work, but we are also trying to offer help to our exhausted colleagues in India – doctors are overstretched, they’re working too hard.”

They are offering long-distant consultations and advice to patients who do not need critical care, and also analysing the results of tests conducted in Indian hospitals. Prof Singhal said that BAPIO’s telemedicine project so far had 250 volunteers, and they are aiming to get 1,000.

One way BAPIO volunteers are helping out remotely is by analysing the results of CT scans. Prof Singhal told Sky News: “A lot of people are getting scans but [the results] are not getting reported in a timely manner.

“The second thing is, hospitals are having two cohorts of patients – one is those who are seriously ill, and require intensive care management, and the other is those who are less ill.”

Updated

Japan’s western region of Osaka has confirmed a record daily total of 1,262 new coronavirus cases, along with 41 deaths, national broadcaster NHK reports.

Reuters has the full story:

Osaka’s previous high was 1,260 infections, announced on Wednesday, NHK said. The capital Tokyo has also seen a surge in infections, with 1,050 new cases on Saturday, according to the broadcaster, after reporting in excess of 1,000 cases on Thursday as well.

The worsening situation has sharpened focus on whether the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games can or should go ahead, with the opening ceremony only 12 weeks away.

While Japan has avoided the kind of explosive outbreak of the virus seen in some other countries, the latest rise in infections has stoked alarm, with a surge in one variant and a critical shortage of medical staff and hospital beds in some areas.

The flare-up comes despite Osaka, Tokyo and two other prefectures having been placed since Sunday under states of emergency requiring the closure of bars, restaurants serving alcohol, department stores, cinemas and other commercial facilities larger than 1,000 square metres.

The Philippines has received its first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, the president’s office has said.

Reuters reports:

The 15,000 doses of Sputnik V, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, will be used in four cities in the capital region, the Philippines’ coronavirus hotspot, the health ministry said.

It was supposed to arrive on 25 April, but was delayed by logistical issues. The Philippines is negotiating to buy 20 million doses of Sputnik V, as part of its target to inoculate up to 70 million adults this year.

It has so far received 4.04 million vaccine doses, more than 86% of which were from China’s Sinovac Biotech and the rest from AstraZeneca through the Covax facility. More than 1.8 million doses had been administered as of 27 April, government data showed.

Updated

Canada’s drug regulator has said that doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine recently delivered to the country were produced at a Baltimore plant where the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) halted production.

Reuters reports:

Health Canada said in a statement that it will hold the vaccine doses until it is satisfied they meet its standards, and is consulting with J&J and the FDA. The first shipment of 300,000 J&J vaccine doses arrived in Canada earlier this week.

The FDA halted production of the vaccines at a US manufacturing plant owned by Emergent BioSolutions earlier this month as it investigates an error that led to millions of doses being ruined in March.

Late yesterday, Health Canada said it had learned that the active ingredient in the vaccine had been made at the Emergent site, and the final vaccines were manufactured at a different site outside the US.

A Brazilian court has confirmed the impeachment of Rio de Janeiro’s state governor Wilson Witzel over alleged graft in the purchase of medical supplies and services to fight the pandemic.

Witzel, who denies any wrongdoing, had been temporarily removed from power in August 2020. Brazilian prosecutors say that Witzel bought 700 million reais ($128.76 million) in ventilators which have never been delivered to treat Covid patients.

Wilson Witzel gestures as he speaks to the media at Laranjeiras Palace in August.
Wilson Witzel gestures as he speaks to the media at Laranjeiras Palace in August.
Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

The Serum Institute of India, which manufactures the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, is reportedly planning to start vaccine production in other countries as it struggles to meet supply commitments.

Reuters reports:

“There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days,” chief executive Adar Poonawalla was quoted as saying by the Times in an interview. Poonawalla said last week that the Serum Institute would be able to raise its monthly output to 100m doses by July, later than a previous timeline of end-May. Several states in India have run out of vaccines against Covid-19.

He hoped to increase the Serum Institute’s production capacity from 2.5bn to 3bn doses a year within six months, the Times reported, adding that he flew to London before Britain banned travellers from India eight days ago.

Vaccine companies have faced sustained criticism over a refusal to relax patent rules to allow for wider manufacturing of jabs, which are in relatively short supply. One of the industry’s defences has been that some alternative manufacturing sites may not possess enough expertise to safely and effectively operate.

Updated

Following Liverpool’s Circus club night test event, UK culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has hailed a key milestone “in our journey back to normality”.

This weekend is another huge moment in our journey back to normality. This week Liverpool have hosted the first major indoor events without social distancing or Covid restrictions and tonight 3,000 clubbers will once more head to the Bramley-Moore Dock warehouse to enjoy another night of brilliant DJ sets, with 5,000 people at an outdoor gig at Sefton Park tomorrow.

I have seen first hand just how important these research events are. Yesterday, I visited the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield to watch the Snooker World Championship. With the event initially requiring social distancing – starting with a third of the venue’s capacity – this is being gradually eased in time for the finals, where capacity will rise to 100% on Sunday and Monday.

DJ Marea Stamper, aka The Blessed Madonna, said that there had been an “incredible energy” at the club night. Speaking to BBC Breakfast she said the event was also “incredibly emotional” and she had seen people crying.

Of course the whole thing sort of operated silently as a science experiment, they were studying ventilation and crowd patterns, but every precaution was taken to make sure we were safe. People presented their test results very proudly.

I think we felt excited but also proud to be a part of creating the protocols that would lead to the reopening of all kinds of things, from football matches to any kind of event, it doesn’t have to be a big rave.

Revellers at the Circus Nightclub at Bramley-Moore Dock, Liverpool, for a Covid safety pilot event attended by around 3000 people at the indoor venue.
Revellers at the Circus Nightclub at Bramley-Moore Dock, Liverpool, for a Covid safety pilot event attended by around 3000 people at the indoor venue.
Photograph: Richard McCarthy/PA

Updated

Thailand has reported a new daily record of 21 coronavirus deaths in one day, the health ministry said, as the south-east Asian country prepared to open registration for a long-awaited mass vaccination campaign.

Reuters reports:

The health ministry today reported 1,891 new cases, bringing the total number of infections to 67,044 since the pandemic began last year, with 224 deaths. Thailand is fighting a fierce third wave of infections, the worst of the pandemic after a year of relative success in controlling the virus.

The new outbreak includes the highly transmissible B117 variant and has accounted for about half of its total cases and deaths during the pandemic. A slow rollout of vaccines has churned public frustration, with the 2.5m doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine received so far going mostly to medical and frontline workers and the most vulnerable.

Registration for vaccinating the general public begins today through mobile applications, with about 16 million people over 60 or those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes getting priority. By late afternoon, nearly 200,000 people across Thailand had registered and booked appointments to get vaccinated, health authorities said.

Updated

Ban on Australians returning from India ‘may breach law’

The travel ban preventing Australians in India from returning home could be subject to legal challenges, with lawyers and academics believing the extraordinary measure may breach the law.

Scott Morrison’s government has been condemned for its “outrageous” decision to introduce fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both, for anyone defying a travel ban preventing Australians returning home from India.

The travel ban officially begins on Monday, in what is believed to be the first time Australia has banned its own citizens from returning home.

Griffith University human rights law professor Sarah Joseph said the ban, implemented under the Biosecurity Act, must satisfy section 477 of that act, which states that the measure has to be “appropriate” and “no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances”.

Updated

Hong Kong migrant worker groups have criticised plans to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory for all foreign domestic workers, labelling the move “discriminatory and unjust”.

AFP reports:

Health officials said they were planning to roll out mandatory inoculations for the 370,000 domestic helpers in the city, mostly poorly-paid women from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Those wanting to apply for work visas – or renew their current ones – would need to show they had been vaccinated, officials said Friday. If the plan goes ahead it would be the first time Hong Kong has directly tied working rights for foreigners to vaccines.

“This is clearly an act of discrimination and stigmatisation against migrant domestic workers,” said Dolores Balladares Pelaez, the chair of United Filipinos in Hong Kong.

Labour groups representing domestic workers said they were angered other foreigners – and locals working in environments such as care homes – were not also required to get vaccinated. “Again, we are being singled out and targeted,” Pelaez added.

Health officials announced the vaccination plan after two domestic helpers were found to be infected with one of the more virulent strains of the coronavirus. All domestic workers have also been ordered to get tested over the coming days – a measure that did not extend to the families they work for.

Hong Kong labour secretary, Law Chi-kwong, defended linking domestic worker visas to vaccination. “Of course they can choose not to work in Hong Kong as they are not Hong Kong residents,” Law said.

Updated

Counting on an accelerating vaccination campaign to keep new infections in check, much of continental Europe has announced plans for a gradual exit from lockdown over the coming weeks as case numbers begin to fall. Here is where things stand:

Director of public health in Liverpool, England, Matt Ashton has said it was “wonderful” to see the looks on clubbers’ faces as they returned to the dance floor at a pilot event for 3,000 people in the city.

PA Media reports:

He told BBC Breakfast that the event gave a glimpse of what the future might hold but stressed it was still a scientific experiment about how more events could be opened in the future.

Ashton added: “This is a scientific experiment, both before and after the event people have to return to doing the things they are supposed to, so following the rules in place.

“We have to deal with Covid still as if it is still around because it is, even if it is at low levels, so we have to be cautious in our approach. And for me that’s why it is so important that we collect the science around this to allow us to do this safely and properly in the future.

“But it is still wonderful to see the looks on people’s faces as they were at the event last night. It just gives a glimpse of what think we think the future might hold.”

Revellers at the Circus Nightclub at Bramley-Moore Dock, Liverpool, for a Covid safety pilot event attended by around 3000 people at the indoor venue.
Revellers at the Circus Nightclub at Bramley-Moore Dock, Liverpool, for a Covid safety pilot event attended by around 3000 people at the indoor venue.
Photograph: Richard McCarthy/PA

Researchers at the event will gather evidence for the Events Research Programme (ERP) on how small and large-scale events could be permitted to safely reopen.

Attendees had to live within a Liverpool postcode and test negative to a Covid-19 lateral flow test to gain entry to the club, as well as undergo a more accurate PCR test after the event.

Ashton said pilot events like the club night in the city were crucial to opening up the economy again and letting people return to normal life. Asked if the data from the pilots will be crucial to opening up society again in late June, he said:

Yeah, don’t forget this is a crucial part of our economy, in Liverpool it’s over 40% of our economic output, so it’s really important we start to get the economy opening again. But also just in terms of a return to normal life, all of us being social creatures and doing the things we want to do more.

So the evidence base is absolutely essential. This is going to be part I think of a longer journey of understanding how we live with Covid more safely in the future.

He added that people who tested positive following the pilot club night will be expected to self-isolate and then be followed up by contact tracers as normal.

Anybody who tests positive after the event would go back into normal self-isolation and we would follow them up and ask them where they have been and who they have been in contact with.

But the likelihood is if it is people who have attended the event then it will be through the event and that allows us to speak to other people about it as well.”

When asked if everyone at the event will be tracked afterwards and for how long he said: “Everybody who attended with a ticket, absolutely will be. We ask people to take a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] five days afterwards and that helps us identify any virus that happened as a result of the event. I’m not expecting any.”

Updated

Canada will start getting Pfizer Covid vaccines from the US next week, a company spokesperson said, in what is to be the first time the US has allowed that company’s jabs to be exported to Canada.

The Associated Press reports:

Despite Canada’s tightly woven commercial ties with the U.S., it has been getting Pfizer’s vaccines from Belgium until now because U.S. authorities had kept supplies made in the U.S. for domestic use.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau repeated yesterday that starting next week, Canada will be receiving 2 million doses a week from Pfizer alone.

Vaccinations have ramped up in Canada in recent months. Every adult in Quebec will be eligible to make a vaccine appointment on May 14 and in Ontario, Canada’s largest province, every adult can book an appointment starting May 24.

Trade-dependent Canada previously lagged on vaccinating its population of 38 million because it lacks the facilities to manufacture the vaccine itself.

Pfizer has delivered almost 160 million doses to the U.S. from its Kalamazoo, Michigan, plant and that figure is expected to reach 200 million by the end of May.

Disneyland in California, US, reopened yesterday after an unprecedented 13-month closure, with hugs and handshakes with characters off limits, and parades and fireworks shows shelved to limit crowding.

The Associated Press has the story:

The world-famous theme park is admitting only state residents and operating under a limited capacity for now with visitors needing to wear masks and only being able to remove them to eat in designated areas.

The reopening highlights a big shift for the nation’s most populous state from just months ago when Covid cases were surging, hospitals were running out of ICU beds, and hundreds of people died from the virus each day.

Now, California has the country’s lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose.

Theme parks were among the last California businesses allowed to reopen, in contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running, though at lower-than-usual capacity, since July.

At an early morning flag ceremony, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek thanked the park’s employees, many who greeted each other with fist-bumps and bright-eyes, though their smiles were concealed by constellation face masks. He asked them to “bring the magic back” for visitors who were kept away during the 412-day closure.

Employees wave at guests at Disneyland in Anaheim, California after the theme park opened its gates and some visitors came in cheering and screaming with happiness.
Employees wave at guests at Disneyland in Anaheim, California after the theme park opened its gates and some visitors came in cheering and screaming with happiness.
Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Pakistan plans to reduce the number of inbound international flights to 20% of current numbers to curb rising Covid cases, the official body overseeing the country’s pandemic response said.

“In view of prevailing global and regional disease trends, Pakistan has decided to reduce inbound international travel from 5 May to 20 May,” said the National Command Operation Center (NCOC) on Twitter.

It was not immediately clear which routes and air carriers would be affected. The NCOC added the decision would be reviewed on 18 May.

Pakistan has seen record deaths in recent days from the coronavirus, and stricter restrictions on movement and gathering in public are planned for the upcoming Eid holiday.

The Australian government is to introduce penalties including fines and jail time for anyone who tries to return home from India, with treasurer Josh Frydenberg defending the moves as “drastic” but needed.

The move comes after two Australian cricketers who had been in India returned home on Thursday after transiting through Qatar, despite the government earlier in the week banning all direct flights from Covid-ravaged India.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced the strengthening of border controls late last night, saying that anyone who attempted to defy the rules would be hit with fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both.

Reuters reports that human rights groups have criticised the ban, suggesting the government’s focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

“This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country,” Human Rights Watch’s Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement. “The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments.”

Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has today eased tough restrictions imposed last month geared to prevent the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

Reuters has the story:

In early April, Kyiv limited its public transport services, closed schools and kindergartens, theatres and shopping centres, and banned spectators from sporting events.

Starting from today, the capital will allow the operation of transport, cafes and restaurants, although passenger and customer numbers will be restricted. Wearing masks is still mandatory in transport and public places.

Shopping malls and sports clubs will be able to reopen, while schools and kindergartens will open from 5 May, local authorities said.

Last month, Kyiv recorded some of highest numbers of new infections among Ukrainian regions, but new cases dropped significantly last week.

Updated

India daily cases top 400,000 for first time, government ‘ignored warnings on variant’

India has posted a record daily rise of 401,993 new coronavirus cases today as the country opened up its humungous vaccination drive to all adults, although several states warned of acute shortages.

Reuters has the story:

It was the first time India’s daily case count had topped 400,000 after 10 consecutive days over 300,000. Deaths related to Covid-19 jumped by 3,523 over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 211,853, according to official data.

The world’s biggest producer of Covid-19 vaccines has a limited number of shots available, worsening a grim second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and morgues while families scramble for scarce medicines and oxygen.

The chief minister of the hard-hit state of Delhi yesterday implored people not to queue at vaccination centres, promising more vaccines would arrive “tomorrow or the day after”.

India’s eastern Odisha state said it had received a consignment of 150,000 shots but would only allow a few people to get shots due to lockdown restrictions preventing movement.

Meanwhile, a fire in a hospital about 115 miles south of Ahmedabad killed 16 coronavirus patients and two staff, the latest in a series of deadly accidents at hospitals.

A forum of scientific advisers set up by Modi administration warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country, five scientists who are part of the forum told Reuters.

Despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. Millions, largely unmasked, attended religious gatherings and election rallies that were held by Modi, leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition politicians.

People queue to receive a dose of the Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, at Max hospital in New Delhi on 1 May.
People queue to receive a dose of the Covishield, AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, at Max hospital in New Delhi on 1 May.
Photograph: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

England Covid rule that ‘turned care homes into prisons’ to be scrapped

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to everyone reading. I’m Mattha Busby, here bringing you global coronavirus updates for the next couple of hours.

My colleague Peter Walker has the latest on the scrapping of a rule forcing care home residents in England who go on any sort of outside visit to then spend two weeks in their room. One campaign group said the regulation had turned “care homes into prisons”.

Under new guidance to begin from Tuesday, those in care homes will not have to self-isolate if they leave the home to be in the garden of a relative or friend, or to visit outdoor spaces such as parks and beaches.

John’s Campaign, which is campaigning for better visiting rights, launched a legal challenge arguing that the mandatory self-isolation brought in three weeks ago, regardless of the age or health of the individual, was discriminatory and unlawful.

Law firm Leigh Day, which was helping John’s Campaign and other groups with the challenge, quoted the parents of a 30-year-old man with autism who lives in a home as saying they were unable to visit him because he did not understand why he could not go out with them, and became distressed.

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1520

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, World

So you’ve had your Covid jab. What can you safely do now?

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “So you’ve had your Covid jab. What can you safely do now?” was written by Linda Geddes, for The Guardian on Saturday 1st May 2021 07.30 UTC

More than 33 million people in the UK have now received a first coronavirus vaccine dose, while a quarter of adults – just over 13.2 million people – have had both doses. As more people around the world join this exclusive “fully vaccinated” club, it raises questions about whether they can ignore some of the rules on social interactions, and how they should behave around unvaccinated friends and family. Here is an experts’ guide to etiquette for the newly vaccinated.

* * *

Don’t assume you’re protected until you’ve received both doses

This week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that “fully vaccinated” people could gather indoors with other vaccinated individuals without masks or physical distancing. It considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after getting a second dose. Before this, you should have some protection – but not so much that you can afford to let down your guard.

* * *

Even once you’ve had two doses, you’re not invincible

Covid rules illustration

Although Covid vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, “it would be wrong for someone to think that because they’re fully vaccinated, that means they’re fully safe from the virus”, said Gabriel Scally, a visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol. “They can still certainly get the disease and get symptoms, and they can still transmit it.”

How much transmission is still unclear, but according to new Public Health England data, people who became infected at least three weeks after a first vaccine dose were 38-49% less likely to pass the virus to others in their homes, compared with unvaccinated individuals. Transmission did still occur in some cases, though.

* * *

Hugging another vaccinated person is unlikely to kill you – but it may lengthen the pandemic

The CDC’s advice suggests it is safe for two fully vaccinated people to hug, but others advise caution. The more the virus gets transferred, the more likely we are to see the emergence and spread of new variants which could render the vaccines less effective, and for those variants to further mutate.

“It’s great that the vaccines have an impact on transmission, because it means that once you get enough people immunised, you can drive down transmission, but on an individual level, it just doesn’t work,” said Prof Adam Finn of the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre. “[Vaccinated] older folks can go and kiss everyone on the basis that they’re highly unlikely to get seriously ill and die. But if they want to bring the pandemic to an end, they need to continue to take precautions just like everyone else.”

* * *

If you do hug, be mindful of local infection rates

Close physical contact is likely to be safer if the number of infections in your local area are low. Places such as Shetland and the Western Isles have recorded zero Covid cases in the past week, whereas the infection rates in Derry City and Strabane, and Kirklees in West Yorkshire, currently stand at 83 and 72 cases per 100,000 people respectively. “If you’re in the Western Isles, it would be safe to hug, but that’s not necessarily true everywhere,” said Scally.

It’s also worth considering where you’ve been and who you’ve seen in recent days. If you’ve been highly sociable you’re more likely to be infected.

Covid Rules Hug

* * *

Don’t assume your peers have been vaccinated just because you have

“Often in conversations, you discover that people that you would assume would be vaccinated have reservations, and some people are not sharing whether they’ve been vaccinated or not,” said Dr Nilufar Ahmed, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Bristol.

* * *

Indoor family reunions should be treated with caution

If you’re confident that everyone has been fully vaccinated, a small group of you could gather indoors with relative impunity. However, you should be more careful when mixing with unvaccinated family members or friends. In Wales, such mixing will be allowed from 3 May. The CDC advises wearing a mask in such situations. Physical distancing and ventilation also reduce risks.

* * *

It’s OK to insist everyone does a rapid Covid test as a precaution

Twice-weekly lateral flow tests have been rolled out across England. Asking people to take one before they meet at social gatherings can further reduce the risks. “For some people, that might be seen as being rude, but for others, it’s the kind of reassurance that may be needed,” Ahmed said.

* * *

For indoor public gatherings, physical distancing and masks are still essential

With larger crowds, the risks of transmission are amplified. So it is critical that people mask up and keep physically distanced in indoor public spaces such as shops, places of worship and theatres (when these open). If everyone in an audience or congregation were fully vaccinated the risk of transmission would be greatly reduced – but not entirely eliminated.

* * *

International travel is still risky for everyone

“International travel to regions with a high Covid-19 incidence should be treated with serious caution, as this brings with it a credible risk of importing new coronavirus variants of concern into the UK,” said Prof Neil Mabbott, chair of immunopathology at the University of Edinburgh.

“If a fully vaccinated person were to become infected, symptomatically or asymptomatically, with one of these variants while travelling overseas, they could bring it into the UK where it could have potential to infect both unvaccinated and fully vaccinated individuals.”

* * *

Outdoors is still safest, but wear a mask if it’s busy

Many are looking forward to the return of outdoor events but closely crowded spaces are still risky. The CDC recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks at crowded outdoor events such as live performances, parades, or sports events. It is also worth considering how people arrived at such events, and whether this may have caused overcrowding on public transport, said Mabbott.

* * *

Just because your older relatives have been jabbed, doesn’t mean you don’t need to be

Younger people are less susceptible to serious illness and death from coronavirus, but plenty still end up in hospital or develop “long Covid”. “There are plenty of young people who, even though they’re only mildly ill, are very much affected for a long period,” said Finn. Even if you think you’ve already had Covid, you could be reinfected.

Then there’s the risk you pose to others. How many people need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity is still uncertain, but the fewer who take up the offer of a vaccine, the more problems are likely later on. “As long as you’ve got approaching half the adult population non-immune, you’ve got the machinery for another big wave, and when that wave happens, it will find people who are vulnerable and kill them,” said Finn. “It might not be your granny, but it will be someone else’s granny.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1376

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, India, World

Coronavirus live: US expected to announce new travel rules for India; record daily deaths in Turkey – as it happened

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live: US expected to announce new travel rules for India; record daily deaths in Turkey – as it happened” was written by Nadeem Badshah (now); Yohannes Lowe, Kevin Rawlinson, Martin Belam and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 30th April 2021 23.08 UTC

A summary of today’s developments

  • Brazil has reported 2,595 new coronavirus deaths, its health ministry said, bringing the total to 403,781. Brazil also reported 68,333 new cases of the virus, which now total 14,659,011, Reuters reports
  • A fire has broken out at a Covid centre in Gujarat, India, according to local reports.
  • US president Joe Biden has imposed new travel restrictions on India starting on Tuesday amid the Covid-19 epidemic, barring most non-US citizens from entering, the White House said.
  • The number of people hospitalised for Covid-19 in France decreased on Friday for the fourth straight day and the average number of new daily infections fell to the lowest in more than a month, Reuters reports.
  • Health officials in the Pakistani province of Sindh said they had detected two coronavirus variants first identified in Brazil and South Africa.
  • Turkey recorded 394 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, its biggest ever daily toll, data from the health ministry showed.
  • South Africas drug regulator has said that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine can be given to pregnant women with co-morbidities or at high risk of contracting Covid.
  • Countries should share spare vaccine doses with Brazil to help the global fight against Covid-19, according to the Brazilian health minister.
  • Spain will extend the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in under 60-year-olds to 16 weeks from 12, the health ministry said.

Our coverage is closing now but a new live blog on developments around the world will be starting in a few hours.

Updated

Britain’s NHS Test and Trace system is reducing the size of its contact tracing workforce after a decline in coronavirus cases in the country.

“Just as we increased numbers working in the trace service over the winter, we are now responding to the reduction in case numbers we’ve seen this spring”, a spokeswoman for the Department for Health and Social Care said.

“We are continuing to respond to changes in demand and reflect staff numbers accordingly”, the statement added.

The UK’s south Asian communities were more likely to test positive for Covid, become severely ill and die than any other minority ethnic group in the country’s second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study.

During the first wave from February to September 2020, the paper in the Lancet medical journal found, all minority ethnic groups had a higher risk than the white community of testing positive for Covid, ending up in hospital, being admitted to intensive care, and dying, after accounting for any underlying health conditions.

But in the second wave, from September to December 2020, minority ethnic groups did better – except for the south Asian communities.

Brazil has reported 2,595 new coronavirus deaths, its health ministry said, bringing the total to 403,781.

Brazil also reported 68,333 new cases of the virus, which now total 14,659,011, Reuters reports.

Updated

Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the US would probably send them around 5 million more doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, saying a factory set to make the drug domestically was not yet ready.

Reuters reports:

Struggling with delays at the factory and shortfalls in deliveries from foreign vaccine suppliers, Mexico has asked the United States for more shots after an initial loan of some 2.7 million AstraZeneca doses.

“It’s probable that they help us with a loan, while the AstraZeneca plant in Mexico gets up and running,” Lopez Obrador said.

The role of vaccines in keeping down coronavirus infections is growing but caution must be exercised in easing restrictions, a member of the UK’s government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation member said.
Professor Adam Finn told BBC Newsnight: “I think the role of the vaccine programme is increasing week on week. “Increasingly we’re seeing the impact of the vaccine, initially on hospitalisation and now increasingly actually on transmission of the virus. So we are in a good place. “The low figures are a reflection of that but I think there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 14 months is that how things are today is not a close and accurate predictor of how things will be in two or three months time, so we have to expect a certain amount of instability going forward, I don’t think this is all over yet.”

Here is some more information on US president Joe Biden announcing new travel restrictions on India.

The restrictions, which take effect on May 4 , are on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and were imposed because “the magnitude and scope of the Covid-19 pandemic” in India was “surging,” the White House said.

Biden on Friday signed a proclamation implementing the restrictions, which were first reported by Reuters.

The proclamation said India “accounts for over one-third of new global cases” and added that “proactive measures are required to protect the nation’s public health from travelers entering the United States” from India.

Fire breaks out at centre treating Covid patients in India

A fire has broken out at a Covid centre in Gujarat, India, according to local reports.

The US is hearing “huge demand” from countries around the world for vaccines not needed by Americans but has not developed a criteria for allocating them, its government said.

The White House said on Monday it will start to share up to 60 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus vaccine with other countries, as soon as the next few weeks, but the Federal Drug Administration still needs to approve those doses, Reuters reports.

Gayle Smith, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for global Covid-19 response, said Washington has not decided yet on how to allocate those vaccines that will be shared with other countries, despite the clamor from allies like India, where the virus is surging.

“I think we certainly will be making a decision based on what impact we can have on the spread of the virus, where needs are most acute and what will be the most effective,” said Smith.

She said the situation in India was “very, very serious” but had not yet peaked and would need persistent attention for some time and the immediate aid that the United States was already providing, such as protective gear and vaccine manufacturing supplies.

“We’re also looking at other things that can be done to build up supply chains within India so there can be a more steady supply of all those things that are needed to manage this overtime.”

The US is extending face mask requirements across all transportation networks through to September 13, Reuters reports.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration requirements that took effect on February 1st were to set to expire on May 11.

They cover workers and travelers at airports, on board commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through September 13.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the federal mask mandate in nearly all transportation modes in late January, including on ride-share vehicles.

The order does not apply to private cars or commercial trucks being driven by a sole operator.

Airlines for America, a trade group, hailed “the administration’s decision to extend the mandate requiring face coverings onboard commercial aircraft and in airports.”

David Ngwerume shows his artwork called “Arms” in Harare, Zimbabwe. David Ngwerume is making Sculptures which is disseminating COVID-19 messages through his artwork. He has carved a sculptor called Arms which has become his signature piece during the pandemic.
David Ngwerume shows his artwork called “Arms” in Harare, Zimbabwe. David Ngwerume is making Sculptures which is disseminating COVID-19 messages through his artwork. He has carved a sculptor called Arms which has become his signature piece during the pandemic. Photograph: Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images

Canada will start getting Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines from the US next week, a company spokesperson said, in what will be the first time the U.S. has allowed that company’s vaccine exported to Canada.

Canada has been getting Pfizer’s vaccines from Belgium until now, Reuters reports.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said starting next week, Canada will be receiving 2 million doses a week from Pfizer alone.

Vaccinations have ramped up in the country in recent months. Every adult in Quebec will be eligible to make a vaccine appointment on May 14 and in Ontario every adult can book an appointment starting May 24.

Updated

A summary of today’s developments

Updated

Brazilian pharmaceutical associations called for lawmakers to reject a bill that seeks to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents, saying it could spark international retaliation and reduce medical supplies, Reuters reports.

Brazil’s Senate passed the proposal on Thursday night, sending it to the lower house for consideration.

The bill’s backers say the emergency measure is needed due to a shortage of shots and a grave outbreak in Brazil, where over 400,000 people have died from the virus.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly opposed calls to suspend patent protections, arguing they could endanger talks with vaccine producers.

In a joint statement, five of Brazil’s leading pharmaceutical associations sided with his administration.

“The approval of a bill that allows for the weakening of intellectual property could lead to international retaliation and reduce the supply of pharmaceutical inputs.

“We cannot support measures that could generate more instability and scenarios that may have irreversible consequences, in the short, medium and long term for Brazil.”

Updated

More than 90 people were found “huddled together” in a home in Houston in the US in a possible case of human smuggling, police said, ABC News is reporting.

No one was seriously injured but Houston Police Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards said “We are concerned that there may be some positive Covid cases inside the house.”

Cape Verde announced new coronavirus-related restrictions on Friday, after a recent surge of infections in the West African archipelago nation.

AFP reports:

Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva told reporters on the island of Sal, a popular tourist destination, that sports facilities will close for a month from Friday, and that restaurants and bars must shut after 9 pm.

Cape Verde has reported over 23,500 Covid-19 infections, with 213 deaths, according to official statistics.

But health officials in the country of 550,000 people have recorded an uptick in cases, which have recently averaged about 250 a day.

Updated

Disneyland reopened on Friday and cruise lines welcomed the news that they could be sailing again in the US by midsummer, as the number of Americans fully vaccinated against Covid–19 reached another milestone: 100 million.

Visitors cheered as the Southern California theme park swung open its gates for the first time in 13 months, allowing only in-state guests for now and operating at just 25% capacity, Associated Press reports.

Masks, temperature checks and no hugs with Mickey Mouse greeted visitors.

Guests, age 2 and older, were required to wear face masks and there were none of the usual hugs with costumed characters like Mickey Mouse and Snow White.

There will be no parades, and the nightly fireworks displays have been put on hold to prevent crowds from gathering closely together.

A group stage a demonstration to remember the 400,000 deaths by Covid-19 in Brazil, in Praia do Leme, next to Copacabana Beach, in Rio De Janeiro.
A group stage a demonstration to remember the 400,000 deaths by Covid-19 in Brazil, in Praia do Leme, next to Copacabana Beach, in Rio De Janeiro. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The number of people hospitalised for Covid-19 in France decreased on Friday for the fourth straight day and the average number of new daily infections fell to the lowest in more than a month, Reuters reports.

Also the overall number of hospitalisations was down by 557 to 28,930 and the number of patients in intensive care wards fell by 129 to 5,675.
The health ministry reported 24,299 new confirmed virus infections, taking the total to 5.6 million.

The seven-day moving average of new cases is now down to just over 25,000, from a high of more than 42,000 mid-April.

France also reported 290 new coronavirus deaths, to 104,514, the eighth highest tally globally.

US expected to announce new travel rules on India

US president Joe Biden is expected to impose new travel restrictions on India starting on Tuesday amid the Covid-19 epidemic, barring most non-U.S. citizens from entering, a White House official told Reuters.

The new restrictions are on the advice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are imposed “in light of extraordinarily high Covid-19 case loads and multiple variants circulating in India,” the official said.

President Biden in January issued a similar ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa.

He also reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-US travelers who have been in Brazil, the UK, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

Health officials in the Pakistani province of Sindh said they have detected two coronavirus variants first identified in Brazil and South Africa.
Reuters reports:

The highly contagious variants were discovered at a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, which has also reported the most deaths in any city, accounting for 3,903 of the country’s 17,811 deaths.

Some 820,823 cases have been detected in the country, with 5,112 in the last 24 hours, according to the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the government’s pandemic response.

Yesterday 13 samples underwent genomic study at the Agha Khan University Hospital, of these 10 were of the UK variant, and 2 were of the Africa and Brazil variants”, Minister for Health & Population Welfare, Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho said.

Early evening summary

Here is a quick recap of all the main Covid updates from around the world:

Pfizer Inc will next week start supplying Canada with Covid vaccine made in its US plant, a senior official has said.

Federal procurement minister Anita Anand told a briefing:

I can confirm that as of 3 May, the Canadian supply of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will come from its manufacturing site in Kalamazoo. We expect to remain on the same delivery schedule, with 2m doses expected each week in May, starting next week, and 2.4m doses each week in June.

Reuters reports:

Russia recorded more than 400,000 excess deaths from last April to this March during the pandemic, according to Reuters calculations based on data from the state statistics agency published on Friday.

Excess death figures, which some epidemiologists say are the best way to measure the true toll from Covid-19 given that counting methods vary between countries, surpass official Covid death figures in many countries.

Albania has approved the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, Reuters reports the Russian Direct Investment Fund as saying.

According to the RDIF, which promotes the vaccine abroad, the first batch of Russian vaccines had already been delivered to Albania.

Turkey records biggest daily Covid death toll

Turkey recorded 394 Covid-linked deaths in the last 24 hours, its biggest ever daily toll, data from the health ministry showed on Friday.

The figures also showed 31,891 new coronavirus cases in the same period, Reuters reports.

Ankara has tightened restrictions as infections and deaths surged to record highs after an easing of measures in March.

On Thursday, people in Turkey have entered a nationwide lockdown that will last until 17 May.

In England, clubbers have been able to return to the dancefloor at a pilot event for 3,000 people.

Club night Circus hosted The First Dance in Liverpool, where revellers, who all had to produce negative tests, did not have to wear face coverings or social distance for the first time since before lockdown.

Updated

Daily lateral flow tests could provide an alternative to quarantining for close contacts of people with Covid-19, according to data submitted to the government’s Sage committee.

The government is understood to be weighing up various alternatives to the current ten day quarantine period for those contacted by Test and Trace officers because they’ve been within two metres of an infected person up to two days before they tested positive.

Taking a daily lateral flow test for seven days could be one such option, a newly released Sage document suggests.

If the tests were negative, the individual could continue with their daily activities, potentially reducing the negative psychological and financial impact associated with self-isolating, as well as reducing onward transmission of the virus by boosting compliance.

Nearly two thirds of individuals offered this option chose to take it, according to the results of a Public Health England pilot study which were shared with Sage.

Participants from White backgrounds reported a strong preference for daily testing over a ten day quarantine period, although participants from ethnic minority groups were more divided.

More than half (52%) of those who participated said they would be more likely to share the details of people that they had been in contact with following a positive test result, if they knew that their contacts would similarly be offered the option of daily testing instead of quarantine.

“Overall, our data suggested that daily testing has the potential to be a feasible and acceptable alternative to self-isolation,” the researchers wrote.

However, there is a need to develop materials and campaigns to explain the rationale and procedures and address concerns, especially among BAME communities.

Our data also suggests that daily testing may facilitate sharing contact details of close contacts among those who test positive for Covid-19, and could promote adherence to self-isolation. ”

Vital coronavirus research, including a project tracking variants in India, has had its funding reduced by up to 70% under swingeing cuts to the UK overseas aid budget.

One of Britain’s leading infectious disease experts said the UK government cuts were certain to damage attempts to tackle the virus and track new variants.

Oliver Pybus, a professor of evolution and infectious disease at the University of Oxford and part of the team that identified the Kent and Brazilian Covid variants, said:

A 70% cut for a huge international consortium with a budget of £20m and over 80 employees – this is devastating.

Patrick Wintour, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, has the full story here:

Italy reported 263 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday against 288 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 13,446 from 14,320.

The number of Covid patients in intensive care in France fell for the fourth consecutive day on Friday, decreasing by 129 to 5,675, health ministry data indicates.

From 19 May, restaurants, cafes and bars will be allowed to reopen their outdoor terraces. Museums, cinemas and theatres will also reopen on that day.

Turkey will receive a further 1m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine in May, health minister Fahrettin Koca said, adding that there were no issues with an option to procure another 30 million in June.

Earlier this week, Koca had said that vaccines would be more scarce in the next two months, but President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he saw no issues with procurement.

He confirmed that Ankara would receive shots from Russia, China and BioNTech in the next months, according to Reuters.

This thread is from Maria Van Kerkhove, of Imperial College London (see here for earlier comments from the briefing):

Argentina has announced a three-week extension of anti-coronavirus measures that include cancellation of in-person public school classes and an 8pm curfew for social activities in response to a deadly second wave of infections, Reuters reports.

The country has confirmed 2,954,943 cases of the virus with a total 63,508 deaths, as infection rates spike.

“The epidemiological situation in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires is critical and we have other areas with high health concerns,” said the centre-left president Alberto Fernandez in a recorded message for the media. “We must make a new effort to lower circulation, reduce infections and thus decompress our health system as much as possible.”

A few months before the mid-term elections in October, Fernandez faces criticism for the strict lockdown he applied in 2020 and for the slow progress of vaccination against Covid-19. The economy has been in recession since 2018.

Tension has risen between national and Buenos Aires city authorities over the cancellation of in-person school classes.

A single dose of Pfizer’s vaccine may not generate a sufficient immune response to protect against dominant new variants, except in people who have already been infected with Covid-19, Reuters reports a UK study as having found.

The Imperial College-led study, which looked at immune responses in British healthcare workers after their first dose of the Pfizer shot, found that people who had previously had mild or asymptomatic infection had enhanced protection against more infectious mutated variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa.

But the immune response after a first dose of the shot was weaker in people who had not previously been infected, potentially leaving them at risk from such variants, researchers leading the work said on Friday.

The eurozone fell back into recession in the first three months of the year, as a slow vaccination drive and tougher restrictions to stem a third coronavirus wave damaged the region’s economies.

GDP in the 19 economies sharing the euro shrank by 0.6% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, according to figures from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.

My colleagues Julia Kollewe and Graeme Wearden have the latest here:

South Africa regulator says J&J shot can be given to pregnant women

Reuters reports:

South Africas drug regulator has said that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine can be given to pregnant women with co-morbidities or at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The South African health ministry said Sahpra had previously said pregnant and breast-feeding women should be excluded from a local research study evaluating the J&J vaccine’s efficacy.

That research study, which aims to immunize 500,000 health workers, resumed on Wednesday after it was temporarily suspended over extremely rare cases of blood clots in people given J&J’s vaccine in the United States.

But in recommendations posted on its website on Thursday, the regulator said pregnant women who have co-morbidities or are at high risk of exposure to Covid-19 like health workers “may be vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider”.

“Women who are breastfeeding should be counselled on the absence of information in this regard and a benefit-risk assessment should be made by the enrolling clinician,” it said.

On Thursday, Italy hit its target of administering 500,000 Covid vaccinations in a single day, health minister Roberto Speranza has confirmed.

Officials had originally hoped to pass the milestone mid-month but had to push this back mainly because of supply delays and persisting doubts over shots produced by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The Italian government said that as of early Friday, some 19.4m vaccinations had been carried out, with 5.8m people having received their full vaccine cycle – just under 10% of the total population, Reuters reports.

The figures are in line with the EU average.

The World Health Organization expects to release its assessments for emergency use listing of the two main Chinese Covid vaccines, as well as the Moderna shot, by the end of next week, its assistant director-general said.

As Reuters reports, Mariangela Simao said the WHO’s independent panel was assessing the Moderna vaccine and a vaccine from China’s Sinopharm on Friday and was due to look at China’s other main vaccine, made by Sinovac Biotech, next week.

She told a briefing:

So, by the beginning of next week or the end of next week we will have the final assessment of these three vaccines out.

Demonstrators have laid hundreds of body bags on Brazil’s most famous beach in protest as the country’s Covid death toll hit 400,000 and anger at president Jair Bolsonaro grew.

A demonstrator from the Rio de Paz human rights activist group digs a symbolic grave in front of rows of bags symbolizing bodybags on Copacabana beach, during a protest against the Brazilian governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in Rio de Janeiro on April 30, 2021.
A demonstrator from the Rio de Paz human rights activist group digs a symbolic grave in front of rows of bags symbolizing bodybags on Copacabana beach, during a protest against the Brazilian governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in Rio de Janeiro on April 30, 2021. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Bolsonaro, who has undermined containment measures and trivialized the pandemic, has overseen one of the world’s worst Covid outbreaks with more than 14.5 million infections and 401,417 fatalities.

“Remaining silent at a moment this like would mean being accomplices,” the activist and church leader Antônio Carlos Costa told reporters as his group staged the protest on Copacabana beach.

Costa said the federal government’s handling of Covid had “cost thousands of lives”.

A parliamentary inquiry was launched this week to investigate Bolsonaro’s Covid response and his government’s failure to acquire sufficient vaccines to protect Brazil’s 212m citizens.

“There are culprits … and they will be held responsible,” the inquiry’s rapporteur, the senator Renan Calheiros, declared as it held its first session on Tuesday. “The country has the right to know who contributed to all these thousands of deaths and those people must be punished immediately and emblematically.”

The Morrison government is exploring the extraordinary option of making it a criminal offence for Australians to return home from Covid hotspots overseas.

The moves comes after two Australian cricketers who had been in India returned home on Thursday after transiting through Qatar, despite the government earlier in the week banning all direct flights from Covid-ravaged India.

Guardian Australia has confirmed the government is mulling the option of criminalising returns from countries experiencing severe outbreaks. Biosecurity regulations invoked to manage public health during the pandemic already give government authorities sweeping powers.

You can read the full story here:

Reuters reports:

India’s coronavirus cases may peak between 3-5 May, according to a mathematical model of a team of scientists advising the government, a few days earlier than a previous estimate as the virus has spread faster than expected.

The world’s second-most populous country has reported more than 300,000 new infections daily for nine consecutive days, hitting another global record of 386,452 on Friday.

The surge has led to a public health crisis in India, forcing the government to seek oxygen, medicines and other essentials from countries around the world.

“Our belief is that by next week, the daily new cases nationwide would have peaked,” M. Vidyasagar, head of a government-appointed group of scientists modelling the trajectory of infections, told Reuters.

Brazil calls on countries to share spare vaccines

Queiroga said Brazil had given out 41m vaccine doses but needed more supplies to meet a target of 2.4m doses per day.

Countries should contribute spare doses as soon as possible “so we can broaden our vaccination campaign and contain the pandemic at this critical time and avoid the proliferation of new variants,” he said.

Speaking at the WHO press conference, Marcelo Queiroga, the Brazilian health minister, says he is committed to ensuring vaccinations are accelerated across the country. Querioga adds that the federal government has tried to strengthen Brazil’s health care system to rise to the challenges of the crisis. But he is calling on other countries to share doses with Brazil to ensure equitable access to Covid vaccines.

Updated

Turkey’s official Medicines and Medical Devices Agency has said the country has granted emergency use authorisation to Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine.

Health minister Fahrettin Koca said earlier this week that Turkey has signed a deal for 50m doses of Sputnik V, Reuters reports.

Updated

You can watch the World Health Organization chief participate in a Covid press conference with Brazilian health minister on the player at the top of this blog. The focus will be on Brazil and the Americas regions.

Spain to extend gap between AstraZeneca doses to 16 weeks

Spain will extend the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in under 60-year-olds to 16 weeks from 12, the health ministry has confirmed.

The extension gives authorities more breathing space to determine how best to handle shifting safety guidelines for the drug, the ministry said.

Spain, as Reuters reports, initially gave AstraZeneca shots to essential workers aged 18-65 before restricting their use to over-60s amid concerns about blood clots in younger people.

That change provoked widespread uncertainty and meant some younger people who had already received a first dose have been excluded from getting a second.

By extending the interval between doses, authorities will be able to evaluate the results of trials on mixing different vaccines before deciding whether those groups will receive a second AstraZeneca shot or another drug, the ministry explained

Updated

Here is some analysis on the breakdown of Covid cases (per 100,000 over a week) in under-20s in England by Kit Yates, co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath:

Foreign tourist arrivals to Portugal slumped 92% in the first quarter from a year ago as a sharp surge in Covid infections at the start of the year forced the country into lockdown, data indicates.

As Reuters reports, the National Statistics Institute said about 160,000 foreign visitors stayed in Portuguese hotels between January and March 2021.

The country’s first lockdown began in mid-March 2020, meaning the first quarter of that year was still little affected.

A woman sits facing the Tagus River in Ribeira das Naus a day before the end of the state of emergency during the pandemic on April 29, 2021 in Lisbon, Portugal.
A woman sits facing the Tagus River in Ribeira das Naus a day before the end of the state of emergency during the pandemic on Thursday in Lisbon, Portugal. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis/Getty Images

Updated

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have decreased in all regions of England except in Yorkshire and the Humber and in eastern England, where the trend is uncertain, the ONS said.

Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive for coronavirus in the week to 24 April: about one in 530.

South-west England had the lowest estimate: around one in 2,980, PA Media reports.

Updated

Proportion of Covid infections in England at lowest level since September- ONS

The prevalence of Covid infections in England has fallen sharply for a third consecutive week, the Office for National Statistics has said, with the estimated proportion of people infected at its lowest level since early September.

According to the ONS, an estimated 1 in 1,010 people in England had Covid-19 in the week ending 24 April, compared to 1 in 610 a week earlier.

You can read the full release here.

Updated

About 22m people in the UK are living in areas that have not reported any Covid-19 deaths that happened in April, according to BBC News analysis.

By comparison, in a month period during January’s peak, less than 50,000 people lived in such places.

AP reports:


India has tried to fight skyrocketing coronavirus infections by increasing its production of vaccines and banning their export, cutting off supplies to neighbors such as Bangladesh and Nepal as they struggle with infection surges of their own.

These nations have imposed lockdowns as residents of big cities flee to the countryside seeking safety. They are also turning to China and Russia for vaccines in a desperate effort to deal with a pandemic that is becoming bigger and deadlier across South Asia.

Although new, more transmissible variants appear to be partly behind the surge, experts say other factors are contributing, including large holiday gatherings and growing fatigue with social distancing and mask wearing.

Gyms, leisure centres, and pools can reopen in Wales from next week

In Wales, gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will be able to reopen from next Monday, the government has confirmed.

Organised children’s indoor activities and indoor adult fitness classes can also resume as part of further easing of curbs.

Two households will also be able form an exclusive bubble and be able to meet indoors, PA Media reports.

The Welsh Government said the changes meant Wales will have moved to Alert Level 3 by 3 May.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

The public health situation continues to improve and our vaccination programme remains a success. Thanks to the efforts of people across Wales, we are in a position to further ease the restrictions, in the way we have previously signalled, to allow more elements of normal life to return. However, the virus has not gone away.

This has been shared by Stephen Reicher, of the school of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews:

Updated

Hello everyone, this is Yohannes Lowe. I’ll be running the blog until the evening (UK time). As always, feel free to get in touch on Twitter if you have any story tips.

Today so far…

  • India posted a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 386,452, while deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 3,498 over the last 24 hours, according to health ministry data.
  • Several Indian states have run out of Covid-19 vaccines a day before a planned widening of a nationwide inoculation drive, authorities have said.
  • Indian scientists have appealed in an open letter to prime minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data that they say would allow them to save lives.
  • British bank Barclays says it has rushed out £1m ($1.4m) worth of medical supplies to India in the last week.
  • Ukraine will impose an entry ban on non-nationals arriving from India from 2 May.
  • Uganda has detected the Indian variant of the novel coronavirus, igniting fears the nation could suffer a resurgence of cases just when its outbreak has waned.
  • Shops and pubs, restaurants and cafes with outdoor service have started to reopen in Northern Ireland after four months of lockdown. Its vaccination programme is also to be opened up to some 30- to 34-year-olds
  • Access to vaccinations in England has been expanded again – with all over-40s being offered the opportunity to book their jabs.
  • A new survey suggests that 31% of people in the UK believe vaccine passports will reduce civil liberties. That number is up from 25% when people were asked the same question last month.
  • In Ireland, drinkers may be able to enjoy a pint inside a pub by the end of July and holiday abroad in late summer, prime minister Micheál Martin has said.
  • Hopes are rising in Germany that the country has managed to flatten the curve of its third wave of the pandemic, as the latest infection rates defy worst-case predictions from earlier this spring.
  • AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot told a media briefing that the company did its best to deliver as much as it could to the EU. “We never overpromised, we communicated what we thought we would achieve at the time,” he said.
  • In Cambodia a court has jailed three people, including a top police general, for more than a year for violating Covid-19 restrictions by attending a party.
  • Russia’s agricultural regulator has said that Russia has produced the world’s first batch – 17,000 doses – of Covid-19 vaccines for animals.

That is it from me Martin Belam, I will be back with you on Monday. Yohannes Lowe will be taking over from me on global coronavirus news, and Andrew Sparrow has the UK live blog over here.

Updated

Irish drinkers may be able to enjoy a pint inside a pub by the end of July and holiday abroad in late summer as the government seeks to largely lift all Covid-19 restrictions, prime minister Micheál Martin has said this morning.

Padraic Halpin at Reuters reports that the government pressed ahead yesterday with plans to reopen all retail stores and personal services for the first time in more than four months in May, with bars and restaurants allowed to serve guests outdoors from early June.

Irish pubs shut their doors when the first wave of Covid-19 hit Ireland in March 2020. Some were allowed to open their doors last summer and briefly again in December, the only periods the economy has not been subjected to a strict lockdown.

“The indoor pint? Certainly not in May or June. It may be possible towards the end of July,” Martin told the Newstalk radio station.

The government has said it will develop a plan for a phased return to international travel and Martin said it was possible that holidays abroad could be permitted in July or August as the EU rolls out digital health passes for vaccinated citizens.

Northern Ireland has also relaxed some restrictions on retail and hospitality this morning.

Top police general in Cambodia jailed for breaking Covid restrictions

A Cambodian court has jailed three people, including a top police general, for more than a year for violating Covid-19 restrictions by attending a party, a court official said on Friday.

Reuters report that Major General Ung Chanthuok, deputy chief of staff of the national police, was sentenced on Thursday to 12 months in prison over a party he organised earlier this month, while two other attendees received 18-month terms. Ung Chanthuok was sacked after his arrest.

Kuch Kimlong, deputy prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said all three were also fined $1,250 each.

The sentences were among the toughest so far under a strict law passed in March this year by Cambodia’s parliament, which prescribes punishments that include jail terms of three years for quarantine breaches and 10 years for leaving treatment facilities while infected, or intentionally spreading Covid-19.

Cambodia is fighting a surge in coronavirus infections that has seen its case total jump from about 500 to 12,641 since late February, including all 91 of its deaths.

British bank Barclays says it has rushed out £1m ($1.4m) worth of medical supplies to India in the last week to help communities there tackle the surge in Covid-19 cases.

“We are very focused on India right now, which is our second biggest employee location,” chief executive Jes Staley told Reuters after a briefing announcing the bank’s first quarter results.

Staley said Barclays – which has roughly 20,000 employees in India – had directed money from its charitable funds to partners in India.

“We are very mindful that a number of employees need to stay home. We want to keep paying them, but allow them to help their families manage,” Staley said.

Northern Ireland hospitality and retail outlets reopened

Shops and pubs, restaurants and cafes with outdoor service have started to reopen in Northern Ireland on Friday after four months of lockdown.

Gyms, swimming pools and self-contained tourist accommodation such as caravan sites also reopened, broadly aligning the region with the rest of the UK.

Rules on outdoor meet-ups have been relaxed to allow 15 people from three households to meet in a private garden.

Shoppers in Derry and Belfast formed long queues outside stores from early morning.

Shoppers queue ouside Primark in Belfast as shops reopen and hospitality is able to open outdoors in Northern Ireland.
Shoppers queue ouside Primark in Belfast as shops reopen and hospitality is able to open outdoors in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA

The region’s health minister, Robin Swann, urged the hospitality industry to not court cross-border business from the republic, which lags Northern Ireland in vaccinations.

The Irish government has announced a reopening plan for the south. From 10 May hairdressers can reopen and people can travel across county lines. On 17 May all shops can reopen and on 2 June hotels, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation can reopen.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s tanaiste, or deputy prime minister, told RTE the plan had an “emergency brake” to reimpose restrictions if the Covid-19 virus surged out of control.

Economy minister Diane Dodds welcomed the relaxations on an early morning visit to Belfast’s Victoria Square shopping centre.

Economy minister Diane Dodds speaks to the media during a visit to to the Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfas.
Economy minister Diane Dodds speaks to the media during a visit to to the Victoria Square shopping centre in Belfas. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA

PA report that Dodds also highlighted that the Stormont Executive’s delayed high street voucher scheme is set to start operating at the end of the summer, with every adult in Northern Ireland eligible for a £100 prepaid card to spend in the local retail sector.

“Today’s a really good day for the economy,” she said. “Our shops are opening, our hospitality is able to open outdoors, our self-contained accommodation is opening, we’re announcing the high street voucher scheme.”

As noted earlier, health minister Robin Swann has also announced that the region’s vaccine programme is now open to the 30-34 age group.

Don’t forget that Andrew Sparrow has fuller coverage of today’s developments in the UK over on our politics live blog

Updated

AstraZeneca CEO insists ‘We never overpromised’ vaccine deliveries to the EU

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot has been giving a wide-ranging media briefing this morning, which Reuters have been following.

In one key passage he has stated that the drugmaker had not overpromised on its ability to supply Covid-19 vaccines around the world, and he defended big cuts in deliveries that prompted a lawsuit by the European Union.

Pascal Soriot told a media briefing that the company did its best to deliver as much as it could to the EU. “We never overpromised, we communicated what we thought we would achieve at the time,” he said.

Soriot said the company still expected to hit output of 200m doses of the vaccine this month.

The company said it planned to apply for US approval for its vaccine in the coming weeks. That is a delay from late March when the company also said it would submit the data in the coming weeks.

Mene Pangalos, who is executive vice-president of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said “There’s a lot more data than just a phase III study and so we’re working as fast as we can to pull it all together and submit.”

Updated

Uganda says it has detected its first case of ‘Indian variant’ of Covid

Uganda has detected the Indian variant of the novel coronavirus, igniting fears the east African nation could suffer a resurgence of cases just when its outbreak has waned, a senior health official has said.

“Yes, we have got one individual who has that variant,” Pontiano Kaleebu, head of the government-run Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) told Reuters on Friday.

The variant, he said, had been detected in recent days on a Ugandan who had returned from a visit to India.

Health Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona told Reuters the country’s coronavirus taskforce would discuss the situation on Friday.

So far, Uganda has experienced a relatively mild Covid-19 outbreak. But concerns it could be vulnerable to contagion from the Indian variant are underscored by its large Indian community and strong relationship between the two countries as India is a major exporter to Uganda.

On Thursday, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned India’s intense outbreak was a reminder that Africa must stay vigilant.

The head of the health agency John Nkengasong said the African Union will convene a meeting of African health ministers on 8 May to “put everybody on alert”.

Updated

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK politics live blog for today – you can follow that over here…

I’ll be carrying on here with global Covid news and the very top lines from the UK.

Indian scientists have appealed to prime minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data that would allow them to save lives.

India’s pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data and the online appeal – signed by over 350 scientists – asks government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines.

The appeal says that “granular” data on testing was inaccessible to non-government experts and even to some government experts too. Modeling work to predict future surges was being done by government-appointed experts with insufficient information. Similarly, scientists had failed to get information that would allow them predict how many beds, oxygen or intensive care facilities would be needed, it said.

Ashok Sharma in New Delhi for Associated Press says the appeal urged the government to widen the number of organisations sequencing the virus to study its evolution, and also increase the number of samples being studied.

It added that restrictions on importing scientific raw materials was an obstacle. “Such restrictions, at this time, only serve to impede our ability to deal with Covid-19,” it said.

Updated

Northern Ireland vaccinations to be opened up to some 30- to 34-year-olds

Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme is to be opened up to some 30- to 34-year-olds, reports PA Media.

Health minister Robin Swann said there is some limited availability for people in that age cohort.

The appointments are mainly available at the mass vaccination centre in Belfast’s SSE Arena, with bookings opening at 10am on Friday. Some appointments may also become available in community pharmacies.

Swann said: “It is worth remembering the progress that our vaccination programme has made in a relatively short period of time. In less than five months we have vaccinated almost 1 million people, and thousands of our citizens have been able to receive the vaccine well ahead of schedule.

“I know that we all long for a sustainable return to more normal times and vaccination offers the best hope for this. Uptake is very encouraging, and I’m pleased that we are moving so quickly through the cohorts.

“We have a limited number of slots that we can now offer to those aged 30 to 34, so, if you’re eligible, I would urge you to step forward and take the opportunity to get the jab.”

The booking service for Northern Ireland is available online here.

Earlier it was announced that vaccines in England would be extended to everybody over 40.

Updated

Hopes are rising in Germany that the country has managed to flatten the curve of its third wave of the pandemic, as the latest infection rates defy worst-case predictions from earlier this spring.

On Friday, the German disease control agency reported 24,329 new cases of Covid-19 infections, a week-on-week drop of 12%. The crucial indicator of infections per 100,000 over seven days has sunk to its lowest value since mid-April.

In mid-March, scientists and politicians had feared that new, more infectious variants of the virus could accelerate the spread of the pandemic so dramatically that Germany would record 40,000 new infections per day by April.

The reasons for the slow-down are unclear: the new “emergency brake” law developed by Angela Merkel’s government has only been in place for a week and would not show up on the latest numbers. Germany has been caught in a state of semi-lockdown since November.

A pick-up in the speed of the German vaccination roll-out could be one factor: as of Thursday morning, the country had vaccinated over a quarter of its population, with over a million doses administered this Wednesday alone. If the current pace is kept up, Germany could manage to vaccinate half of its population by the end of June, rather than September as previously expected.

Updated

Several Indian states have run out of Covid vaccines

Several Indian states have run out of Covid-19 vaccines a day before a planned widening of a nationwide inoculation drive, authorities have said.

India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines but does not have enough stockpiles to keep up with the second deadly Covid-19 wave, despite prime minister Narendra Modi’s government planning to vaccinate all adults starting 1 May. Only about 9% of India’s 1.4 billion people have received a vaccine dose since January.

Chandini Monnappa and Tanvi Mehta report for Reuters that India had originally planned to vaccinate only 300 million of its highest-risk people by August, but widened the target due to the rise in cases.

However, its two vaccine producers were already struggling to increase capacity beyond 80m doses a month due to a shortage of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute, which manufactures AstraZeneca’s vaccine in India.

Inoculation centres in Mumbai will be shut for three days starting Friday because of the shortage of vaccines, authorities said.

Signs announcing that there will be no vaccination for three days, due to shortage of vaccine supplies, are seen outside a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccination centre, in Mumbai.
Signs announcing that there will be no vaccinations for three days due to a shortage of supplies are seen outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Mumbai. Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images

In the southern state of Karnataka, home to the tech hub of Bengaluru, the state’s health minister said Karnataka’s vaccination drive for adults will not begin on 1 May.

“The state government has not received any information from companies about when they will be able to supply these vaccines,” said health minister K Sudhakar.

Updated

A quick financial snap from PA Media here – AstraZeneca has revealed it banked revenues of £197m ($275m) in the first three months of the year from sales of its Covid-19 vaccine, delivering 68m doses worldwide.

The pharmaceutical firm, which is not making a profit from the vaccine, said sales of some of the company’s other drugs had been affected by the global pandemic, as other medical conditions went untreated, but overall sales remained strong.

Updated

News that Russia was developing a Covid vaccine for dogs first broke at the very end of March, leading up to April fool’s day, and I must confess that I didn’t put it into this blog then for fear of it being revealed as a joke.

However, Reuters today are carrying the news that Russia’s agricultural regulator has said that Russia has produced the world’s first batch – 17,000 doses – of Covid-19 vaccines for animals.

Polina Devitt writes that tests showed Carnivac-Cov generated antibodies against Covid-19 in dogs, cats, foxes and mink. The first batch will be supplied to several regions of Russia, the regulator Rosselkhoznadzor said in a statement.

It said companies from Germany, Greece, Poland, Austria, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, Lebanon, Iran and Argentina had expressed interest in purchasing the vaccine.

One of the worries with continued transmission of the novel coronavirus is that it will be able to pass between humans and animals, potentially bringing about more mutations which could lead to a deadlier or more infectious strand, or one on which our current array of vaccines for humans do not work.

China appears to have set another daily record for vaccinations in the country. Reuters report that the National Health Commission figures published this morning show that yesterday 9.6m vaccinations were administered.

That takes the total number of vaccinations the state says it has administered up to 253m.

The country reported 13 new Covid cases on the mainland yesterday, all of which the government said were imported infections originating from overseas.

Updated

Joanna Slater and Niha Masih at the Washington Post have a piece this morning looking at the backlash against India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, as the Covid disaster unfolds under his watch:

For Modi, the most powerful Indian prime minister in five decades, it is a moment of reckoning. He is facing what appears to be the country’s biggest crisis since independence, a calamity that is challenging his vision of a proud, self-reliant nation.

Modi’s own lapses and missteps are an increasing source of anger. As coronavirus cases skyrocketed, Modi continued to hold huge election rallies and declined to cancel a Hindu religious festival that drew millions to the banks of the Ganges River, despite pleas from health experts.

Rather than making urgent preparations for a second wave of cases in an already weak health-care system, the government put much of its focus on vaccinations — a campaign too limited to blunt the oncoming disaster. The government repeatedly chose self-congratulation over caution, publicly stating that the pandemic was in its “end game” in India as recently as last month.

Modi’s national government as well as state authorities “went into the comfort zone of believing the pandemic has passed,” said Srinath Reddy, the president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “That illusion came to settle in the minds of most people and clouded their judgment.”

While health officials were reminding people to wear masks and maintain distance, Indians saw “their prime minister doing just the opposite on national television every evening”, said Navjot Singh Dahiya, national vice-president of the Indian Medical Association. Modi’s biggest failure is that “his government kept misleading people during such a huge tragedy. Now people are paying with their lives”.

Read more here: Washington Post – In India’s devastating coronavirus surge, anger at Modi grows

Updated

All over 40s in England to be offered Covid vaccines

Access to vaccinations in England has been expanded again – with all over-40s being offered the opportunity to book their jabs.

PA Media reports that NHS England said that text messages will be sent out from Friday to people aged 40 and 41. Nearly 750,000 appointments were made earlier in the week when the rollout was extended to people aged 42 to 44.

It means in England that vaccines are available if:

  • you’re aged 40 or over.
  • you’ll turn 40 before 1 July 2021.
  • you’re at high risk from Covid-19 (clinically extremely vulnerable).
  • you have a condition that puts you at higher risk (clinically vulnerable).
  • you have a learning disability.
  • you’re an eligible frontline health or social care worker.
  • you get a carer’s allowance, get support following an assessment by your local authority or your GP record shows you’re a carer.

You can book or manage your appointment on the NHS England website here.

If you live in one of the other nations in the UK, you can find out the latest status for booking a vaccine here:

Updated

Ukraine to close border to non-national arrivals from India

Ukraine will impose an entry ban on non-nationals arriving from India from 2 May, Reuters report. Ukraine itself has recorded more than 2 million Covid-19 cases so far, with 44,085 deaths.

Updated

31% of people in UK believe ‘vaccine passports’ will reduce civil liberties – poll

You can well imagine the issue of “vaccine passports” or “Covid vaccine certification” or whatever you want to call them dominating much of the discourse in the next couple of months as the UK gradually reopens the economy.

A new survey suggests that 31% of people in the UK believe the passports will reduce civil liberties. That number is up from 25% when people were asked the same question last month.

Forty per cent of people say they believe that vaccine passports will lead to people being discriminated against, and 49% of the public think vaccination passports will be sold on the black market.

The study has been carried out by the University of Bristol, King’s College London and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Some other points of note in the data:

  • Seven per cent of the public think it is not worth getting the second coronavirus vaccination as it doesn’t increase protection very much.
  • Nearly one in five people (19%) don’t believe that it’s safe to get a Covid vaccine if you’re trying to have a baby.
  • Forty per cent of the public think younger people will be less likely to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
  • One in 20 people (5%) believe Covid vaccines contain pork products, which rises to nearly one in five (19%) among Muslims surveyed.

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, who is a senior lecturer in quantitative social science at the University of Bristol, said:

There has been great policy interest in whether vaccination passports might encourage vaccine uptake. These findings indicate they may do so. But we also have evidence of the challenges that may come with the passports – as significant proportions of the public fear they will be misused, including through curtailing civil liberties.

You can have a look at the full results set here. Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 4,896 adults aged 16-75 in the UK in early April, although it is always worth noting the somewhat catch-all caveat: “All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.”

Updated

Ashok Sharma’s latest dispatch from India for Associated Press brings more grim details of the crisis unfolding in the country. With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the US. The health ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

Health workers attend to Covid-19 positive patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a covid care centre in New Delhi.
Health workers attend to Covid-19 positive patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid care centre in New Delhi. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

In the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, a schoolteachers’ organization said that more than 550 members have died after they were infected with Covid-19 while helping conduct local council elections this month, the Times of India newspaper reported.

Experts have blamed the surge on new, more contagious virus variants and mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue. On Thursday, millions voted in state elections in West Bengal with little or no regard to social distancing.

In the southern state of Karnataka, revenue minister R Ashoka said nearly 2,000 coronavirus patients under home care have switched off their phones and cannot be traced. Police were trying to track them as they might be seeking hospitalisation on their own, he said.

Battling to find hospital beds, distraught people are flooding social media and messaging apps with pleas for oxygen, medicines and room in intensive care units.

India’s army chief MM Naravane met with prime minister Narendra Modi yesterday to discuss the crisis. Naravane said the sick can approach their nearest army hospitals for help. Troops were also assisting with imported oxygen tankers and vehicles where specialised skills are required, a government statement said.

Updated

UK economy builds momentum as Covid restrictions ease

Richard Partington, our economics correspondent, writes this morning:

Britain’s economy is building momentum and the Bank of England is expected to sharply upgrade its annual growth forecasts next week, as a Guardian analysis shows rapid progress rolling out the Covid vaccine is fuelling a boom in UK consumer spending.

Activity has held up better than expected after businesses adapted to life under the third national lockdown, while the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality venues outdoors in England and Wales has benefited from pent-up demand.

Unemployment has fallen for two consecutive months, as companies started hiring again. Retail sales rebounded in March, before the official retail reopening, as consumers began to spend accumulated savings and manufacturer confidence returned to levels not seen since 1973.

However, with India suffering a devastating third wave and nearly 5 million UK workers still on furlough, there are concerns over rising unemployment in Britain after government wage support is scaled back this summer and closed entirely by the end of September.

As consumers return to high streets and pub beer gardens and take to alfresco dining, the Bank of England is poised to issue one of its most substantial economic growth upgrades in recent decades after a raft of positive data from the economy.

Read more of Richard Partington’s report here: UK economy builds momentum as Covid restrictions ease

Updated

Good morning from London. It’s Martin Belam here. Just a quick Reuters snap about Hungary to start with – prime minister Viktor Orbán has said new easing measures announced earlier would take effect on Saturday as the vaccination rate surpasses 40% for people with at least one shot.

As the deadliest wave of the coronavirus slowly recedes and large shipments from both eastern and western sources arrive, there are enough vaccines in the country to inoculate everyone who has registered, Orban said.

Updated

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for the week. Martin Belam will be with you for the next few hours.

New Zealanders are still reporting negative impacts on mental health and income from the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports, despite living in one of the world’s few countries to have largely returned to normal.

The Pacific island nation, which has had only about 2,200 cases and 26 deaths in a population of 5 million, enforced strict lockdowns and social distancing rules that helped to virtually eliminate the virus.

Indonesia approves Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use

Indonesia’s drug regulator on Friday approved a Covid vaccine produced by China’s Sinopharm, which is due to be used in a private vaccination scheme under which companies can buy government-procured vaccines to inoculate their staff, Reuters reports.

No detailed efficacy data of Sinopharm’s vaccine has been publicly released, but its developer, Beijing Biological Products Institute, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group, said the vaccine was 79.34% effective in preventing people from developing the disease, based on interim data.

India confirms record daily rise in cases and nearly 3,500 deaths

Relatives perform the last rites for Covid-19 victims during their funeral at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India, 29 April 2021. Delhi reported 25,986 fresh cases, 368 deaths on Wednesday.
Relatives perform the last rites for Covid-19 victims during their funeral at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India, 29 April 2021. Photograph: Idrees Mohammed/EPA

India posted a record daily rise in coronavirus cases of 386,452 on Friday, while deaths from Covid-19 jumped by 3,498 over the last 24 hours, according to health ministry data.

India has added about 7.7 million cases to its total case load since the end of February, when its second wave picked up steam, according to a Reuters tally. In contrast, it took India nearly six months to add the previous 7.7 million cases.

Updated

All over 40s in England to be offered jab

People aged 40 and over in England are now being invited to book their coronavirus jab, NHS leaders have announced.

NHS England said that text messages will be sent out from Friday to 40- and 41-year-olds allowing them to arrange their vaccination appointments, PA Media reports.

It follows nearly 750,000 appointments being made on Monday and Tuesday after the vaccine rollout was extended to people aged 42 to 44, it added.

A health worker at the vaccination centre at Newbury Racecourse, Newbury.
A health worker at the vaccination centre at Newbury Racecourse, Newbury. Photograph: www.thisisjude.uk: Glenn Edward/PA

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “With nine tenths of people aged 45 and over having been jabbed, nearly three quarters of a million new appointments were made in just two days as our booking service opened to people aged 42 to 44.

“With second doses also proceeding apace, we’re now ready to invite all those aged 40 and over to join the most successful vaccination drive in health service history.”

NHS England said that with people aged 42 to 44 having already been texted this week it means 2.5 million more people have been invited for their jab.

Updated

UK cuts international aid by almost a third

The UK said on Thursday it is temporarily reducing its international aid from £14.5bn (about $20bn) last year to £10bn this year ($14bn) because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and two UN agencies announced huge funding cuts of more than 80%, AP reports.

The UN Population Fund, which now calls itself the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, said it had been informed that its flagship family planning programme was being cut from £154m ($211m) to about £23m ($32m). In addition, it said £12m ($17m) is being cut from its core operating funds.

The agency, known as UNFPA, said the UK was its largest bilateral donor in 2020, providing a total of about $138m.

UNAIDS, which unites the work of 11 UN organisations trying to reduce HIV infections and deaths to zero, said its funding for 2021 was reduced from £15m ($21m) in 2020 to £2.5m ($3.5m) for 2021.

In 2020, the UK was the world’s third largest aid donor, spending £14.5bn (about $20bn).

“The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid,” a British government spokesman said, speaking with customary anonymity.

“We will still spend more than £10bn ($14bn) this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health,” the spokesman said. “We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programs.”

UNFPA said it had anticipated $322m from the UK for its family planning programme for 2021 and 2022, and the loss of $180m will have a huge impact.

“These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world,” UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem said.

The approximately 85% cut to the family planning programme “would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6m unintended pregnancies and 4.3m unsafe abortions,” she said.

Updated

First US Covid emergency aid supplies arrive in India

A military plane on Friday brought the first US emergency coronavirus supplies to help India battle its devastating surge in the pandemic, AFP reports.

A Super Galaxy military transporter carrying more than 400 oxygen cylinders and other hospital equipment and nearly one million rapid coronavirus tests landed at New Delhi’s international airport as the Indian capital battles a major pandemic crisis.

India is recording a world record infection rate of more than 370,000 cases as well as 3,600 deaths a day and a huge international aid operation has been launched with countries around the world promising help.

The delivery, which flew in from the Travis military base in California, followed talks this week between US president Joe Biden and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

“The United States is delivering supplies worth more than $100m in the coming days to provide urgent relief to our partners in India,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday.

US officials said the special flights, which will also bring equipment donated by companies and individuals, will continue into next week.

Updated

Summary

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

A military plane on Friday brought the first US emergency coronavirus supplies to help India battle its devastating surge in the pandemic.

Meanwhile the UK saidon Thursday it is temporarily reducing its international aid from £14.5bn (about $20bn) last year to £10bn this year ($14bn) because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and two UN agencies announced huge funding cuts of more than 80%.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Brazil’s death toll passes 400,000. Brazil on Thursday registered a further 3,001 Covid-19 fatalities, taking its official death toll since the start of the pandemic past 400,000, the health ministry said, second only to the death toll of the United States.
  • The World Health Organization has warned European governments that relaxing Covid restrictions too soon could cause cases to spiral again, potentially triggering a wave of new infections as seen in India.
  • The French president, Emmanuel Macron, unveiled a roadmap on Thursday for a progressive unwinding of France’s lockdown over the next two months.
  • Thailand has added more measures to contain its biggest Covid outbreak yet, including a nationwide requirement to wear masks in public and a ban on dining at restaurants in and around its capital, Bangkok.
  • Italy has extended Covid restrictions already in place on travellers from other European countries for 15 days, the health ministry said.
  • Romania has reported its first case of a Covid variant first identified in India, according to its health ministry.
  • Ireland will press ahead with plans to reopen all retail stores, personal services and non-residential construction in May with hotels, the foreign minister said.

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1404

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, World

Deadly crowd crush in Israel: what we know so far

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Deadly crowd crush in Israel: what we know so far” was written by Helen Sullivan, for theguardian.com on Friday 30th April 2021 01.07 UTC

Dozens of people have died in a crowd crush at an ultra-Orthodox religious festival in northern Israel attended by tens of thousands of people.

Here is what we know so far

  • At least 38 people have died, according to a spokesperson from the Magen David Adom ambulance rescue service, quoted in the Times of Israel. The spokesperson said that six people were also in critical condition.
  • The disaster was “one of Israel’s worst”, said Vice President of Operations for United Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency services organisation, Dov Maisel, said it was
  • Ultra-Orthodox men clambered through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded.
  • Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident “A serious disaster” and said “We are all praying for the recovery of the injured. I ask to strengthen the rescue forces operating in the area.”
  • Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said in a tweet, “With great anxiety I follow the reports from Meron and pray for the healing of the wounded.”
  • The gathering was held to celebrate Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday honouring Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, a second century sage and mystic who is buried at the foot of Mount Meron. Bar Yochai’s tomb is considered one of the holiest sites in Israel.
  • Israel has lifted most Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and the festival was held legally. Authorities had authorised 10,000 people to attend the gathering at the tomb, but festival organisers estimated that 100,000 people were at the site by Thursday morning, according to the Times of Israel.
  • The festival was the largest public gathering during the coronavirus pandemic and 5,000 police had been deployed to secure the event.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1009

Read more

US NEWS, World

Biden speech live: president pitches ‘once in a generation’ investment in American families – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Biden speech live: president pitches ‘once in a generation’ investment in American families – live” was written by Maanvi Singh, for theguardian.com on Thursday 29th April 2021 02.33 UTC

Tim Scott started by saying: “Our president seems like a good man.”

He praised Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship but accused him of saying he wanted bipartisanship in name only. “Our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes,” he said.

Scott is in line with the Republican party line that Democrats aren’t even trying to be bipartisan – passing Biden’s massive spending plans without any Republican support. But it’s a weak line considering that Republicans have vowed to obstruct all of Biden’s proposals, even though – outside of the US Capitol, both Republican and Democratic voters support the president’s coronavirus relief plan and infrastructure plan.

Tim Scott, a conservative, Christian southerner, is now giving the official Republican response to Biden’s speech.

He has walked the fine line between the establishment and Donald Trump wings of the Republican party with more aplomb than most. His status as a rising star is one of the few things that Trump and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, still agree on.

The only Black Republican in Senate, Scott is leading the party’s efforts to craft legislation with Democrats on police reform in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

He has also previously joined with Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris to work on a bipartisan bill that would make lynching a federal crime, and led the way in creating Opportunity Zones – aimed growth and jobs in low income communities – in Trump’s 2017 tax reform package.

Once hesitant to focus on race in his political career, Scott has increasingly talked about his lived experience as an African American. He has been pulled over by law enforcement “more than 18 times” while driving, he told the Associated Press last year.
All of this has made him an invaluable asset to a party establishment that recognises the need to diversify and broaden its appeal. When it was announced that Scott would respond to Biden on Wednesday night, McConnell described him as “one of the most inspiring and unifying leaders in our nation”.

Yet the senator has somehow managed to square the circle of also staying in Trump’s good graces. His speech at last year’s Republican national convention was a case in point: it praised party orthodoxy on low taxes and school choice, and condemned Democrats and “cancel culture”, without saying much about Trump himself.

And although Scott has on occasion publicly dissented from the former president, for example criticising Trump’s promotion of a video of his supporters shouting “white power”, he usually backs him and stays loyal to his agenda.

The acid test came at January’s Senate impeachment trial when Scott voted against convicting Trump for inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol, tweeting: “An impeachment vote will only lead to more hate and a deeply fractured nation.” He has also played to the Trump base by denouncing “woke supremacy”.

His fealty has been rewarded. Last month Trump endorsed Scott’s 2022 reelection bid, stating: “He is both an outstanding Senator and a person who works tirelessly for the people of his great state, and the USA. Strong on the Military, Law Enforcement, loves our Vets, protects our Second Amendment and our Borders.”

AOC has responded to Biden’s address to Congress, and she makes a good point – grassroots activism matters.

Did the camera catch Ted Cruz dozing off during Biden’s speech? We can’t tell for sure, but he certainly looks sleepy. One thing that can help you stay awake is loudly clapping your hands together, but for some reason Republicans haven’t been doing much of that tonight.

Updated

Biden has wrapped his speech and is now meeting and greeting.

Stay tuned for more updates, fact checks, and analysis.

Biden had also addressed the urgency of addressing police violence.

He spoke about the killing of George Floyd:

It was nearly a year ago before her father’s funeral, when I spoke with Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s young daughter.

As I knelt down to talk to her so we could talk eye—to—eye, she said to me, “Daddy changed the world.”

After the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, we can see how right she was – if we have the courage to act.

Biden encouraged Congress to pass a police reform act named after Floyd – which Democrats and Republicans in Congress are now negotiating after a long stall. Republican senator Tim Scott, who is tonight delivering his party’s response to Biden’s address, is also the one leading Republicans’ negotiations on the policing legislation.

“As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol – desecrating our democracy – remain vivid in our minds,” Biden said.

He’s speaking in the very chamber, at the same podium where insurrectionists tried to establish mob rule on 6 January.

Biden continued:

The insurrection was an existential crisis – a test of whether our democracy could survive. It did.

But the struggle is far from over. The question of whether our democracy will long endure is both ancient and urgent…

America’s adversaries – the autocrats of the world – are betting it can’t. They believe we are too full of anger and division and rage. They look at the images of the mob that assaulted this Capitol as proof that the sun is setting on American democracy.

They are wrong. And we have to prove them wrong.

We have to prove democracy still works.

Updated

Democrats in the House chamber are giving so many standing ovations during Biden’s speech that they could end up being on their feet more than their seats by the end of the night.

But not everyone on the left is happy with Biden’s big address. Ilhan Omar and Bernie Sanders’ former press secretary Briahna Joy Gray have taken the president to task after he said, “Health care should be a right, not a privilege in America.”

Updated

“I want you to know that your president has your back,” Biden says to the transgender community.

This is one of the most direct, supportive statements on the trans community that a US president has ever delivered. It’s the least that was expected of Biden today, as trans rights across the country are being attacked.

Read more about what’s at stake:

Biden toes the line between tough and toned-down rhetoric on Russia and China.

On Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s involvement in election interference:

“I responded in a direct and proportionate way to Russia’s interference in our elections and cyber-attacks on our government and businesses — and they did both of those things,” Biden said, referring to sanctions that were imposed.

On China’s president Xi Jinping:

“America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and industries,” he said, “like subsidies for state-owned enterprises and the theft of American technologies and intellectual property.” Biden has yet to implement such measures.

He also said the US wouldn’t stand for human rights violations and attacks on democratic freedoms.

Here’s a fun(-ish?) game you can play if you’re watching Biden’s speech tonight. The White House released his speech just as he began to address Congress. But he seems to be ad-libbing a fair amount, adding new lines off the cuff about Wall Street, China and food banks.

You can see for yourself what he’s improvising by comparing his speech to his prepared remarks here.

Updated

Biden addresses a divided – and distanced – joint session

Like so much else in his presidency, the depleted ranks – masked members sitting several seats apart on the floor and in the public gallery – have turned down the volume from when Donald Trump delivered these speeches to raucous cheers from Republicans and boos, heckles and shaking heads from Democrats.

Biden is giving the Democrats who present plenty to applaud while eliciting some Republican frowns. It looks like another bad night for bipartisan unity.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” the president said. “The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, forced to endure four years of Trump blasphemies in this very room, visibly lapped it up.

Later Biden effectively sounded the death knell for four decades of Ronald Reagan’s small government, low tax orthodoxy, within which even Bill Clinton and Barack Obama operated.

“My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” he said. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out.”

Republicans have remained silent, stony faced and riveted to their seats on applause lines such as: “Health care should be a right, not a privilege in America.”

Senator Lindsey Graham frowned, a hand to his chin. Senator Ted Cruz sat with hands folded. Meanwhile, in the gallery, Democrat Joe Manchin is busy taking notes.

Updated

“Trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out,” Biden said – capping off a segment of his speech in which he touted his massive investments, and clarified that they’ll be funded by higher taxes on the richest people and corporations.

“I will not impose any tax increases on people making less than $400,000 a year,” he said. “It’s time for corporate America and the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share.”

He continued:

We’re going to reform corporate taxes so they pay their fair share – and help pay for the public investments their businesses will benefit from.

And, we’re going to reward work, not wealth.

Of course, these views haven’t always been endorsed by Biden. He voted for Regan-era tax cuts.

What we’re seeing here, as in other parts of Biden’s speech today – and in his signature policies – is his administration’s embrace of views that progressives have been touting for years. That may largely be because Biden has recognized that public opinion is moving with progressives.

When Jamaal Bowman delivers the progressive response to the address, we can expect him to push the president – who has shown that he’s open to some progressive ideas – to embrace bolder reforms, faster.

Updated

Fact check: economic growth

“In the process, while this was all going on, the economy created more than 1,300,000 new jobs in 100 days. More new jobs in the first 100 days than any president on record.”

While the economy has rebounded faster than expected, there are about 8.4m jobs that were there before the pandemic that haven’t recovered. And it isn’t clear how much credit Biden can take for this bounce back – it’s largely just due to the reality that the country is reopening as more people get vaccines.

Updated

Fact check: “I traveled over 17,000 miles with” Xi Jinping of China

Although Biden has interacted with Xi Jinping on many occasions, the two don’t have a record of really traveling together, as the Washington Post explains. Biden has made this false claim before. It wasn’t in today’s speech as prepared, and he appears to have ad libbed it.

Updated

It’s a phrase you often hear in US politics: that the middle class “built” the country. And it’s one that Biden has repeated tonight, saying “Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built the country – and unions built the middle class!” before calling on Congress to pass his labor reform bill.

But as some commentators have pointed out, this feelgood statement doesn’t actually match the tarnished history of America, which built its foundation on the backs of enslaved Black people.

Updated

Biden introduces his families plan

“To win that competition for the future, we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families, in our children,” he said.

The $1.8tn plan includes funding for universal preschool, two years of free community college, and a national childcare program among other provisions.

“When this nation made 12 years of public education universal in the last century, it made us the best-educated and best-prepared nation in the world,” he said. His plan would tack on four extra years of public education.

“Twelve years is no longer enough today to compete in the 21st century,” he said.

Here’s more on what’s the plan:

Updated

Biden is really pitching a populist message – and directly appealing to working-class voters.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country,” he said. “The middle class built this country. And unions build the middle class.”

“All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: buy American,” Biden said.

American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products made in America that create American jobs. The way it should be.

Now – I know some of you at home are wondering whether these jobs are for you.

You feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that’s rapidly changing.

Let me speak directly to you.

Updated

From when he was a presidential candidate, Biden has pitched his climate change policies as a job creation plan.

“When I think about climate change, I think jobs,” he said.

Touting his jobs plan, he listed green jobs:

Electrical workers installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways.

Farmers planting cover crops, so they can reduce carbon dioxide in the air and get paid for doing it.

There’s no reason the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing.

Updated

Today’s message: “Jobs, jobs, jobs”

At each step, Biden is explaining that his plans – to improve water infrastructure, to increase internet access, to address climate change – will all create jobs.

“The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes,” Biden said. “The American Jobs Plan will help millions of people get back to their jobs and their careers.”

Updated

Biden: ‘Go and get vaccinated’

“I can say because of you – the American people – our progress these past 100 days against one of the worst pandemics in history has been one of the greatest logistical achievements this country has ever seen,” Biden said.

Within his first 100 days, the US will have delivered about 220m vaccine doses – far surpassing Biden’s initial promise of 100m doses by that deadline.

“Everyone is now eligible to get vaccinated,” he said. “Right now, right away, go get vaccinated, America.”

Vaccine hesitancy among Americans is now one of the biggest public health challenges the US is facing as it aims to end the pandemic. All the people who most desperately wanted the vaccine were able to get them – and many of the unvaccinated are weary.

Updated

“America is on the move again,” Biden said – after acknowledging what a tough year it has been.

“We all know, life could knock us down,” he said. “But in America, we never, ever, ever stay down. Americans always get up; today, that’s what we’re doing.”

His address to lawmakers who are both physically distanced – and perhaps more ideologically divided than any other time in recent history – looks and feels different. But he’s striking an optimistic tone – selling his accomplishments through his first 100 days in office, and a sense of hope.

Updated

Acknowledging Kamala Harris, stood behind him, as “Madam vice-president” Biden reflected: “No president has ever said these words from behind this podium – and it’s about time.”

Here is the moment:

Biden takes the podium
Biden takes the podium.
Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Updated

Joe Biden has arrived

The president, masked up, was greeted with claps and elbow bumps – as he took the stage at his first address to a joint session, amid a pandemic.

There’s no “designated survivor” tonight.

Usually, when the president speaks at a joint session of Congress, all members of the presidential cabinet attend. Tonight, due to coronavirus phsyical distancing protocols, many members of the cabinet aren’t there.

“There does not need to be a designated survivor because the cabinet will be watching from their offices or home, but they will not be joining him for the speech,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

Updated

There are far fewer people in the chamber today than usual, due to coronavirus restrictions.

The sparse, masked attendees will each have to be doubly aware of their reactions during the speech. TV cameras will now even more easily than usual capture lawmakers’ reactions during such addresses – since there’s no hiding in this crowd.

Republican John Thune tells CNN’s Manu Raju that’s something he and others are acutely aware of this evening:

Updated

In 2007 Nancy Pelosi was the first woman to sit behind the president during a joint address to Congress, after becoming the first leader of the House a year earlier.

Fourteen years later she’s made history again thanks to vice president Kamala Harris being by her side. It’s the first time two women have sat where they are during such a speech.

Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris wave to colleagues while they wait for Joe Biden to arrive
Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris wave to colleagues while they wait for Joe Biden to arrive
Photograph: Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images

Why this address is not a “state of the union”

Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress is technically not a “state of the union” – it’s an “annual message”.

It’s a tradition, since Ronald Regan’s term, that presidents don’t deliver a “state of the union” in the years they take and leave office. The idea is that they can’t speak broadly about the state of the union when they’ve only been on the job a few weeks – or right when they’re about to exit power.

Usually, a president would deliver their first address in January or February – but this year’s speech was delayed due to the pandemic.

Members of Congress, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi have filtered into the chamber.

For the first time, the president will be flanked by two women as Biden delivers his address. Traditionally, the vice president and House speaker – the two figures who follow the president in the line of command – sit behind the president during such addresses.

Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi take their positions.
Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi take their positions.
Photograph: Doug Mills/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Congress await Joe Biden’s address to a joint session.
Members of Congress await Joe Biden’s address to a joint session.
Photograph: Doug Mills/AP

This is a presidential address to Congress like no other on a hot Washington evening.

On my way in, Capitol Hill was dotted with police and soldiers in military fatigues, a group of picnickers, a jogger or two, and a few congressional staff heading home. Some high-security fencing was a lingering reminder of the deadly 6 January insurrection.

I went to a congressional office building, passed through an airport-style metal detector, walked a couple of empty corridors, took a lift down to the basement, then showed proof of a coronavirus test taken on Monday. I was given a wristband and ticket, passed through another metal detector and walked through an underground tunnel to the House of Representatives.

The House press gallery, usually teeming with so many reporters that desk space is hard to come by, is much quieter and low-key tonight and everyone is masked.

Instead of the usual 1,600 people in the House chamber for a state of the union-style address, this time there only be 200 with no guests permitted (except virtually), because of coronavirus safety restrictions. Some tickets were decided on a first-come-first-served basis, others by lottery. Chief justice John Roberts will be the only member of the supreme court present.

There is also no need for a “designated survivor” this time. This is a senior official who typically stays away at a secure location in case catastrophe strikes the House and wipes out the president, vice president and cabinet.

Soon we will file into the House chamber, where guns were drawn to defend members from the mob on 6 January. As at his inauguration, Biden will be speaking both to those watching at home and those watching (and applauding) in person: he has become adept at speaking intimately to the TV camera, but now he must also command a cavernous room.

My high vantage point will allow me some great people-watching in the chamber but will deny me a view of the historic tableau of two women – Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Nancy Pelosi – sitting behind Biden. The replays on TV will have to do.

What’s ahead

Welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of Joe Biden’s first joint address to Congress!

I’ll be bringing you live updates and factchecks. Here’s a recap of what we’re expecting:

  • In a preview of his speech, Biden touts accomplishments from his first 100 days in office. He also plans to directly appeal to working-class voters – selling his economic recovery proposals and their potential to create jobs and boost an economy ravaged by the coronavirus crisis.
  • Tim Scott, a senator of South Carolina, will have the tough job of defending Republicans’ record, more than a year into the pandemic that has left more than half a million dead. With Biden’s spending proposals gaining wide popularity among Republicans and Democrats, Republican lawmakers have been scrambling to pin down their messaging on why they oppose the presidents’ plans.
  • New York representative Jamaal Bowman will deliver the progressive response Biden’s speech. Although progressives have celebrated the Biden administration’s adoption of major healthcare and education policies they have touted for years, they’re pushing the president to take on even more ambitious reforms.
  • Biden’s speech comes nearly four months after insurrectionists attacked the US capitol. He will speak amid high security around DC.
  • For the first time, two women will be flanking the president during his address. The speaker of the House and the vice-president are usually the two figures who sit behind the president during such addresses. This year, that’s Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1046

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, India

Coronavirus live news: pandemic not over but accelerating, WHO warns; Poland to lift lockdown

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: pandemic not over but accelerating, WHO warns; Poland to lift lockdown” was written by Jedidajah Otte (now), Tobi Thomas, Martin Belam and Martin Farrer (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th April 2021 17.40 UTC

Russian and Chinese media are systematically seeking to sow mistrust in Western Covid-19 vaccines in their latest disinformation campaigns aimed at dividing the West, a report by the EU said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

From December to April, the two countries’ state media outlets pushed fake news online in multiple languages sensationalising vaccine safety concerns, making unfounded links between jabs and deaths in Europe and promoting Russian and Chinese vaccines as superior, the EU study said.

The Kremlin and Beijing deny all disinformation allegations by the EU, which produces regular reports and seeks to work with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to limit the spread of fake news.

Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy “follows a zero-sum game logic and is combined with disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine trust in Western-made vaccines,” said the EU study released by the bloc’s disinformation unit, part of its EEAS foreign policy arm.

“Both Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media, including official diplomatic social media accounts, to achieve these goals,” the report said, citing 100 Russian examples this year.

The EU and NATO regularly accuse Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilise the West by exploiting divisions in society.

Vaccine supply issues with AstraZeneca, as well as very rare side effects with Astra and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been seized upon, the report said.

“Both Chinese official channels and pro-Kremlin media have amplified content on alleged side-effects of the Western vaccines, misrepresenting and sensationalising international media reports and associating deaths to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Norway, Spain and elsewhere,” the report said.

Russia denies any such tactics and president Vladimir Putin has accused foreign foes of targeting Russia by spreading fake news about coronavirus.

Last year, China sought to block an EU report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Reuters investigation.

Progress with the UK’s vaccine rollout should limit the damage from any third wave of Covid-19 infections, one of England’s top doctors said on Wednesday, adding that there would likely still be bumps in the road in the coming year.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said that the “modelling consensus is clear that we will have what is called a third wave.”

He told a news conference:

I am personally hopeful that if the vaccine programme continues at pace, and continues to be as successful as it’s been, the third wave, so to speak, might just be a third upsurge and much less significant, because of the de-linking of cases to hospitalisations and deaths.

But I think it’s inconceivable to think that we will go from a period of relative calm […] with no further bumps in the road in terms of upswings in activity between now and this time next year.

He added he expected a rise in infections, likely in the in the autumn or winter, but it was hard to know for sure.

Britain’s deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a virtual news conference at 9 Downing Street in London, Britain, on 28 April, 2021.
Britain’s deputy chief medical officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a virtual news conference at 9 Downing Street in London, Britain, on 28 April, 2021.
Photograph: Reuters

The Philippines’ president Rodrigo Duterte is extending restrictions on movement and gatherings in the capital region and four nearby provinces for another two weeks to curb a sharp rise in infections.

The country is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals and medical workers in the capital Manila overwhelmed, while authorities face delays in the delivery of vaccines.

“I am sorry I have to impose a longer modified enhanced community quarantine. It is necessary,” Duterte said in a late night televised address.

Non-essential movement, mass gatherings and dining in restaurants will remain banned in Metro Manila and in the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite for a further two weeks from 1 May, Reuters reports.

Mothers carry their babies as they lineup for checkup at a public health center in Manila, Philippines, on 27 April 2021. The Philippines on 26 April surpassed one million Covid-19 cases, making it the second highest in South East Asia after Indonesia, despite the country’s lockdown.
Mothers carry their babies as they lineup for checkup at a public health center in Manila, Philippines, on 27 April 2021. The Philippines on 26 April surpassed one million Covid-19 cases, making it the second highest in South East Asia after Indonesia, despite the country’s lockdown.
Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

The Department of Health recorded 6,895 new Covid-19 cases and 115 more deaths on Wednesday, bringing the tallies to 1.02 million confirmed infections and more than 17,000 fatalities.

While the government aims to inoculate 50 to 70 million out of the country’s more than 108 million people, the pace of its inoculation campaign has been slow due to difficulties in securing supply.

But Carlito Galvez, who is in charge of the government’s vaccine procurement programme, said that will change in the second half of the year when the bulk of the supply the country procured will have arrived, making 500,000 daily inoculations possible.

Galvez also said the Philippines has told Israel of its wish to get AstraZeneca shots which it no longer needs. Around 1.56 million people have so far received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot. Only 3 million doses have been delivered, out of 140 million the Philippines aims to procure.

Pandemic not only not over but accelerating, WHO Americas office warns

The pandemic is accelerating, which is why equitable access to vaccines and effective preventive measures are crucial to helping turn the tide, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said Wednesday.

PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said in a briefing.

Our region is still under the grip of this pandemic, […] in several countries of South America the pandemic in the first four months of this year was worse than what we faced in 2020.

This shows that we will only overcome this pandemic with a combination of rapid and equitable vaccine access and effective preventive measures. This pandemic is not only not over, it is accelerating.

France has administered more than 20.9 million Covid-19 vaccinations since the end of December, including 14.8 million first injections, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

It said that 22.2% of the entire population and 28.3% of the adult population had now received a first shot against the virus.

The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 in France fell again on Wednesday, with the total number of patients down by 370 and below 30,000 for the first time since early April.

The French health ministry also reported that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care had fallen by 64 to 5,879. It recorded 315 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals, down from 325 on Tuesday.

Updated

The British health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday said the UK had now secured 60m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be used for booster shots later this year,

Hancock also described the coronavirus situation in India as “harrowing”, but said the UK has no surplus of vaccines to give to the country.

The UK has given ventilators and oxygen concentrators to India, but Hancock said Britain was currently not in a position to give any vaccines.

The cabinet minister told a Downing Street press conference:

We’ve all seen the harrowing pictures of what is happening in India.

I think it pains each one of us who is seeing those scenes, not least because the bonds between our countries are so strong – they are ties of family and of friendship.

I’ve been in constant contact with my Indian counterpart and we’ve worked across the weekend to put together our first package of support of ventilators and oxygen concentrators. More supplies will be arriving later this week.

I’ve also been working with health minister for Northern Ireland Robin Swann to donate large-scale oxygen production equipment from Northern Ireland capable of producing over 1,000 litres of oxygen per minute, which is one of the main needs of the people of India.

[…]

We don’t have any excess doses of vaccine in the UK at the moment.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be taking back over now. If you have anything you’d like to flag, you can get in touch on Twitter @JedySays or via email.

Updated

Italy has reported 344 daily coronavirus deaths, a decrease of 29 from the previous day, with daily infections having risen to 13,385 compared to 10,404 the day previous.

So far, Italy has registered 120,256 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, which is the second-highest toll in Europe after the UK and the seventh-highest in the world. The country has reported 3.99 million cases to date.

Reuters reports that patients in hospital with coronavirus, not including those in intensive care, stood at 19,860, a decrease from 20,312 a day earlier.

There were 168 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 177 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients decreased to 2,711 from a previous 2,748.

Reuters reports that the Turkish health minister, Fahrettin Kovar, has said that five cases of the India’s ‘double mutant’ Covid variant has been detected in the country. He also added that the Turkish health ministry has signed a deal for 50 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine.

Last week, Turkey recorded its highest number of daily deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in one day, at 362. So far, the country has recorded over 4.7 million cases and 39,000 deaths.

Turkey’s population of more than 83 million is spread out across Europe and Asia and covers some seemingly impregnable terrain. The vaccination effort with China’s CoronaVac jab kicked off with a bang in mid-January when Turkey innoculated more than a one million people in the first week.
Turkey’s population of more than 83 million is spread out across Europe and Asia and covers some seemingly impregnable terrain. The vaccination effort with China’s CoronaVac jab kicked off with a bang in mid-January when Turkey innoculated more than a one million people in the first week.
Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

A record 29 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin in 2021 amid a deepening crisis, a report by the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Unocha) has estimated.

Almost one in four people in the border areas of Burkina Faso, northern Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and north-east Nigeria are expected to need aid in 2021, 5 million more than a year ago, and a 52% increase on 2019.

Poverty, the climate emergency, armed conflicts, chronically high food insecurity and malnutrition have all contributed to the worsening crisis.

“In conflict-affected regions, civilians are facing an ever-increasing dramatic protection crisis. Millions of people had to flee their homes. Insecurity and violence are threatening lives and livelihoods, increasing human rights violations, and jeopardising social cohesion,” said the Unocha report, published on Monday.

“Women and girls are at heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Insecurity is also constraining humanitarian access, leaving communities without essential assistance, and exposing aid workers to increased risks. Across the region, Covid-19 is further compounding acute needs.”

Uber technologies has said that it is launching a new feature in its app to allow US customers to book coronavirus vaccine appointments.

Reuters reports:

Customers would be able reserve an appointment at a Walgreens pharmacy to receive a vaccine and book an Uber ride to travel there, the firm said in a product presentation.

The feature, which expands an Uber and Walgreens partnership announced in February, reflects the wider availability of COVID-19 inoculations in the United States, where every state has opened up vaccines to all adults.

For Uber, more vaccinations mean a quicker return to pre-pandemic travel and higher revenues, which tumbled during the pandemic. The number of journeys has already increased. March was the best month since the pandemic’s full force was felt.

 

Hi, Tobi Thomas here taking over while my colleague has a break. If you would like to get in touch with any tips, please do email me at tobi.thomas@theguardian.com. Thanks!

Doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine sent to Slovakia in March will have to be kept in storage for at least another month, after Moscow asked for some doses to be sent back for testing, Slovakia’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

Reuters reports:

Slovakia received the 200,000 doses at the beginning of last month, part of what was intended to be a deal for 2 million doses that caused a political storm which led the prime minister to resign.

The vaccines have so far sat unused, with Slovakia’s drug agency SUKL refusing to endorse the product, citing a lack of data.

Russia has yet to win approval from the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency, for Sputnik V. So far, Hungary is the only EU country to have begun inoculations with Sputnik V without waiting for EMA approval.

Slovakia’s Health Ministry said a sample of 600 doses had been sent back to Russia for further tests at Moscow’s request, and that vaccinations with Sputnik V would not begin for at least a month, until those tests were complete. It did not say what sort of tests the Russians planned to carry out.

“The Russians asked us for this opportunity and we granted it,” Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky told a news conference shown online. “They want to check the batches.”

Slovakia’s purchase of Sputnik V caused a political storm, as then-prime minister Igor Matovic had bought the vaccine without telling his coalition partners. Matovic was forced to resign but returned to the new cabinet as finance minister.

Following the Slovak regulator’s refusal to endorse the vaccine, Matovic asked Hungary for additional testing. Russia asked Slovakia to return the 200,000 doses, which it declined to do.

Lengvarsky said on Wednesday he wanted Slovak experts to be satisfied with the vaccine’s safety before it is used in the country.

Slovakia has vaccinated nearly a fifth of its population with at least one dose, so far using only vaccines approved by the EMA.

Chile has designated pregnant women a Covid-19 vaccination priority and this week began issuing Pfizer doses to those with underlying health issues in their second or third trimesters.

Reuters reports:

Chile’s top public health official Paula Daza said women were being inoculated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since more information existed about its safety for pregnant women.

An estimated 230,000 will be offered vaccines, with those with health conditions followed by those working in high-risk jobs such as the health and education sectors.

Chile is running one of the world’s fastest Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, so far inoculating health workers, teachers, civil servants, journalists, and age groups progressively – at present people in their 40s.

More than 52% of the 15.2 million people it aims to vaccinate by July have received one dose of a vaccine, and 41.6% have received two. The country now becomes one of the first to roll out vaccinations for pregnant women.

The UK updated its guidance on vaccines earlier this month to include pregnant women, and the United States at the weekend.

Brazilian authorities said on Tuesday that pregnant women would be included among priority groups for vaccination, starting with those with underlying illnesses.

The Brazilians also said in recent days that women should delay their pregnancies if they can, because of concerns the virus may hit them harder and overcrowding in hospitals.

The coronavirus situation is improving in France, prime minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

As we reported earlier, president Emmanuel Macron will outline on Friday how restrictions will be progressively relaxed.

Reuters reports that the French government also plans to replace from the current state of health emergency – which gives officials greater power to impose tough measures to contain the spread of the virus – with a “transition regime” from 2 June that will run until 31 October.

This would allow the government to react swiftly if infections and hospitalisations were to climb again as France exits its lockdown, Castex told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

“The epidemic situation continues to improve at a regular pace. Virus circulation remains high but is on a real downward trend even though its impact on hospitalisation is limited, notably on the number of people in intensive care units,” Castex said.

He said weekly new cases numbers were declining and the R rate that measures the spread of the virus was now at 0.89, meaning that, on average, every 100 people infected will infect 89 other people, indicating another downward trend.

Chairs and tables are seen piled up in a closed restaurant in Paris amid in France, on 27 April, 2021.
Chairs and tables are seen piled up in a closed restaurant in Paris amid in France, on 27 April, 2021.
Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

France started its third national lockdown at the end of March.

Macron is hoping the lockdown and an accelerated vaccination campaign will improve France’s Covid-19 figures which would then allow certain businesses and leisure activities – such as outdoors dining – to reopen in mid May.

Indoor venues will not re-open before June, and only in regions where the Covid-19 figures have dropped sufficiently to allow this.

French schools reopened on Monday after a three-week closure.

Kenya’s health minstry said on Wednesday it was suspending flights to and from India after midnight on Saturday amid the coronavirus surge in that country.

Ran Balicher, director of Clalit Research Institute and Professor of Public Health at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, told the British government’s science and technology committee it was difficult to say which measures had been directly responsible for the fall in cases in Israel, whether it be vaccines or green passes for specific settings.

Infections in the country have been declining sharply since the beginning of March, and since large parts of the population have been vaccinated, Israeli authorities are now awaiting US approval for use of Covid-19 vaccines in 12- to 15-year-olds, Haaretz reported.

Israel introduced an app that requires people to enter details, such as when they last tested negative for Covid-19, and then grants them a so-called “green pass” to enter certain settings such as restaurants.

Balicher said:

The key aim of the green pass in Israel is to provide for those people who are interested in participating in activities within high-risk settings, especially high-risk indoor settings, is to provide them with an opportunity for a safe participation in such an event.

Because as we all know, even as you get vaccinated, or if you are recovered, you are not fully immune and you are not 100% able to withstand the potential infection, asymptomatic infection and severe infection, there is residual risk.

So, especially for some of the people within the highest risk groups, when they go about and participate in such an event that takes place in an indoor setting, there is a residual meaningful risk that needs to be tackled.

The green pass rules allow these people to go into a restaurant, to go into a concert hall, to participate in some of these high-risk activities with the lowest risk possible.

He added there had been no outbreaks in the settings the green pass had been deployed in, even when there was a significant number of daily infections in the country.

Updated

Switzerland said Wednesday it would provide over $300 million to help boost access to jabs, tests and treatments in the fight against Covid-19, and to ensure developing countries get their fair share.

AFP reports:

The Swiss government voiced its commitment “to ensuring equitable access to vaccines, tests and medicines worldwide in order to combat the Covid-19 pandemic sustainably.”

In a statement, Bern said it planned to donate some 300 million Swiss francs ($328 million, 272 million euros) to the Access to Covid Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The multi-billion-dollar global programme is coordinated by a range of international bodies including the World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the World Bank.

It aims to help develop and ensure access to vaccines, medicines and tests against Covid-19 and strengthen healthcare systems.

“While great progress has been made in the development of tests, treatments and vaccines, broad and equitable worldwide access to these resources is lacking,” [the Swiss government] said.

It voiced deep concern over the “emerging, highly contagious mutations of the virus”, which are complicating the pandemic fight.

“A quick, efficient end to the pandemic is very much in Switzerland’s interest,” it said, stressing that “the virus can only be successfully contained once its spread is curbed worldwide.”

The government said its main goal with supporting ACT-A was therefore to help developing countries.

ACT-A is in dire need of additional funds. It has sought $22 billion this year, but by the end of last week, it was still $19 billion short.

As we reported earlier, Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

Here some more detail from Reuters:

Mexico’s state-run vaccine manufacturer Birmex would handle the final packaging and filling of the vaccine, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said in comments shared by the ministry.

Ebrard, whose government is aiming to quicken its pace of vaccinations, said about a million people in Mexico had been vaccinated with Sputnik V thus far.

“The results are very positive, which speaks of the quality of science and technological development in this country,” Ebrard said of Russia.

He said the pandemic had “opened the door for us to expand and deepen this relationship.”

Mexico’s Health Ministry said in late February it expected to receive 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V by April and an additional 16.6 million shots in May. Mexico has signed an agreement to acquire a total of 24 million doses.

Tunisia’s government said on Wednesday it will impose compulsory quarantine for a week on all visitors from 3 May and keep schools closed until 16 May to slow the spread of the virus.

Last week one of the government’s scientific advisers warned the health system was on the brink of collapse, with between 90-110 new patients in need of hospitalisation each day. Tunisia has only about 500 intensive care beds, Reuters reports.

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Tunis, Tunisia, on 26 April, 2021.
A man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination centre in Tunis, Tunisia, on 26 April, 2021.
Photograph: Jihed Abidellaoui/Reuters

There have been a further 35 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 211,389.

Public Health Wales said there was no new deaths, with the total in the country since the start of the pandemic remaining at 5,548.

Public Health Wales said a total of 1,800,428 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales, as well as 715,425 second doses.

Vietnam on Wednesday warned against mass gatherings ahead of long public holidays this weekend and said it would speed up its vaccine rollout amid a worsening coronavirus situation among its neighbours.

Reuters reports:

“A new Covid-19 outbreak is threatening to happen, especially during the upcoming holidays,” the health ministry said in a statement. It called for “unanimity and determination” among the public to keep the virus at bay.

Vietnam has been widely praised for its record in containing its outbreaks quickly through targeted mass testing and a strict, centralised quarantine programme.

That has helped keep its case tally to 2,865, with only 35 deaths reported since the pandemic began, one of the best records in Asia.

“For the sake of the country, of the community and of the people, each citizen should be unanimously determined to hold on to our success in preventing and fighting against Covid-19,” the statement said.

The ministry separately said provinces, especially those bordering Cambodia, need to increase vigilance due to people illegally crossing the border into Vietnam.

Cambodia has seen its case total jump from about 500 to 11,000 in the past two months, with 82 deaths, while nearby Thailand’s infections tally has more than doubled in April alone to nearly 62,000, with 178 fatalities.

Cases in Laos have nearly doubled since Saturday, to over 600, according to its state media.

“The global disease situation is evolving in a complicated manner, especially in some neighbouring countries, putting huge pressure on Vietnam,” deputy prime minister Truong Hoa Binh said in the statement.

The government on Wednesday said its Covid-19 vaccine rollout would be expedited, with the aim of administering all of the 928,800 AstraZeneca doses it has received so far by May 15. About 260,000 people have so far been inoculated.

A woman wearing face mask walks in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 27 April 2021.
A woman wearing face mask walks in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 27 April 2021.
Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

Japan to tighten immigration rules for travellers from India, Peru and four US states

Japan said Wednesday it will tighten border controls on travellers from the four US states of Tennessee, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota, as well as India and Peru in response to the spread of new variants of the virus detected there.

The new measure, to be effective from Saturday, requires people travelling from those areas to quarantine in a designated facility and take a Covid-19 test on the third day after their arrival, the Kyodo news agency reports.

Japan’s government is planning to introduce vaccine passports to help restart international travel, the agency reported on Wednesday.

The passports would take the form of scannable smartphone apps that carry Covid-19 inoculation information, Kyodo said, citing government sources.

The governors of Tokyo and the Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures urged residents Wednesday to refrain from travelling to, from and within the metropolitan area a day before the start of the country’s Golden Week holidays amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

The governors also jointly asked people to stay at home as well as stop drinking on streets and dining with non-family members.

Artwork by Japanese painter Akira Yamaguchi titled ‘Imayou yuraku-zu’ is displayed at Narita International Airport terminal 1 in Narita, Chiba prefecture on 27 April, 2021, as part of the Look of the Games - the visual identity of the Tokyo 2020 Games to welcome athletes and Games stakeholders from around the world to Japan.
Artwork by Japanese painter Akira Yamaguchi titled ‘Imayou yuraku-zu’ is displayed at Narita International Airport terminal 1 in Narita, Chiba prefecture on 27 April, 2021, as part of the Look of the Games – the visual identity of the Tokyo 2020 Games to welcome athletes and Games stakeholders from around the world to Japan.
Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization said in its weekly epidemiological update that India accounted for 38% of the 5.7 million cases reported worldwide to it last week.

Early modelling showed that the B.1.617 variant of the virus detected in India had a higher growth rate than other variants in the country, suggesting increased transmissibility, it said.

Indians struggle to register online for vaccination appointments the government plans to offer to all adults over the age of 18 from 1 May, as the second wave of infections has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week.

A policewoman gestures past notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on 28 April, 2021.
A police officer gestures past notices about the shortage of Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday.
Photograph: Niharika Kulkarni/Reuters

But the country, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of vaccines, does not yet have the stocks for an estimated 600 million people becoming eligible, on top of ongoing effort to inoculate the elderly and people with other medical conditions.

Some people who tried to register said they failed, Reuters reports, while some people with appointments were told there were no vaccines available.

Updated

French president Emmanuel Macron will on Friday set out how Covid-19 restrictions will progressively be relaxed in the country, prime minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.

“The epidemic situation continues to improve at a regular pace. Virus circulation remains high but is on a real downward trend even though its impact on hospitalisation is limited notably on the number of people in intensive care units,” Castex told reporters after a meeting of the French cabinet.

France’s main Covid-19 indicators all showed signs of improvement on Tuesday, with the seven-day average of daily new infections falling to 27,856, below 28,000 for the first time in more than a month.

Updated

WHO boss urges people to donate $7 and fund a Covid vaccine

People across the world are being encouraged to donate $7 for a dose of coronavirus vaccine in a World Health Organization-led push to raise extra funds for the Covax international Covid-19 vaccine-sharing programme.

Launching the “Go Give One” campaign on Wednesday, the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it would allow anyone who wants to “to play their part in vaccinating the world with a simple donation” and, in time, help end the pandemic.

The WHO estimates that $7 would cover the cost of buying and delivering a vaccine dose for someone in a low income country.

The campaign also will seek matching funds from businesses whose employees and customers make contributions.

“The best way out of this pandemic is by getting vaccines to everyone, starting with health workers and the world*s most vulnerable people,” Tedros said in a statement.

The campaign is scheduled to launch country by country over the coming year, starting with the UK, the US, Israel and Kenya. It is backed by global charities and companies, with an online giving platform at: http://www.gogiveone.org.

The Covax facility is aiming to secure 2bn Covid-19 vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.

Updated

Moderna Inc said on Wednesday the US government had agreed to increase the contract for the company’s Covid-19 vaccine by $236m to roughly $1.25bn, which also includes reimbursement for costs of late-stage clinical trials.

Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel said last week that the company was working on getting a Covid-19 booster shot authorised by late summer or early autumn that would provide improved protection against coronavirus variants, including a vaccine that would address the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.

Bancel said the preclinical data looked very encouraging, and that the clinical data should come as early as May.

Moderna’s two-dose vaccine is one of the three Covid-19 vaccines authorised for use in the US. Nearly 30%, or 96.7 million Americans have been fully vaccinated as of 27 April, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Updated

The head of immunisation at Public Health England has told MPs it is “very important” as many people as possible are vaccinated before all restrictions are eased.

Speaking at the science and technology committee, Dr Mary Ramsay said:

It is really very important that we have as many people vaccinated before we release all those restrictions, so at the moment we are trying to balance it very carefully.

As more people get vaccinated we are releasing gradually, we’re observing what happens, and then that’s allowing us to carry on, but it does depend on what the future holds, how people behave, how the vaccine works.

She added that many people had only had their first vaccine dose and while the proportion of people with two jabs is increasing, there are still some elderly who have not been vaccinated and children cannot yet have a vaccine.

Ramsay said:

I think it will be very hard to say confidently that by X we can stop doing Y and I think it really is a question of keeping observing and keeping monitoring, so that we can get that balance right.

There is a risk that we get a resurgence as we release restrictions – hopefully that will mainly lead to mild disease and younger people, but there will still be the risk that those people can potentially pass this on to older individuals who are, for whatever reason, either unable to respond to vaccine, unvaccinated or maybe if the vaccine begins to lose protection over time.

Ramsay added that there could be “pockets” around the country where there are “worrying” rates of transmission.

Updated

Cyprus will allow fully vaccinated tourists from 65 countries into the country without having to test for Covid from 10 May, its tourism minister has confirmed.

The Mediterranean island will accept vaccines permitted by the European Medicines Agency and Sputnik V made by Russia – its second largest market.

“I think it’s a fantastic initiative and I think it’s very very important for people to know, that irrespective of [country risk] categorisation, if someone is fully vaccinated they no longer require tests to come to Cyprus,” deputy minister of tourism Savvas Perdios told Reuters.

The scheme will enable hassle-free travel from 65 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, the EU, the UK and Gulf states.

Cyprus had already opened up to those countries in a colour-coded risk assessment system based on testing.

Perdios said incoming traffic was already being registered from Israel. While the island’s intention to accept fully vaccinated tourists from the UK, its main market, generated a great deal of interest, clarity would only be forthcoming next month after the UK sets out guidelines for overseas travel, he added.

Polish PM announces lifting of lockdown from next week

Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday announced that Covid restrictions will be eased after a fall in new infections, promising to reopen retail outlets and hotels next week.

Polskie Radio reports:

By the end of May schools will return to on-site lessons, gyms will be allowed to reopen, and restaurants will be able to open to half capacity, Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters.

He added: “I daresay the worst is behind us in terms of infections.”

Shopping malls, DIY and furniture stores will be able to reopen on May 4, with sanitary restrictions in place, Morawiecki announced.

The youngest schoolchildren will return to on-site classes on the same date, while museums and art galleries will be allowed to open.

Hotels will be able to admit guests from May 8, while restaurants and cafes will be allowed to serve customers in open-air gardens from May 15.

From the same day, a mixed system of on-site and online classes will be brought in for secondary school pupils.

All pupils will return to on-site classes on May 29. The same day, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will be able to open at half capacity, while wedding receptions will be allowed with a maximum of 50 guests, Morawiecki announced.

Morawiecki said there were ground for “cautious optimism” but added that the coronavirus “is still very, very dangerous.”

Officials on Wednesday reported 8,895 new coronavirus infections and 636 more deaths, bringing the country’s total number of cases during the pandemic to 2,776,927 and fatalities to 66,533.

Poland on Monday eased coronavirus restrictions in regions with fewer Covid cases. Beauty parlours and hairdressers in such areas were allowed to reopen. Meanwhile, a system of mixed on-site and online education was brought in for younger pupils in 11 provinces.

Medical staff treat patients infected with coronavirus Covid-19 at the intensive care unit of the Modular Hospital of the Military Medical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, on 22 April 2021.
Medical staff treat patients infected with coronavirus Covid-19 at the intensive care unit of the Modular Hospital of the Military Medical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, on 22 April 2021.
Photograph: Leszek Szymański/EPA

Amid India’s Covid-19 crisis, migrant workers are abandoning cities and heading for their villages in droves in a repeat of last year’s exodus when the lockdown shut industries and left them jobless – but this time they are worried about safety.

India’s total number of fatalities from Covid passed 200,000 on Wednesday and now stands at 201,187, with nearly 18 million people infected, according to government data,.

The cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Surat and Bangalore are under lockdown.

Healthcare facilities have been overwhelmed and hospitals grapple with shortages of oxygen, medical supplies and staff.

Reuters reports:

India’s strict lockdown measures last year, such as severing transport links, took a toll on the nation’s estimated 100 million migrant workers, triggering an exodus from cities where they worked in garment factories, building sites and brick kilns.

Hundreds died in road accidents while walking, cycling and travelling in trucks and vans in intense heat, charities said.

As the second wave of Covid-19 started sweeping through India last month, migrants who had returned to work after months of staying jobless again began a hasty retreat, fearing transport services could again get suspended.

At least three migrant workers died when an overcrowded bus from Delhi overturned in central India, local media reported.

But officials and campaigners said the impact of the lockdown this year was not as severe as in 2020 because industries had not been shut entirely and trains remained operational.

The government this month revived migrant worker helplines that were set up last April and announced financial assistance for employers who hire those who lost work in the pandemic.

“The volume of incoming calls on our helplines is not as much as last year. We have also told employers to hold on to workers,” said D.P.S. Negi, India’s Chief Labour Commissioner.

Until a few weeks ago, migrant rights non-profit Gram Vikas in eastern Odisha state had linked workers with jobs in Kerala and arranged transport for them but that has stopped.

Many of them have now booked tickets to return to their villages as infections at workplaces have spiked and many fear contracting the infection, the charity’s officials said.

Indian migrant workers and people walk down to go back to their home town at the city railway station in Bangalore, India, on 26 April 2021.
Indian migrant workers and people walk down to go back to their home town at the city railway station in Bangalore, India, on 26 April 2021.
Photograph: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

Two thirds of people in Spain over the age of 60 have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday during a visit to a Johnson & Johnson lab in Toledo.

Describing the data as “promising,” Sanchez reaffirmed a national target to fully inoculate 70% of Spain’s 47 million population before the end of summer.

Spain aims to allow overseas holidaymakers intro the country from June under the Covid digital health certificate scheme, the country’s secretary of state for tourism has said.

Over 50% of UK adults are likely to have Covid antibodies, study suggests

More than half of adults in the UK are now likely to have Covid-19 antibodies, new figures have suggested.

The estimates, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on a sample of blood test results for the week ending 11 April and range from 57.8% of adults in Scotland to 68.3% in England, with 61.0% for Wales and 62.5% for Northern Ireland.

PA reports:

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

It takes between two and three weeks after infection or vaccination for the body to make enough antibodies to fight the virus.

Antibodies then remain in the blood at low levels, although these levels can decline over time to the point that tests can no longer detect them.

The [estimates] reflect the ongoing impact of the vaccine rollout across the UK, in particular the increasing number of people who have received both doses and are now fully vaccinated.

Once infected or vaccinated, the length of time antibodies remain at detectable levels in the blood is not fully known.

It is also not yet known how having detectable antibodies, now or at some time in the past, affects the chance of getting Covid-19 again.

The ONS estimates are for people in private households and do not include settings such as hospitals and care homes.

Team leader for housebound vaccinations, Julie Fletcher, prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to housebound patient Gillian Marriott at her home in Hasland, near Chesterfield, central England on 14 April, 2021.
Team leader for housebound vaccinations, Julie Fletcher, prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to housebound patient Gillian Marriott at her home in Hasland, near Chesterfield, central England on 14 April, 2021.
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Japan has only used about a fifth of its imported Covid-19 vaccine doses so far, government data showed on Wednesday, despite having secured the largest amount of vaccines in Asia.

Only 1.6% of its population have been given just over 3.2 million jabs so far, the slowest among wealthy countries, Reuters reports.

The country’s vaccination programme kicked off in February, and by the end of April, Japan will have imported almost 17 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to a schedule from the Cabinet Office.

Most jabs have been given to healthcare workers.

By comparison, South Korea, which began its inoculation campaign after Japan, has administered two thirds of the 3.87 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer vaccines it has received so far, inoculating 4.7% of its population.

The main reason for Japan’s slow vaccine rollout appears to be a lack in manpower: Japanese regulations say only doctors or nurses can administer the jabs. The health ministry last week decided that dentists may also deliver shots.

Osaka Prefecture reported a record daily high of 1,260 new cases on Wednesday, while Tokyo confirmed 925 fresh infections, the highest figure since 28 January.

The figure in Osaka broke the previous record of 1,242 set just a week ago, while the tally in the capital was the most since late January, when it reported 1,065 infections, The Japan Times reports.

Hyogo Prefecture reported 600 new cases, its second-highest daily figure ever, and Kyoto Prefecture logged 140 new infections.

The two prefectures, together with Tokyo and Osaka, are under the nation’s third pandemic-related state of emergency.

People walk through a train station in Tokyo on 28 April, 2021.
People walk through a train station in Tokyo on 28 April, 2021.
Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

India’s western state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, may extend its lockdown by a fortnight until mid-May, the state’s health minister said on Wednesday.

The state’s plan to open vaccinations to everyone aged over 18 from 1 May will also be scrapped due to a shortage of doses, Rajesh Tope told reporters.

On Tuesday, Tope urged people to pre-register and schedule vaccination appointments instead of walking into a centre.

Tope said Maharashtra had appealed to the government to intervene and help if the state is unable to procure the required vaccine stock due to shortages.

Hundreds of women across Nigeria have reported being raped or sexually assaulted in a surge since the pandemic began, according to police and officials.

Reuters reports:

Some experts say this represents only a fraction of cases.

The president’s office referred Reuters’ questions to the Ministry of Women Affairs. The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what action they had taken to combat rape and gender-based violence.

Around the world, police and prosecutors, victim support teams and women’s movements, as well as the United Nations, have reported rising domestic violence during coronavirus-related lockdowns.

Lagos state […] saw a nearly 40% increase in rape and domestic and sexual violence in 2020, official data showed.

After a string of high-profile attacks, including the gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl in northern Jigawa state, president Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency in June last year to tackle the crisis.

Police did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but in June last year they said reports of rape had risen during the pandemic and introduced measures to improve police response to gender-based violence.

Some Nigerian women are now acting to address the problem of sexual violence, saying that cases have ended in few prosecutions, widespread stigmatization and a tendency to blame victims.

I’m Jedidajah Otte and am taking over for the next few hours. If you have anhything to flag you think we should be covering, feel free to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @JedySays or you can email me.

Updated

Today so far…

  • India recorded 360,960 new cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning according to health ministry data, another new daily global record. The ministry also said that India’s total number of fatalities had passed 200,000 to stand at 201,187.
  • As hospital and intensive care beds in the capital, Delhi, have filled far beyond capacity, the instruction from doctors has been for patients to find oxygen for themselves.
  • The Indian Premier League will continue as scheduled, a senior Indian cricket board official has said, despite fierce criticism.
  • Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, has said countries have failed to unite to provide an adequate global response to prevent the “tragic” coronavirus outbreak from overwhelming India. He singled out wealthier nations for failing to provide equitable access to healthcare around the world.
  • Leading scientists are urging the UK to share the Covid vaccines it has bought with other nations, to tackle the soaring death toll and reduce the spread of the virus and new variants around the world.
  • The EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders has warned that countries introducing their own Covid vaccination certificates would be left with a dangerous myriad of disjointed solutions if the bloc fails to build a joint system.
  • International travellers from the UK will be asked to demonstrate their Covid vaccination and testing status using the NHS smartphone app, the government has confirmed, as transport secretary Grant Shapps promised to release a list of possible holiday destinations within a fortnight.
  • Trade unions in Britain are calling for an immediate public inquiry into the country’s nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid – one of the worst totals in the world.
  • Children from the first three grades in Poland are expected to go back to school next week as coronavirus infections fall, health minister Adam Niedzielski said.
  • Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow.
  • China’s vaccine makers are looking at mixing their jabs and whether a booster shot could help better protect against Covid-19.
  • Pakistan recorded more than 200 Covid-19 deaths in a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the government said it was considering stricter lockdowns.
  • Data from France has shown that the country’s Covid crisis is beginning to ease as French president Emmanuel Macron plans to relax restrictions in the next few days.

And that is your lot from me, Martin Belam, this morning. I will be back bright and early tomorrow. Jedidajah Otte will be here to take you through the rest of the day, and Andrew Sparrow has our UK live blog here.

Indian Premier League cricket to continue as scheduled – officials

The Indian Premier League will continue as scheduled, a senior Indian cricket board official has said, despite fierce criticism of the Twenty20 competition being played in the midst of a surge in Covid cases that has gripped the world’s second most populous nation.

The senior BCCI official, however, said the cricket was providing important solace and entertainment to many people during hard times, even though fans are not being allowed into stadiums to watch the games. The tournament is watched by millions of viewers on television.

“It’s probably more important now to hold IPL, when there is so much negativity around,” the official said. “We should not underestimate the power of sport to spread positivity. At least fans are absorbed in it at home. Otherwise many of them will step out without masks. The league generates considerable money for the economy. It has to be seen from that context, too. How does stopping IPL help?”

Satish Menon, chief executive of Punjab Kings, echoed the sentiment: “For people sitting at home, we’re providing entertainment. Otherwise they’ve very little to do.”

Matches were played as planned on Tuesday and are scheduled to continue every day at six venues across the nation until 23 May, when there is a break before the playoffs. Punjab’s Menon said the possibility of a wholesale exodus of the many top foreign players who flock to the league every year looked unlikely.

“I don’t think you can get a better sanitised environment than what we have been provided. We’re completely insulated from any pandemic,” he added. Asked if any of Punjab’s foreign recruits might return home, he added: “I don’t think so. I have not even heard even one player asking for returning home.”

Read more here: IPL show lifts the gloom and will go on despite Covid crisis, claims BCCI official

The EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders has warned that countries introducing their own Covid vaccination certificates would be left with a dangerous myriad of disjointed solutions if the bloc fails to build a joint system.

Gabriela Baczynska reports for Reuters on wrangles within the EU. It is pushing to launch a shared digital health pass to allow tourists to travel freely this summer, but discussions are not yet settled on costs, data and privacy issues, as well as technical and medical aspects of the new system, among others.

“If we can deliver politically, the technical solution will be ready in time. If we don’t, we risk fragmentation across Europe, with a multitude of possibly incompatible national solutions,” said.

“We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens,” he told the European parliament.

Tourism-reliant southern EU countries like Spain and Italy are keen to launch the new tool as soon as possible to help their economies mauled by the pandemic. But they face a more reluctant north. With no central gateway to ensure interoperability in place for now, countries including Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Germany and France, are introducing their own solutions to record vaccinations.

As the bloc is now facing a third wave of infections, sceptics say discussions about restarting free travel are premature given low vaccination levels on the continent.

Another issue still to be resolved is whether antibody tests provide adequate proof that a person who has recovered from Covid-19 is immune. Some EU countries, including Belgium, are also worried about discriminating against those who cannot or would not get the jab.

Updated

Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically

A quick snap from Reuters here that Mexico will produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine domestically, its foreign minister said on a visit to Moscow, in a TV interview shared on Twitter by the fund marketing the vaccine.

Mexico’s top diplomat had travelled to Moscow on Sunday amid talks to hammer out plans for Mexico to bottle the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine domestically after delays in shipments.

Bottling the Russian shot in Mexico could start as early as May, said the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the vaccine abroad.

Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose government is aiming to quicken its pace of vaccinations, said about a million people in Mexico had been vaccinated with Sputnik V thus far.

Updated

If you missed it earlier, Dr Anthony Fauci is worth a couple of minutes of your time. The White House’s chief medical adviser has said countries have failed to unite to provide an adequate global response to prevent the “tragic” coronavirus outbreak from overwhelming India.

He singled out wealthier nations for failing to provide equitable access to healthcare around the world. “We’re all in this together. It’s an interconnected world. And there are responsibilities that countries have to each other, particularly if you’re a wealthy country and you’re dealing with countries that don’t have the resources or capabilities that you have,” he said.

 

Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK live blog for the day, so if you are after UK news, then you can head and join him there …

I’ll be here with the latest Covid news from around the globe.

Updated

NHS app will be used as Covid ‘vaccine passport’ for foreign travel

Kevin Rawlinson has a fuller write-through here of what UK transport minister Grant Shapps has been saying in the media this morning:

International travellers will be asked to demonstrate their Covid vaccination and testing status using the NHS smartphone app, the government has confirmed, as the transport secretary promised to release a list of possible holiday destinations within a fortnight.

Grant Shapps said work has started on developing the app many people currently use to book appointments with their GPs so that it can show whether they have been vaccinated and tested for the virus.

But he was coy about when people would be able to start travelling abroad for holidays in interviews on Wednesday morning, saying the public would have to “wait and see” when they could go to some of the most popular foreign holiday destinations.

Asked how the traffic light system for international travel would be decided, he said: “There will be four factors that we will be looking at when we look at a country: we will be looking at their rates of vaccination; we will also want to look at the rates of coronavirus in that country; how many concerns there are about various mutations of the virus in that particular place; and how accurate we believe the reporting to be.”

He added: “In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application – actually, it will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on – to be able to show that you have had a vaccine or that you’ve had testing.”

Read more of Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: NHS app will be used as Covid ‘vaccine passport’ for foreign travel

Updated

If you didn’t see it earlier, Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi has this latest despatch for us from India:

As a devastating Covid-19 second wave has enveloped India, the capital, Delhi, has found itself gasping for breath, as cases have soared and oxygen supplies have run low – and, in some hospitals, have run out entirely, leaving patients to die in their beds.

As hospital and intensive care beds in the capital have filled far beyond capacity, the instruction from doctors has been for patients to find oxygen for themselves. As a result, demand for oxygen cylinders has soared to unprecedented levels, with some hidden market vendors selling a single oxygen cylinder usually worth 6,000 rupees (£58) for upwards of £700.

But a civilian oxygen army has also stepped into the breach in the city, providing cylinders and oxygen refills free of charge to those in desperate need. Arora is part of the Sewa Satkar Trust, which distributes free oxygen cylinders across Delhi to those who call. But its capacity is nowhere near enough to meet the ever-growing demand.

“The situation in Delhi is particularly terrible: people are dying on the roads and outside of hospitals when they cannot get the oxygen they need,” he said. “We do the best we can but it’s so painful to have to say no, because every day we just don’t have enough. Sometimes we have to switch off our phones so we can relax, even just for half an hour.”

Recently even Delhi’s largest private hospitals such as Vedanta have been calling “telling us they have shortages and asking we help provide them with emergency cylinders”, said Arora.

He added: “It’s very clear that both the central and state governments have failed, and so it’s up to small NGOs and civilians to try and step in and do what we can. But it’s not enough, it’s not even nearly enough to fill the gap.”

Read more of Hannah Ellis-Petersen’s report here: ‘People phone up pleading’: the volunteers battling India’s oxygen crisis

Chinese vaccine makers are looking at mixing their jabs and whether a booster shot could help better protect against Covid-19, Huizhong Wu reports for Associated Press.

Sinovac and Sinopharm, the two Chinese manufacturers that combined have exported hundreds of millions of doses all over the world, say they’re are considering combining their vaccines with those from other companies.

Earlier this month, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control, Gao Fu, said that current Chinese vaccines offer low protection against the coronavirus and mixing them is among strategies being considered to boost their effectiveness. Gao later tried to walk back his comments, saying he was talking in general about improving vaccine efficacy.

Researchers in Brazil who conducted Sinovac’s clinical trials in the country released new data this month that reconfirmed the company’s previously announced 50% efficacy rate. The paper, which has not yet been peer reviewed but was published on a website for scientists, showed that the Sinovac vaccine was 50.7% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 cases and much stronger against severe disease.

China National Biotech Group has a plan for future “sequential use” of their vaccines, Li Meng, the head of international cooperation for the company, said today at an international conference.

The practice is being considered in other countries as well. British scientists are studying a combo of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots. The study is also looking to test different intervals between doses, four weeks and 12 weeks apart.

The results of such investigations may have public health implications worldwide as governments around the world face delays in getting their vaccines in a timely manner and logistical hurdles in rolling out the shots.

The constant clamour for international travel that we are hearing in some sections of the UK media this morning makes quite a contrast with the scenes coming out of India, where medical supplies are being flown in to try and help the stricken country with its Covid crisis.

Singapore is the latest country to deliver much-needed oxygen for use in India’s hospitals.

More on UK holidays: holidaymakers could be able to visit Portugal from the “middle of May”, the nation’s ambassador to the UK has said.

Asked when Portugal will be opening its borders to tourists from the UK, Manuel Lobo Antunes told Sky News: “As soon as possible, this is not just a unilateral matter, we have to coordinate this issue with our British friends and the UK government.

“But we are hopeful, as we have been saying for these last months, that from the middle of May, regular mobility between the UK and Portugal and vice versa, can be established, that’s our hope.”

PA Media reports that asked if Britons who have not been vaccinated can travel into the country, he added: “Yes, that’s the idea, that’s what we wanted, to as much as possible go back to the regime that existed before the pandemic. It’s in that direction we are working and that is possible.”

Earlier, the UK transport minister Grant Shapps raised the prospect that the NHS coronavirus app could be used to prove vaccination or testing status to facilitate international travel later this year.

Updated

UK transport minister Grant Shapps has continued his round of press appearances about UK restrictions on foreign travel this morning.

Asked about the status of travel to Spain on Times Radio, PA Media reports Shapps saying: “Spain specifically, I’m afraid I just don’t have the answer to that because the Joint Biosecurity Centre will need to come up with their assessment and we can’t do that until a bit nearer the time. So we will need to wait and see.”

Spain’s tourism minister has previously suggested the country would welcome British tourists immediately, but Shapps’ caution suggests it is possible that the Sun may have slightly jumped the gun with their awkward pun this morning.

Updated

Some children expected to return to in-school learning in Poland next week

Children from the first three grades in Poland are expected to go back to school next week as coronavirus infections fall, health minister Adam Niedzielski said this morning.

Reuters report that the government is on track to ease some restrictions as the country of 38 million seems to have combated its third wave of the pandemic.

“I think that from next Tuesday, 4 May, children from grades 1-3 will return to school. We have only one question – which we will resolve shortly – whether it will be nationwide, or whether some regions will have hybrid teaching,” Niedzielski told radio station RMF24.

Poland implemented nationwide restrictions in mid-March, closing theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas, with even harsher restrictions closing kindergartens and hair salons put in place later that month.

There’s been some reaction in the UK media to the Public Health England study that shows vaccines cutting transmission rates in England as well as preventing more serious infection symptoms.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, told BBC Breakfast the PHE findings on transmission were “significant”.

He added: “We know that these vaccines are very good at preventing severe symptoms but they’re not 100% effective, so it’s really important if someone does get infected having been vaccinated, they aren’t likely to pass the virus on to others, because then that reduces the risk of the virus spreading further and potentially putting vulnerable people who may not have protection at risk.”

He said the study offered “extra evidence to suggest we do need as many people to be vaccinated as possible, even if you are not at severe risk of developing severe symptoms, because that way we’re getting much higher levels of protection across the population, protecting the vulnerable and, hopefully, further reducing the number of people who will get severely ill and sadly die from the disease.”

PA Media also notes that Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the Covid-19 clinical information network, described the results as “very, very reassuring” and “certainly better than many of us expected just a few months ago”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It shows that the immune system is doing something a lot more than we were expecting of it really.”

He said it is known from other studies that infection is “typically much milder” in people who have been vaccinated and added that with two doses the outcome is “almost certainly going to be even better”.

Updated

Pakistan records more than 200 Covid deaths in a day for the first time

Pakistan recorded more than 200 Covid-19 deaths in a day for the first time since the start of the pandemic, as the government said it was considering stricter lockdowns.

Umar Farooq reports for Reuters from Islamabad that a total of 201 new deaths were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the country’s overall death toll from the virus to 17,530, according to the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the government’s pandemic response. The previous highest daily death count was 157 recorded on 23 April.

Only about 2m vaccinations have been administered in Pakistan, and the country has struggled to procure supplies to cover enough of its population. Officials have said health care facilities are at risk of being overwhelmed. Pakistan has very limited health resources, with ventilators and oxygen in short supply.

Around 6,286 Covid-19 patients were being treated in 631 hospitals on Tuesday, and more than 70% of ventilators and oxygenated beds were occupied in hospitals in many major cities, according to the NCOC.

A resident wearing a protective mask walks past Pakistan Army soldiers on patrol to enforce coronavirus disease safety protocols in Karachi.
A resident wearing a protective mask walks past Pakistan Army soldiers on patrol to enforce coronavirus disease safety protocols in Karachi.
Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Stricter measures were taken in a handful of cities with the highest positivity rates this week, and health minister Faisal Sultan has warned that such steps could be extended to other areas if the public did not heed advice on social distancing, wearing masks, and other precautionary measures, especially during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan with the upcoming Eid holiday next month.

“Please keep your Ramadan and Eid simple this year, so we can fight this disease and get through this difficult situation,” Sultan said.

Updated

I mentioned earlier that leading scientists are urging the UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations. Here are the words of Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, on the matter:

This pandemic is a long way from over. The scenes in India, where Covid-19 continues to overwhelm health systems and sink the economy, are harrowing. In many countries, hospitals are flooded with patients and face shortages of vital medical supplies.

At a global level, I fear the worst is yet to come. Across the world, there have been almost 100,000 reported deaths in the 10 days since the global total passed the 3m mark. Because of a lack of data collection, the true figure is likely much higher. Each death is a tragedy, the loss of a loved one, an untold story.

Why, when we have vaccines and treatments for Covid, are we still seeing horrific reports of this virus raging through communities? The responsibility for this lies with global political leaders. While science has made significant progress, producing vaccines, treatments and tests in record time, the G20 have failed to come together and back the sustained global response that is desperately needed.

This puts our hard-won scientific progress at risk. Science is only useful if it’s delivered to society. Until vaccines and tests for Covid are available to everyone, we won’t be able to stop this pandemic and its devastating consequences. Ensuring the world’s population has access is the best way to drive down transmission, reduce deaths and prevent dangerous new variants from emerging.

Right now, global political leaders are the only people who can make these essential resources available. Rich countries – including the UK and US – have bought up the majority of existing vaccine supplies. They urgently need to start sharing these doses with the rest of the world, alongside national rollouts in their own countries, and through the Covax programme. And they must set out a timetable for how these donations will be increased as they vaccinate more of their populations domestically.

Read more here: Dr Jeremy Farrar – Political leaders must ensure Covid vaccines aren’t the preserve of the rich

A time-consuming but crucial part of the vaccination campaign in Italy are house-to-house visits to deliver doses to the elderly. The country has the world’s second-oldest population and tends to care for its aged at home rather than in institutional facilities.

Alessandro Tarantino and Gordon Walker have been out in the Lazio region around Rome for Associated Press with Dr Elisa Riccitelli and nurse Luigi Lauri on their rounds. The doctor and nurse manage just 12 shots a day – six in the morning, six in the afternoon, but it is seen as a vital job in protecting Italy’s most vulnerable from the pandemic.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli, right, and nurse Nurse Luigi Lauri wear protective gear before entering in the home of an elderly Rome resident.
Doctor Elisa Riccitelli, right, and nurse Nurse Luigi Lauri wear protective gear before entering in the home of an elderly Rome resident.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

In the Lazio region, 30,000 people are over the age of 75 and with conditions that made it impossible for them to get to vaccination centres.

To make sure they hit all their appointments on time – one vial of Pfizer for the morning six, one vial for the afternoon – the local public health centre struck a deal with Uber so its visiting vaccination teams could have a dedicated car and driver. The 500 free rides from Uber cut down on time spent finding parking spots in Rome’s notoriously congested streets.

And when they ring a doorbell, they are welcomed inside like heroes.

“It’s really a very nice feeling,” Riccitelli said. “We often vaccinate bedridden patients who cannot move, the extremely elderly, so the feeling is that we’re doing something really useful.”

“I feel amazing, like yesterday and the day before that, amazing,” said 96-year-old Patrizia Cumbo, who has dementia, after she got her shot. She lives with her caregiver and received her jab from the living room recliner where she spends most of her days.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli with Patrizia Cumbo, 96 years old, after she had a dose of Covid vaccine in her home.
Elisa Riccitelli with Patrizia Cumbo, 96 years old, after she had a dose of Covid vaccine in her home.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

A bedridden Giorgio Tagliacarne, 85, said he hoped his jab would spell the end of a year of isolation, which was particularly acute given he and his wife used to sail for pleasure around the world.

“This way now maybe my grandchildren can come visit me, which until now is something I have avoided,” he said, as his wife sat nearby.

Doctor Elisa Riccitelli talks with 85-year old Giorgio Tagliacarne, in his bed, after he received a dose of Covid vaccine at his home in Rome.
Elisa Riccitelli talks with 85-year old Giorgio Tagliacarne, in his bed, after he received a dose of Covid vaccine at his home in Rome.
Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Riccitelli and Lauri take full precautions when they enter each home, donning dedicated protective gear and masks. Riccitelli notes relevant medical data and handles consent forms, while Lauri prepares and administers the vaccine, which they carry in an insulated bag to keep it cold. Then they wait 15 minutes to ensure there are no adverse reactions, and move onto the next appointment.

“Fortunately we have never seen any side-effects,” Riccitelli says. “After 15 minutes we say goodbye with a big smile.”

Updated

Shapps: NHS app will be used to show vaccine or testing status for international travel

The relentless drumbeat continues in the UK about whether people will be able to have foreign holidays this summer. Transport minister Grant Shapps has been doing the media round this morning. He has told Sky News “We need to do this carefully.”

He also suggested that it would be May when the government would be able to inform people which countries they will be allowed to visit without quarantine on return.

In a move that will anger people opposed to the imposition of vaccine passports, Shapps revealed that Britain is working on using the existing National Health Service coronavirus app to show that people have received their Covid-19 vaccine for international travel.

“It will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS … to be able to show that you’ve had a vaccine or that you’ve had testing, and I’m working internationally with partners across the world, to make sure that that system can be internationally recognised,” he said.

Reuters report he will be chairing a meeting of G7 transport ministers from the G7 next week to discuss the plan further.

Britain has earmarked 17 May as being the earliest date when international travel would be allowed for non-essential reasons, with a “traffic light system” based on individual countries’ Covid risk levels.

“The data does continue to look good from a UK perspective notwithstanding those concerns about where people might be travelling to and making sure that we’re protected from the disease being re-imported,” Shapps said.

Updated

Here’s Alistair Smout for Reuters with a recap of the overnight news of that Public Health England study which says that Covid-19 vaccines deployed in England can cut transmission of the coronavirus by up to a half, in addition to the protection the shots offer against symptomatic infection.

Smout reports that the new research showed that people who became infected with the coronavirus three weeks after receiving one dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38% to 49% less likely to pass it on to household contacts compared to those who were unvaccinated.

The shots also stop a vaccinated person developing infection to start with, reducing the risk by around 60% to 65% from four weeks after one dose of either vaccine.

UK health minister Matt Hancock has said: “This study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus. It further reinforces that vaccines are the best way out of this pandemic as they protect you and they may prevent you from unknowingly infecting someone in your household.”

The study included over 57,000 contacts from 24,000 households in which there was a lab-confirmed case that had received a vaccination, compared with nearly 1 million contacts of unvaccinated cases.

Leading scientists urge UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations

Leading scientists are urging the UK to share the Covid vaccines it has bought with India and other nations, to tackle the soaring death toll and reduce the spread of the virus and new variants around the world.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said rich countries including the UK that have bought up most of the vaccine supply “urgently need to start sharing these doses with the rest of the world, alongside national rollouts in their own countries, and through the Covax programme. And they must set out a timetable for how these donations will be increased as they vaccinate more of their populations domestically.”

Writing in the Guardian, Farrar called on the UK to lead the world, through its presidency of the G7. “We have already vaccinated over half of our population – including those who are most at risk from Covid-19. In fact, the UK has given almost as many doses to its own citizens than Covax has been able to ship to 120 countries in dire need of jabs,” he said.

Covax, the UN-based initiative to get vaccines to the most vulnerable 20% of the population of every country, has managed to deliver only a fifth of the doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine expected by May, because of global shortages and problems with supply.

One in four people in high-income countries are now protected but only one in 500 in low-income countries, where unvaccinated health workers are still putting their lives on the line. The US has announced it will give India 60m doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet licensed for use in the US.

Farrar said sharing vaccines was in every country’s self-interest. “The shores Covid now rages upon may seem distant to some, but the reality is that so long as the virus continues to spread in other countries, it continues to be a threat to everyone. If we allow Covid-19 to keep spreading, it will go on evolving, increasing the risk of new variants that could cross borders and evade vaccines and treatments.”

Read more of Sarah Boseley’s report here: Leading scientists urge UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations

Updated

We mentioned below about the crematorium crisis in New Delhi that is the latest manifestation of the devastating wave of Covid sweeping India.

We’ve just published a video showing workers constructing the makeshift pyres that are mentioned in the main story. However, some readers might find this video distressing:

 

Spain has opened up the prospect of tourists returning to the country from June under a Covid digital health certificate scheme.

Fernando Valdés, Spain’s secretary of state for tourism, told the World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Mexico on Tuesday that the programme – under which tourists could show they have been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus – would prove “fundamental to offering travellers certainty”.

Read the full story here:

Trade unions in Britain are calling for an immediate public inquiry into the country’s nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid – one of the worst totals in the world.

The Trades Union Congress said the inquiry should examine whether workers were kept safe enough after about 15,000 people of working age died from Covid in England and Wales.

It comes as new accounts emerge of the power struggle within Downing Street that saw Boris Johnson at odds with his key advisers over whether to implement a second lockdown in November. The prime minister was against the shutdown.

France outbreak easing, data shows

Data from France has shown that the country’s Covid crisis is beginning to ease as French president Emmanuel Macron plans to relax restrictions in the next few days.

French health authorities said on Tuesday that the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units fell by 58 to 5,943, after the tally set a one-year high of 6,001 on Monday, Reuters reports.

A woman rides her bicycle near the Eiffel tower at Trocadero square in Paris.
A woman rides her bicycle near the Eiffel tower at Trocadero square in Paris.
Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

The total number of people in hospital with Covid-19 also fell, by 315 to 30,281, a 17-day low.

New infections went up by 30,317 over 24 hours but the 3.65% increase versus last Tuesday is the lowest week-on-week rise since 2 January.

India records another global record of daily cases

India recorded 360,960 new cases in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning according to health ministry data, another new daily global record.

The ministry also said that India’s total number of fatalities had passed 200,000 to stand at 201,187. The Guardian takes its figures for deaths from the Johns Hopkins University tracker, which shows fatalities on 197,984.

The World Health Organization is sending extra staff and supplies to India to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, says the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding: “WHO is doing everything we can, providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, prefabricated mobile field hospitals and laboratory supplies.”

 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 22,231 to 3,332,532, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 312 to 82,280.

The Indian variant of the virus has been detected in Fiji, sparking fears of a “tsunami” of Covid-19 cases. Pacific editor Kate Lyons reports:

The permanent secretary for health and medical services, James Fong, said six new cases had emerged in quarantine facilities on Tuesday and events in India showed the threat posed by the strain could not be underestimated.

“We cannot let that nightmare happen in Fiji,” he said in a televised address.

Read the full story:

Fires from funeral pyres can be seen at night in New Delhi
Fires from funeral pyres can be seen at night in New Delhi
Photograph: Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, our south Asia correspondent, writes from Delhi about the civilian oxygen army that has stepped into the breach, providing cylinders and oxygen refills free of charge to those in desperate need. Read her full story here:

Updated

Crematoriums in the Indian capital of New Delhi are being forced to make makeshift funeral pyres in a measure of the desperate plight facing the country.

Grieving relatives of the dead are having to wait 20 or more hours for a funeral pyre amid an explosion of new Covid cases.

Photographs taken in Delhi on Tuesday showed smoke billowing from dozens of pyres lit in a car park that had been turned into a makeshift crematorium. Elsewhere, workers built makeshift pyres on land outside crematoriums.

You can read the full report here:

 

We must help India, says Fauci

America’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, has told Guardian Australia’s Melissa Davey that richer countries must give more help to India as it faces a desperate fight against coronavirus.

He tells Mel that the virus can’t be defeated without a more equitable response.

The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world. And that’s something that, unfortunately, has not been accomplished. Often when you have diseases in which there is a limited amount of intervention, be it therapeutic or prevention, this is something that all the countries that are relatively rich countries or countries that have a higher income have to pay more attention to.

You can read the whole piece here and also watch Dr Fauci making his remarks at this video:

 

Updated

New Zealand is donating NZ$1m (US$720,000) to assist with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in India.

“We stand in solidarity with India at this difficult time, and commend the tireless efforts of India’s frontline medics and healthcare workers who are working hard to save lives,” foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

Mahuta announced on Wednesday that the donation would go to assist India via the International Federation of the Red Cross, which is providing oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, and other medical supplies.

Good morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are. I’m Martin Farrer and welcome to the Guardian’s live blogging of the coronavirus pandemic.

The situation in India once again dominates our coverage as the Covid crisis in the country continues to worsen: here are the main developments in India to start with:

  • Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading expert on infectious diseases, has told the Guardian that the India crisis shows a global response is needed whereby richer countries could make vaccines and other medical equipment available to poorer ones.
  • Crematoriums in the capital New Delhi are being forced to construct makeshift funeral pyres as they struggle to cope with the huge number of victims of the devastating wave.
  • The country is braced for another record number of Covid cases on Wednesday after setting new records for the past week.
  • The World Health Organization has blamed the India crisis on a “perfect storm” of factors such as mass gatherings, low vaccination rates and more contagious variants.

Other key developments around the world:

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1053

Read more

Corona Virus, Health, India, World

UK Covid live: 60m vaccine booster shots secured for use later this year

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK Covid live: 60m vaccine booster shots secured for use later this year” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 28th April 2021 16.57 UTC

Q: Did you ever hear the PM say he would rather let coronavirus rip, or see bodies pile up, than have another lockdown?

No, says Hancock, he didn’t.

Q: We have various inquiries into lobbying and leaks etc, but no inquiry into the pandemic. Is it time for one now?

Hancock says there will be time for an inquiry. It should cover everything.

Van-Tam says he thinks an inquiry will be important, “but please not now”. He says the scientists are far too busy trying to avoid problems for this winter.

He says he hopes the inquiry will focus on the success of the vaccination programme.

He says doctors should be able to look back at 2021 and say, ‘This is what I did in 2021.’

Q: [From the Mirror’s Ben Glaze] As culture secretary you championed the right of the press to ask difficult questions. But what is the point of a press conference if you won’t engage with difficult questions, as you have been refusing to do tonight?

Hancock says this press conference is about coronvirus. He says Van-Tam and Kanani have given very good answers. There were lots of questions about the other matters in the Commons earlier. He says it is also important to concentrate “on the big things that really matter”.

  • Hancock defends his refusal to answer questions on sleaze claims, saying he should focus on “the big things that really matter’.

Van-Tam says third wave of Covid could be reduced to ‘third upsurge’ if vaccine programme continues at pace

Hancock says the order for 60m booster jabs is a forward order. That does not mean they are in the freezer already, he says.

Van-Tam says he is hopeful that if the vaccine programme continues at pace, “the third wave might just be a third upsurge” because of the breaking of the link between cases and hospitalisation/deaths.

Chris Smyth from the Times asks three questions, the third of which is about whether the Conservative party is still planning to abolish the Electoral Commission if it does not do what the government wants, as Amanda Milling, the party’s co-chair, suggested last year.

Hancock says he will answer one question, Van-Tam a second, and the third (the Electoral Commission one) they will ignore.

Van-Tam says it is still unclear how effective vaccines will be against new variants

Q: Some people say you are sticking to dates, rather than data, because you are refusing to ease the restrictions for funerals. Will you look at those again?

Hancock says this is an incredibly important topic. He says the data suggests the UK is where it expected to be. The dates set out in the roadmap were “not before” dates.

He says we are almost exactly where the modellers said we would be.

Q: Do you have data about how vaccines are working against variants?

Van-Tam says most of the data is from after Christmas, and generated against the Kent B117 variant. He says they are extremely confident the vaccines are working against this.

But there are other variants. He says their cases numbers have grown. He would not call them trivial. But he does not see them rushing away either.

He says you can either test them by waiting until they grow in circulation. But they don’t want to allow that.

Instead they can do neutralisation studies in the laboratory, testing vaccines against different variants.

If the antibodies work against the virus, that is good; it shows the vaccines will work.

But if they don’t, that does not necessarily mean the vaccines won’t work – because vaccines also stimulate T-cell immunity.

He says the current studies show the level of neutralisation fall. But he says that does not mean the vaccines won’t work in the real world.

He says the first thing to go would be protection against infection. He says he would expect protection against severe disease to be be more lasting.

  • Van-Tam says it is still unclear how effective vaccines will be against new variants.

Hancock says policy around international travel is around uncertainty. Policy is dominated by the need to protect the progress made so far.

Q: How close are we to herd immunity? What threshold is needed to reach that?

Van-Tam says there are “some twists and turns” ahead. He says he does not want us to run into any “wet patches” in the next few weeks.

There will be good pressures and bad pressures on R.

The easements will have a propensity to increase R.

But the vaccine rollout should put downward pressure on it.

There are competing pressures in play, he says.

He says the vaccine programme has reached 42-year-olds, but it needs to go further.

Q: Are you considering changing vaccine policy to help India?

Hancock says the UK does not have any surplus vaccine at the moment. But AstraZeneca is working with the Serum Institute of India, which is producing more vaccine than any other institution in the world. So it is benefiting from British science, he says.

Q: [From the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg] If a serving government minster is found to have broken the rules on party funding, should they resign?

Hancock says the PM answered lots of questions about this in the Commons earlier.

(Actually, he didn’t; he dodged most of them.)

Hancock says, because this is a coronavirus press conference, he will not say any more.

Q: What can be done to ensure the UK remains a global leader in life sciences?

Hancock says he will be giving a speech on this tomorrow.

He says the AstraZeneca decision to make a vaccine available around the world at cost has been the UK’s greatest global contribution during the pandemic.

And discovering the use of dexamethasone as a Covid treatment may have saved up to a million lives around the world.

He says the UK will never block the export of medical products around the world. He says this should make it an attractive base for pharmaceutical companies.

Kanani urges people to carry on collaborating with research.

And Van-Tam thanks NHS clinicians who have managed to run massive studies alongside their main work.

He says the UK is trying to generate data on mix and match schedules for vaccines, and the UK is already “deep in study” on booster vaccines.

Other countries around the world want to share this data, he says.

Van-Tam says they need data to see if the vaccines work as well on the elderly, and if they work as well on people with underlying conditions. He says it will take a little longer to get this information.

Q: When will people be allowed to take care home relatives out without them having to self-isolate when they return?

Hancock says this is an incredibly important question, and he is working on it now. He had a meeting on this yesterday. They want to find a way of letting people out of care homes with the risk they will bring coronavirus back to the home when they return. He says he hopes to be able to announce “good news” soon.

It is important to have protective rules, he says. But he says he knows that not allowing visits has consequences.

Van-Tam now presents a chart summarising the findings of the PHE research published this morning. (See 9.15am.)

Impact of vaccines on transmission
Impact of vaccines on transmission
Photograph: No 10

He says these figures are probably conservative estimates. And he says once people have had a second dose, the impact should be stronger.

Van-Tam presents a slide on Covid deaths.

Deaths
Deaths
Photograph: No 10

And here is the chart for vaccinations.

Vaccination numbers
Vaccination numbers
Photograph: No 10

Covid cases ‘at or close to bottom’, says Van-Tam

Van-Tam is now presenting slides.

The first is about the number cases. He says the UK is now “at or close to the bottom”.

Covid cases
Covid cases
Photograph: No 10

And hospital numbers are close to the bottom, he says.

Hospital numbers
Hospital numbers
Photograph: No 10

Hancock says UK now has secured 60m vaccine booster shots for use later this year

Hancock says the UK has now secured 60m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be used for booster shots later this year.

Hancock is now summarising the ONS figures released earlier today about the extent to which people test positive for antibodies against coronavirus. Testing positive means people have either had the illness or have been vaccinated.

In England seven out of 10 adults have antibodies.

Hancock says he got a text from the NHS yesterday inviting him to get a vaccination. He is getting his tomorrow, he says.

Anyone over 42 is now eligible, and Hancock is 42.

Hancock is now summarising the research published this morning about the impact of vaccination on transmission. (See 9.15am.)

Three ‘oxygen factory’ units being sent to India

Hancock starts with India. He says it pains everyone to watch, not least because the bonds between the UK and India are so strong. He says he has been in constant contact with his Indian counterpart and he has put together supplies of ventilators and oxygen concentrators which are going to be sent to India.

Working with the Northern Ireland executive, he says he has also arranged for large-scale oxygen production equipment to be sent to India.

There are more details of this here. The Department of Health describes them as “oxygen factories”, and it says three are being sent to India.

Matt Hancock’s press conference

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is about to hold a press conference at No 10.

He will be joined by Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, and Dr Nikki Kanani, medical director of primary care at NHS England.

From Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister

New DUP leader must accept ‘political landscape has changed’, says Sinn Fein

Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein deputy first minister, has put out a statement following Arlene Foster’s resignation. She pays tribute to Foster, but most of the statement is a warning to the DUP that it should not try to turn the clock back in Northern Ireland. O’Neill says:

The incoming DUP leader should recognise that the political landscape across our island has changed.

The broad community are impatient for social reform and political change which reflects a modern and progressive society where everyone can feel that they belong on an equal basis.

As joint head of government my focus, and the focus of our executive, must remain on the task of leading us safely and sustainably out of the pandemic, building a fairer economy recovery, providing first-class public services and delivering the New Decade, New Approach deal to the benefit of every section of our society.

This requires a genuine commitment from all political leaders to power-sharing and to work to deliver equality for women, for the LGBT community, for Irish language and identity and all sections of our community.

Within the executive and assembly, Sinn Féin will work with all parties to progress social reform, political change and economic prosperity – but we will robustly oppose damaging policies or regressive throwback politics of the past.

The public and electorate want the parties to enter into a new era and make politics work in their interests. This is certainly my top priority now and in the time ahead.

Michelle O’Neill (left) with Arlene Foster at a press conference earlier this month.
Michelle O’Neill (left) with Arlene Foster at a press conference earlier this month.
Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

In a column, my colleague Martin Kettle says Arlene Foster was a casualty of Brexit. He explains:

It is Brexit that has put the DUP on the rack. And it is Brexit that she and her party got horribly wrong from the start. Pure UK sovereignty was always going to be incompatible with the Northern Ireland peace process, into which power-sharing was hardwired. The DUP should therefore have thought the issue through and opposed Brexit, as a majority of Northern Ireland voters unsurprisingly did in 2016. When the UK nevertheless voted for it, the DUP should have backed Theresa May’s clunky but, in this context, principled Northern Ireland backstop.

Instead, the DUP foolishly threw in its lot with Boris Johnson and the European Research Group. Three years ago, Johnson went to the DUP conference and promised “no British government could or should” sign up to a border in the Irish Sea, a pledge he repeated when he became prime minister in 2019. The following year, Johnson signed up to precisely that, making idiots of the DUP.

Johnson has no interest in Northern Ireland. A colleague from his Daily Telegraph days recently recalled him announcing he was writing a piece about Northern Ireland. “Remind me,” he asked, “which ones are the orange johnnies?” Foster is neither the first nor the last person to make the error of believing Johnson’s lies. But she is learning her lesson now. She is also being made the scapegoat for wider DUP and unionist failings that will continue to confront her successor.

Martin’s full article is here.

Updated

This is from Julian Smith, the Conservative former Northern Ireland secretary, on Arlene Foster’s resignation.

Here is reaction to Arlene Foster’s resignation from two of the people seen as candidates to replace her.

From Gavin Robinson, DUP MP for Belfast East

From Edwin Poots, agriculture minister in the Northern Ireland executive

This is from the Belfast Telegraph’s Allison Morris on Arlene Foster’s resignation speech.

The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. In a week that has seen No 10 fighting off fires left, right, and centre, Jessica Elgot is joined by Zoe Williams and Sonia Sodha to discuss a less than stellar week for the PM. Plus, Peter Walker, Jon Henley and Helena Smith look at the various pressures facing European leaders when it comes to allowing tourism to restart this summer.

Updated

Key points from Arlene Foster’s resignation statement

Here are the key points from Arlene Foster’s lengthy resignation statement. Despite its length, the statement does not include any explanation as to why Foster is going now (she has lost the confidence of her MPs), or even an acknowledgement that she is being forced out against her will.

Here are the most interesting points.

  • Foster says the DUP should retain its commitment to power sharing. She says:

I have sought to lead the party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path.

There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging. We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country.

The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.

  • She says the Northern Ireland protocol (the part of the Brexit agreement affecting trade in Northern Ireland) has destabilised the region. But she does not acknowledge that the DUP may have played its part in the protocol being agreed, because it refused to back Theresa May’s alternative plan for Brexit and then supported Boris Johnson when he said he would not allow a customs border down the Irish Sea – only to see him promptly abandon that promise when he became prime minister. She says:

The protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times.

  • She says the suspension of power sharing in Northern Ireland caused “untold harm” to public services and she urges her party not to let it happen again. She says:

My firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved ministers in place and no ministerial direction for departments.

As I prepare to depart the political stage it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution. That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.

  • She cites the confidence and supply agreement signed with the Conservatives after Theresa May lost her majority in the 2017 election as a high point for the DUP. She says:

The confidence and supply agreement was able to bring one billion pounds of extra spending for everyone in Northern Ireland. Our priorities were not narrow but based on more investment in mental health and hospitals, bringing broadband to rural communities, improving our roads and ensuring funding to encourage more shared housing and education.

  • She says she wants to see more women follow her into politics. She says:

My election as leader of the Democratic Unionist party broke a glass ceiling and I am glad inspired other women to enter politics and spurred them on to take up elected office.

I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it’s the same for all women in public life.

I want to encourage you to keep going and don’t let the online lynch-mobs get you down.

Updated

The full text of Arlene Foster’s resignation statement is on the DUP’s website here.

Arlene Foster to stand down as DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister at end of June

Arlene Foster, the Northern Ireland first minister, has announced she will resign as DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister at the end of June. She has recorded a statement that Sky News is broadcasting now.

Here is the opening of her statement.

A short time ago I called the party chairman to inform him that I intend to step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist party on 28 May and as first minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.

It is important to give space over the next few weeks for the party officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader. When elected I will work with the new leader on transition arrangements.

Her resignation follows the revelation yesterday that DUP MLAs and MPs were preparing a vote of no confidence in her. My colleague Rory Carroll explains why here.

Updated

Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party deputy chairman who now runs a well-funded polling operation, has published a 26-page report on opinion in Scotland, based on polling and focus groups. In a summary of its findings on his website, Ashcroft says it shows that support for independence is on a knife-edge.

The independence debate continues to sit on a knife-edge. In my 2,000-sample survey, the 51-49 margin for staying in the UK amounts to a statistical dead heat. To the frustration of many voters on all sides who would rather talk about something else, the question still dominates the agenda: nearly as many people say they will use their votes next week to prevent a new referendum as to try and secure one.

Not only does the SNP maintain its clear lead in the Holyrood elections, its support is more intense: those naming the nationalists as their most likely choice put their chances of actually turning out to vote for them higher than those of other parties’ potential backers …

But the research reveals some other straws in the wind. While not necessarily ready to say they have yet changed their minds, we found some former Yes voters more nervous about independence. Though they think Sturgeon has outperformed the Prime Minister, they know that vaccine procurement was a UK effort and doubt whether an independent Scotland could have sustained its own furlough scheme on anything like the scale seen over the past year. With oil revenues now offering a less reliable foundation for the Scottish economy, the thought grows that Edinburgh might become not just the architectural but the fiscal Athens of the North.

Holyrood magazine also has a good summary here.

Updated

No 10 says Johnson will retain final say over internal inquiry into whether he broke ministerial code

The Downing Street lobby briefing is over. Here are the key points.

  • Boris Johnson will have the final say over deciding whether or not he broke the ministerial code in relation to the funding of his flat – despite the announcement of an inquiry by the new independent adviser on ministerial interests appointed this morning. (See 11.33am.) The prime minister has always been the ultimate judge of whether or not a minister has broken the code. But, given that his own conduct is now being investigated, the prime minister’s spokesman was asked if Johnson would recuse himself from this investigation. The spokesman said Johnson would remain the “ultimate arbiter” of the code. This is how the Mirror sums this up.
  • The spokesman said that the role of the independent adviser on ministerial interests has been strengthened – but not as much as recommended by the committee on standards in public life. In a recent letter to the PM (pdf) Lord Evans, chair of the committee, said the independent adviser should be able to initiate investigations (instead of just waiting until asked to carry out one by the PM) and that s/he should be able to able to publish a summary of their findings. Now the adviser will also be able to suggest an inquiry to the PM, and, after an inquiry, s/he will also be able to require the publication of their findings. The details are set out in the terms of reference (pdf).
  • Downing Street said the Electoral Commission inquiry was a matter for the Conservative party, and that Johnson himself has not yet been asked to give evidence.
  • The PM’s press secretary refused to accept that Johnson misled MPs at PMQs when he said that Labour opposed the Brexit deal that has just been approved by MEPs. In fact, Labour voted for the deal in parliament. But the press secretary said Johnson was referring to Starmer’s general support for a second referendum, which could have led to Brexit being stopped. She refused to commit the PM to correcting the record.

Leading scientists urge UK to share Covid vaccines with poorer nations

Leading scientists are urging the UK to share the Covid vaccines it has bought with India and other nations, to tackle the soaring death toll and reduce the spread of the virus and new variants around the world, my colleague Sarah Boseley reports.

Updated

Downing Street flat refurbishment row has ‘brought politics in general into disrepute’, says Welsh first minister

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has welcomed the decision of the Electoral Commission to investigate the funding of the PM’s flat refurbishment. Drakeford said:

I’m very glad the Electoral Commission has decided to do that because it will mean that the full facts will now be available to the public.

I think you can see that over recent days the prime minister and the people who speak on his behalf have been very careful in choosing the words that they use. Choosing them, I think, to conceal the full story from people.

Drakeford told PA Media that the controversy had “brought politics in general into disrepute” and he said he “cannot think of another prime minister who would have acted in the way that is alleged the current prime minister has acted”.

The number of patients in hospital in England with Covid-19 has dropped to its lowest level for seven months, PA Media reports. PA says:

A total of 1,310 patients were in hospital at 8am on 27 April, according to figures from NHS England.

This is the lowest since 1,299 on 21 September, and is down 96% from a record 34,336 on 18 January.

Here is my colleague Aubrey Allegretti’s story about PMQs.

At his post-PMQs briefing Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman defended the Labour leader’s decision to use his questions today to ask about the funding of the PM’s flat refurbishment. The spokesman said:

The real question here is about whether or not the prime minister has complied with the rules governing the ministerial code, the rules governing MPs making a declaration to the register of interests and – as we have seen today – whether or not the Conservative party and the prime minister followed electoral law.

That’s the big issue of today and if the prime minister wanted to end this saga he would come clean about precisely what’s happened.

The only reason we are talking about wallpaper and furnishings is because the prime minister hasn’t come clean on what is becoming a daily story of more Tory sleaze.

The spokesman also said that “unlike the prime minister he doesn’t turn his nose up to John Lewis thinking it’s too downmarket”. That was a reference to the report that Carrie Symonds, the PM’s fiancee, wanted to refurbish the Downing Street flat because she wanted to get rid of the the “John Lewis nightmare” left by Theresa May.

Keir Starmer.
Keir Starmer.
Photograph: House of Commons/PA

PMQs – Verdict from Twitter commentariat

And this is what journalists and political commentators are saying about PMQs.

From the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

From the FT’s Jim Pickard

From the Times’ Iain Martin

From the Telegraph’s Lucy Fisher

From the i’s Nigel Morris

From the Atlantic’s Helen Lewis

From the Sun’s Kate Ferguson

From Tom Newton Dunn from Times Radio

From my colleague Peter Walker

From the FT’s Robert Shrimsley

From Good Morning Britain’s Anne Alexander

From my colleague Owen Jones

From the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire

From Business Insider’s Thomas Colson

Updated

This is from Sky’s Sam Coates.

Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman has described Boris Johnson’s PMQs rant as a “Kevin Keegan moment”, the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar reports.

PMQs – Snap verdict

There is general agreement that Boris Johnson has never appeared as enraged at PMQs as he was today, as Sir Keir Starmer challenged him repeatedly with questions about his Downing Street flat refurbishment that he was unwilling to answer. Sometimes anger and indignation can look quite impressive at the dispatch box. People expect prime ministers to be able to display an element of menace and David Cameron, for example, was someone who could switch from genial to furious without demeaning his authority.

But Johnson, despite being someone who is capable of showing his anger in private, has built his entire political persona on being fun, positive and jolly – which is why is biographer, Andrew Gimson, calls him a “Merrie England Conservative”. There was nothing very merry about him today, and frankly it was unappealing. Voters may be inclined to sympathise with a politician who starts losing it in the face of what might be seen as unfair accusations, but Starmer’s questions about the funding of the Downing Street flat refurbishment were perfectly fair and almost everyone watching will have concluded that the reason why Johnson refused to answer was because he did indeed get the Conservative party to pay the bill in the first instance. Starmer may not have extracted an admission on this, but Johnson’s answers were as good as. And if the entire strategy was just to wind Johnson up until he snapped, it worked.

Johnson’s best line of defence was to argue that Labour were only attacking him over the flat, and sleaze, because they had nothing to say on anything else. He put this best in his response to the Labour MP Janet Daby, when in response to a question about why “these stories about sleaze, corruption and dishonesty keep happening to him and his Conservative government”, he told her:

I tell you what, I think because people are absolutely determined to find anything they can hang on to to talk about except the vaccine rollout, except our plans to unite and level up across the country, except our plans to fight crime and give people the opportunity to buy their own homes, because they don’t want to discuss those issues because they can’t win on those issues because they have got absolutely nothing to say.

Tory MPs seemed to love it. (The cheering was louder than usual, even in the socially distanced chamber.) Of course, this is the sort of argument that you would make if you were determined to avoid questions about using party funds for personal advantage, but that does not mean that it is entirely wrong. Johnson may have had a miserable outing at the dispatch box this afternoon, but that does not mean that the sleaze row will prove inevitably prove terminal.

Updated

Labour says Boris Johnson lied at the end of PMQs when said the party did not support the Brexit deal. This is from Rachel Reeeves, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office.

Johnson was wrong when he said in his reply to Sir Keir Starmer’s final question that Labour opposed the Brexit deal passed today by the European parliament, but it was probably one of his less serious falsehoods because he seemed to be talking more about Brexit in general (which Labour originally did oppose) than the deal agreed last December.

Andrea Jenkyns (Con) asks if the PM agrees that Labour has taken its northern heartlands for granted. Only the Conservatives will help these areas.

Johnson says Jenkyns is absolutely right.

And that’s it. PMQs is over.

Rachel Hopkins (Lab) asks when the PM and his chief of staff were first made aware of the plan for a European super league.

Johnson says he first became aware of this on Sunday night. And he acted decisively, threatening to use legislative freedoms available under Brexit. And the same is true of his chief of staff, he says.

Lilian Greenwood (Lab) says the truth behind the sleaze stories are the the prime minister thinks “rules, laws and decency” are for other people, like people who shop at John Lewis.

Johnson says the truth his Labour has not got anything to say on the issues that matter.

Chris Matheson (Lab) says Johnson promised to publish last week his text messages with James Dyson. But he hasn’t. When will he?

Johnson says he published an account of those exchanges. He says Labour won’t learn their lessons. They attack him on this, but then support the ventilator effort.

Updated

Nicholas Fletcher (Con) asks the PM to support the Conservative Doncaster mayor candidate.

Johnson says he hopes people will support the Tory candidate.

Janet Daby (Lab) says it is shocking that the Electoral Commission is investigating the PM. Why do these sleaze stories keep happening to Johnson?

Johnson says it is because the opposition want to talk about anything other than the success of the vaccine rollout.

Stephen Crabb (Con) asks if the PM agrees the voters should reject the negativity and divisiveness of nationalists.

Johnson agrees. He says he wants the UK to work together.

Sarah Olney (Lib Dem) asks why the PM is still committed to a third runway at Heathrow.

Johnson says that is a private company’s project. He says he does not see any sign of the capital being available for it to go ahead.

Laura Farris (Con) asks how the PM will improve women’s participation in the nuclear industry.

Johnson says there are huge opportunities for women in this area.

Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru) asks why Welsh lives meant so little to the PM.

Johnson says Wales has contributed a huge amount to the fight against coronavirus.

Duncan Baker (Con) says he is probably the only former sub-postmaster in parliament. He says only a judge-led inquiry will be able to hold people to account for what happened.

Johnson says what happened was appalling. They are looking at the issues involved, and an inquiry is under way.

Updated

Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster, also reads out the seven Nolan principles of public life. What happens when a PM goes rogue, given that that the PM is the judge of the ministerial code?

Johnson says people have a choice. The Labour government in Wales is failing, he says.

Gary Sambrook (Con) says people want to see regeneration. Does the PM support Andy Street for re-election as mayor of the West Midlands.

Johnson says he is lost in admiration for Andy Street.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says more than 127,000 people have died from Covid. That is why so many people find the PM’s remark “utterly sickening”. The BBC and ITV have multiple sources to back this up. He says parliamentary rules stop him from saying he has repeatedly lied to the public. But he wants to ask the question: “Are you a liar, prime minister?”

Johnson asks if those were in order.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, says the comments were in order, but not savoury.

Johnson says he did not say those words. He asks: if someone is willing to go on oath, where are they? But a lockdown is a miserable thing, he says.

Blackford says the PM is up to his neck in sleaze. These questions will not go away. When was money paid by the Tories? When was it paid back? Was it an interest-free loan?

Johnson says he looks forward to hearing what the Electoral Commission has to say. He says Blackford is talking “complete nonsense”. He says the SNP should stop obsessing about breaking up the government.

Updated

Joy Morrissey (Con) thanks the PM for the vaccine rollout.

Johnson thanks everyone involved.

Starmer reads out the Nolan principles. He says instead we have dodgy contracts and jobs for mates. He says the government is mired in sleaze and scandal.

Johnson says last week Starmer attacked him over ventilators. Now they are sending ventilators to India. He says Labour attacked Kate Bingham. He claims Labour opposed tougher sentences. And last night MEPs voted for the Brexit deal. He claims Brexit helped deal with the threat posed by the European super league. It allows free ports. And it has allowed the UK to have the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, he says. He says he hopes people will vote Conservative on 6 May.

Boris Johnson says no offence occurred in paying for Downing Street flat refurb

Starmer says the PM never answers the question.

He says the PM has to decare any donation, and record it in the register of members’ interests.

The Electoral Commission thinks an offence may have occurred. This is “incredibly serious”. Does the PM think any offence has occurred?

No, says Johnson.

He says Starmer is not asking about issues like the pandemic. He goes on instead about wallpaper, which Johnson says he paid for.

Updated

Starmer says Johnson says he is focusing on the pandemic, but he found time to chose wallpaper at at £840 a roll. And he called editors to criticise Dominic Cummings.

Did Lord Brownlow make a payment for the flat?

Johnson says he has covered the costs. He says Tony Blair racked up a bill of £350,000 for this. He says people are focused on council tax.

Starmer says people normally say no comment when they don’t want to incriminate themselves.

He says either the Conservative party, or the taxpayer, or a donor or the PM paid the initial invoice. Who paid?

Johnson says he has has paid for the work.

People will find it bizarre that Starmer is asking about this, he says.

He says the last Labour government spend £500,000 on the flat.

He says he is focusing on the people’s priorities. Most people would find Starmer’s questions irrelevant.

Starmer says someone is not telling the truth. He says ministers are expected to resign if they knowingly mislead parliament. He says he will leave it there for now.

He asks who initially paid for the PM’s flat refurbishment.

Johnson says, on the subject of misleading parliament, Starmer denied wanting to stay in the European Medicines Agency.

He says he has paid for his flat personally.

He says, on housing costs, Labour charges council tax-payers more.

Updated

Sir Keir Starmer says he hopes the government will say more about what it is doing to help India. And he endorses what Johnson said about the sub-postmasters.

He says it has been widely reported this week that the PM said he would rather have “bodies pile high” than implement a third lockdown. Did the PM make those remarks or remarks to that effect?

“No, Mr Speaker,” says Johnson. He says if Starmer is repeating those comments, he should substantiate them, and give a source.

He says the October decisions were very difficult, very bitter decisions. But thanks to those efforts we have got through. He says 25% of adults have had two doses of vaccines. Lockdowns are “miserable”. But he had no choice, he says.

Boris Johnson starts by saying the UK is supporting India with vital medical equipment.

And he says he welcomes the court of appeal decision to overturn the convictions of 39 sub-postmasters, “an appalling injustice”.

PMQs

PMQs will be starting soon.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

https://commonsbusiness.parliament.uk/document/47006/html#anchor-2

Here is the formal announcement about Lord Geidt’s appointment as the independent adviser on ministerial interests.

And here are the terms of reference (pdf) for the job.

This is from the Labour MP Margaret Hodge on the Electoral Commission announcement.

In a blog for the New Statesman, Stephen Bush says No 10 should start worrying about a possible investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards – because in theory an investigation by the commissioner could led to Boris Johnson being suspended from the Commons, which could led to him being subject to a recall petition. But, as Bush stresses, that’s a long way off at the moment …

Tom Newton Dunn from Times Radio says that, if the Electoral Commission finds the Conservative party has broken the law governing donations, the two party co-chairs, Amanda Milling MP and Ben Elliot, could be forced to resign.

But it is hard to believe that Milling and Elliot would not have agreed to use Conservative party funds to pay for the work initially without being urged to by Boris Johnson. We still do not know the full details of what happened, but the Daily Mail published a leaked email last week saying that the party originally paid £58,000 to cover the cost of the work, before a donor, Lord Brownlow, agreed to reimburse it. This arrangement allowed No 10 to say party funds were no longer being used to pay for the redecoration.

Since then Boris Johnson has said he is meeting these costs himself.

No 10’s new independent adviser on ministerial standards, Lord Geidt, to launch inquiry into flat refurbishment

The new independent adviser on ministerial interests at No 10, Lord Geidt, will start his job by conducting an inquiry into the Downing Street flat refurbishment, government sources have said.

Lord Geidt, who used to be the Queen’s private secretary, will be the new independent adviser on ministerial interests, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.

Geidt will replace Sir Alex Allan, who resigned last year after Boris Johnson effectively refused to back his findings about Priti Patel.

Before working for the Queen, Geidt was a soldier and a diplomat. Mark Coles profiled him for Radio 4’s Profile six years ago, and you can listen to the programme here.

There were reports over the weekend saying the person lined up to replace Allan (at that point his identity was not known) was having second thoughts, perhaps because of concerns about Johnson’s enthusiasm for a robust standards regime.

Lord Geidt
Lord Geidt.
Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Updated

The Labour peer Stewart Wood argues the Electoral Commission announcement could paradoxically help Boris Johnson at PMQs in one respect.

From Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall

This Electoral Commission briefing paper (pdf) explains what powers the commission has to investigate breaches of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which regulates the funding of political parties, and what penalties can be imposed (normally fines).

‘Reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have occurred’ – Statement from Electoral Commission in full

Here is the Electoral Commission statement in full.

We have been in contact with the Conservative party since late March and have conducted an assessment of the information they have provided to us.

We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.

The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required.

We will provide an update once the investigation is complete. We will not be commenting further until that point.

Electoral Commission launches inquiry into funding of PM’s flat refurbishment saying offence may have been committed

The Electoral Commission has launched a formal investigation into the funding of the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat because it thinks an offence may have occurred. As its formal statement suggests, non-declaration of a payment may have constituted an offence. This is from Sky’s Mollie Malone.

PM ‘can’t be expected to live in skip’, says Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine

Sarah Vine, the Daily Mail columnist who is married to Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, defended Boris Johnson’s right to have his Downing Street flat refurbished on the Today programme this morning, saying the PM “can’t be expected to live in a skip”. She said:

The thing about the whole No 10 refurbishment thing is that the prime minister can’t be expected to live in a skip.

He has to live to a certain standard and the problem with all of these political things like this is that no-one is ever prepared to bite the bullet.

No-one is ever prepared to say ‘look, this building does need to be maintained, there do need to be decent furnishings, we do need to have a fund that pays for it, let’s just do it’ …

If [Johnson] wants to have a pink sofa instead of a green sofa, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing for him to want.

Vine also said she was in favour of a trust being set up to prevent the costs for this sort of work having to be met by the taxpayer.

More evidence has emerged today about the impact of the government’s decision to cut aid spending. As my colleague Patrick Wintour tweets, the Devex website is reporting that UK funding for polio eradication will be cut by 95%.

And James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, reports that funding for water and sanitation projects will be cut by 80%.

Shapps says data ‘look good’ for resumption of foreign travel to be allowed from 17 May

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was doing the morning interview round for the government. He was meant to be talking about plans to allow self-driving cars on the road later this year, but mostly he was asked about coronavirus and the PM’s flat. Here are the main points he made.

  • Shapps said people would be able to use the NHS app to prove their coronavirus status when travelling abroad. He told Sky News:

In terms of vaccine certification, I can confirm we are working on an NHS application; actually it will be the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show you’ve had a vaccine or you’ve had testing.

I’m working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognised, as that’s the way forward.

Actually, I’m chairing a meeting of the G7 secretaries of state for transport, my equivalents from America and Canada and all the G7 countries, next week on exactly this subject.

My colleague Kevin Rawlinson has the full story here.

  • He said that he still expected that overseas travel would be able to resume from 17 May. Asked about the prospects for the resumption of foreign holidays last month, he said

I have to say that so far the data does continue to look good from a UK perspective, notwithstanding those concerns about where people might be travelling to and making sure we’re protected from the disease being reimported.

Shapps also said that he will set out which countries fall into the “green”, “amber” and “red” categories under the new risk-based traffic light system “towards the beginning of May”.

  • He said he could not say yet what category Spain would be in. He said:

Spain specifically, I’m afraid I just don’t have the answer to that because the Joint Biosecurity Centre will need to come up with their assessment and we can’t do that until a bit nearer the time. So we will need to wait and see.

  • He said it would be up to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to say whether Boris Johnson was originally given a loan to pay for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. Asked if the PM did receive a loan, Shapps said:

I’ll give you a completely straight answer, the cabinet secretary is actually conducting a review to look at the advice and the order in which everything happened with the maintenance of Downing Street. I just don’t have the answer but the cabinet secretary will and it will be transparently produced in the annual report and the accounts of the Cabinet Office.

Grant Shapps.
Grant Shapps.

Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Updated

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would face large budget deficits if they left UK, says thinktank

The devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would face very sizeable fiscal deficits if they broke away from the UK, leaving them facing difficult spending and taxation choices, the Institute for Government reports.

The IfG, a thinktank, said in 2018/19 the level of spending on public services in Scotland was £2,543 per head higher than the amount of taxes raised; £4,412 higher per head in Wales and in Northern Ireland, the subsidy amounted to £5,188 per person.

Those fiscal deficits equalled 7% of Scotland economic output, 18% of Welsh GDP and 19% of Northern Ireland’s. By contrast, England’s deficit that year was 0.3% of GDP. Other regions of England also benefit from significant fiscal transfers from London and the south east, the UK’s richest regional economies.

The IfG said these deficits were worsened considerably by the costs of the Covid pandemic, through lost productivity and massively increased UK government borrowing.

Gemma Tetlow, its chief economist, said:

Any advocates for breaking away from the UK must address the reality of the nations’ current fiscal imbalances and the difficult policy choices these would necessitate. The larger the deficit they have, the harder the case for breaking away from the union becomes.

The IfG said confronting its deficit would be “an early, burning question” for an independent Scotland. The tax rises needed for an independent Wales to maintain current levels of spending “would leave this higher relative to its GDP than any other advanced nation”.

Support for Scottish independence surged during 2020, peaking at 58% (excluding don’t knows), after voters responded to Nicola Sturgeon’s assured handling of the pandemic, but has since fallen to below 50%.

Support for Welsh independence has leapt too during the Covid crisis, to a record high of 40% (excluding don’t knows). Ironically for Wales’s Labour first minister, Mark Drakeford, his competent leadership during the crisis and dislike of Boris Johnson’s in London has boosted confidence in Welsh autonomy.

Polls in Northern Ireland have revealed a surge in support for Irish reunification, propelled by the Brexit border crisis. One poll in February put reunification backing at 49%, compared with 51% who wanted to remain in the UK (excluding don’t knows).

Nicola Sturgeon said funding the Covid crisis showed an independent Scotland could opt for significant borrowing in its first years.

“Pretty much every country in the developed world has a massive deficit right now, [so] Scotland, if we were independent, would not be in a materially different position to countries the world over,” she told reporters on Monday.

Updated

In a comment issued to the Science Media Centre, Dr Peter English, a former chair of the BMA’s public health medicine committee and a vaccine specialist, said the PHE research published this morning (see 9.15am) about the impact of vaccines on transmission was “extremely encouraging”. He explained:

These findings are really important. They add to our reasons to hope that the vaccines will truly add to herd immunity. The evidence was already mounting that vaccination will prevent people from becoming infected (and if they aren’t infected, they can’t transmit the infection). This study shows that even if people who are vaccinated do become infected, they are considerably less likely to be infectious, and to pass the infection on to others.

The PHE research says the vaccines reduce the risk of transmission by up to 49%. The risk of transmission is not the same as the risk getting infected with the virus, or the risk of serious illness or death, and separate figures show that the vaccines have a much higher effectiveness rate in relation to infection and serious illness/death. There are no single, agreed figures for what those rates are, but this chart, from a recent Sage report (pdf), summarises the figures used by different institutions.

Vaccine effectiveness assumptions
Vaccine effectiveness assumptions
Photograph: Sage

Women not inherently at higher risk of very rare blood clots linked to AstraZeneca vaccine than men, MPs told

At the science committee Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, and Prof John Aston, professor of statistics in public life at Cambridge University, have both said they do not think women are at higher risk of the extremely rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca jab than men. Although more women have been affected, they said that this was explained by the fact that health and social care workers were vaccinated early, that they are more at risk of exposure and and that these workers were mostly female. Adjusting for these factors, the risk for women does not seem to be higher than the risk for men, they said.

UPDATE: Here is the quote from Pirmohamed.

There are two things to consider – the first is the way the vaccine was deployed, particularly in healthcare workers and social care workers. The majority of the workforce there is female and so they had higher exposure rates.

But when you then start relating to the exposure rate in different populations, what you find is that the case incidence rate between male and female is actually very similar.

So, from our data that we’ve got in the UK, it doesn’t look as if the females are at a higher risk of this adverse event compared to males …

The only risk factor that we are finding is age in that there is a slightly higher risk in the younger age group compared to the older age group.

Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed
Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed.
Photograph: Parliament TV

Updated

Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, has just started giving evidence to the Commons science committee. He said that there have now been 168 instances of rare blood clots linked to people having the AstraZeneca vaccine. He said the evidence of a causal link was “firming up”, but that the true causes of these clots had not yet been firmly established.

Johnson welcomes European parliament’s vote to ratify Brexit treaty

This morning the European parliament voted to back the UK/EU Brexit deal, the trade and cooperation agreement. It was passed by 578 votes to 51.

In response Boris Johnson issued a statement saying:

This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.

Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more global Britain.

The rest of the EU’s process for ratifying the treaty is expected to be concluded in the next few days.

Updated

Vaccines do better than expected at cutting transmission, study shows

Good morning. Boris Johnson faces a difficult PMQs later – as Aubrey Allegretti and Jessica Elgot report in their overnight story, pressure is growing for him to offer a proper account of the funding of his Downing Street flat – but there is also a fair amount of coronavirus news around today. The science committee is taking evidence this morning, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is giving a press conference this afternoon, and overnight Public Health England has published new research on the impact of vaccines on household transmission.

Here is an extract from the PHE news release.

This new research shows that those who do become infected 3 weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38 and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who were unvaccinated.

Protection was seen from around 14 days after vaccination, with similar levels of protection regardless of age of cases or contacts.

This protection is on top of the reduced risk of a vaccinated person developing symptomatic infection in the first place, which is around 60 to 65% – 4 weeks after one dose of either vaccine.

A reduction of up to 50% might not sound impressive because vaccines are estimated to have a much higher impact on your chances of dying from Covid, or getting seriously ill from the virus.

But it is important to remember that, although the scientists were confident that the vaccines would have a big impact on the likelihood of people getting ill from coronavirus, they were much less sure about whether would also stop the virus being passed on. This is what Prof Peter Openshaw, an immunologist at Imperial College London, told the Today programme:

It’s very, very reassuring, and it is certainly better than many of us expected just a few months ago. Many of us thought that vaccines were going to be very good at preventing the more serious complications of infection, because they induce antibody, but we weren’t at all sure that it was going to actually stop the virus from transmitting by getting into the moist surfaces in your nose and your throat. And it does seem that these vaccines are remarkably effective, even after a first dose.

And Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said:

This is terrific news – we already know vaccines save lives and this study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Prof Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Commission on Human Medicines, gives evidence to the Commons science committee. At 10.15am Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, give evidence.

11am: Gavin Williamson the education secretary, gives a speech to the Confederation of School Trusts’ annual conference. At 12pm his Labour shadow, Kate Green, will give a speech.

12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs. It is the last PMQs of this session of parliament because tomorrow parliament will prorogue ahead of the Queen’s speech on 11 May.

2.30pm: Lord Macpherson, the former Treasury permanent secretary, and Lord Myners, a former Treasury minister, give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about Greensill Capital.

3pm: Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, speaks at an event to mark the launch of the UCL Health of the Public research school.

4.30pm: João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the UK, speaks at an Institute for Government event.

5pm: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, holds a Downing Street press conference.

Covid is the issue dominating UK politics this year and often Politics Live has been largely or wholly devoted to coronavirus. But I will also be covering non-Covid politics, including latest developments in the Tory “sleaze” controversy which is likely to be the dominant story for some of the day. For global coronavirus news, do read our global live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Updated

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Hits: 1011

Read more