Coronavirus latest news: We may need local lockdowns to control Indian variant, Boris Johnson says

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Boris Johnson hinted that local lockdowns may be necessary in hotspots for the Indian variant, saying the Government is "anxious" and "ruling nothing out".

Asked about the possibility, the Prime Minister said this lunchtime: "There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it. Obviously there's surge testing, there's surge tracing.

"At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but e may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get."

Downing Street said moments later there are "no plans" to reintroduce the tier system in England, but officials would not "rule anything out" such as surge vaccinations to accompany surge testing in areas with spikes of new variants.

It comes as the Sage group of Government scientists met to discuss how to address hotspots of variant infections in several parts of the country, though wider case, hospitalisation and death rates remain low.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

06:09 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

India coronavirus - Samuel Rajkumar/REUTERS
India coronavirus - Samuel Rajkumar/REUTERS
Sri Lanka covid - Eranga Jayawardena/AP
Sri Lanka covid - Eranga Jayawardena/AP
Covid Egypt - KHALED DESOUKI/AFP
Covid Egypt - KHALED DESOUKI/AFP

05:58 PM

'Why on earth would we have another lockdown?'

In response to concerns about the Indian variant, senior Tory Steve Baker has warned against any further lockdown measures.

Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: "Why on earth would we lock down when the vaccines continue to break the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths?

"I am glad we are on a one-way road to freedom, as the Prime Minister has stated, and freedom from Covid regulations, as the Health Secretary has undertaken to MPs in the House of Commons.

"We were told the road map was cautious - in spite of the overwhelmingly promising data on the benefits of the NHS vaccine rollout - precisely so it would be irreversible."

05:54 PM

US 'to loosen face mask rules for the fully-vaccinated'

The United States is poised to drop the requirement to wear face masks in most indoor settings for people who are fully vaccinated, reports say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.

It will also no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds, according to the Associated Press news agency.

President Joe Biden and the CDC have come under pressure to ease restrictions on people who are fully immunised, two weeks clear of their second dose, to incentivise others to be jabbed.

During a meeting on Tuesday, Utah governor Spencer Cox told Mr Biden, "we have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it". Mr Biden said he had a "good point".

05:40 PM

Blackburn rolls out extra vaccines - but not to all adults yet

Additional coronavirus vaccine clinics are being set up in Blackburn amid a rise in cases, linked to the Indian variant, the council has said.

Blackburn with Darwen Council said earlier that it was offering vaccines to all over-18s, after securing extra jabs.

But officials at the Lancashire authority later clarified that only over-18s with underlying health conditions, health staff, carers and those living with a vulnerable person will be included for now.

Covid Bolton - Paul Cooper
Covid Bolton - Paul Cooper

A spokesman said: "Blackburn with Darwen Council and NHS partners have responded immediately to provide doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the clinics following yesterday's announcement on a rise in cases of Covid-19 linked to, in part, a new variant of concern, first identified in India, that may spread more easily."

The region has the third highest rate of cases in England, with 161 new cases in the seven days to May.

05:18 PM

Mass graves for Covid victims as India’s second wave hits Nepal

Hundreds of Nepalese Covid-19 victims have been buried along its border with India in mass graves, some allegedly in no man’s land, as Nepal’s healthcare system collapses under a devastating second wave of the virus.

Burials of 300 bodies have been conducted in the Nepalese district of Rautahat, which borders the Indian state of Bihar, since the onset of the pandemic, according to Indra Dev Yadav, the Chief District Officer for Rautahat.

Covid Nepal - NARENDRA SHRESTHA/EPA
Covid Nepal - NARENDRA SHRESTHA/EPA

India's tragic second wave has now spread to Nepal via its shared, porous land border, and some families are too afraid to collect their loved ones' bodies for fear of catching the virus.

The Nepalese Army has been instructed to bury the unclaimed bodies of 4,682 people since its outbreak began in January 2020, with 456 over the past week alone.

04:59 PM

You're pardoned, Florida's governor tells Covid rule breakers

Florida's governor has vowed to grant pardons to any residents of his state facing penalties for violating local Covid curbs, saying the strictures should be guidance not mandates.

Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has opposed local Covid-19 health restrictions at nearly every turn and has led the charge nationally in reopening his state, to criticism from health experts.

To get started, he promised to sign a reprieve for Mike and Jillian Carnevale, Florida gym owners who were facing criminal penalties for not enforcing mask-wearing.

"When our clemency board meets in the coming weeks, we'll issue pardons not only for Mike and Jillian, but for any Floridian that may have outstanding infractions for things like masks and social distancing," Mr DeSantis said.

"These things with health should be advisory, they should not be punitive."

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04:46 PM

Special report: How our GP services lapsed into long-term sickness

GPs have been told to discourage face-to-face appointments for patients – and it's not just our growing population or the pandemic to blame.

As the pandemic ebbs and we return to using hospitals in a more usual fashion, and GP surgeries which have been turned over to the vaccination programme open for business again, some immediate pinch points are likely to ease.

But long term, solving the GP problem will only come with other major fixes.

04:23 PM

CIA’s fake vaccine to find Osama bin Laden 'hampering rollout now'

A fake vaccine campaign launched by the CIA to seek out Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout led to a significant fall in children's vaccinations, researchers have found.

The ruse led to vaccination rates falling by almost two-fifths in areas with strong support for hardline extremist political parties, a study has found.

Now, a decade after the raid, the country is still fighting a stubborn streak of anti-vaccination feeling, with persistent conspiracy theories that vaccines are harmful, or some kind of Western plot to sterilise Muslims - and experts fear the two are linked.

04:03 PM

UAE becomes latest country to approve Covid vaccines for under-16s

The United Arab Emirates has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12 to 15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.

The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said.

Canada last week became the first country to expand the jab rollout below 16-year-olds, which has been the bench mark for many countries.

The country was then joined by the US Food and Drug Administration, which on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.

Meanwhile, some vaccine manufacturers are currently studying whether their shots can be given to children as young as six.

03:49 PM

What's the Covid infection situation looking like across England?

03:48 PM

How heritage sites are gearing up to reopen next week

Historic buildings are being primped and preened ahead of welcoming back the public on Monday.

Cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls in England will be allowed to reopen from May 17 under step three on the road map out of lockdown. Some 23 English Heritage properties will be opening for the first time this year.

English Heritage conservators have reset the dining table and sparkled glassware in the Durbar room at Osborne, Isle of Wight, the former home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Meanwhile, furniture has been stripped of dust sheets in London's Eltham Palace, and two medieval masterpieces have returned to Chatsworth House in Derbyshire for the first time in 60 years. Here's how they're preparing:

Covid lockdown - Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Covid lockdown - Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Covid lockdown - Paul Cooper
Covid lockdown - Paul Cooper

03:28 PM

UK records another 11 Covid-linked deaths

A further 11 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test have been recorded in the UK, the government's daily figures show, bringing the total to 127,651.

There were 2,657 new infections logged in the last 24 hours.

On vaccinations, another 184,210 daily first doses were given out and 452,437 second shots.

It means that as of May 12, 54,797,640 jabs have been administered in the UK so far, 35,906,671 first doses and 18,890,969 second doses.

03:13 PM

'We need to stop panicking every time a new variant pops up'

People need to stop panicking when new coronavirus variants emerge, a social scientist has said, after Boris Johnson said he was "anxious" about the Indian variant.

B16172, first identified in India, was last week designated as a "variant of concern" by Public Health England (PHE) last week after small clusters were detected.

But Prof Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Nervtag Government group of scientists, said even if the infectious variant becomes dominant, there is "little risk of a surge in hospitalisations or deaths", with the vaccines holding up strong.

"This may lead to a slightly higher exit wave of infection than the latest modelling suggests - but this would not be of serious illnesses," he said.

"We need to stop panicking about every new variant that comes along."

03:07 PM

Thailand cases hit record levels as prisoners added to tally

Thailand has announced a daily record in new coronavirus cases after clusters in two jails saw nearly 3,000 inmates infected.

Authorities have reported 32 Covid-19 deaths and 4,887 infections - a new daily high in cases - after 2,835 prisoners were added to the tally following the mass testing of thousands of inmates in two Bangkok jails.

A corrections department official said those infected included Panupong "Mike Rayong" Jadnok, 24, who has been held since March 8 on charges including sedition and insulting the king, Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand is suffering its biggest outbreak so far, with overall cases tripling to 93,794 and deaths increasing fivefold to 518 in the past six weeks, after a year of success in containment.

02:47 PM

Our India correspondent has the latest on the country's crisis

India has recorded over 4,000 Covid-19 deaths for the second straight day and extended the interval between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 16 weeks amid shortages, Joe Wallen writes.

While the number of admissions to hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai is slowly dropping, India's second wave - driven by the more transmissible B.1.617 strain - is now wreaking havoc in rural areas and in the country's southern states.

India coronavirus - ARUN SANKAR/AFP 
India coronavirus - ARUN SANKAR/AFP

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has advised that three-quarters of India's 718 districts should remain under lockdown for a further six to eight weeks, as they have a positivity rate of over 10 per cent.

"If Delhi is opened tomorrow, it will be a disaster," said Dr Balram Bhargava, the Head of the ICMR.

Meanwhile, two Indian states - Maharashtra and Karnataka - have suspended vaccinations for citizens over the age of 18 due to shortages and are prioritising second doses for people over the age of 45.

02:10 PM

Nearly 80pc of older care home residents are fully vaccinated

Nearly four out of five residents at older adult care homes in England have received both doses of coronavirus vaccine, according to new figures from NHS England.

The latest data, published on Thursday, reveals 77.9 per cent of residents eligible for the vaccine had received both doses by May 9.

The equivalent figure for staff of older adult care homes was 55.9 per cent.

Staff and residents are classed as eligible for the vaccine if they have not had Covid-19 in the previous 28 days.

Meanwhile, an estimated 90.2 per cent of frontline NHS trust staff in England had been given both doses of the jab by May 9.

01:59 PM

Over two-thirds of over 40s given first vaccine dose

More than two-thirds of people in England aged 40 to 44 are likely to have had their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, NHS England said.

Some 67.6 per cent of people in this age group had received their first jab as of May 9.

The figures also suggest 77.9 per cent of people aged 45 to 49 have had their first dose, along with 89.8 per cent of 50 to 54-year-olds and 95.5 per cent of 55 to 59-year-olds.

An estimated 97.2 per cent of people aged 60 and over have had a first dose.

01:56 PM

Three-quarters of over 60s in England now fully vaccinated

Around three-quarters of people in England aged 60 and over have had both doses of Covid-19 vaccine, NHS England figures suggest.

An estimated 75.2 per cent of people in this age group had received both jabs as of May 9, meaning they are fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

Some 28.6 per cent of people aged 55 to 59 are estimated to have had both doses, along with 23.0 per cent of people aged 50 to 54, 18.2 per cent of people aged 45 to 49 and 16.4% of people aged 40 to 44.

01:41 PM

Denmark begins incinerating buried minks culled over virus fears

Denmark has begun the grisly task of unearthing and incinerating minks that were hastily buried after a mass culling sparked by fears of a mutated coronavirus strain, authorities said.

All 15 million of Denmark's minks were killed last year after it emerged they were carrying a virus strain that experts feared could resist vaccines.

A excavator loads in a container buried mink for incineration during a trial excavation at a military area close to Norre Felding, Holstebro,  - AFP
A excavator loads in a container buried mink for incineration during a trial excavation at a military area close to Norre Felding, Holstebro, - AFP

Some were buried in November in two mass graves in west Denmark, sparking fears that their decomposing carcasses could pollute surrounding areas.

The government called on them to be dug up and incinerated once the risk of contagion had subsided.

On Thursday, teams started digging up some of the 13,000 tonnes (29 million pounds) of mink carcasses due to be unearthed, which were then transported to the nearby Maabjerg Energy Center (MEC) for incineration

"I am relieved to see how the whole thing is going according to plan," agriculture minister Rasmus Prehn said in a post to Twitter..

01:27 PM

England regions' Covid case rates remain low but slightly increase

Covid-19 case rates have increased slightly across most regions of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report, however actual numbers of cases remain low.

In the North West, the rate was 32.6 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 9, up from 25.5 the previous week, Public Health England data shows.

In the East Midlands, it increased from 23.1 to 29.8 over the same period.

Slight increases were also recorded in the East of England, London, North East and South-West, which had the lowest rate at 13.1, up from 12.2.

Yorkshire and the Humber recorded the highest rate at 40.5 cases per 100,000 people, down slightly from 42.5 in the previous week.

01:18 PM

Coronavirus restrictions see Champions League final relocated

The Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester City has been moved to Portugal to avoid coronavirus restrictions.

The match on May 29 was due to be staged at Istanbul's Ataturk Olympic Stadium, which is on England's "red list" requiring hotel quarantine on return.

It has now been moved to the Portuguese city of Porto, included in the UK's quarantine-free "green list", with 6,000 fans from each club able to attend.

01:12 PM

Expert: UK is in a good place to go full steam ahead with roadmap

There is "no sign" yet of coronavirus variants causing hospitalisations to increase in Britain, a scientist says, as Boris Johnson warned he was "anxious" about the spread of a strain from India.

Prof Steven Riley, who researches infectious diseases at Imperial College London, said whether the road map for England continued on its planned trajectory was "a Government decision" but suggested the UK was currently in a good place.

He told Times Radio: "I think there's two key things that have got to be kind of evaluated - if infections go up, how quickly will they go up? But then after that, are they linked to the hospitalisations?

"The top-line Government policy is driven by protecting the NHS, so even if infection starts to go up, we then need to assess whether that's bringing a lot of new cases into hospitals, and there's certainly no sign of that at the moment."

01:00 PM

India to get 2 billion doses of Covid vaccines soon, says official

More than two billion doses of coronavirus vaccines will likely be available in India between August to December this year, a top government advisor has said.

Those doses would include 750 million of AstraZeneca's vaccine, produced in India by the Serum Institute of India, as well as 550 million doses of Covaxin, made by Bharat Biotech, government advisor V K Paul told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

Several Indian states are reporting an acute shortage of vaccines, while cases rise and the country records more than 4,000 deaths for a second straight day as its health system fails to cope.

Meanwhile, Utter Pradesh, India's most populous, state is set to spend up to $1.36 billion to draft in more jabs, and has held early talks with Pfizer and the local partner of the maker of Russia's Sputnik V.

Covid India - ARUN SANKAR/AFP 
Covid India - ARUN SANKAR/AFP

12:41 PM

Scepticism reigns over Covid vaccines across EU

More than a quarter of adults in the European Union are unlikely to accept a jab, according to a new pan-European report.

Across the EU, 27 per cent of adults said they were “very unlikely” or “rather unlikely” to agree to take a vaccine.

Scepticism is highest in eastern Europe, with 61 per cent of Bulgarians unlikely to agree to be jabbed. Latvia and Croatia follow Bulgaria as the second and third most hesitant nations in the EU. France was the most wary of western European nations, with only half likely to accept a vaccination.

The results of the survey by Eurofound show “a failure to deliver persuasive and clear communication regarding the efficacy and safety of vaccines,” the group said.

12:26 PM

Indian variant 'will get everywhere' in the UK

Local restrictions will not contain the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19, and it should be viewed as a national problem, an expert has warned.

The highly infectious variant may spread "way beyond" the current hotspots of Bolton in Greater Manchester, Erewash in Derbyshire, Blackburn, Bedford and Sefton, said Prof James Naismith, from the University of Oxford.

Prof Naismith, a director at the Rosalind Franklin Institute, told BBC Radio 4: "I think we should view it as a countrywide problem. It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case."

He added: "When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn't really make any difference. So I don't think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work."

Covid Bolton Indian variant - Paul Cooper
Covid Bolton Indian variant - Paul Cooper

12:13 PM

No more social distancing on buses

Social distancing on buses in England will end next week as ministers give operators the green light to double the number of passengers allowed on each service.

Every forward facing seat will be available for passengers from Monday, meaning strangers will sit next to one another for the first time since the pandemic hit.

In London this means bus capacity will double to 60 passengers.

The move, drawn up by the bus industry and signed off by the Department for Transport, comes as other coronavirus restrictions are eased from next week.

12:00 PM

No10: Surge vaccinations could be used to deal with Covid flare

Downing Street has said officials would not "rule anything out" when asked if the Government was considering surge vaccinations to accompany surge testing in areas with spikes of new variants.

Yesterday Boris Johnson said it was one area under consideration, although not a priority.

Today his spokesman tells a Westminster briefing: "We want to consider all options. The Prime Minister said we're not going to rule anything out, we want to make sure that we keep the public safe and keep our road map on track.

"The meeting is happening with Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) today and should they come out with any further updates on this variant originating in India and the epidemiology in the UK then we will consider it."

Boris Johnson covid - Scott Heppell/PA Wire
Boris Johnson covid - Scott Heppell/PA Wire

11:57 AM

No 10 plays down prospect of tiers - for now

Moments ago, Boris Johnson was asked specifically about local lockdowns over the Indian variant and hinted they could be on the cards.

However, in a lobby briefing Downing Street says there are "no plans" to reintroduce the tier system in England, amid concerns local restrictions could be needed in areas where variants are identified.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman tells reporters: "We have set out what we want to do on the road map, moving together as a nation on this, and that has been very successful so far.

"There are no plans to reintroduce tiering measures, like I say we have got a raft of measures available to us which are already in place, with regards local testing, surge testing and tracing."

11:47 AM

More announcements coming on masks and social distancing

Boris Johnson says more announcements will be made before the end of this month on whether masks and social distancing are here to stay.

He tells reporters on a primary school visit: "I think we have to wait a little bit longer to see how the data is looking but I am cautiously optimistic about that and provided this Indian variant doesn't take off in the way some people fear, I think certainly things could get back much, much closer to normality."

Asked about new figures showing record NHS waiting times, he added "it's a massive national challenge" but said: "[The NHS] was never overwhelmed by Covid, it hasn't been so far and I know it can cope with the backlog."

Bolton covid - Paul Cousans/Zenpix
Bolton covid - Paul Cousans/Zenpix

11:36 AM

Ohio dangles million-dollar lottery prizes in return for Covid jab

As US officials scramble to convince citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19, one state is putting its money where its mouth is - offering millions in lottery prizes for those who have received an injection.

Ohio governor Mike DeWine tweeted that his state will give a $1 million prize away every week for five weeks in a lottery open to residents over the age of 18 who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.

The first winner will be announced on May 26. After that, a new winner will be drawn each Wednesday for five weeks, for the same amount each time, Mr DeWine said.

The state is also offering a lottery for vaccinated under-17-year-olds - instead of $1 million, they could win a full four-year scholarship to one of Ohio's state universities, a valuable prize in a country where higher education is disproportionately expensive.

11:31 AM

Boris Johnson signals local lockdowns may be needed for Indian variant

Covid boris johnson - Scott Heppell/PA Wire
Covid boris johnson - Scott Heppell/PA Wire

Asked if local lockdowns are possible, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tells reporters this lunchtime: "There are a range of things we could do, we want to make sure we grip it. Obviously there's surge testing, there's surge tracing."

He adds: "If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out. We have always been clear we would be led by the data.

"At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get."

11:17 AM

Boris Johnson 'anxious' about Indian variant and 'not ruling anything out'

Asked about concerns over the Indian variant circulating in the UK, the Prime Minister said: "It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it."

Speaking at a primary school in Ferryhill, County Durham, Boris Johnson said: "At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.

"We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.

"There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."

11:06 AM

Here's the latest from Bolton amid an outbreak of the Indian variant

Covid Indian variant Bolton - Phil Noble/Reuters
Covid Indian variant Bolton - Phil Noble/Reuters
Bolton covid - Paul Cooper
Bolton covid - Paul Cooper
Covid Manchester - Paul Cooper
Covid Manchester - Paul Cooper

10:55 AM

'No Olympics anywhere': Tokyo officials hold firm as protests mount

The International Olympic Committee insists it will not be driven by public opinion despite a protester crashing a Tokyo Games press conference after sponsors expressed doubts over staging the event during a pandemic, writes Ben Bloom.

An otherwise routine IOC press conference with journalists worldwide has been pulled from the internet after an interloper, posing as a reporter, unfurled a banner and launched an expletive-ridden rant, saying: "No Olympics anywhere".

His outburst came hours after a top executive of Tokyo Olympics sponsor Toyota said officials at the Japanese company felt “conflicted” over the desire to see the Games succeed, as hundreds of thousands petition for its cancellation.

Less than three months before the opening ceremony on July 23, Japan is battling a surge in coronavirus infections.

10:33 AM

Covid positive tests at lowest level since last September

The number of people in England testing positive for Covid-19 has fallen to the lowest level since the beginning of September, figures show.

A total of 14,313 people tested positive for the virus at least once in the week to 5 May, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is down 9% on the previous week and the lowest number since the week to September 2 last year.

10:29 AM

'Zero evidence for annual Covid booster jabs'

More than a dozen influential infectious disease and vaccine development experts have questioned the need for "booster" vaccines this autumn, with data suggesting the first round of jabs may offer enough protection against Covid-19 and its variants.

"We don't see the data yet that would inform a decision about whether or not booster doses are needed," said Kate O'Brien, a senior director at the World Health Organization, which is assembling experts to assess vaccine efficacy data.

Pfizer has said people will "likely" need a booster dose of the company's vaccine every 12 months, similar to flu jabs, to maintain protection.

But Dr Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters: "There is zero, and I mean zero, evidence to suggest that that is the case. It's completely inappropriate to say that we're likely to need an annual booster, because we have no idea what the likelihood of that is."

10:15 AM

Record NHS backlog will take 'many years' to clear

As new figures show 4.95 million people are awaiting NHS hospital treatment, the Royal College of Surgeons of England has warned the pandemic-induced backlog will take many years to clear.

"With the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital at the lowest it has been since September last year, the recovery of planned surgery is fortunately now well underway," Tim Mitchell, its vice president, said.

"Still, any prospect of chiselling down the waiting list, which is now approaching five million people, is premature, because new patients are presenting daily.

"The task ahead is vast and many of the staff that support surgeons to operate, anaesthetists and nurses, are running on fumes after an unimaginably difficult year helping out on Covid-19 wards.

"As we've seen the NHS do over the last year, we will pull together to serve patients. But we won't be able to deal with the backlog overnight. It will take many years, more investment and some changes to how we deliver services."

09:57 AM

'My wedding is just a joke', couples angry over unclear May 17 rules

Grooms and brides-to-be have complained they still face uncertainty about their impending weddings due to a lack of clarity in the Government's new guidelines.

Up to 30 people will be able to join together to celebrate weddings and receptions from May 17, part of step three of the road map for relaxing restrictions in England.

However, a growing movement on social media is asking the Government for greater clarity and guidance on what is and isn't allowed - including whether the bride can be walked down the aisle by her father.

With just four days to go until the rule changes, the Government has also not issued promised further details on the rules for receptions.

Lyndsey Hedgecock, 28, said. "We are due to get married next Friday (May 21) and haven't even been able to pay our venue in full as they are awaiting guidelines to confirm what to charge us for.

"I can't speak for other brides, but for myself, the wedding I've been planning since I was 14 is now just a joke."

09:51 AM

Crime drops by 8pc during year of lockdowns, says ONS

Crime recorded by police in England and Wales fell by eight per cent in 2020 as periods of lockdown caused theft reports to drop by more than a quarter, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Firearms offences fell by 11 per cent and knife crime dropped by 9 per cent.

Drug offences rose by 12 per cent, however, driven by a police crackdown in "crime hotspots" from April to June 2020.

The ONS said the "majority" of the fluctuation in crime rates during the year was due to periods of lockdown.

Homicides fell by 12 per cent, although the decline was exaggerated by the 2019 incident when 39 Vietnamese people were found dead in Essex after they were trafficked into the UK.

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09:44 AM

Pasha Kovalev: I am fortunate the pandemic gave me time with my baby daughter

Pasha Kovalev has said he is fortunate that the pandemic has allowed him to spend "precious time" with his baby daughter.

The former Strictly Come Dancing professional's wife Rachel Riley, who stars on Countdown, gave birth to Maven in 2019.

Kovalev, 41, said that, while not being able to work has been difficult, he has been glad to have a "little distraction".

He said: "I always love to perform, and being on stage is one of those things for me, personally, that I look forward to and enjoy a lot, and not being able to do it was of course a little bit sad and a little bit tolling on your mind and spirit.

My baby girl, she was born at the end of 2019, so all my focus went on taking care of her throughout both lockdowns, I guess, and spending a lot of time with my family and watching my girl grow was an absolutely incredible chance that I would never, ever in a million years get if I would have to work.

09:37 AM

Singapore reports most Covid-19 cases in eight months amid airport cluster

Singapore's health ministry on Thursday reported 24 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, with 17 of the fresh cases linked to a cluster at Changi Airport.

Authorities had started testing all workers at the airport a few days ago after detecting the cluster.

They have also restricted access to terminals to only passengers with tickets and essential workers for two weeks from Thursday.

Following months of reporting few new local cases, infections in Singapore have been climbing, prompting authorities to tighten social distancing rules from last week.

As of Wednesday, the number of unlinked cases in the community increased to 12 in the past week from seven in the week before, according to a health ministry statement.

09:28 AM

Over a quarter of EU adults would refuse Covid-19 vaccine, survey finds

More than a quarter of adults in the European Union would be unlikely to take the Covid-19 vaccine when it was offered to them, a survey published on Thursday showed.

The results also suggested a strong link between vaccine hesitancy and the use of social media, particularly where social media is the main source of information, according to Eurofound which carried out the survey.

"Unfortunately, these findings reflect a failure to deliver persuasive and clear communication regarding the efficacy and safety of vaccines," said Daphne Ahrendt, Eurofound senior research manager.

Bulgarians were the most reluctant to get the vaccine, with 67 per cent of adults saying they were unlikely or very unlikely to get it. In Ireland, only 10 per cent of adults said they would not get the shot.

Except for France and Austria, the intention to get vaccinated was above 60 per cent in all Western member states - with Nordic and Mediterranean countries, Denmark and Ireland having even higher rates.

09:24 AM

Masked and restricted by Covid-19, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr

People across Asia celebrated Eid al-Fitr with masks and prayers, but in many places Covid-19 restrictions were in place to limit the joyous mass gatherings and family reunions that usually mark the Muslim holiday.

Millions of people across the continent would typically travel to their hometowns to celebrate with their families and crowd markets, shopping malls and mosques - scenes the authorities in hard-hit countries are trying to avoid.

Muslim worshippers arrive to attend Eid al-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan - Khaled Desouki
Muslim worshippers arrive to attend Eid al-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan - Khaled Desouki

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, the faithful wore masks as they arrived at the Dian Al-Mahri mosque in Depok, a city to the south of Indonesian capital Jakarta, and they sanitised their hands before going in.

At the entrance, a poster outlining six steps recommended by the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of Covid-19 served as a stern reminder of the danger in a country that has the highest number of cases and deaths in Southeast Asia.

09:20 AM

Urgent cancer referrals rise by 26pc since start of pandemic

NHS England figures show that a total of 232,084 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in March 2021, compared with 183,603 in March 2020 - a year-on-year rise of 26 per cent.

Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present - though not initially suspected - were up from 12,449 in March 2020 to 15,670 in March 2021, a rise of 26 per cent.

Meanwhile over 300,000 patients in England had been waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in March 2021.

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A total of 305,061 patients were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy, NHS England said.

The equivalent number waiting for more than six weeks in March 2020 was 85,446.

09:12 AM

US state uses million dollar lottery prizes to encourage vaccination drive

The US state of Ohio has unveiled a lottery prize draw to encourage people to get vaccinated, offering a weekly $1m jackpot to overcome jab hesitancy, Ben Farmer reports.

As vaccination rates have started to wane across America, governors, health officials and community leaders are offering a string of creative incentives to get more jabs in arms.

Mike DeWine, Ohio's governor, said that from May 26, adults who have received at least one vaccine dose may enter a lottery that will provide a $1 million prize each Wednesday for five weeks.

As other prizes, the state will also provide five fully-funded four-year scholarships to an Ohio public university.

Mr DeWine said: "I know that some may say, 'DeWine, you're crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money. But the real waste, when the vaccine is now readily available, is a life lost to Covid-19."

09:08 AM

AI and robots will be used to assess patients in NHS plan to tackle record waiting lists

Artificial intelligence will be used to decide who gets treated most quickly under NHS schemes aimed at tackling record waiting lists.

One scheme in Lancashire and South Cumbria will be used for patients waiting for non-urgent surgery, with “AI” systems used to assess which patients would fare worst from long waits.

GP Dave Trisk viewing the app on his phone showing the readings from the new stethoscope which can be used between separate rooms. - Paul Grover
GP Dave Trisk viewing the app on his phone showing the readings from the new stethoscope which can be used between separate rooms. - Paul Grover

GP patients in Surrey will be given an option to be assessed by AI, with chatbots able to refer people to see a physiotherapist or mental health therapist.

And elderly patients in Bristol will be issued with “robots” at home, with remote controlled technology used so consultants in hospital can make visual assessments of vulnerable patients while they remain at home.

It comes as new figures reveal 4.95 million people were waiting to start NHS hospital treatment at the end of March - the highest number since records began in August 2007.

Laura Donnelly has the full story here

08:59 AM

Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had higher Covid-19 mortality rates, figures show

People identifying as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish had higher Covid-19 mortality rates than those identifying as Christian, statistics from the ONS have revealed.

Men and women in the "no religion" group, and women identifying as "other religion", had lower mortality rates compared with the Christian group.

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08:52 AM

Sri Lanka bans travel throughout country

Sri Lanka's government has banned travel throughout the country for three days in an effort to contain rapidly increasing Covid-19 cases.

The ban is effective from Thursday night until Monday morning. It does not apply to people engaged in essential services such as health, food supply and power.

Sri Lankan health workers administer the Sinopharm vaccine in Colombo - AP
Sri Lankan health workers administer the Sinopharm vaccine in Colombo - AP

Those going to the airport for air travel or seeking medical treatment will also be allowed on the roads.

"All others are banned from leaving their houses and traveling on the roads," said Gen. Shavendra Silva, the army commander and head of the National Operation Center for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak.

Health officials are grappling with a surge in cases since last month. The country has already banned public gatherings and parties, and has closed schools and restricted public transport

08:44 AM

BA to pilot new Covid test with results in 25 seconds

British Airways has announced it will be the world's first airline to trial a coronavirus test which produces results within 25 seconds.

The pilot scheme will see flight and cabin crew taking a Pelican Covid-19 antigen test from medical tech company Canary Global.

Results will be compared against their standard test results.

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said: "As we start to see the opening up of travel we remain committed to exploring easy and affordable testing solutions to help our customers travel again, whether it's for business, to reunite with family and friends or take a much-needed break abroad.

"We think this new ultra-rapid test is a game changer so we are delighted to work with the team at Canary to begin initial trials with our flight and cabin crew, before exploring what role it could play as a customer testing option."

08:42 AM

No of people waiting for hospital treatment reaches record high

The number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to a new record high.

A total of 4.95 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of March 2021, according to figures from NHS England.

This is the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment stood at 436,127 in March 2021 - the highest number for any calendar month since August 2007, when the figure stood at 578,682.

In March 2020 the number having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 3,097.

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08:38 AM

Seven in 10 people in England have Covid antibodies

Seven in 10 people in England have antibodies against coronavirus, according to new statistics from the ONS.

In Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland the figure with six out of ten people.

It comes as figures show 99 per cent of those aged 70 and over have received a single dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

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08:29 AM

Russia reports 8,380 new cases and 392 deaths

Russia reported 8,380 new Covid-19 cases in the space of 24 hours on Thursday, taking the national tally to 4,913,439.

The government task force said 392 people had died, taking the national death toll to 114,723.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths related to Covid-19 between April 2020 and March 2021.

08:22 AM

China backs talks on intellectual property waiver for vaccines

China's Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said on Thursday that Beijing supports a proposal by the World Trade Organization for an intellectual property protection waiver on Covid-19 vaccines to enter the consultation stage.

British and EU officials have been sceptical about the usefulness of a US proposal to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, while saying they are prepared to discuss it.

Drugmakers and some other governments opposed the idea, saying it would not solve global inoculation shortages.

"China supports the WTO's proposal on IP exemptions for anti-epidemic materials such as the COVID vaccine to enter the text consultation stage," Gao said at a regular news conference in Beijing.

"China will work with all parties to actively participate in consultations and jointly promote a balanced and effective solution," he said.

08:17 AM

Prison outbreaks fuels Thailand virus surge

Thailand reported its largest ever spike in coronavirus infections on Thursday, with more than half coming from two Bangkok prisons where prominent democracy activists have been detained.

The kingdom is battling a third wave of the virus that has forced the government to impose restrictions on movement, rules on mask-wearing and close public spaces.

Alarm bells sounded this week when an activist at the forefront of Thailand's democracy movement announced she had tested positive for Covid-19 five days after she was released on bail from a Bangkok jail.

Supporters of anti-government protest leaders arrested and charged with lese majeste wait for their release in Bangkok - Reuters
Supporters of anti-government protest leaders arrested and charged with lese majeste wait for their release in Bangkok - Reuters

On Thursday Thailand reported more than 4,800 infections - its highest single-day jump yet - which included over 2,800 cases found in two prisons in the capital, according to Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand's Covid-19 task force.

Corrections department official Weerakit Harnpariphan confirmed that another activist held at a Bangkok jail - Panupong "Mike" Jadnok - had also tested positive and had been sent to the prison hospital.

08:04 AM

Indian states turn to anti-parasitic drug to fight Covid-19

At least two Indian states have said they plan to dose their populations with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin to protect against severe Covid-19 infections as their hospitals are overrun with patients in critical condition.

The move by the coastal state of Goa and northern state of Uttarakhand, come despite the World Health Organization and others warning against such measures.

Volunteers carry a Covid-19 victim at a cremation ground in New Delhi - Shutterstock
Volunteers carry a Covid-19 victim at a cremation ground in New Delhi - Shutterstock

"The current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 patients is inconclusive," WHO said in a statement in late March. "

Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials."

Merck, a manufacturer of the drug, has also said available data does not support using the drug as a Covid-19 treatment.

07:52 AM

Pandemic forces one in 10 headmasters to retire

One in ten headmasters will end their careers next year due to the stress caused by coronavirus despite feeling financially unable to step back from work.

Uncertain working conditions during the pandemic have prompted a retirement rush according to research seen by Telegraph Money from Wesleyan, a specialist financial adviser.

More than a fifth of school leaders in England sped up retirement plans in the past 12 months as a direct consequence of Covid-19. However, more than a quarter of the most experienced teaching staff and a fifth of headteachers said they were not confident about how financially prepared they were to end their careers.

The sudden spike in retirements will leave the sector struggling for experienced leaders. A lack of work-life balance was the main reason for early retirement, as well as a heavy workload.

Seven in ten of those who had changed their plans also said stress had been a factor in the decision.

Jessica Beard has the full story here

07:45 AM

Japan's vaccine chief blames red tape for slow roll-out

Japan's Covid-19 vaccine chief has blamed a rigid drug approval system for a slow inoculation campaign that is relying on only one approved jab.

Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, took responsibility for the public frustration with the vaccine distributed system but also said the approval process was a disadvantage in an emergency.

His comments came amid fears of a fourth wave of infections arriving before the Summer Olympics.

Medical officers wearing PPE at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo - Reuters
Medical officers wearing PPE at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo - Reuters

"Even though we are in a state of crisis, we're still using the same rules to approve vaccines that we do under normal times," Kono said in a television interview broadcast on Wednesday.

"In the wake of this corona situation, the administration needs to change."

The government aims to inoculate most of its 36 million people over the age of 65 by the end of July.

07:41 AM

Russia records first cases of Indian variant

Russia has recorded its first cases of the variant of Covid-19 first found in India, according to local media reports.

The regional branch of consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it had recorded 16 cases of the variant among Indian students at Ulyanovsk State University, some 700 kilometres (435 miles) east of Moscow.

Dilyar Khakimov, an official at the watchdog said that the students were self-isolating under medical observation.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova had previously said the country had not recorded any cases of the variant.

07:33 AM

UK watchdog warns holiday companies over refunds as travel restarts

Britain's competition watchdog told package holiday companies on Thursday they must be ready to refund consumers if foreign trips this summer are cancelled by the pandemic.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had taken steps to remind package travel operators of their legal obligations over refunds, seeking to avoid what happened last summer when cancelled trips resulted in 23,000 complaints.

TUI UK, one of Britain's biggest package operators, has already improved the information it provides to customers and made it easier for them to get their money back after a slap on the wrist from the CMA.

People can travel abroad again from May 17 but there are only a limited number of places where they can go without needing to quarantine on their return home.

07:28 AM

'No discussions' about vaccinating teenagers and children

Professor Adam Finn said there have not yet been any discussions about vaccinating teenagers and younger children.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We've not really had any discussions yet about immunising teenagers or indeed younger children.

"We don't have any vaccines authorised for that those age groups at the moment.

"But I think it's also an open question as to whether or not we really will need to do that at this point, and, in fact, what we were just discussing about coverage in the adult population is a big determinant of that, so if we can get really good coverage, and a high uptake in the adult population, like Israel, we may find that you see a disappearance, if you like, of Covid throughout the whole population, even without immunising children.

07:25 AM

Little concern over younger people shunning vaccines

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast he is not "particularly concerned" that younger age groups may shun vaccines.

He said "one would extrapolate from what's happened so far to conclude that people will continue to want to come forward and be immunised, but, of course, the personal incentive, if you like, to get immunised is somewhat lower as you get younger, because the chances of you getting seriously ill with Covid are somewhat less.

"Nevertheless, some people do get sick, and some people get long Covid and there's a good reason for wanting to be protected, as well as being part of the broader effort to bring the pandemic under control.

"So we're all optimistic actually that the programme will continue to roll forward as successfully as it has done so far."

He said there is a "very strong sense in UK at the moment that everybody wants to be part of this - to be contributing to the effort and to seeing this pandemic off".

07:14 AM

Delaying second jab reduces deaths, study finds

Britain's vaccine strategy of delaying the second dose appears to have been vindicated after a study found it reduced deaths from coronavirus.

Modelling in the US shows that delaying the second dose so that more people can receive a first could reduce fatalities by up to a fifth.

If a first dose offered 80 per cent protection, deaths fell to 207 per 100,000 people if the second dose was delayed. If people got a second dose within the usual timeframe there were 233 deaths.

The study, published in The BMJ, used a simulation model based on a "real-world" population of 100,000 American adults. It found that delaying a second dose could be beneficial if vaccination rates stood at 0.1 to 0.3 per cent of the population a day.

06:57 AM

'Lessons have been learned'

James Cleverly has finished his Sky News interview and popped over to the BBC studios, where he is being asked about the inquiry announced yesterday into the Government's handling of the pandemic.

He told BBC Breakfast: "We should remember this was an unprecedented pandemic.

"Governments around the world, of course including our own, made decisions often based on limited information, in a situation that was changing, evolving, incredibly quickly.

"No one is pretending that every decision was perfect, that's not possible when you are making decisions with an incomplete information picture as we had to, as all governments had to.

"We have been learning lessons, both as a Government and scientific community, as the battle against this pandemic has been conducted."

06:52 AM

Driven by the data

Concerns over the Indian variant remain and this morning the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly was questioned on Sky News about whether any rise in cases would derail the June 21 reopening.

He said: "Scientists on Sage will make their assessments, they will report that to Government, and we will make decisions based on the data and the evidence that they provide.

"The Prime Minister, the Health Secretary, have always been clear that the easing of restrictions which allow us to get back to normality will be done at a pace and in a way which is safe. We will always be driven by the data."

06:38 AM

Vaccine messaging may need to change

Messaging that focuses on the personal, rather can collective, benefits of having a Covid-19 vaccine may be the most effective way to convince those hesitant about the jab, a study suggests.

Research by Oxford University, which involved nearly 19,000 adults in the UK, has indicated that one in 10 people remains sceptical about getting a coronavirus vaccine.

The study, published in the journal The Lancet Public Health, suggests the most effective way of encouraging those who are vaccine-hesitant is to focus on personal benefits, "highlighting the fact that you can't be sure, even if you're relatively young and fit, that you won't get seriously ill or struggle with long-term Covid-related problems".

Study leader Daniel Freeman, a professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: "Much of the official messaging around Covid-19 vaccination draws on the idea of collective responsibility - that it benefits all of us to get the jab.

"For most people in the UK, it's a message that definitely resonates. But for the significant minority of people who remain sceptical about Covid-19 vaccination, another approach may be needed."

05:59 AM

More than 4,000 die for second straight day in India

India recorded more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths for a second straight day on Thursday, while infections stayed below 400,000 for a fourth day, though the virus has become rampant in rural areas where cases can go unreported due to a lack of testing.

Experts remain unsure when numbers will peak and concern is growing about the transmissibility of the variant that is driving infections in India and spreading worldwide.

Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said most models had predicted a peak this week and that the country could be seeing signs of that trend.

Still, the number of new cases each day is large enough to overwhelm hospitals, she said on Twitter. "The key word is cautious optimism."

Read more: Sage calls emergency meeting over Indian variant as No 10 plays down reopening fears

People wait to receive their second dose of COVISHIELD, vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, in Kolkata - Reuters
People wait to receive their second dose of COVISHIELD, vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, in Kolkata - Reuters

05:44 AM

Thailand reports daily record of cases after including jail cluster

Thailand reported on Thursday 2,052 new cases in the community and 2,835 among prisoners, as authorities grapple with a third wave of infections in the Southeast Asian country.

The combined total of 4,887 cases is a new daily record and brings total infections to 93,794.

Thailand's Covid-19 taskforce also recorded 32 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 518 since the pandemic started last year.

05:27 AM

New Zealand PM sets out plans explore more travel 'bubbles'

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday her government will explore more travel "bubbles" and lead trade delegations later this year to re-connect with a post-pandemic world after more than a year of border closures.

With majority of its essential workers now being vaccinated and inoculation for the wider population starting in July, the government is preparing a plan for how it would reopen.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand started rebuilding contact by opening quarantine-free travel with neighbouring Australia and the South Pacific's Cook Islands, and is considering more such travel bubble options.

Ms Ardern said she will lead a trade and promotional delegation to Australia in early July, and will also look to lead delegations into Europe, the United States, China and the wider Asia-Pacific.

Rangi McLean receives his vaccine at the Manurewa Marae vaccination centre in south Auckland - New Zealand Herald
Rangi McLean receives his vaccine at the Manurewa Marae vaccination centre in south Auckland - New Zealand Herald

04:56 AM

Exclusive: GPs told to screen patients online first

Doctors have been told to discourage patient appointments in person to promote the use of virtual consultations.

New NHS guidance instructs family GPs to embed a system of “total triage”, meaning that anyone seeking to see their doctor must first have a discussion online or by telephone.

It makes clear that anyone deemed by a doctor to require a face-to-face consultation should still receive one, but says that about a third of all patients’ requests can be dealt with using online messaging.

The advice, first issued in April last year, and updated last September, as a short-term measure, has now been formalised into annual NHS operational planning guidance, which came into force last month.

The Telegraph was inundated with letters from readers describing how difficult it was to see a GP after reporting the case of Joy Stokes, 69, who died from cancer after months of being refused an appointment.

Read more: Face-to-face appointments should be discouraged, says NHS guidance

Joy Stokes and her husband Nick
Joy Stokes and her husband Nick

04:28 AM

US Olympic track and field team scraps Japan training

The US track and field team has scrapped plans for pre-Olympic training in Japan over concerns about safety during the pandemic, Japanese officials said.

US athletes were supposed to train in Chiba, outside Tokyo, before the pandemic-postponed Games open on July 23.

But the Chiba regional authority said in a statement the team cancelled "because of concerns over athlete safety as the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world with no prospects of winding down".

"Although the cancellation is extremely regrettable, we think it is the best decision... given the current situation," the region said.

The Olympic Rings are displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue - Getty Images
The Olympic Rings are displayed by the Odaiba Marine Park Olympic venue - Getty Images

03:28 AM

Today's top stories

  • An emergency meeting of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) committee will convene on Thursday to discuss the rapid spread of the Indian variant of Covid

  • Doctors have been told to discourage patient appointments in person to promote the use of virtual consultations

  • Work from home guidance will be lifted on June 21, Boris Johnson has signalled, as he restated his belief that city centres would bounce back “remarkably quickly” from Covid-19

  • The Indian variant has spread three times faster than other imported strains, Public Health England figures show, and is now dominant in several Covid-19 hotspots in the North West of England

  • The Covid-19 public inquiry must look into the social and economic impacts of lockdown as well as its benefit in curbing infection spread, Tory MPs have urged

  • A GoCompare-style website for travel testing is to be launched by the Government to end the chaos for holidaymakers – as a test provider exposed by The Telegraph was ditched from the official list

  • People in their late 30s can book a Covid jab from Thursday, say NHS chiefs. Appointments will open to those aged 38 and 39, in the latest rollout of the programme

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