Coronavirus latest news: Three quarters of a million people in England had Covid last week, ONS estimates

·38 min read
A hospital worker moves oxygen tanks outside the Royal London hospital, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, on 23 July 2021 - Andy Rain/Shutterstock
A hospital worker moves oxygen tanks outside the Royal London hospital, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, on 23 July 2021 - Andy Rain/Shutterstock

The number of people with Covid-19 across the UK continues to rise, with an estimated three quarters of a million people in England having the virus last week, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

New ONS figures suggest that around one in 75 people in England were infected with coronavirus last week, up from one in 95 a week previously, and the highest number since the week to January 30.

In Scotland, around one in 80 people are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to July 17, the highest figure since the ONS began recording there in October.

Rates in Wales and Northern Ireland remain lower, with one in 210 people infected in Wales and one in 170 people in Northern Ireland. However, both figures are still the highest since mid-February.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:59 PM

Here's a recap of today's top news:

  • The Environment Secretary George Eustice said that more than 10,000 people in the food industry would be able to avoid isolation if they were double-jabbed

  • Other industries continued to suffer through the 'pingdemic' - with staff shortages in transport resulting in Thameslink and Southern railways cutting their weekday timetables from Monday and London's Circle and Hammersmith and City tube lines being closed this weekend

  • Festivals with no capacity limits returned in England, including Latitude, Tramlines and Standon Calling

  • The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games started in Japan, complete with only a few hundred guests and no spectators - and a viral man on a treadmill

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved use of the Modern Covid-19 vaccine for 12-17 year olds

  • New Zealand suspended its travel bubble with Australia amid rising coronavirus cases

05:45 PM

Parkrun to return tomorrow for first time in 16 months

Parkrun is set to finally return at 9am tomorrow, marking the first time that the beloved 5km event - held at parks and green spaces across the country - has taken place since March 2020.

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05:34 PM

Almost half of young adults have had to self-isolate during pandemic, poll suggests

A poll conducted by YouGov has found that one in five Britons (20 per cent) have had to self-isolate at least once during the pandemic.

For young adults, aged between 18 to 24, the figure rises to almost half (46 per cent).

The findings come as the Government is being put under increasing pressure to offer exemptions for more industries from self-isolation as the 'pingdemic' continues to restrict the workforce.

05:22 PM

Children and parents face month of summer camp chaos over self-isolation rules

Children and parents face a month of summer camp chaos despite an official study showing that forcing schoolchildren to self-isolate was unnecessary.

Ministers have been urged to scrap the policy forcing healthy children to isolate immediately, in time to "rescue" summer camps.

Anita Grant, the chairman of Play England, said keeping the self-isolation policy in place would be a "massive problem" for summer camps over the coming weeks.

"The big issue with the holiday activities is that children are running around and there is no way of clarifying who they were close to," she added. "There is a very real possibility that summer camps, activities and play groups will just shut down for the full 10 days if someone tests positive."

05:02 PM

Extra Covid support for North East from Monday

Parts of the North East of England are to be given extra Government support as the region continues to see some of the highest Covid-19 case rates in the country.

Seven local authorities across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham, and five local authorities in the Tees Valley, will be recipients of the extra support.

It will start on Monday and last for five weeks, and includes the option to deliver extra testing in these targeted areas, the provision of logistical support to maximise vaccine and testing uptake, and further help for local public health campaigns.

Public health minister Jo Churchill said: "As the data changes it is vital that our public health response continues to change with it.

"By working in lockstep with local authorities and directors of public health, this additional support should help turn the tide on these growing case numbers and extend the wall of protection that vaccines is creating across the country.

"We all have a part to play in the continued fight against this virus and our message is a clear one: the best thing we can all do to protect ourselves and our loved ones is getting jabbed. If you haven't had your first or second doses, I'd urge you to book your vaccination at the first opportunity."

04:53 PM

63pc of families uncomfortable with unvaccinated carers, survey finds

A recent survey by live-in care agency Elder found that 63 per cent of customers would feel comfortable being looked after by an unvaccinated carer, or having an unvaccinated carer look after a family member.

New Government legislation is expected to be introduced in October that gives all care home staff 16 weeks to get a Covid-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, with failure to do so possibly resulting in staff being withdrawn from face-to-face caring duties.

Helene Cross, head of care at Elder said: "Social care workers are more likely to be exposed to the virus, and unfortunately, being healthy doesn’t reduce the risk of catching it and passing it on to others.

"It’s important to remember that you can have Covid-19 without symptoms – and therefore still feel well, which of course increases the potential of passing it on to friends, families, and the people in your care."

04:28 PM

Macron defends Japan's decision to host Olympics despite pandemic

French president Emmanuel Macron has supported Japan’s decision to host the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics despite the ongoing pandemic, as he attended the opening ceremony in Tokyo with just hundreds of other officials.

The French president arrived in Japan for the Games this morning and was one of only 950 people in the stands, along with US First Lady Jill Biden.

President Macron said: “We have to resist, we have to hold these Games. It’s important because the Olympic spirit is a spirit of cooperation and that’s what we need in these times."

Paris will host the next summer Olympics in 2024, with Macron’s meetings in Tokyo including talks with International Olympic committee chief Thomas Bach, according to Reuters.

03:57 PM

'Summer of closures' predicted for hospitality businesses due to pingdemic

A "summer of venue closures" will see hospitality businesses forced to close after staff were left off the list of critical workers exempt from self-isolation, industry chiefs have warned.

Pubs, restaurants, hotels, clubs and leisure parks are expected to face closures and shortened opening hours as cases rise and more staff are contacted by Test and Trace to self-isolate.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said the industry has been left to "face the consequences" after it was missed off the list and called for a "more pragmatic solution".

She said: "We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.

"Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work."

03:31 PM

TfL announces tube closures this weekend

Transport for London has announced that the Circle Line and Hammersmith and City Line will be closed this weekend due to 300 staff members having to self-isolate.

The District Line and Metropolitan Line will also have altered services.

03:09 PM

UK records 36,389 new Covid cases and a further 64 deaths

The UK has recorded another 36,389 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 64 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

On the vaccination front, a problem with the Government's data system meant vaccination figures for Thursday do not include Wales, but across the rest of the UK there were 43,000 first doses administered and 174,742 second doses - meaning 36,762,646 people are fully-jabbed.

02:47 PM

Vietnam to extend local lockdowns until August

Vietnam will extend a strict lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City until August 1, its health ministry said, as the country tries to bring infections under control in certain hard-hit areas.

In Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces, which account for most of the country's new infections, city authorities will strengthen existing measures, including a stay-at-home order, a ban on gatherings larger than two people and the suspension of public transport services.

Banking and security services in the city will be reduced to minimal levels, and non-essential construction projects will be suspended.

A week-long disinfection spray in high-risk Covid-19 areas has also started, the city's ministry added.

02:26 PM

Visiting Cornwall? Take a Covid test, holidaymakers told

Holidaymakers visiting Cornwall have been told by tourism bosses to get a Covid test ahead of the summer dash.

Holidaygoers in Cornwall enjoy the sunny weather on Newquay's Towen beach on 20 July 2021 - Jam Press/Jam Press
Holidaygoers in Cornwall enjoy the sunny weather on Newquay's Towen beach on 20 July 2021 - Jam Press/Jam Press

Visit Cornwall has warned that although legal restrictions on social contact have been lifted, "the Covid virus is still out there" and the "hands, face, space" slogan should continue to be adhered to.

"We would suggest that you test yourself and your family before setting out and while you are in Cornwall," the tourist organisation said. "Be aware of the anxiety some may be feeling as they emerge from restrictions, and respect those who choose to wear masks."

02:12 PM

Delta variant could be 46pc more likely to cause reinfection

The Delta variant of Covid-19 could be 46 per cent more likely to cause reinfection than the formerly dominant Alpha variant, new figures from Public Health England (PHE) suggest.

PHE experts assessed the PCR test results for a group of people who had already tested positive for coronavirus at least 90 days earlier, and found that there were 83,197 people who tested positive in the 11-week period of the analysis, of whom 980 (1.2 per cent) had possible reinfections.

Overall, the team found that the chance of reinfection with the Delta variant, which accounts for around 99 per cent of cases across the UK, was 46 per cent higher compared to the Alpha variant.

01:56 PM

University students should be fully-jabbed by September, union says

All university students should be fully-vaccinated by September and face masks should be compulsory on campus, the University and College Union (UCU) has said.

The union has written a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, warning that the confusion and disruption seen at universities over the last academic year will be repeated unless strict measures are implemented to protect staff and students.

The UCU are calling for Covid-19 vaccines to be made available to students and for strict health and safety measures to be put in place on campuses.

01:41 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Tokyo, Japan

Delegation from the UK takes part in the Parade of Nations at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo, Japan on 23 July 2021  - Sergei Bobylev/Getty Images
Delegation from the UK takes part in the Parade of Nations at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo, Japan on 23 July 2021 - Sergei Bobylev/Getty Images

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

A volunteer undertaker is sprayed with disinfectant before recovering the body of a suspected Covid-19 victim in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on 22 July 2021 - Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images
A volunteer undertaker is sprayed with disinfectant before recovering the body of a suspected Covid-19 victim in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on 22 July 2021 - Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Auckland, New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announces that the quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia will end tonight for at least eight weeks, due to rising Covid-19 cases in Australia, in Auckland, New Zealand on 23 July 2021 - Hannah Peters/Getty Images
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announces that the quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia will end tonight for at least eight weeks, due to rising Covid-19 cases in Australia, in Auckland, New Zealand on 23 July 2021 - Hannah Peters/Getty Images

01:25 PM

EMA approves Moderna vaccine for 12-17 year olds

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has announced that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for children aged 12 to 17.

It added that the use of the vaccine for children in this age group will be the same as for those aged 18 and over, and confirmed that children experience similar symptoms to adults.

The EMA said the overall safety profile of the vaccine was determined in an adolescent study.

The Moderna vaccine was approved for use in adults in the UK in January and began its rollout in April.

12:59 PM

Councils warn of service disruption caused by self-isolation

Following the publication of Government guidance on exemptions from self-isolation for critical workers, Councillor James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils continue to work hard to try and keep services running as best as possible, while protecting the health and wellbeing of our workforce.

"However, the large numbers of close contacts being required to self-isolate is having an impact on some council services due to staff shortages."

He added that "clarity is urgently needed" about how to apply for exemptions locally and "residents will need to bear with us if they experience disruption to some services".

12:49 PM

Train services cancelled across England due to staff shortages

Reduced train timetables will be introduced across England to try and improve reliability after multiple services were cancelled last-minute due to staff having to self-isolate.

Thameslink and Southern will cut their weekday timetables on five routes from Monday "until further notice".

Steve White, chief operating officer at parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, said: "Regrettably, we have had to make the difficult decision to reduce some weekday services.

"Unfortunately, like other industries across the country, coronavirus continues to affect our operations.

"We have fewer colleagues available at the moment due to a significant increase recently in the number of our people affected by Covid-19."

Avanti West Coast is also cutting trains from Monday on its routes between London Euston and Manchester, Birmingham and North Wales.

A spokesman said this is to "manage staff shortages and ensure a reliable service".

London Northwestern Railway will offer a revised timetable with fewer services from Saturday.

12:25 PM

George Eustice says a change to self-isolation rules is 'under review'

12:04 PM

WHO warns that Delta variant now dominant across Europe

The Delta variant of Covid-19 is continuing to spread across Europe and has become the dominant strain across much of the continent, according to new data.

Surveillance data reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows that between 28 June and 11 July the Delta variant was dominant in 19 out of 28 countries that reported sufficiently complete genetic sequencing information.

Within these 19 countries, the median proportion of Delta variant cases was 68.3 per cent, overtaking the previously dominant Alpha variant (22.3 per cent) across the region.

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, the WHO's Regional Director for Europe, said: “We are far from out of the woods in terms of the pandemic ending and sadly in many countries in our region we’re seeing a significant rise in cases associated with the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

"Despite tremendous efforts by Member States to vaccinate people across the region, millions more remain unvaccinated and therefore at risk of ending up in hospital.

"The good news is that the data clearly shows that receiving a full vaccination series significantly reduces the risk of severe disease and death. When called to do so, people should get vaccinated.”

11:43 AM

What are the least vaccinated countries in the world?

There are four countries in the world which have not yet started vaccinating against Covid-19: Eritrea, Burundi, Tanzania and North Korea.

Others have barely begun: Haiti only got its first shipment of doses last week.

Many other nations are yet to reach even two per cent of their populations, including Nigeria - the most populous nation in Africa - as well as Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. That contrasts with countries like the UK and Israel, both of which have reached the majority of their adult populations.

11:14 AM

Tanzania to start administering first vaccine doses

Tanzania has said it is preparing to roll out Covid-19 vaccinations, a swift departure from the country's former approach to the pandemic under late president John Magufuli, who died in March.

Health minister Dorothy Gwajima said the government was also banning all “unnecessary gatherings” to prevent the spread of the virus, and said vaccines would soon be administered for free to those who want them, but did not specify a date.

Late leader Magufuli had frequently expressed Covid-sceptic views and had downplayed the gravity of the pandemic, shunning masks and what he called "dangerous" vaccines in favour of prayer and natural remedies, and stopped issuing virus data in April 2020 because he said it was scaring people. He is succeeded by Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of Tanzania.

Tanzania, Eritrea and Burundi are the only African countries yet to begin vaccinating their citizens against Covid-19, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

10:51 AM

Spain preparing to offer booster third vaccine dose

Spain is preparing to offer citizens a booster third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with the current rollout starting to halt the spread of infections in the country, the health minister said.

Carolina Darias said in an interview with radio station Onda Cero that: "We are starting to see a slowdown of the rise [in cases].

"We'll need to keep vaccinating until we reach 100 per cent or be close to it."

Spain now has the third highest coronavirus vaccination rate in the world, with 64 per cent of its population having had one or two doses, placing it behind only Canada and the UK.

10:39 AM

Hospitals dealing with 'perfect storm' of Covid patients, infections and demand

Dame Jackie Daniel, the chief executive of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust is dealing with a "perfect storm" of high numbers of Covid-19 patients, staff infections and unprecedented urgent care demand.

She said the trust is facing "exceptional pressure" in every element of its operation, with it currently caring for around 80 coronavirus patients which has led to non-urgent surgery being postponed.

Dame Jackie wrote on her blog: "Several people have said to me that it feels more difficult now than it did at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.

"Although the next few weeks will continue to be hard, we will get through this together.

"We appreciate that the situation we find ourselves in is exceptional and we understand that the best efforts we can give as a team are just sometimes not enough to meet all of the demands placed upon us at the moment."

10:17 AM

New Zealand suspends travel bubble with Australia amid rising cases

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has suspended the "travel bubble" with Australia that permits movement between the two countries without quarantine for at least eight weeks.

She said: "We've always said that our response would evolve as the virus evolved. This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but it is the right decision to keep New Zealanders safe."

The decision comes as Australia battles a surge in Covid-19 cases, with the state of New South Wales reporting its highest daily rise in cases this year on Friday - leading to a stricter lockdown in Sydney and a push for extra vaccine doses.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian said the outbreak was a "national emergency" and suggested current stay-at-home orders could be extended beyond the proposed end date of 30 July.

09:59 AM

Latitude Festival is 'safest place in England'

Latitude Festival is "close to being the safest place in England today", its organiser said as the event begins in Suffolk.

The festival is expected to be attended by around 40,000 people as part of the Government's Events Research Programme, with headliners including Wolf Alice, The Chemical Brothers, Bastille and Bombay Bicycle Club.

Day 1 of Latitude Festival in Suffolk - Ash Knotek/Shutterstock 
Day 1 of Latitude Festival in Suffolk - Ash Knotek/Shutterstock

Melvin Benn, managing director of the Festival Republic group, said he feels "very relaxed, not anxious at all" as the four-day music event gets under way at the Henham Park estate.

He said: "We had a great night last night. It was a huge party. None of the main stage acts were playing but there is a lot going on in the woods, on the lake and in the theatre area.

"I'm very relaxed, not anxious at all. It is probably as close to being the safest place in England today really."

09:45 AM

Proportion of adults with antibodies increasing in UK, ONS data shows

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09:28 AM

Crime commissioner praises Government 'pingdemic' plans

The Government's plans to assist crucial services through the "pingdemic" have been cautiously welcomed by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland.

Steve Turner had previously warned his force's response times would go up due to staff absences as they isolate following close contact with virus-positive people.

Mr Turner said: "We cautiously welcome the Government's announcement. We look forward to seeing the detail and practical working ramifications."

He previously said officers' leave and rest days were being cancelled and shift patterns altered to fill gaps.

09:14 AM

'I plan to start living again': Life after 'Freedom Day'

Freedom Day had been meant to herald the return to normal life in England.

Yet concerns over the rising number of delta-variant cases, the risk of the beta-variant and the so-called 'pingdemic' have left many people feeling considerably underwhelmed - and even worried - about the removal of nearly all Covid restrictions after July 19.

Readers of the Front Page newsletter, published daily by the Telegraph, shared how they felt life would change after 'Freedom Day' and what they have been most looking forward to returning.

Read their stories here.

A pub-goer orders a pint at the bar in Bournemouth - Vagner Vidal/Hyde News & Pictures Ltd
A pub-goer orders a pint at the bar in Bournemouth - Vagner Vidal/Hyde News & Pictures Ltd

08:59 AM

Theatres might see the introduction of vaccine passports

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, said the government wants to avoid using Covid-19 vaccine passports in the likes of pubs - but added that "we can't rule anything out".

He said they could be used mainly indoors at major events and big conferencesl and theatres is a "possibility" because they want the ability to open with confidence.

"We've made clear this week that when it comes to the younger people who want to attend nightclubs, we're going to make it a requirement from the end of September that they would need effectively to be double-jabbed in order to go into those venues," he said.

08:43 AM

Beta variant: What we know so far

The variant, also known as B.1.351, was formerly known as the South African variant, where it was first detected last year.

It has been labelled a variant of concern by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Public Health England.

Beta makes up a tiny fraction of cases in the UK compared to other variants.

Read more here.

08:30 AM

Staff shortages and lost revenue due to self-isolation, businesses warn

Companies will still face staff shortages and lost revenue because of the number of workers having to self-isolate despite emergency measures to ease the crisis, industry leaders are warning.

The Government has announced plans to allow firms in sectors including transport, energy, local councils and digital infrastructure to deploy the daily testing of workers as an alternative to self-isolation.

However, Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "While the announcement of a process which may exempt select critical workers from self-isolation in England will be a relief to some businesses, it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high.

"Nearly half of the businesses we surveyed this week have had staff either off sick with Covid or self-isolating in the past two weeks."

08:15 AM

'This hokey-cokey reopening is the worst of all worlds for businesses'

"How much more of this are businesses supposed to take?" asks Telegraph columnist Ben Wright.

"By lifting most coronavirus restrictions in England while also maintaining a militant approach on self-isolation for those being 'pinged' by the NHS Covid-19 app, the Government has plunged hundreds of companies into all too inevitable chaos."

Read the full column here.

07:59 AM

Which countries are on the amber list and what does it mean for your holiday?

Millions of British holidaymakers are now able to return from amber list destinations – with the exception of France – without facing self-isolation.

The waiving of quarantine for fully vaccinated adults (and under-18s) returning from amber countries came into effect on July 19, offering fresh hope for overseas trips this summer.

However, the exclusion of France, announced on July 16, has added to the confusion and uncertainty for UK travellers.

Read all the latest here.

07:51 AM

Cannot rule out Covid leak from Wuhan lab, says Sage adviser

Sir Jeremy Farrar said the "overwhelming" evidence is that coronavirus jumped from animals to humans in China, but he "cannot completely rule out" that it leaked from a Wuhan scientific lab.

The Sage adviser said: "My personal view is the overwhelming scientific evidence, consistent with many previous infections that came from animals, is this arose from the animal kingdom, came across to the human population in 2019 and, as the virus adapted to humans, it led to the pandemic.

"That is where the wealth and weight of the scientific evidence currently sits, but you cannot completely rule out a laboratory accident, and we need to know which of those two things it is."

07:31 AM

Food industry at 'crisis point'

The founder and owner of one of the country's largest food producers said the industry is at "crisis point".

Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the pingdemic was "masking" other issues, including Brexit-related shortages and Covid troubles.

Mr Boparan warned the Government needed to act or face the "most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years".

The Government has introduced emergency measures which it says will protect food supplies in face of the so-called pingdemic, allowing thousands of workers to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case.

But Mr Boparan said: "No-one could possibly have predicted that this toxic cocktail would come together at this time.

"It started with the pandemic - and in the last week or so with pingdemic, but since May this year the operating environment has deteriorated so profoundly I can see no other outcome than major food shortages in the UK."

07:17 AM

Eight weeks between vaccine doses is 'sweet spot' for battling Delta variant

An eight-week gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is a "sweet spot" when it comes to generating strong immune response while protecting the UK population against the Delta variant, scientists have said.

In a new study, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), researchers found that when compared to a four-week gap, a 10-week interval between the doses produces higher antibody levels, as well as a higher proportion of a group of infection-fighting cells in the body known as "helper" T cells.

A woman receives her vaccination in Bristol - NHS England /PA
A woman receives her vaccination in Bristol - NHS England /PA

Professor Susanna Duanchie, of the University of Oxford, who is the joint chief investigator in the Pitch study, said: "The original recommendation from JCVI was 12 weeks and this was based on a lot of knowledge from other vaccines that often having a longer interval (between doses) gives your immune system a chance to make the highest response.

"The decision to put it to eight weeks is really balancing all the wider issues, the pros and cons - two doses is better than one overall."

07:02 AM

Environment Secretary: No isolation exemption for hospitality sector

Asked whether the exemption from self-isolation could be extended to the hospitality industry before August 16, George Eustice said it could not.

"The reason we've made a special exception for food is for very obvious reasons - we need to make sure that we maintain our food supply, we will never take risks with our food supply," he said.

"When it comes to other sectors, yes, of course, the fact that they are also carrying high absence levels is causing some stress for them and making it more difficult.

"You also have to bear in mind why we're doing this and we are trying to still just dampen the pace and the velocity at which this infection is spreading because we have to keep a very close eye on those hospitalisations."

06:47 AM

Forcing children to self-isolate was ‘needless’

Forcing hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to self-isolate because a classmate had Covid was unnecessary as daily testing would have been as effective, an official study suggests.

The results of the study, by the University of Oxford, emerged on the last day of term for most schools, when more than one million pupils are off because of the virus and after months of disruption to education.

It came as the latest figures revealed that up to one million people a week are being asked to isolate in England and Wales, with record numbers being pinged by the NHS app.

Read the full story here.

06:46 AM

Food sector workers will avoid isolation if double jabbed, says Environment Secretary

George Eustice has said more than 10,000 people in the food sector will be able to avoid isolation if they are double jabbed.

"We've identified close to 500 key sites, that includes around 170 supermarket depots, and then another couple of hundred key manufacturers like our bread manufacturers, dairy companies and so on," he said.

"All of the people working in those key strategic sites, distribution depots and those manufacturing facilities will be able to use this scheme, and probably well over 10,000 people."

Mr Eustice said ministers are "never going to take risks with our food supply".

06:29 AM

How Japan's Olympics turned into an economic disaster

The Olympic Games was supposed to offer Japan a bright new start.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hoped it would reignite national pride, rebrand the nation on the global stage and show Japan could go toe-to-toe with regional rival China.

Instead, the Tokyo Olympics Games 2020 risks becoming a public relations disaster, exposing deep flaws in Japan’s political leadership.

Read the full story here.

Russian athlete Martin Malyutin practises for the men's swimming events - Sergei Bobylev /TASS
Russian athlete Martin Malyutin practises for the men's swimming events - Sergei Bobylev /TASS

06:14 AM

Daily pupil tests may reduce absence by 39%, Oxford study finds

Daily testing of pupils who have been in contact with someone with Covid-19, rather than isolating whole groups, may be just as effective in controlling transmission in secondary schools, a study suggests.

Research by the University of Oxford estimates that daily Covid-19 testing in schools - as an alternative to the current 10-day contact isolation policy - can reduce coronavirus-related school absences by 39%.

Findings suggest only a small percentage (1.5-1.6%) of pupils and staff tested positive for Covid-19 after close contact with a case in school or college.

Around 200 secondary schools and colleges across England took part in a trial.

The findings come after Government figures show that more than one million children in England were out of school last week for Covid-19-related reasons - the equivalent of around one in seven (14.3%).

05:51 AM

Tourist operators feel pinch as Bangkok cases surge

Tuk-tuks and garishly coloured taxis that once weaved through chaotic Bangkok traffic are sitting idle in storage as a fresh coronavirus surge scuttles hopes of relief for Thailand's tourism-dependent economy.

The kingdom is currently undergoing its worst-ever stretch of the pandemic after largely keeping Covid contained when the illness first emerged last year.

Bangkok is subject to a night-time curfew and a ban on gatherings as authorities advise residents of the capital to stay home.

"Tourists, people going to work, shopping, hanging out with friends - these are our customers but they've all vanished," said taxi driver Anuchit Surasit.

This photo taken on July 20, 2021 shows rows of "tuk-tuks" in a parking lot, as drivers remain out of work due to the economic hardship of Covid-19 and more than a year of no incoming foreign tourism, in Bangkok. - Tuk-tuks sitting idle, taxis crammed into empty lots -- just some of the vehicles taken off Bangkok's normally riotous roads and stashed in storage as a Covid surge decimates tourism and travel, leaving drivers out of pocket. - AFP
This photo taken on July 20, 2021 shows rows of "tuk-tuks" in a parking lot, as drivers remain out of work due to the economic hardship of Covid-19 and more than a year of no incoming foreign tourism, in Bangkok. - Tuk-tuks sitting idle, taxis crammed into empty lots -- just some of the vehicles taken off Bangkok's normally riotous roads and stashed in storage as a Covid surge decimates tourism and travel, leaving drivers out of pocket. - AFP

05:35 AM

Australian leaders argue over vaccine access

Australia's largest state of New South Wales has urged the federal government to divert vaccine doses to Sydney, the epicentre of a Covid outbreak, raising objections from other states desperate for protection from the virus.

The Sydney outbreak has ballooned to nearly 1,800 cases since mid-June, with only 15 percent of Australia's adult population fully vaccinated.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state needed to get "at least the first jab for as many people as we can in those affected communities as possible, and that's why we are asking for a refocus of the national vaccination strategy".

But her comments did not go down very well with other states who are unwilling to spare doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

04:59 AM

Food industry at crisis point, says Chicken King

The founder and owner of one of the country's largest food producers said the industry is at "crisis point".

Ranjit Singh Boparan, of the 2 Sisters Food Group, said the pingdemic was "masking" other issues, including Brexit-related shortages and Covid troubles.

Mr Boparan - known as the Chicken King because of 2 Sisters' large scale involvement in the poultry trade - warned the Government needed to act or face the "most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years".

The Government has introduced emergency measures which it says will protect food supplies in face of the so-called pingdemic, allowing thousands of workers to avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case.

Read more: The ‘critical’ industries that could be exempt from pingdemic self-isolation

Mandatory Credit: Photo by FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (12226490c) Food yet to be shelved at a supermarket in London, Britain, 22 July 2021. British supermarkets are struggling to stock shelves as staff shortages take their toll due to the so called 'pingdemic'. With so many staff going into self isolation after being pinged by the NHS app, supermarkets are now under increasing pressure to keep shelves fully stocked. The British government is being urged to allow supermarket staff to be exempt from self-isolation rules. Pingdemic in the UK, London, United Kingdom - Shutterstock
Mandatory Credit: Photo by FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (12226490c) Food yet to be shelved at a supermarket in London, Britain, 22 July 2021. British supermarkets are struggling to stock shelves as staff shortages take their toll due to the so called 'pingdemic'. With so many staff going into self isolation after being pinged by the NHS app, supermarkets are now under increasing pressure to keep shelves fully stocked. The British government is being urged to allow supermarket staff to be exempt from self-isolation rules. Pingdemic in the UK, London, United Kingdom - Shutterstock

04:40 AM

South Korean warns protesters not to rally

The South Korean government warned the country's main labour federation to cancel a planned rally in defiance of a ban on large public gatherings, as it fought to contain a surge in Covid cases and extended toughest restrictions across the country.

More than 800 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) are expected to hold a rally in Wonju, a rural city about 100km (62 miles) east of Seoul, calling for wage hikes and better welfare. The rally would be in violation of restrictions already in place in many parts of the country.

"The government will respond sternly according to the law and principle if a banned rally is carried out in violation of anti-epidemic rules," Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said at the start of a Covid task force meeting.

The warning comes amid criticism against the government for being lenient over a larger KCTU rally held in early July in Seoul, in contrast to a harsh crackdown against a religious rally led last year by a critic of President Moon Jae-in.

Workers shout slogans during a rally demanding job security in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, July 3, 2021. Thousands of workers gathered ignoring the government's call to cancel the assembly feared to affect the fight against COVID-19. The banners read: "Revision of the labor law." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) - AP
Workers shout slogans during a rally demanding job security in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, July 3, 2021. Thousands of workers gathered ignoring the government's call to cancel the assembly feared to affect the fight against COVID-19. The banners read: "Revision of the labor law." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) - AP

03:32 AM

'National emergency' as Sydney outbreak worsens

Australia's New South Wales state on Friday reported its biggest daily rise in new Covid-19 cases this year, prompting state officials to tighten lockdown measures in Sydney in what they called a "national emergency."

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian also flagged the likelihood that stay-home orders for the country's biggest city would be extended beyond the current end date of July 30.

"There is no doubt that the numbers are not going in the direction we were hoping they would at this stage," Ms Berejiklian said as she announced 136 new cases in New South Wales.

The outbreak of the fast-moving Delta strain was carried across borders to the neighbouring states of Victoria and South Australia, leading to measures that have put more than half the country's population in lockdown.

A lone man wearing a protective face mask crosses an empty street during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 22, 2021. - Reuters
A lone man wearing a protective face mask crosses an empty street during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 22, 2021. - Reuters

03:17 AM

Only one in 10 pregnant women may have had first jab

Health leaders are urging pregnant women to get a Covid-19 vaccine after figures suggested only around one in 10 may have had a first dose.

The data, from Public Health England (PHE), shows for the first time that 51,724 women in England who were pregnant or thought they could be have received at least one dose of a jab since mid-April.

The figure is likely to be at least 4,000 higher when taking into account the numbers who have already had a vaccine because they are clinically vulnerable or because they are a health or social care worker.

Nevertheless, leaders say they want more women to come forward, with 95 per cent = of pregnant women in hospital last week with Covid-19 being unvaccinated.

Read more: Startling new findings about Covid and pregnant women revealed

Embargoed to 0001 Friday April 06 File photo dated 23/01/16 of a midwife talking to a pregnant woman, as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which analysed the latest Ucas data for England, has said that there has been a 35% drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday April 6, 2018. The figures show that the biggest reduction was in those aged 21 or over. See PA story HEALTH Midwives. - PA
Embargoed to 0001 Friday April 06 File photo dated 23/01/16 of a midwife talking to a pregnant woman, as the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), which analysed the latest Ucas data for England, has said that there has been a 35% drop in the number of applicants to midwifery courses since 2013. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday April 6, 2018. The figures show that the biggest reduction was in those aged 21 or over. See PA story HEALTH Midwives. - PA

02:08 AM

Fall in cases may not last, warn experts

The apparent fall in Covid-19 case numbers may be temporary ahead of a return to exponential growth, experts have warned.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, said school closures would start to have an effect and the "enormous numbers of adults and children self-isolating over the last few weeks" should also help slow epidemic growth.

"On the other hand, it must be remembered that the effect of loosening restrictions earlier this week will not be apparent in the epidemiological data yet," he said.

"So it is difficult to say exactly what will happen. What does seem pretty likely, though, is that if we do not take any further action we are in for an extended period of high incidence with all the disruption and risk of hospitalisations and deaths that that entails."

Read more: UK Covid cases drop almost 10,000 in a week

A live performance of William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is performed to an audience at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on July 21, 2021 in London, England. This sell-out performance is the first full capacity show to take place since 2019 following restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. ( - Getty Images
A live performance of William Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is performed to an audience at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on July 21, 2021 in London, England. This sell-out performance is the first full capacity show to take place since 2019 following restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. ( - Getty Images

01:38 AM

Australia approves Pfizer for children aged 12 to 15

Australia's drug regulator has approved the Pfizer vaccine for use with 12 to 15-year-olds, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Friday, as the country fights an outbreak of the Delta variant in three states.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has thoroughly assessed the domestic and international evidence before extending its approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to this age group, Mr Hunt said in a statement.

Similar clearances for the use of the vaccine in children were approved several weeks ago by regulators in the United States, European Union and Britain.

Up until now, the Pfizer vaccine had only been approved for use in Australia for people aged 16 years and over.

01:11 AM

Push for Republicans to speak up for vaccines

Republican politicians are under increasing pressure to speak out to persuade Covid-19 vaccine skeptics to roll up their sleeves and take the shots as a new, more contagious variant sends case loads soaring.

But after months of ignoring - and, in some cases, stoking - misinformation about the virus, experts warn it may be too late to change the minds of many who are refusing.

In recent news conferences and statements, some prominent Republicans have been imploring their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside.

In Washington, the so-called Doctors Caucus gathered at the Capitol for an event to combat vaccine hesitancy. And in Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis this week pointed to data showing the vast majority of hospitalised Covid-19 patients hadn't received shots.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes part in a roundtable discussion about the uprising in Cuba at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba on Sunday to protest against the government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) - Getty Images
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes part in a roundtable discussion about the uprising in Cuba at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba on Sunday to protest against the government. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) - Getty Images

12:38 AM

Today's top stories

  • Sending hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren home because they had contact with someone with Covid was unnecessary because it is just as effective to keep them in class and conduct daily tests, an official study suggests

  • Companies in "critical" industries will have to apply to the Government if they want key workers to avoid self-isolation when pinged by the NHS app, it was confirmed on Thursday

  • Supermarkets began cancelling home deliveries on Thursday as businesses across the country mounted a rebellion against the growing "pingdemic"

  • Britain recorded nearly 10,000 fewer Covid cases on Thursday when compared to the same day last week, new figures show, raising hopes that the epidemic may be slowing

  • Holidaymakers flying abroad this weekend will be more than double last week’s numbers as travellers race to escape before any further tightening of rules

  • People who wait longer to get the second dose of their Pfizer vaccine mount a more robust immune response for long-term protection from Covid than those who bring their second jab forward, a major study has found

  • Potential Covid variants are entering the UK unchecked as the rate of positive tests being genome sequenced from amber-listed countries has fallen to just three per cent, official figures show

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