Surge testing expanded after further case of South Africa variant detected

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Jordan Kelly-Linden
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Nick Markham, the founder of ExpressTest, reacts as he takes a PCR swab test at Gatwick Airport on November 27, 2020 - Leon Neal / Getty
Nick Markham, the founder of ExpressTest, reacts as he takes a PCR swab test at Gatwick Airport on November 27, 2020 - Leon Neal / Getty

Surge testing is to begin in parts of Birmingham after a confirmed case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa was discovered, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

In a statement the DHSC said the confirmed case had "self-isolated and their contacts have been identified".

Health officials said: "Initial investigations indicate that this case is not linked to a case previously identified in the Birmingham and Sandwell areas."

The testing will be targeted at households in the city's Alum Rock, Glebe Farm and Tile Cross areas.

It follows the news that one in five UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with more than two-and-a-half million second doses delivered in the past seven days, latest figures show.

A total of 10.8 million people have now received both jabs - the equivalent of 20.5 per cent of the adult population.

Wales is estimated to have given two doses to just under a quarter of adults (24.7%), ahead of Northern Ireland (20.5%), England (20.3%) and Scotland (19.1%).

06:02 PM

Wednesday summary

That's all from me today. Here's a round-up of the day's key stories...

  • One in five UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with more than two-and-a-half million second doses delivered in the past seven days.

  • Surge testing is to begin in parts of Birmingham after a confirmed case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa was discovered.

  • France has announced that it will donate an initial 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine to developing countries this month, the first European Union member to send its own supplies to the Covax initiative for poorer countries.

  • Tokyo Olympics organisers said Wednesday they may put off an announcement on how many fans can attend the Games until May or June, as surging coronavirus infections play havoc with preparations.

  • India reached an unwelcome record of more than 2,000 deaths in a single day amid a warning there could be hundreds of new variants circulating in the country.

05:59 PM

ECDC issues new guidelines for vaccinated travellers

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has issued new guidance suggesting that travelers fully vaccinated for Covid-19 could be exempt from future quarantines and tests.

In some situations, requirements for testing and quarantine for travel can be waived or adjusted for fully vaccinated individuals. Public health authorities may consider exempting fully vaccinated individuals from repeat testing in occupational and other community settings, the guidance states.

“As the vaccination roll-out advances, it is encouraging to have evidence-based recommendations that immunisation can slowly allow relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such use of masks and physical distancing," said Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director.

"While relaxation of the protection measures must be done gradually and based on careful assessments of the risks involved, we are confident that increased vaccination coverage will have a positive and direct impact towards returning to normal lives."

Currently, NPIs are recommended to be kept in place during meetings between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons if any of them are older adults or individuals at increased risk for severe Covid-19 disease or where there is high circulation of variants of concern with potential for immune escape.

NPIs should be maintained in public spaces and in large gatherings, irrespective of the vaccination status of the individuals, the ECDC added.

05:56 PM

Complacency and mistrust in government mean Liberians are turning their backs on Covid jabs

In a country that has seen just over 2,000 official cases of Covid and 85 deaths, it is easy to understand why Liberia has found it hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm for a Covid vaccine.

It took almost four weeks from the shipment of 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab - via the Covax vaccine sharing initiative - arriving in the capital Monrovia to the first shot going into an arm.

And at the official launch of the campaign the country’s president - former professional footballer George Weah - was conspicuously absent.

One of the reasons for the delayed launch is widespread suspicion surrounding the vaccine, exacerbated by reports of blood clots among AstraZeneca recipients in several European countries.

“Right after we received the vaccine the news came out about the clots,” Liberia’s health minister, Wilhelmina Jallah, told the Telegraph. “So we delayed to see the result of the investigation.”

Lucinda Rouse reports. Read more.

The first shipments of Covax vaccines arrive in west Africa in February - Diomande Ble Blonde / AP 
The first shipments of Covax vaccines arrive in west Africa in February - Diomande Ble Blonde / AP

05:42 PM

Tony Blair urges release of full vaccination data to combat fear over AstraZeneca jab

The UK must release full data on its vaccination programme to overcome doubts about the AstraZeneca jab both at home and abroad, Tony Blair has said.

A new report by the former Labour prime minister’s think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, warns that by failing to publish data setting out who has received which vaccine the government is creating a vacuum where “misinformation, fear and confusion thrive”.

The report urges the government to release full data showing the number of people who have received which vaccine, the age profile of recipients, Covid hospitalisations and deaths as well as side effects in a bid to restore confidence in the “workhorse” AstraZeneca vaccine in the light of links to blood clots.

NHS England data on the vaccine roll out currently does not break down the data by vaccine type.

In the foreword to the report Mr Blair argues that data and the way it is presented is the most important tool in the fight against vaccine hesitancy. But while Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency publish useful data it is not sufficiently "comprehensive and persuasive in the light of the now global anxieties expressed about the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

Anne Gulland has more on this story here.

05:23 PM

South African researchers hope to restart J&J vaccination next week

South African researchers hope to restart use of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine next week in an "implementation study" immunising healthcare workers, a top local scientist said on Wednesday.

South Africa suspended the study last week after U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing use of J&J's vaccine because of rare cases of blood clots.

"We do hope to start again next week," South African Medical Research Council President Glenda Gray said during a webinar.

05:18 PM

France reports 5,959 people in intensive care units for Covid-19

France reported 34,968 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, down from 43,098 a day earlier.

Data from the health ministry also showed that 5,959 people were in intensive care units with Covid-19, down by 25 from Tuesday.

The ministry reported 313 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals.

05:08 PM

Greece to roll out J&J Covid-19 vaccine on May 5

Greece plans to start the rollout of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine on May 5 after Europe's drug regulator backed its use, health authorities said on Wednesday.

"We expect decisions by the CDC and FDA on Friday and then by our national committee on vaccinations in the following days. Vaccinations will begin on May 5," said Marios Themistocleous, secretary general in charge of vaccinations.

Greece had been expected to start J&J vaccinations on Monday before questions emerged over reports of very rare blood clotting disorders associated with the vaccine.

04:57 PM

One in five UK adults now fully vaccinated against Covid-19

One in five UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with more than two-and-a-half million second doses delivered in the past seven days, latest figures show.

A total of 10.8 million people have now received both jabs - the equivalent of 20.5% of the adult population.

Wales is estimated to have given two doses to just under a quarter of adults (24.7%), ahead of Northern Ireland (20.5%), England (20.3%) and Scotland (19.1%).

The figures are for vaccinations reported by the UK's health agencies up to and including April 20, and reflect the pace at which second doses have been ramped up across the country during the past month.

Some 2.6 million second doses were recorded in the seven days to April 20, with 6.3 million since April 1.

This compares with 3.7 million second doses in March and just 322,000 in February.

04:10 PM

UK records 22 new deaths from Covid-19

The Government said a further 22 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 127,327.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies show there have been 151,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 2,396 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

04:07 PM

Surge testing to be deployed in Birmingham

Surge testing is to begin in parts of Birmingham after a confirmed case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa was discovered, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

In a statement the DHSC said the confirmed case had "self-isolated and their contacts have been identified".

Health officials said: "Initial investigations indicate that this case is not linked to a case previously identified in the Birmingham and Sandwell areas."

The testing will be targeted at households in the city's Alum Rock, Glebe Farm and Tile Cross areas.

04:00 PM

Merkel open to EU treaty change to boost health powers

The European Union needs more power to coordinate the bloc's response to health crises like the coronavirus pandemic, Gemany's chancelor Angela Merkel has said, adding that she did not rule out a treaty change to secure them.

The veteran leader is due to step down after German elections in September and she has sometimes struggled to coordinate coronavirus measures taken by regional leaders within Germany.

But her comments to an online meeting of fellow European conservatives raised eyebrows in Brussels, where the start of a large-scale public debate on the future of the EU has revived talk of reopening the bloc's governing structure.

"I believe that Europe needs more competences in the area of health," Merkel told the event organised by the European People's Party (EPP), the umbrella group that includes her German party, the CDU.

Merkel cited as an example the idea of further empowering the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), which is modelled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The German leader also criticised the attitude of some EU governments to the European Commission's vaccination strategy, warning it was a mistake for some to turn to Chinese or Russian vaccines without the approval of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

03:45 PM

All but eight Guantanamo detainees have received first vaccine dose

All but eight of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, it has been announced. Our US correspondent Jamie Johnson has the details:

The military prison houses 40 of the most dangerous inmates in the world, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged “principal architect” of the 9/11 attacks, and 32 have received their first Moderna jab this week.

A short statement from The Southern Command, which oversees the base, provided no further details why the eight remaining men have not received the vaccine.

The prisoners are not required to be vaccinated, but officials were planning on offering the jabs as far back as February 1, until victim’s families and campaigners complained that the inmates would be vaccinated before most of the American public.

Officials decided to go forward with vaccinating the detainees this week in part because of what appears to be a significant rate of refusal to take the vaccines by adults at the base of about 5,500 residents, the New York Times reported.

The detention centre has a staff of 1,500 guards and civilians. As of April 1, 47 percent of those eligible had not yet taken a single dose, according to health officials at the base.

03:30 PM

Greek PM says tourism season will open from May 15

Greece should be able to open up for tourists from May 15, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis confirmed on Wednesday, saying the coronavirus pandemic was showing signs of stabilising helped by the rollout of vaccines.

"The vaccines, the self-tests and the better weather make us confident that this unprecedented adventure is ending," Mitsotakis said in a special television address.

However he said case rates were still high and people should not travel over the Orthodox Eastern weekend, which begins on April 30.

"I have said that our aim is for a safe Easter, and a free summer," he said.

03:29 PM

Iraq's cases surpass one million

Covid-19 infections in Iraq surpassed one million on Wednesday, the health ministry said, a figure unmatched in the Arab world, in a country that has long faced medical shortages.

The ministry reported 8,696 new coronavirus infections and 38 deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the start of the country's outbreak in February last year to 1,001,854, including 15,098 deaths.

The ministry has said it carries out around 40,000 tests daily from a population of 40 million.

Iraq's hospitals have been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines and hospital beds.

Those patients who can often prefer to source oxygen tanks for treatment at home, rather than go to overcrowded and run-down hospitals.

The country launched its vaccination campaign last month, and has received nearly 650,000 doses of different vaccines - the majority by donation or through the Covax programme, which is supporting lower and middle income nations to procure vaccines.

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine while another administers one at a vaccination centre in the Kindi Hospital in Iraq's capital Baghdad - AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP
A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine while another administers one at a vaccination centre in the Kindi Hospital in Iraq's capital Baghdad - AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

03:14 PM

Virus surge may delay Olympics fan decision till June

Tokyo Olympics organisers said Wednesday they may put off an announcement on how many fans can attend the Games until May or June, as surging coronavirus infections play havoc with preparations.

Athletes are also likely to face daily virus testing, rather than once every four days as originally planned.

Organisers have already barred overseas fans from the pandemic-delayed Games, and were expected to announce an upper limit on domestic spectators sometime in April.

But Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said they are now only likely to "decide a direction" this month, and the decision could come as late as June - possibly just a month before the Games open on July 23.

The move would further delay ticket sales, which were put on hold when the Olympics were postponed last year.

"The Covid-19 situation is changing as we speak," Hashimoto said after organisers had reported to an executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee.

"There are only 93 days left to go. We would like to make a proper judgement, and we may need more time in order to be able to do that."

"We need to carefully make a final decision about the spectators. The timing could be May or June," added Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto speaks during a news conference following the IOC Executive Board Meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters - REUTERS
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto speaks during a news conference following the IOC Executive Board Meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters - REUTERS

02:53 PM

France kicks off Europe's vaccine donations to poorer states

France will donate an initial 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine to developing countries this month, the first European Union member to send its own supplies to the Covax initiative for poorer countries, an official said on Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has urged EU countries to send 5 per cent of their own vaccine supplies to developing countries to hamper the development of new variants and stop Russia and China from gaining a diplomatic advantage by sharing their shots.

"France will inaugurate the European vaccine sharing mechanism with Covax," an adviser to Macron said on Wednesday. "We very much hope that other countries will commit to physically sharing vaccines with Covax."

The Covax facility, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), aims to secure 2 billion vaccine doses for lower-income countries by the end of 2021.

In March, it said the target was to deliver 237 million doses of AstraZeneca's shot to 142 countries by the end of May, and it also shipped its first Pfizer shots.

French officials have expressed concern that developed countries around the globe, which are rushing to vaccinate their own population, have only committed cash to Covax and refrained from sending doses from their own reserves.

France has committed to sending 500,000 doses by mid-June, the French adviser said. The first batch of AstraZeneca doses, taken from France's own expected deliveries, will be sent to Covax "imminently", the adviser said.

02:37 PM

French wine tasters call for vaccine priority

French wine tasters have urged the government to prioritise them for vaccines after dozens were left unable to work when they lost their sense of smell and taste after being infected with Covid-19, our correspondent in Paris Anna Pujol-Mazzini reports.

In a survey of more than 2,600 wine workers, the Union of France Oenologists said nearly 70 per cent of those who contracted Covid-19 lost their sense of smell and over half lost their sense of taste, affecting their ability to do their job.

"It's like asking a musician to play without his instrument," said Didier Fages, the union's director.

As France's vaccination campaign picks up speed and workers deemed essential such as teachers and police officers get jabs, the body has written to Jean Castex, the prime minister, to demand that wine tasters be moved to the front of the queue for anti-Covid shots to protect their livelihoods.

"Tasting is at the heart of the profession of the wine expert who makes the wine. At each stage from harvesting the grape to bottling, the appreciation of the quality of the wine and the resulting technical decisions go through tasting," Mr Fages said in the open letter.

He asked the government to "consider measures to make access to vaccination easier," for oenologists.

02:26 PM

FDA inspection of J&J vaccine producer throws up cross-contamination risk

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has completed its inspection of a US plant responsible for making Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine and has raised a number of concerns, including staff training on cross-contamination risks, peeling paint and loose debris at the site.

Emergent Biosolutions Inc, which owns the plant, earlier this week said it would stop production of new drug material at the plant, while the FDA conducted an inspection of the facility.

The FDA's inspection closeout report, also known as "FDA Form 483", cited observations including failure to train personnel to avoid cross-contamination of Covid-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.​ The FDA also said on Wednesday the building used for manufacturing the components of the two vaccines was not of suitable size and design to facilitate cleaning and maintenance.

The facility has not been authorized by the regulator to manufacture or distribute any of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine or components and, to date, no vaccine manufactured at this plant has been distributed for use in the United States.

02:16 PM

Airlines face $47.7 bn loss in 2021

Airlines are forecast to lose $47.7 billion this year, worse than previously forecast, a global industry group said Wednesday, as the sector struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

On a brighter note, the International Air Transport Association slightly raised its forecast for global air passenger traffic, saying it would reach 43 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

02:03 PM

Swedes warned of new pandemic measures if healthcare pressure rises

The Swedish government warned of new and tougher steps if people chose to ignore existing Covid-19 restrictions and further raised pressure on healthcare services already struggling to cope with a third wave of the disease.

Sweden, whose more relaxed measures have made it an outlier in its response to the pandemic, has seen the number of people in intensive care rise to its highest level since the initial outbreak a year ago.

In some regions, intensive care has been filled to maximum capacity and the number of available beds for those worst ill is below 20 per cent across the nation.

"There is no room now to start living as if the pandemic is already over. The infection rate does not go down by itself," Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren told a news conference.

Hallengren stressed the need to adhere to existing rules and recommendations but said she did not rule out stricter measures if the situation deteriorated. She did not elaborate on what steps could be taken or what would trigger them.

On Wednesday, a total of 409 people were treated at intensive care units in Sweden compared to about 560 at the height of the deadly first wave of the virus last year.

01:40 PM

Dismissal of childcare worker who refused flu shot was lawful, Australian court rules

Australia’s top industrial arbitrator has ruled that a company was within its rights to fire a childcare worker who refused to get a flu vaccination shot, the first case of its kind and one that could set a precedent for jabs against other contagious diseases such as Covid-19. Giovanni Torre reports from Perth:

Bou-Jamie Barber had been working at Goodstart Early Learning for 14 years when she refused to get a flu vaccination that had been made compulsory under a new company policy.

She was fired after failing to substantiate her claim that she had a “sensitive immune system” and suffered an adverse reaction to a previous flu jab, according to an investigation by the Fair Work Commision.

The Commission said its ruling in support of the company “relates specifically to the influenza vaccination in a childcare environment” and a Fair Work Ombudsman warned that not all employers may be able to require vaccinations.

However, Australian labour law experts, including the barrister Ian Neil and Adelaide University’s Professor Andrew Stewart, have said that employers’ power in common law to give workers “lawful and reasonable” directions could extend to ordering them to get vaccinated against flu or another virus, for example, Covid-19.

01:17 PM

India reaches record 2,000 Covid deaths in 24 hours amid warning hundreds of variants could be circulating

India reached an unwelcome record of more than 2,000 deaths in a single day on Tuesday amid a warning there could be hundreds of new variants circulating in the country.

Indian authorities scrambled to shore up supplies of medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a fast-spreading second wave of coronavirus stretched medical infrastructure to breaking point, officials and doctors said.

India is reporting the world's highest number of new daily cases and approaching a peak of about 297,000 cases in one day that the United States hit in January. The latest data released by the health ministry showed there had been 295,041 new infections nationwide overnight and 2,023 deaths, India's highest in the pandemic.

Former prime minister Tony Blair warned: "In India alone, you've got just within the last week, you've probably got hundreds of different variants, though most of them will be insignificant, but any of them that are significant, and then start to change the nature of the disease."

01:00 PM

Obesity link to Covid a wake up call for the UK, warns minister

A health minister has warned about the link between obesity and Covid-19 in a "wake-up" call for the nation.

Lord Bethell told peers that British people were "carrying too much weight" and this was a factor in the pandemic.

He was responding to calls at question time in the Lords to do more to tackle obesity.

Lord Bethell said the World Obesity Federation's Covid-19 report made "stark reading" for the UK.

"It's clear that excess weight is one of the few modifiable factors that contribute to severe symptoms of Covid and, very sadly in some cases, to death.

"This is a wake-up call. Britain is clearly carrying too much weight. That is why the Government is committed to helping the country reduce obesity and get fit and healthy," he said.

Tory Lord Robathan said being obese was a "huge factor" in deaths from Covid and called for further action "so everyone understands that being obese should not be socially acceptable, because obesity is killing people".

Lord Bethell said obesity had been a "sad and tragic driver of death in Covid", with overweight people 67% more likely to need intensive care than those who are not overweight.

12:40 PM

Thailand sticks with Sinovac vaccine after cases of 'stroke-like' side effects

Thailand will continue to use Covid-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech following six reports of unusual "stroke-like" side effects among recipients, government-appointed experts said on Wednesday.

Six medical personnel in Rayong province, east of Bangkok, who were inoculated earlier this month experienced symptoms similar to those of a stroke, the panel of experts said, including drowsiness and numbness in the limbs.

They have since recovered after being given stroke treatments and no blood clots were found.

The announcement comes amid heightened global focus on efficacy levels and possible side-effects from different Covid-19 vaccines, and temporary suspensions in some countries, including over reports of blood clots among some recipients.

Sinovac did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Thailand has received two million doses of the Chinese company's CoronaVac, which have already been administered to more than 600,000 people nationwide. It has ordered 1.5 million more shots due to arrive soon.

The experts could not say for certain what caused the symptoms, which they believed may be related to the nervous system and were not fatal, said Kulkanya Chokephaibulkit from Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital.

A health worker injects a Buddhist monk with dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand -  Sakchai Lalit / AP
A health worker injects a Buddhist monk with dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand - Sakchai Lalit / AP

12:24 PM

Oxygen disruption leads to 22 deaths in Indian hospital

Here's the latest from our India correspondent Joe Wallen:

At least 22 Covid-19 patients have died in the western Indian city of Nashik after their hospital oxygen supply was temporarily disrupted, underlining the tragic oxygen shortages that the country is facing.

An oxygen tanker leaked outside the Zakir Hussain Municipal Hospital, interrupting supplies for thirty minutes and leading to desperate scenes as family members tried to help patients as they gasped for breath.

There have been separate reports in the Indian media in April of Covid-19 patients dying in the states of Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, due to sudden hospital oxygen shortages. And, on Tuesday, a city-wide disaster was narrowly averted in India’s capital of Delhi after the authorities reported many private hospitals would run out of oxygen overnight.

It was only after the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, unprecedentedly took to Twitter to make a desperate plea for more supplies that enough oxygen was delivered to India’s capital.

“We had almost lost hope. All of us were in tears when we saw the oxygen tanker arrive,” said one relieved doctor at Delhi’s GTB Hospital, which received supplies just before it ran out of stock for its 500 critical patients.

An oxygen tanker leaks at hospital premises where COVID-19 patients died due to lack of oxygen in Nashik, India - ANI / REUTERS
An oxygen tanker leaks at hospital premises where COVID-19 patients died due to lack of oxygen in Nashik, India - ANI / REUTERS

11:48 AM

AstraZeneca news has not caused vaccine hesitancy, research suggests

The decision by the UK's medicines agency to restrict the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to over- 30s due to a possible link with very rare cases of blood clots has had little impact on people's intention of getting the jab, new research suggests.

Researchers at the University of Stirling have been collecting data for a project on fear and concerns related to Covid-19 and they examined whether public concern about the AstraZeneca jab had led to "vaccine hesitancy".

According to a survey conducted on April 9 after guidance on vaccinating the under-30s changed, the reseachers found only a slight change in people's intentions.

A total of 85.7% of respondents said they intended to get the vaccine compared to 86.1% on March 17.

The researchers also found little change in the 30 to 40 age group, who will continue to be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A total of 85.3% in this age group said they intended to take the vaccine after the change in guidance, compared to 87.3% before, while 9.8% said they would refuse it compared to 9.9% before the guidance changed.

The data was collected from 502 people around the UK on April 9 and the research is published on the Open Science Framework website.

11:23 AM

Court challenge delays German billion euro coronavirus recovery fund

A German court on Wednesday threw out a legal challenge that had stopped the country from ratifying a 750 billion euro EU coronavirus recovery fund.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been due to sign off on the fund to complete Germany's formal ratification process after both the upper and lower house of parliament approved it last month.

However, five people filed a challenge, prompting the court to stop Steinmeier signing the deal pending an examination of the complaint. The court rejected the emergency bid to halt the ratification process, saying in a statement that "a summary examination did not find a high probability of a violation of ... the Basic Law".

The court said that it would keep examining the main arguments in the challenge. However, given the very low probability of the case being successful, the potential harm done in holding up ratification would be far more significant than to allow it to go ahead, it said.

The fund was finalised last year and aims to provide loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic, such as Italy.

11:16 AM

European countries to resume J&J Covid vaccine deliveries

European countries are set to resume deliveries of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine and speed up the rollout after Europe's drug regulator backed the shot.

Germany's health ministry said it would start deliveries to federal states for use in vaccination centres shortly, and that family doctors should receive the vaccine from the next two weeks.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Tuesday that it had found a possible link between J&J's vaccine and rare blood clotting issues in adults who received doses in the United States, but it said that the benefits of the one-dose shot outweigh its risks.

The review of a handful of cases prompted a pause in the rollout of the J&J vaccine in Europe and the United States last week, the latest setback to efforts to tackle the pandemic, which has killed more than 3.1 million and infected 142.1 million worldwide.

While the EMA said it considers the vaccine safe, it has left it up to the European Union's member states to decide how to use it, taking a similar stance to that with rival AstraZeneca's shot.

The Netherlands plans to resume the use of the vaccine as of Wednesday. Italy's health ministry recommended that the J&J vaccine be used for people over the age of 60.

In Germany, it was not immediately clear whether regulators would limit the use of J&J's vaccine to a certain age group, as it had done with the vaccine by AstraZeneca, which its vaccine committee recommends for ages 60 and over. The committee, known as STIKO, is due to meet on Thursday.

Denmark's health authority expects to announce its decision next week on how to proceed, pending further investigations into the vaccine's possible link to rare blood clots.

11:00 AM

Macron considers easing French travel restrictions

President Macron is planning to ease travel restrictions and lift a nationwide curfew on May 2 on the expectation that coronavirus cases will soon begin to fall, a source close to the presidency said.

Mr Macron is also expected to allow restaurants to serve diners outdoors from mid-May, while cinemas, theatres and museums will also be permitted to reopen with reduced capacity.

The French president imposed a strict lockdown on April 3 to contain a third wave of the virus that pushed hospitals to the brink. People are currently only permitted to travel 10 kilometres from thier homes and a 7pm curfew is in place.

Macron also ordered the closure of schools, but nursery and primary school students are set to return on Monday. He is set to chair a meeting with his top health officials today to evaluate the state of the virus in France.

He is hoping that the number of daily cases will fall to around 20,000 within a month, and that France will meet its target of vaccinating 20 million people with at least one dose by mid-May, according to the source.

10:49 AM

Hundreds rally against German Covid-19 lockdown law

Hundreds of people protested in Berlin on Wednesday against a law parliament is set to pass giving the national government power to impose lockdowns on areas with high coronavirus infection rates to curb a third wave of the pandemic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to draw up the law, which has drawn criticism from opponents who argue it curtails personal freedoms, after some of Germany's 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases.

The measures include curfews between 10pm and 5am and limits on private gatherings, sport and shop openings. Schools will close and return to online lessons if the virus incidence exceeds 165 cases per 100,000 residents.

Hundreds of protesters, few wearing face masks, gathered in the sunshine beside the Brandenburg Gate, not far from the Bundestag parliament building in central Berlin.

Alexander Gauland, the parliamentary head of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, said the government was fighting the pandemic with the wrong measures. "They are stuck in their trenches," he told the Bundestag debate on the law.

Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary leader of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said politicians had to balance civil liberties with the need to save lives. "We are in a situation where too many people are dying," he said.

Germany reported a rise of 24,884 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to nearly 3.19 million. Some 80,634 people have died and doctors have warned that unless action is taken, intensive care units may struggle to cope.

An anti Covid-19 protestor holds a placard reading, " Merkel & CO = High treason) while taking part in a demonstration in Berlin - TOBIAS SCHWARZ /  AFP
An anti Covid-19 protestor holds a placard reading, " Merkel & CO = High treason) while taking part in a demonstration in Berlin - TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP

10:22 AM

The ‘Covid pill’ and other therapies raising hopes of treating coronavirus at home

Oh, for a pill to combat Covid-19. Something simple that can be taken at the earliest hint of infection to stop the virus from replicating inside us; an effective antiviral.

This is the dream Boris Johnson fleshed out at the Downing Street briefing on Tuesday evening when he announced the creation of a new “Antivirals Taskforce”. It’s a goal that is being pursued by scientists across the world and – just as with vaccines – it makes good sense for the UK to invest speculatively and early. Ultimately it could help us win the coming battle against variants - here and across the developing world.

There have been major advances against Covid-19 at both extremes of the pharmaceutical spectrum with vaccines and hospital treatments but the middle ground is bare. This is where effective antivirals should sit; a class of medicines that do to viruses what antibiotics do to bacterial infections.

Several of the world’s pharmaceutical giants have high tech antivirals in various stages of development, some repurposed and at least one specifically designed to fight Sars-CoV-2.

Paul Nuki has the details here.

09:47 AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

People attend a festival at Hung Kings temple in a first massive gathering after coronavirus disease restrictions were lifted in Vietnam - Thanh Hue/Reuters
People attend a festival at Hung Kings temple in a first massive gathering after coronavirus disease restrictions were lifted in Vietnam - Thanh Hue/Reuters
A man gestures to the police as he takes part in a protest against the government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, as the lower house of parliament Bundestag discusses additions for the Infection Protection Act, in Berlin, Germany - Christian Mang/Reuters
A man gestures to the police as he takes part in a protest against the government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, as the lower house of parliament Bundestag discusses additions for the Infection Protection Act, in Berlin, Germany - Christian Mang/Reuters
People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tokyo - Eugene Hoshiko/AP
People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tokyo - Eugene Hoshiko/AP

09:14 AM

Experts will use Israel as vaccine acid test

Professor Adam Finn, from the JCVI, said real-world data from Israel and the UK "where there are a lot of people who've been immunised" will show whether jabs work against variants.

He said experts will be "looking very hard to see if there are any cases occurring among people who've been immunised and whether these particular variants are more likely to show up in that context".

09:05 AM

'As we become immune... variants will predominate'

Regarding the variant first found in India, Professor Adam Finn, from the JCVI, said that "as we all gradually become immune, either from being infected or being vaccinated, then variants of the virus that can resist that immunity will predominate - they'll have an advantage over the old versions if you like."

He said he was "somewhere in between" on what would happen with vaccines and variants, adding: "I don't think that we're going to see a complete collapse and 'back to square one' situation.

"I think that the immunity that we've got already from infection and vaccines will continue to be useful, but it will get eroded and there will come a point where we need to reformulate vaccines to keep up with changes in the virus."

On Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine and a link with rare blood clots, Prof Finn said it was important that people were kept up to date,

"We do need people to be confident that they're being told the whole story about these vaccines. We'd all like them to be perfect. They are very, very effective but there are a couple of them showing signs of these very rare side effects and it's important that people know about that so that they understand the whole picture.

"But I would emphasise that these vaccines are very effective and these side effects are extremely rare."

08:52 AM

UK will see further wave of Covid, says expert

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the Prime Minister was right that the UK will see a further wave of Covid-19 cases.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm afraid he is right yes. The models that we've seen on JCVI clearly point to a summer surge in cases as the lockdown is relaxed, because there are still many people in the adult population who've not been immunised and who will therefore start to transmit the infection between each other."

He said there was "quite a wide range of uncertainty" over how big the wave will be "because it depends on how quickly the vaccine rollout continues forward, the supplies of vaccine and so on, and how many people come forward to receive vaccination, and also it depends on how people behave as the lockdown is gradually relaxed.

"If people move too far forward with that too fast, we'll see things start to come up earlier. The sense that the problem is all over, I'm afraid.. is a flawed one, we're still in a vulnerable situation, and there are still significant numbers of people who potentially could be harmed by this infection if this happens."

Asked if the next changes planned for May 17 may need to be adjusted, Prof Finn said: "This is a balancing act, isn't it? People want to have some kind of certainty and businesses want to know how to plan, but on the other hand I think it's always been presented as as a provisional timetable, based on what actually happens.

"I think if we do start to see significant rises in cases in some parts of the country, they may need to adjust back those dates in order to avoid the situation coming into effect. It's a bit hard to be definite about this because by definition it's uncertain."

08:50 AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

Health workers rest in between cremating Covid-19 victims in New Delhi, India - Manish Swarup/AP
Health workers rest in between cremating Covid-19 victims in New Delhi, India - Manish Swarup/AP
An indigenous woman wears protective mask reading Salles out, referring to Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, during a protest against President Jair Bolsonaro's mining politics regarding indigenous lands, outside the Ministry of the Environment building in Brasilia - Sergio Lima/AFP
An indigenous woman wears protective mask reading Salles out, referring to Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, during a protest against President Jair Bolsonaro's mining politics regarding indigenous lands, outside the Ministry of the Environment building in Brasilia - Sergio Lima/AFP

08:26 AM

UK must release full vaccine data to combat fears

The UK must release full data on its vaccination programme to overcome doubts about the AstraZeneca jab both at home and abroad, Tony Blair has said.

A new report by the former Labour prime minister’s think tank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, warns that by failing to publish data setting out who has received which vaccine the government is creating a vacuum where “misinformation, fear and confusion thrive”.

The report urges the government to release full data showing the number of people who have received which vaccine, the age profile of recipients, Covid hospitalisations and deaths as well as side effects in a bid to restore confidence in the “workhorse” AstraZeneca vaccine in the light of links to blood clots.

NHS England data on the vaccine roll out currently does not break down the data by vaccine type.

In the foreword to the report Mr Blair argues that data and the way it is presented is the most important tool in the fight against vaccine hesitancy. But while Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency publish useful data it is not sufficiently "comprehensive and persuasive in the light of the now global anxieties expressed about the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

The full story by Anne Gulland is here.

08:04 AM

J&J to deliver 200m vaccines to EU

US drug-maker Johnson and Johnson will resume its delivery of 200 million vaccine doses to the European Union after the EU Medicines Agency (EMA) said the positive effect of the jab greatly outweighs any side effects risks, writes Jack Parrock from Brussels.

The company itself decided to halt its delivery earlier this month after reports of people in the US getting blood clots following vaccination, similar to those which have plagued the AstraZeneca shot.

The EMA did conclude there is a “very rare but possible” risk of blood clots in people with low platelet count in their blood who take the vaccine.

Johnson and Johnson say the jab is 85% effective in preventing severe from Covid-19.

While it is less effective than others vaccines, it only requires on shot.

Brussels hopes the doses could now arrive before the end of April.

07:20 AM

NHS unable to contact almost 1m vulnerable people during pandemic

Almost a million clinically extremely vulnerable people who needed to shield during the pandemic could not be contacted by the NHS, the Public Accounts Committee has found.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Public Accounts Committee said the Government’s “quickly drawn up” scheme to support vulnerable people who were instructed to shield “suffered from the problems of poor data and a lack of joined-up systems that we see all too often in government programmes”.

It took the Government “too long” to identify some those who needed to be put on the list, the report found.

And up to 800,000 extremely clinically vulnerable people may have “slipped through the net and missed out on much-needed support” because they could not be reached by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.

Of those, almost half - 375,000 - could not be contacted due to missing or incorrect telephone numbers in their NHS records.

07:17 AM

Hundreds more Indian variants could be circulating

Former prime minister Tony Blair said vaccines remain the most important way out of the global pandemic, and insisted a report was imminent showing "if the world got its act together, we could vaccinate the entire world in 2021".

He added: "In India alone, you've got just within the last week, you've probably got hundreds of different variants, though most of them will be insignificant, but any of them that are significant, and then start to change the nature of the disease.

"If we're not careful, we're going to be chasing down the variants trying to keep up with vaccines, and that's going to be a really really difficult challenge so I think the priority right now is make sure that people understand this [AstraZeneca] is a great vaccine."

07:04 AM

Medics write to PM urging him to invest in NHS

Medics have written a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to massively increase investment in NHS staffing.

Groups and unions representing NHS workers have said increased demand for services due to coronavirus has led to a "chronic undersupply" in staffing and there are nearly 90,000 vacant posts.

The letter has been signed by the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers, the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and Unison, and states that "billions of extra funding" is needed.

The NHS has reported "high levels of staff stress and burnout as a direct impact of the pandemic" which threatens to further increase vacancies, according to the letter.

It adds that results from the biggest survey of NHS staff, published last month, show that almost two thirds believe there are not enough people in their organisations to enable them to do their job properly.

06:58 AM

India reaches record 2,000 Covid deaths in 24 hours amid growing fears over new variant

Indian authorities scrambled to shore up supplies of medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a fast-spreading second wave of coronavirus stretched medical infrastructure to breaking point, officials and doctors said.

India, the world's second most populous country, is reporting the world's highest number of new daily cases and approaching a peak of about 297,000 cases in one day that the United States hit in January.

The latest date released by the health ministry showed there had been 295,041 new infections nationwide overnight and 2,023 deaths, India's highest in the pandemic.

Delhi's government hospitals reported they only had enough oxygen to last another eight to 24 hours while some private ones had enough for just four or five hours.

It comes as a variant from India remains under investigation after more than 70 cases were detected in the UK.

06:44 AM

PM 'personally promised Sir James Dyson he would "fix" tax issue'

Boris Johnson personally promised Sir James Dyson he would "fix" an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur, it has been reported.

The BBC said it has seen a series of text messages between the two men after Sir James was unable to get the assurances he was seeking from the Treasury.

The exchanges took place in March last year at the start of the pandemic when the Government was appealing to firms to supply ventilators amid fears the NHS could run out.

The Government said it was right to secure equipment for the NHS in "extraordinary times" while Sir James said it was "absurd to suggest that his firm was doing anything other than seeking to comply with Treasury rules".

Sir James, whose firm is now based in Singapore, wrote to the Treasury asking for an assurance that his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the project.

However, when he failed to receive a reply, the BBC said he took up the matter directly with the Prime Minister.

06:27 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Apr 21.

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06:01 AM

Thai PM says 35m vaccine more doses sought for this year

Thailand is trying to secure 35 million more doses of Covid-19 vaccines from two or three firms this year on top of existing orders of around 65 million doses, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Wednesday.

Of the new shots sought, the private sector through the Chamber of Commerce will help source some 10 to 15 million doses, Prayuth said in a Facebook post.

"I have ordered that we distribute and administer all the vaccines that we can find by December," he added.

Prayuth did not name the brands, or specify whether the 35 million included the five to 10 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine that he announced were being sought on Tuesday.

05:40 AM

UK households take bigger financial hit than Germany and France

British households are far more likely to have seen their incomes severely hit by Covid-19 lockdowns than those in Germany and France, a report has found.

The Resolution Foundation said that while typical household incomes between the three countries were broadly similar prior to the crisis, the impact of longer lockdowns, income inequality and soaring unemployment has hit the UK hardest.

Published on Wednesday, the report says that while UK households were just as likely to have been impacted by unemployment as those in France, they have experienced a “far bigger living standards hit” than both countries.

Read the full story

05:24 AM

South Korea looks to US for vaccine aid

South Korea's foreign minister said on Wednesday he hopes the US will help Seoul address its Covid-19 vaccine shortage as a return in favour of test kits and masks it sent to Washington earlier in the pandemic.

The request comes as the South Korean government has come under fire from local media for not doing enough to secure enough vaccines early. It has inoculated just 3 per cent of its population due to tight global supply and limited access.

"We have been stressing to the US that 'a friend in need is a friend indeed'," Chung Eui-yong told reporters at the Kwanhun Club, a representative association of journalists in South Korea.

He said South Korea had airlifted Washington a large volume of coronavirus test kits and face masks in the early stages of the pandemic "in the spirit of the special South Korea-US alliance", even as domestic supply was very tight.

04:55 AM

India records 2,000 deaths and 295,041 infections in 24 hours

India reported more than 2,000 deaths from Covid-19 over the last 24 hours, the highest single-day tally for the country so far, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Coronavirus infections also rose by a record, increasing by 295,041 over the last 24 hours, the data showed. Total deaths reached 182,553.

India's overall case tally is now at 15.6 million, second only to the United States, which has over 31 million infections.

04:14 AM

Japan mulls state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka as cases surge

Japan's government is considering a state of emergency for Tokyo and Osaka as new Covid-19 case numbers surge, broadcaster NHK reported on Wednesday, a move that would enable the giant cities to impose curbs to try to stop infections spreading.

With thousands of new cases resulting from highly infectious strains of the virus, the government is expected to declare the state of emergency this week for the capital and Osaka, Japan's second-biggest city, as well as the latter's neighbouring Hyogo prefecture, a number of domestic media outlets reported.

The latest rise in infections has stoked alarm, coming just three months before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics and amid a sluggish vaccination roll-out.

People wearing protective masks swarm the Takeshita Street at Harajuku, a youngster fashion town In Tokyo - KIMIMASA MAYAMA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
People wearing protective masks swarm the Takeshita Street at Harajuku, a youngster fashion town In Tokyo - KIMIMASA MAYAMA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

03:44 AM

Colombia greenlights private sector to buy and apply vaccines

Colombia on Tuesday gave the green light for the private sector to buy and distribute coronavirus vaccines under certain conditions, in a bid to expand the country's slow-moving immunisation campaign.

President Ivan Duque said in his daily television address that after several studies, the ministry of health had drafted a resolution "that enables the purchase [of vaccines] and the contribution of the private sector to the national vaccination plan".

Any party buying vaccines must be endorsed by the health ministry and guarantee delivery using their own logistics chains so as not to be a burden on the public sector. They must also abide by guidelines to ensure the most vulnerable sectors of the community are the first to receive the shots.

"This should not be a matter of business, intermediaries, or unknown persons... but rather be carried out through specialised distributors," Mr Duque said.

03:16 AM

Exercise cuts risk of dying from Covid by more than a third, study finds

Regular exercise cuts the risk of dying from infectious diseases such as Covid-19 by more than a third, according to new research.

An international team of scientists found 150 minutes a week of physical activity that gets you slightly out of breath can have a massive impact on immunity.

It suggests exercise can reduce fatalities by 37 per cent, the danger of even catching similar diseases by 31 per cent and boost the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 40 per cent.

Professor Sebastien Chastin, who led the study, said: "You don't need to go to a gym, as dancing around the living room, going for a run or walk is just as effective. In this period of pandemic being outside is better than in a gym or closed environment. The clear message is 'stay active' - it's not only good for your mental and general health, but we now have the proof that it is also good for boosting your immunity."

Read more: How to stop midlife spread – in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond

12:53 AM

EU agency says clot 'very rare' J&J vaccine side effect

Europe's medicines regulator said on Tuesday that blood clots should be listed as a "very rare" side effect of Johnson & Johnson's accine, but that the benefits of the shot still outweighed the risks.

The US is expected to announce its decision on the single-shot J&J vaccine by Friday, as nations around the world urgently try to accelerate inoculation campaigns and revive their pandemic-ravaged economies.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) assessment came as an EU official promised to have enough doses available to vaccinate 70 per cent of European adults by the summer - a boon for the continent's sluggish rollout.

After reviewing isolated cases of clotting among people who received the vaccine, EMA's safety committee said it found a "possible link" to the jab.

The regulator said its safety committee "concluded that a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be added to the product information" for the J&J shot.

12:46 AM

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