Coronavirus latest news: Boris Johnson warns we 'can't delude ourselves Covid has gone away'

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Sarah Newey
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The Prime Minister has warned that the UK cannot "delude ourselves" into thinking that the threat of coronavirus has disappeared, as infections surge to new heights internationally.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said that the UK's vaccination programme is making a "big difference" in the fight against the virus, "helping to reduce suffering and save lives potentially on a very big scale."

But he also struck a cautious note, warning that we "don't yet know the full extent of the protection that we're building up or the exact strength of our defences".

He also hinted to the global picture, which is increasingly dire. According to the World Health Organization, cases globally rose for the eighth week in a row last week - with 5.2 million cases reported, the biggest number ever recorded in a seven days.

The surge is largely driven by sharp upticks in countries including India and Brazil.

"As we look at what's happening in other countries with record cases around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away," Mr Johnson said, adding that the "majority of scientific opinion in this country" is that there will be another wave of Covid at some point this year.

But, on a slightly more optimistic note, the Prime Minister suggested there remains "nothing in the data" to suggest the need to deviate from the "cautious but irreversible" roadmap previously outlined.

And he stressed that vaccines and new therapeutics - the Government has unveiled plans to push for an antiviral pill that can be taken at home - will help the UK to live with the disease.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:41 PM

Today in brief - UK headlines

Here's a quick roundup of today's top stories in the UK:

  • At least 100 people are trying to enter the country each day with a "fake Covid certificate", MPs have heard, as documentation is easy to forge.

  • The Prime Minister warned that the UK cannot "delude ourselves" into thinking that the threat of coronavirus has disappeared, as infections surge to new heights internationally. More than 5.2 million cases, a record, were reported last week.

  • He also unveiled a new government antivirals taskforce to help identify new treatments for Covid-19. The aim is to have a tablet ready by autumn that can be taken at home to prevent severe disease.

  • Vaccine uptake from all ethnic minority backgrounds has tripled since February, outpacing the national average, according to the medical director of primary care for NHS England, Dr Nikita Kanani (full round up from the Downing street press conference at 6:17pm).

  • Rates of suspected suicides in England did not rise following the first coronavirus lockdown, according to analysis of early figures.

  • Deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen by 97 per cent since the second-wave peak, the latest ONS figures show.

  • Beer gardens, cafes, shops and gyms are to reopen in Scotland on Monday as Nicola Sturgeon confirmed lockdown easing will go ahead as planned.

  • Meanwhile in Wales, coronavirus restrictions look set to be further relaxed from Saturday, with six people from different households able to meet outdoors.

  • The UK and Israel are considering opening a "green travel corridor", Israel's Foreign Ministry said. Michael Gove and Jonathan Van Tam are currently in Israel examining their vaccine certificate scheme.

05:35 PM

Watch: Boris Johnson urges people to continue following 'sensible' lockdown rules

05:25 PM

Mass Covid testing is a 'waste of time and money', MPs warned

The Government’s mass testing plan has been criticised as a waste of “time and money”, as MPs heard in some areas 10,000 people would need to be tested to find one positive case.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus heard evidence from experts on the benefits of mass testing using lateral flow tests (LFTs) for controlling the pandemic and hosting large events.

Seven days worth of rapid tests were made available for everyone in England for free earlier this month, through both an online ordering system and a new "Pharmacy Collect" service.

Layla Moran, chair of the APPG, said mass testing “seems to be the panacea at the moment” for the Government, but questioned “how reliable is it?”

Professor Jon Deeks said there is “no evidence” to show mass testing works. “For this mass test, the Innova test, we have the Liverpool study and the University of Birmingham study, that’s a total of 78 cases where we know how well it detects (positive cases)," he said.

“That is absolutely outrageous that we are now testing the whole population based effectively on data from 78 people, which actually showed it doesn’t work very well."

Lizzie Roberts has more details on this story here.

05:20 PM

France ICU at 2021 high; Netherlands scraps curfew

Two quick updates from Europe. New data from France's health authorities shows that additional 14 patients had been take to intensive care units with Covid-19, bringing the total to a new 2021 high of 5,984, as the country fights a surge of infections.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced that the government will ease its lockdown measures meant to control the spread of the coronavirus as of next week - despite still-high infection rates.

A nationwide nighttime curfew, which has been in place for three months, will be lifted as of April 28, Rutte said, while restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve customers in outdoor seating areas.

05:17 PM

What did we learn from the Downing Street briefing?

The briefing with Dr Nikita Kanani and Boris Johnson came to a close roughly half an hour ago, and included questions on climate change, football and Jennifer Arcuri. But here's a recap on the key Covid-related snippets:

  • The Prime Minister warned that the UK cannot "delude ourselves" into thinking that the threat of coronavirus has disappeared, as infections surge to new heights internationally.

  • But Mr Johnson added that he currently sees no reason to deviate from the roadmap outlined previously - though he warned the "majority of scientific opinion" predicts the UK will see another wave at some point this year.

  • He also unveiled a new government antivirals taskforce to help identify new treatments for Covid-19. The aim is to have a tablet ready by autumn that can be taken at home to prevent severe disease.

  • Dr Kanani said vaccine uptake from all ethnic minority backgrounds has tripled since February, outpacing the national average. Take-up among people from a Pakistani background is more than four times higher, while there has been a five-fold increase among those with a Bangladeshi background.

  • She added that she "will not stand" for protests against vaccinations, after an incident outside a mobile vaccination unit in Nottingham.

  • Mr Johnson said that India being placed on the travel red list was on a "purely precautionary basis" amid the variant first discovered there, and stressed the "double mutation" variant is categorised as "under investigation", not "of concern".

  • The Prime Minister also said the red list is "under constant review" and declined to speculate on which countries may be on the green list for travel come May.

  • Asked about Michael Gove and Jonathan Van Tam's trip to Israel, Mr Johnson said "any responsible government" had to look into vaccination certificates to reopen parts of the economy that remained closed last summer.

  • And finally, Mr Johnson and Dr Kanani said that the Government was "confident" in vaccine supplies when asked if a possible link betwen the J&J jab and very rare blood clots could affect the UK's vaccine rollout. The jab hasn't been approved yet in Britain.

05:05 PM

India's Modi postpones trip to Portugal

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called off a visit to Portugal next month for a meeting with the European Union leaders, amid surging coronavirus cases at home.

India's External Affairs Ministry says that, in consulation with the EU and Portugal leadership, to hold the meeting in a virtual form on May 8.

Indian media reports say Modi had planned to visit France after the Portugal meeting.

It comes after Boris Johnson called off a trip to New Delhi yesterday due to the worsening situation in India. The two governments say Johnson and Modi would speak later this month and planned to meet in person later this year.

India's Health Ministry today reported 259,170 new infections and 1,761 confirmed deaths in the past 24 hours - the country has now recorded daily infections above the 200,000 mark for six days.

04:55 PM

'It didn't hurt': Mexican President gets AstraZenenca vaccine

Turning to international developments once again: Mexico's President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, received the AstraZeneca vaccine today, hoping to boost trust in vaccines after several countries limited the use of shot due to suspected links to rare blood clots.

Lopez Obrador, 67, has said the benefits of getting inoculated outweighed the risks of the low-cost shot - which is a core pillar of Mexico's vaccination strategy.

Ahead of rolling up his sleeve for the shot at the end of his regular daily news conference, Lopez Obrador said he wanted to encourage all older adults to also get their shots to be protected from the coronavirus.

"We're sure there is no risk, no danger, that there are no serious side effects," he said, without specifically naming AstraZeneca. "It didn't hurt, right now I'm feeling very good."

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gets a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 during his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace  - AP Photo/Fernando Llano
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gets a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19 during his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace - AP Photo/Fernando Llano

Lopez Obrador added that his government is tracking vaccine studies being carried out worldwide.

Mexico's health regulator said earlier this month that it did not plan to limit the use of the two-shot vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, but was looking into information from Britain's vaccine advisory committee.

The committee has said an alternative to AstraZeneca should be given to people under 30 where possible.

04:48 PM

Covid treatment tablets could be available to take at home by autumn

This story was mentioned by Boris Johnson at this afternoon's coronavirus briefing, but my colleague Ben Riley-Smith has more details below (full article here):

Tablets that can be taken at home to treat Covid-19 could be available as early as the autumn thanks to a new government drive to improve treatments.

The aim is for at least two effective treatments for Covid to be developed by the end of the year which could be taken either in a tablet or capsule form.

The drugs would be taken at home after testing positive for the virus rather than in the hospital, freeing up pressure on hospitals for only the most severe cases.

If successful the scheme would improve recovery times for people who catch Covid-19 and ensure fewer people get severely ill with the virus.

A new “antivirals taskforce” is being created by the Government, similar to the vaccines taskforce which has had such success rolling out jabs across Britain.

04:35 PM

Dr Nikita Kanani: UK confident of vaccine supply despite J&J concerns

Following more questions on football and the European Super League, a question on the statement from the European Medicines Agency highlighting a "possible link" between the J&J vaccine and rare blood clots.

The jab is not yet approved in the UK, but will this affect future plans?

The Prime Minister says he's confident in the UK's supply, while Dr Nikita Kanani adds that the UK will wait for a decision from our regulators and deploy the jab based on that guidance.

She repeats that right now if you're offered a vaccine, take it, because "we have the supply to vaccinate you if you are eligible".

And then, following a couple of questions on climate change and one on Johnson's relationship with Jennifer Arcuri - which the Prime Minister dodges - the press conference comes to a close.

04:32 PM

Boris Johnson: 'Premature' to speculate on summer holidays

Next up, what are the odds of being able to enjoy holidays in Europe this summer?

"I'd love to give you and your readers a clear rundown of the countries that we think may be either red, amber or green," says Boris Johnson. "but at this stage we aren't able to do that."

He says the global travel task force has already said it will wait until early May before it sets out which countries are on the list.

"You can see some of the troubles and the problems for some of our friends are currently having. So I think it'd be premature to speculate," the Prime Minister says.

04:27 PM

Boris Johnson: 'Any responsible' government would look at vaccine certificates

The next question links to Michael Gove and Jonathan Van Tam's trip to Israel, to see how their vaccine certificate system operates. Can we therefore assume a similar initiative will be introduced here?

Boris Johnson says that people "certainly" will not need a vaccination certificate for the next stage of unlocking on May 17, but that "any responsible government" needs to look at ways of using vaccination status to open elements of the economy that proved "very tough to open last year".

He adds that any initiative would not focus exclusively on vaccination status, but also include testing as well.

04:24 PM

Boris Johnson: Lots of Covid treatments already 'in our locker'

The first question from the media comes from the BBC, who ask why it took so long to put India on the red list?

The Prime Minister stresses that the "double mutation" variant found in the country is still a variant under investigation, not a variant of concern. "I think that was why there was a delay", he says.

"I want to stress that even before that measure, we have measures in place for everybody coming from India that are very, very tough indeed," Boris Johnson added.

The next coronavirus question (head over to the politics liveblog for updates on football and climate change), is about antivirals. Does the government know which might be available as tablets by autumn?

Mr Johnson says we already have several "in our locker" including dexamethasone and several others he struggles to pronounce, handing over to Dr Nikita Kanani.

She says the NHS has been working internationally to identify effective treatments for Covid, and 22,000 lives have been saved thanks to dexamethasone so far in the UK alone.

In terms of the future pipeline, Dr Kanani says there are a "number of treatments" being tested and refined but that is being expanded. This should allow the UK to "ramp up pace on the use of antivirals, particularly in the community and at home".

04:18 PM

Boris Johnson: Red list under constant review

The first question from the public comes asks whether the government has numbers of new admissions and deaths involving people who have received a coronavirus vaccination.

Dr Nikita Kanani says that the figures "aren't triangulated every week", but the government does publish data that includes safety alerts post vaccination.

"We're able to look at those and understand what that means and how that influences the vaccine programme," she says.

Boris Johnson adds that people will die after a vaccination from causes unrelated to the jab.

The next question is about how regularly the red list will be reviewed once international travel resumes on May 17.

"We keep the list under constant review," says Mr Johnson, adding that these decisions are taken by the Joint Biosecurity Centre. "They will make the determination based on what they think we need."

04:14 PM

Dr Nikita Kanani: Vaccine uptake more than triples among ethnic minorities

The medical director of primary care for NHS England, Dr Nikita Kanani, is now delivering her statement on vaccines. She says the programme is going from "strength to strength" and the public response has been "incredible".

She adds that 10 million people have been fully protected - equivalent to the population of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol combined.

But she added that she will "not stand" for protests against vaccinators.

"I heard today that a group of people were protesting outside a moile vaccination bus in Nottingham. I want to say now that we will not stand for it. It is of vital importance that you allow our colleagues to do their job," Dr Kanani said.

She also stressed that it is never too late to come forward for a vaccine, and said that there has been "significant progress" in encouraging uptake among people from ethnic minority backgrounds in recent months, with uptake more than tripling.

She said update among people from a Pakistani background is more than four times higher than February, while it is five times higher among those with a Bangladeshi background.

04:09 PM

Johnson: A pill at home could be the future of Covid treatment

But carrying on from the less optimistic final point of the previous post, the Prime Minister says that the Government is investing in tools to fight the virus so we can "bolster our defences" and learn to live with Covid-19.

In particular, Boris Johnson announces that the Government is taking a new antivirals taskforce to "search for the most promising new medicines and support their development through clinical trials". The aim is to make them widely available by autumn.

Johnson says this means that if you test positive, there might be a table you could take at home "to stop the virus in it's tracks" and reduce the chance of severe disease.

04:07 PM

Johnson: Can't delude ourselves that Covid has gone away

The Prime Minister says that the vaccination programme is making a "big difference" in the fight against Covid-19, "helping to reduce suffering and save lives potentially on a very big scale."

But he warns: "We don't yet know the full extent of the protection that we're building up, the exact strength of our defences. And as we look at what's happening in other countries with record cases around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away."

Yet the Prime Minister says that there is "nothing in the data" suggesting that we will have to deviate from the "cautious but irreversible" roadmap previously outlined.

"But the majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some wave this year."

04:04 PM

Johnson: 19 out of 20 people come forward for second jab

The country is continuing to make progress in the fight against Covid, says Boris Johnson, as he kicks off today's coronavirus briefing alongside Dr Nikita Kanani.

He thanks parents "for the incredible work you're doing to help teachers", before also thanking those involved in the vaccination rollout - especially "those coming forward in huge numbers".

He says that 19 out of 20 people who have had their first jab are coming forward for their second. In total 33 million people have had their first jab - inculding 60 per cent of 45 to 49 year olds.

03:52 PM

Global news update ahead of Boris Johnson briefing

The Prime Minister will lead a coronavirus briefing at around 5pm, alongside the medical director of primary care for NHS England, Dr Nikita Kanani. We will be covering the briefing here and you can watch live at the top of the blog.

But in the meantime let's take a look at what's happening elsewhere in the world:

  • Swedes under 65 who have had one shot of AstraZeneca's vaccine will be given a different vaccine for their second dose.

  • Lockdown measures in the Netherlands are expected to be eased from next week as pressure to reopen society mounts despite still-high infection rates, Dutch broadcasters reported.

  • In New Zealand, an Auckland airport worker has tested positive for Covid-19 but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it will not affect the newly opened travel bubble with Australia.

  • India, the country currently being hit hardest by the pandemic, on Tuesday reported its worst daily death toll, with large parts of the country now under lockdown amid a fast-rising second wave of infections.

  • Officials in the county said they hope the US will soon lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials that threatens to slow its inoculation drive.

  • Nepal gave conditional approval for the emergency use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, as the country recorded the highest daily increase of infections in four months.

  • Yemen's Covid-19 vaccination campaign has started in government-held areas, three weeks after the first shipment from the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme arrived in the war-torn country.

  • And finally, Colombia and Peru have both recorded their worst days yet in terms of number of deaths since the pandemic began. Cases have surged in South America recently, blamed in part by the infectious P1 variant which originated in Brazil.

03:47 PM

France starts testing digital Covid travel pass in EU first

France has become the first EU country to test a coronavirus digital travel pass ahead of a planned rollout in the 27-member bloc to allow travel to resume by the summer, Anna Pujol-Mazzini reports.

The contact-tracing app Tous Anti Covid ("all against Covid") has been updated to allow users to store coronavirus test results and vaccination certificates will be included from next week.

"Last summer, the holidays became complete chaos. This summer, I hope we will regain our freedom thanks to vaccination, our own responsibility and the health certificate," said Clement Beaune, France's minister for European affairs, on French TV.

The scheme, due to be extended across Europe by June, will allow people who are vaccinated, immunised after a Covid infection or those who have a negative test to travel.

The experiment will initially be limited to flights between mainland France and Corsica, before being extended to overseas French territories.

The health pass could eventually be used to allow entry into festivals, concerts and professional fairs, Cédric O, the secretary of state for digital transition, told Le Monde. It will not be used in bars or restaurants, he added.

03:40 PM

'Dramatic deterioration' of press freedom during the pandemic

There's been a "dramatic deterioration" of press freedom since the pandemic started to tear across the world, Reporters Without Borders has warned in its annual report.

The group's World Press Freedom Index, which evaluated the press situations in 180 countries, painted a stark picture and concluded that 73 per cent of the world's nations have serious issues with media freedoms.

It says countries have used the coronavirus pandemic, which erupted in China in late 2019, "as grounds to block journalists' access to information, sources and reporting in the field." This is particularly the case in Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said:

"Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation. Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors.

"In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts."

03:30 PM

EMA: Doctors need to be aware of symptoms of very rare blood clots

At a European Medicines Agency press conference running though the "possible link" between the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine and very rare blood clots, experts have said it's critical that doctors and patients are aware of the symptoms.

It comes after the EMA published a statement saying that while there is a connection between the J&J jab and rare blood cltos with low blood platelets, the benefits of the jab outweigh any risks.

"This is a very rare effect but it also makes it very important for doctors and patients to be aware of the signs so that they can spot any concerns and seek specialist help as soon as possible," said EMA head Emer Cooke. "Early intervention by specialists can change the outcome."

She added that the EMA decision today "will allow vaccination programs in member states to take decisions on how to roll out this vaccine based on their national situation" - including infections, hospitalisations, vaccine availability and ICU admissions.

Kai Kupferschmidt, a journalist for Science Magazine, has been live tweeting the press conference. Below is a snippet detailing symptoms; follow all his updates here.

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03:21 PM

UK figures: 33 deaths an 2,524 new infections

A further 33 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, according to Government figures, bringing the UK total to 127,307.

This compares to 23 additional fatalities last Tuesday and just four yesterday - though numbers are often lower on Monday's due to a weekend lag.

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 todayy, there had been a further 2,524 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, compared to 2,471 infections last Tuesday. In total, 4,393,307 have now tested positive since the pandemic began,

Meanwhile in vaccine news, the latest figures show that more than 33 million people in the UK have had their first jab - 33,032,120, to be precise. 10,425,790 have also had their second.

03:17 PM

WHO: 'Big numbers can make us numb'

The pandemic has reached new peaks globally, the director general of the World Health Organization has warned, after the number of cases globally rose for the eighth week in a row last week - with 5.2 million cases reported, the most ever recorded in a single week.

"Big numbers can make us numb. But each one of these cases is a tragedy for families, communities and nations," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"If we apply the tools we have, consistently and equitably, we can bring this pandemic under control," he added.

Dr Tedros also warned that numbers were rising "at an alarming rate" in those aged 25 to 29 “possibly as a result of highly transmissible variants, and increased social mixing among younger adults”.

Read more here, or watch his comments below:

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03:00 PM

Yemen starts Covid-19 vaccination campaign

Yemen's Covid-19 vaccination campaign began in government-held areas today, three weeks after the first shipment from the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme arrived in the war-torn country.

Yemen received 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine on March 31 , part of a consignment from Covid expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.

The campaign kicked of in the southern port city of Aden, the government's interim capital in a six-year-old war. The health minister and the Yemen representative for Unicef, Philippe Duamelle, received shots in a show of confidence in the vaccine.

Mr Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritised.

The campaign follows a dramatic spike in confirmed and suspected new coronvairus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by war, economic collapse and, recently, a shortfall in humanitarian aid funding.

A Yemeni medic prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in al-Maala district of the southern city of Aden - SALEH OBAIDI/AFP
A Yemeni medic prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in al-Maala district of the southern city of Aden - SALEH OBAIDI/AFP

02:57 PM

Cornwall calling: G7 to meet face-to-face for first time in two years

G7 foreign and development ministers will hold their first face-to-face meeting in two years, as part of the UK's presidency.

The last meeting of foreign ministers from the world's leading economic powers took place in the seaside resort of Dinard, northwest France, in April 2019. Contact since then has been forced online by Covid.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said strict Covid-secure measures, including daily testing, would be in place for the meeting, which takes place in London from May 3 to 5.

The meeting was "an opportunity to show how the world’s biggest democracies work together" on range of issues, including "equitable access to vaccines", he said.

The summit will take place in Cornwall in June. Last year's event, which was meant to take place in the US, was cancelled.

02:35 PM

Breaking: EMA find possible link with J&J jab and rare blood clotting

Europe's drug regulator has said it has found a possible link between Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine and rare blood clotting issues in adults who had received the shot in the United States.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its safety committee concluded that a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be added to the vaccine's labels. But it still concluded that the overall benefits of the vaccine "outweigh the risks of side effects".

The EMA found that all instances had occurred in adults under 60 years, mostly women, within three weeks of vaccination, adding that all available evidence, including eight reports of cases in the United States - where seven million have had the jab - were part of its assessment.

Officials also said these cases were "were very similar to the cases that occurred with the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca".

02:34 PM

Pandemic in pictures

New Delhi, India:

Migrant workers wait to get on a bus at a station in New Delhi and head home as aa record-breaking spike in coronavirus infections forces the capital into a week-long lockdown -  SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP
Migrant workers wait to get on a bus at a station in New Delhi and head home as aa record-breaking spike in coronavirus infections forces the capital into a week-long lockdown - SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

Dresden, Germany:

Harpist Sarah Christ performs in a COVID-19 rapid test centre which is located in the Palace of Culture amid the coronavirus pandemic - REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel
Harpist Sarah Christ performs in a COVID-19 rapid test centre which is located in the Palace of Culture amid the coronavirus pandemic - REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel

Glasgow, Scotland:

Jacek Wiklo conservator at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow dusts the cars on the car wall ahead of the museum re-opening on Monday as lockdown restrictions in Scotland have begun to gradually ease - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Jacek Wiklo conservator at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow dusts the cars on the car wall ahead of the museum re-opening on Monday as lockdown restrictions in Scotland have begun to gradually ease - Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Los Angeles, United States:

California National Guard personnel wheel a deceased person lying on a gurney to a secondary temporary refrigerated storage facility - REUTERS
California National Guard personnel wheel a deceased person lying on a gurney to a secondary temporary refrigerated storage facility - REUTERS

02:26 PM

South Africa regulators 'comfortable' to reuse J&J vaccine, says government

South Africa is days away from announcing a decision to resume inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the health minister has sai, following recommendations by a regulatory authority.

The country, the worst affected by the pandemic on the continent, last week suspended its vaccination drive over potential blood clotting risks reported by the United States.

At the weekend the medicines regulatory body South African Health Products Regulatory Agency (SAHPRA) advised that the vaccinations should be resumed.

"They (SAHPRA) are feeling comfortable that we can proceed," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said at a Johannesburg public hospital that was recently gutted by fire.

"We are quite comfortable that this matter is going to be resolved in such a way that in a few days' time we should be able to indicate that the J&J process will proceed."

So far South Africa has immunised around 290,000 people, mostly health care workers, since February.

In a separate statement the health ministry said it would be able to vaccinate at least 46.2 million people out of the population of around 58 million by the by the end of March 2022 - provided manufacturers deliver on time.

02:12 PM

Nepal approves Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine

Nepal has given conditional approval for the emergency use of the Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, an official of the drug regulator said, as the country recorded the highest daily increase of infections in four months.

Nepal began is vaccination campaign in January with AstraZeneca vaccines provided by India but suspended it last month following lack of supply.

“Conditional permission has been granted for emergency use authorization of Russia’s Sputnik V in Nepal,” Santosh K.C, a senior official in the Department of Drug Administration, told Reuters.

02:06 PM

Battle against malaria boosted by 1.7 million jabs in pilot scheme

More than 1.7 million doses of the world's first malaria vaccine have now been administered in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the World Health Organization has revealed, benefiting more than 650,000 children.

The launch of a pilot programme for the jab started two years ago, and is considered hugely important as global progress in malaria control is stalling.

The disease remains one of the biggest killers of children in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 per cent of the 400,000 malaria deaths reported in 2019 took place.

“Over the last two decades, we have achieved remarkable results with existing malaria control tools, averting more than seven million deaths and 1.5 billion cases of the disease,” says Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.

“However, progress towards key targets of our global malaria strategy remains off course. To get back on track, new tools are urgently needed – and malaria vaccines must be a critical component of the overall toolkit.”

Over the last year there have been concerns that the pandemic has led to an added 40-50,000 malaria deaths, as resources have been diverted.

While this is far lower than dire initial predictions last March, expert say efforts to tackle the infectious disease must remain on a "worst-case scenario" footing this year (read more about that here).

01:57 PM

Government faces questions over Tory links to £100m PPE contract

The Government faces possible legal action after a former Conservative parliamentary candidate was revealed as the contact for a £100 million deal for personal protective equipment.

The contract to supply face masks was awarded in July 2020 to Pharmaceuticals Direct Ltd without any competition, although details were not published until March.

The Good Law Project, which is investigating how coronavirus contracts were awarded, said details of the deal were only disclosed after it wrote to the Government.

The company's representative was Samir Jassal, who twice stood as a Conservative candidate at general elections and has met Boris Johnson and David Cameron.

Boris Johnson visits a Sikh temple in London with Samir Jassal (right) - Pete Maclaine / i-Images
Boris Johnson visits a Sikh temple in London with Samir Jassal (right) - Pete Maclaine / i-Images

The Department of Health and Social Care said due diligence was carried out on every contract and ministers had no involvement in awarding them. It said all contracts are published online, in line with transparency arrangements.

But the BBC reported that even when the £102.6 million deal involving was finally published, the contact details for the supplier were blacked out.

However, in what appears to have been a clerical error, a separate document published with the contract gives Mr Jassal's name as the "supplier's contact".

01:51 PM

Recap: Covid deaths in over-80s have fallen by 97pc since second wave peak

Deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen by 97 percent since the second-wave peak, the latest ONS figures suggest.

A total of 172 Covid-19 deaths in the 80-and-over age group occurred in England and Wales in the week ending April 2, down from 5,361 deaths in the week ending January 22.

Deaths for those aged 75-79 and 70-74 also dropped 97 percent in the same period, compared with falls of 95 percent for those aged 65-69 and 93 percent for those aged 60-64.

Deaths that occurred in the most recent week of reporting - the week to April 9 - are still being registered

01:37 PM

Dutch set to ease lockdown despite high infection rates

Lockdown measures in the Netherlands look set to be eased from next week as pressure to reopen society mounts despite still-high coronavirus infection rates, Dutch broadcasters have reported.

A nationwide nighttime curfew that has been in place for three months will be lifted on April 28, broadcasters NOS and RTL said, citing government sources, while bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve small groups on outdoor terraces between noon and 6pm.

The Netherlands has been in varying stages of lockdown for more than six months, as all bars and restaurants have been closed since mid-October and public gatherings of more than two people are banned.

Despite these measures, coronavirus infections and the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital wards and intensive care units have climbed to their highest levels since January in recent weeks.

Infections increased by five per cent in the week through Tuesday to almost 54,000, health authorities said, as pressure on hospitals and other caretakers remained high.

But the national hospital association yesterday indicated that the worst of the third wave of infections might be over as the number of new patients admitted fell slightly in the past week and coronavirus vaccinations among the elderly are gathering steam.

01:30 PM

Matt Hancock: 'Absolutely vital' UK prepares for future pandemics

Matt Hancock has said it is "absolutely vital" that the world is prepared for future pandemics, as he champions the UK role in staying ahead of ongoing public health threats.

In a speech opening a two-day conference, taking place under the UK’s presidency of the G7, the Health Secretary admitted that dealing with Covid had been "painfully expensive, not just in how much we’ve had to spend, but the hit to our economies too".

Putting in better groundwork would ensure we "do it differently and do it better – with more targeted, more inventive and more sustainable financing initiatives," he added.

"It is absolutely vital that in the peacetime, when there is not a pandemic on the horizon, we can bring in the financing that can ensure we stay prepared," said Mr Hancock.

01:13 PM

US adds 80 per cent of the planet to Do Not Travel list

The US has added some 130 countries to its Do Not Travel list, accounting for 80 per cent of the planet, raising concerns the country will not open a transatlantic corridor with the UK in May.

The United States' State Department said the Covid-19 pandemic "continues to pose unprecedented risks to travellers" and urged Americans to "reconsider all travel abroad". Travel to the remaining 20 per cent of countries is also discouraged.

The full list of banned destinations has not yet been made public, with guidance for each individual country expected next week, however, it dashes hopes for the introduction of a UK-US travel corridor from May 17, when the UK Government intends to resume overseas travel.

The UK is due to confirm its "green" list of countries on May 10, with the US expected to be one of the few places Britons can visit without the need to quarantine on return, but there has not yet been any official confirmation.

Follow all these updates over on our travel liveblog.

01:07 PM

Around 100 people try to enter UK with 'fake Covid certificates' every day

Around 100 people are trying to enter the country each day with a "fake Covid certificate", as documents claiming a traveller has a recent negative test result are "very easy" to forge, MPs have been told at a parliamentary briefing.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents border immigration and customs staff in the UK, also said there is "little to no" evidence on how well people are adhering to quarantine rules.

Ms Moreton told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that around 20,000 people are coming into the country each day, the majority of whom are hauliers.

Asked how border agents are able to verify proof of a negative test, Ms Moreton told MPs: "We're not is the simple answer, it's predominately taken on trust. We do get 100 or more a day of fake Covid certificates, that we catch."

Europol warned earlier this year about the illicit sale of false negative Covid test certificates. This included a forgery ring selling negative test results to passengers at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, and in the UK fraudsters were caught selling bogus Covid-19 documents showing negative test results for £100 each.

"We catch them if there is a spelling error somewhere," Ms Moreton said, adding that many certificates are in a foreign language which could make such mistakes trickier to spot.

MPs were also told that long queues found at airports could be a "breeding ground" for the virus during the briefing, and experts raised concerns about the traffic light system for travel.

12:54 PM

Press conference at 5pm with Boris Johnson and Dr Nikita Kanani

A quick scheduling point. Boris Johnson will be joined at the coronavirus press conference by the medical director of primary care for NHS England, Dr Nikita Kanani, at 5pm, Downing Street has said.

12:51 PM

Hong Kong finds 53 Covid cases on one flight from India

At least 53 passengers on a single flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong have tested positive for coronavirus, authorities have said.

Hong Kong is regularly recording fewer daily cases than the total detected on the flight since it brought a fourth wave under control in January, while India is grappling with a surge that has taken daily cases above 200,000 for several days in a row.

Hong Kong has imposed a two-week ban on all flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, categorising the countries as "extremely high risk" after detecting the N501Y mutant Covid-19 strain for the first time in the local community.

However the UK's travel ban, which was announced yesterday just hours after Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to New Delhi, does not come into effect until 4am on Friday morning.

Analysis: Arrival of India’s ‘double mutation’ adds to variant woes

12:39 PM

All Indians over 18 eligible for vaccines from May 1 as cases surge

All Indians over the age of 18 will be eligible to receive a vaccine from May 1, as Delhi attempts to contain a Covid-19 second wave that has overwhelmed its healthcare system and caused Boris Johnson to cancel a planned visit to India next week, Joe Wallen reports.

The Indian Government will provide over £430 million of funding to two vaccine manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, to scale up production to meet the expected increased demand.

Under the new legislation, the SII and Bharat Biotech will have to produce 50 per cent of their vaccines for the Indian Government, while the remainder can be sold directly to Indian state governments or on the open, private market.

At least ten Indian states had reported vaccine shortages in April but the SII, which manufactures the AstraZeneca/Oxford University jab, has said the increased funding will now allow it to scale up its monthly production of vaccines from 70 to 100 million.

The Indian Government had been under increasing pressure from both opposition politicians and public health activists to expand their vaccination programme, which is currently open to all citizens over the age of 45.

India is enduring a devastating Covid-19 resurgence, recording a ten-fold increase in the number of new cases since mid-February and over 200,000 new infections for six days in a row:

12:27 PM

Swedes under 65 to be given alternative to AstraZeneca vaccine for second dose

Swedes under 65 vaccinated with one shot of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be given a different vaccine for the second dose, the Swedish Health Agency has said.

Sweden paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March after reports of rare but serious blood clots among people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot. Sweden later resumed use but only for people aged 65 or above.

"People under the age of 65 who have already received a dose of Vaxzevria should instead be offered a second dose of so-called mRNA vaccine, such as PfizerBiontech or Moderna," the Health Agency said in a statement.

12:15 PM

Michael Gove and Jonathan Van Tam in Israel to examine vaccine passport system

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam are in Israel to examine the country's vaccine passport system, according to the Prime Minister's official spokesman.

"They are seeing first-hand the work on certification that Israel has up and running over there as we continue the work that we are doing on certification as an option here."

The visit is "a purely Covid-related trip", the spokesman added.

Earlier today Israel's Foreign Ministry said it is exploring the possibility of opening a "green travel corridor" with the UK,citing the success of the two countries' vaccination drives.

The issue was discussed at a meeting between Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Michael Gove in Jerusalem, an Israeli statement said.

12:03 PM

Scotland: Those shielding can return to work on Monday

Back to Scotland's coronavirus briefing. Speaking about the changes from Monday April 26, Nicola Sturgeon said people who have been shielding can return to work, if they can not work from home.

Other changes include:

  • Children who have been shielding can return to school.

  • All shops will also be able to reopen from Monday, along with close-contact services, such as beauty parlours.

  • People will be able to go into premises to collect takeaways, rather than having to get them from a serving hatch, or at the door.

  • Cafes, pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen, with alcohol able to be served outside from Monday - when people can meet outside in groups of up to six from six different households.

  • But in indoor hospitality, Ms Sturgeon said the "greater" risks would mean alcohol can still not be served, although pubs, cafes and restaurants can open till 8pm.

  • Six people can meet indoors in hospitality settings, but must be from two households.

11:54 AM

Grant Shapps: 'We're taking action' on those with no face mast on transport

The Transport Secretary has warned that action will be taken against those not wearing a face mask on public transport.

Writing on Twitter Grand Shapps said: "Great that 90%+ people are wearing a face covering on public transport, but for those not doing so (who aren’t exempt) we’re taking action. So far we've issued 3,900 fines to those not complying!"

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11:49 AM

Turkey's coronavirus infections amount to 1 per cent of working age population

In Turkey, second only to India in new coronavirus cases, a recent surge has brought active infections to a peak equivalent to nearly one per cecnt of working age people, according to an analysis of health ministry data.

Deaths from Covid-19 hit a record 341 on Monday, despite more than 20 million vaccines having been administered.

About 551,000 Turks have active Covid-19 cases, compared to a working age population of some 57 million, based on a Reuters calculation of official deaths, recoveries and total cases.

The country, with a population of 84 million, ranks fourth globally in new virus cases on a seven-day average. In the last two days, only far larger India has topped Turkey's number of cases.

Istanbul and other parts of the densely populated northwest have emerged as hot spots, and President Tayyip Erdogan last week reversed course to tighten social restrictions for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The health minister yesterday said health workers are feeling the burden in Istanbul and provinces Canakkale and Tekirdag, where intensive care units are more than two-thirds full.

11:43 AM

Today in brief

Just joining us? Here's a look back at today's headlines:

  • Weekly registered deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales remain at the lowest level for more than six months, though the Easter break affecting numbers, according to the ONS.

  • And deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen by 97 percent since the second-wave peak, the latest figures show.

  • A separate ONS data release found unemployment has fallen for the first time since before Covid-19 struck, as the furlough scheme has shielded jobs.

  • Beer gardens, cafes, shops and gyms are to reopen in Scotland on Monday as Nicola Sturgeon confirmed lockdown easing will go ahead as planned.

  • Meanwhile in Wales, coronavirus restrictions look set to be further relaxed from Saturday, with six people from different households able to meet outdoors.

  • The UK and Israel are considering opening a "green travel corridor", Israel's Foreign Ministry said, citing the success of the two countries' vaccination drives.

  • In vaccine news, Europe's drug regulator is expected to rule on the safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this afternoon, following concerns it could be linked to extremely rare blood clots.

  • In New Zealand, an Auckland airport worker has tested positive for Covid-19 but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it will not affect the newly opened travel bubble with Australia.

  • India has reported 259,170 new infections in one day and a record death toll of 1,761, as New Delhi and other parts of the country enter a week-long lockdown.

  • Government sources said they hope the United States will soon lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials that threatens to slow India's inoculation drive.

  • And finally, Colombia and Peru have both recorded their worst days yet in terms of number of deaths since the pandemic began. Cases have surged in South America in recent months, blamed in part by the infectious P1 variant that originated in Brazil.

11:32 AM

Universities allowing students back to campus early on mental health grounds

Universities are allowing students back to campus early on mental health grounds, it has emerged.

Some vice-Chancellors have written to undergraduates to highlight the exceptional circumstances in which they are allowed to take up residence at their term-time address.

These include “inadequate” study space at home or if their mental health and wellbeing is suffering, according to official guidance.

Last week the Government announced that around one million university students will not be allowed to return to campus for another month.

The only students allowed to return to campus following the Christmas break were those doing degrees that require face-to-face teaching for a professional qualification, such as medicine and dentistry.

Camilla Turner has more details in this report.

11:22 AM

Next stage of Scotland's roadmap to go ahead on Monday, Sturgeon confirms

Beer gardens, cafes, shops and gyms are to reopen in Scotland on Monday as Nicola Sturgeon confirmed lockdown easing will go ahead as planned.

The First Minister said the continued suppression of coronavirus and the success of the vaccine rollout meant some restrictions can be lifted. She told a briefing this lunchtime that the country will move from Level 4 to Level 3 of the five tiers of restriction, which means:

  • Cafes, restaurants and beer gardens can open, along with shops, gyms, libraries and museums. But hospitality will need to close at 8pm indoors and 10pm outdoors, with alcohol only allowed to be served outside.

  • Travel between Scotland, England and Wales will be permitted and tourist accommodation can welcome back visitors.

  • Funerals and weddings - including post-funeral events and receptions - will be allowed to take place with up to 50 people, but no alcohol may be served.

  • Other changes include the resumption of driving lessons and tests.

Ms Sturgeon also told the briefing that the country has reported just two deaths from coronavirus and 178 positive tests in the past 24 hours.

The next stage of Scotland's easing is due to take place on May 17, when the country plans to move to Level 2 of its restrictions, followed by a shift to Level 1 on June 7.

11:15 AM

Pandemic in pictures

Amritsar, India:

A volunteer sprays disinfectant to sanitise a wholesale grain market amidst rising Covid-19 cases - NARINDER NANU / AFP
A volunteer sprays disinfectant to sanitise a wholesale grain market amidst rising Covid-19 cases - NARINDER NANU / AFP

Campeche, Mexico:

Wearing a mask and a face shield to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, 10-year-old Jade Chan Puc writes in her notebook during the first day of class in Montebello, Campeche state - the first region to transition back to the classroom after a year of remote learning due to the pandemic - AP Photo/Martin Zetina
Wearing a mask and a face shield to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, 10-year-old Jade Chan Puc writes in her notebook during the first day of class in Montebello, Campeche state - the first region to transition back to the classroom after a year of remote learning due to the pandemic - AP Photo/Martin Zetina

Sydney, Australia:

 Members of the "welcome back drag committee" greet passengers arriving from New Zealand at Sydney International Airport, as the trans-Tasman travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia begins - Jenny Evans/Getty Images
Members of the "welcome back drag committee" greet passengers arriving from New Zealand at Sydney International Airport, as the trans-Tasman travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia begins - Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Baildon, UK:

Guzelian Abigail James (9), playing cornet, a member of Bradford Youth Brass Band rehearses with her music teacher, Morgan Griffiths, for the first time in 13 months, at Titus Salt School in Baildon, West Yorkshire - Guzelian/Lorne Campbell 
Guzelian Abigail James (9), playing cornet, a member of Bradford Youth Brass Band rehearses with her music teacher, Morgan Griffiths, for the first time in 13 months, at Titus Salt School in Baildon, West Yorkshire - Guzelian/Lorne Campbell

11:03 AM

J&J Covid-19 vaccine brings in $100 million in quarterly sales

Johnson & Johnson, whose coronavirus vaccine was put on pause in the United States last week to review reports of very rare blood clots, has reported $100 million in first-quarter sales of the shot and tightened its forecast for profits this year.

The company has previously said the vaccine will be available on a not-for-profit basis until the end of the pandemic.

It now expects full-year adjusted profit of $9.42 to $9.57 per share from its prior forecast of $9.40 to $9.60 per share, after sales of its cancer drugs helped quarterly profit rise nearly seven per cent.

The company's Covid-19 vaccine use was paused by US regulators last week as they review reports of rare but serious blood clots in recipients (read about that here).

European regulators are expected to issue updated guidelines on use of the vaccine at a press conference at roughly 4pm this afternoon.

10:52 AM

First person: Covering the deteriorating crisis in Mumbai, India

India’s Covid-19 situation is rapidly deteriorating, writes Joe Wallen. Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed and patients are being treated on floors and outside health care clinics. Many are being turned away.

Read Joe's latest dispatch from Mumbai here, or catch up with his experiences of covering the surging pandemic in this Twitter thread:

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10:45 AM

Furlough leads to surprise fall in unemployment

Unemployment has fallen for the first time since before Covid-19 struck, the Office for National Statistics said today.

Economists said the jobs market was “turning the corner” as figures showed a 50,000 fall in unemployed people to 1.67m over the three months to February, pushing the jobless rate down to 4.9pc.

The data marks the first quarterly decline since the quarter to December 2019, the ONS said.

The labour market fall-out has been kept artificially low by the furlough scheme, which was extended for the third lockdown, and has cost the UK £57.7bn so far, according to Government figures.

Russell Lynch has more details here.

10:37 AM

At least 12 EU states confident of hitting 70 per cent vaccination targets

At least 12 of the European Union's 27 member states have said they are confident of being able to vaccinate 70 per cent of their adult population by mid-July, the EU executive's vaccine task force chief said on Tuesday.

The European Commission has set a target of inoculating 70 per cent of the EU's adult population by the end of this summer, banking on a big increase in vaccine deliveries to accelerate its vaccination drive.

"We are confident that we will be able to deliver enough doses but it is true also that it is up to member states to organise themselves to be ready for that," European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told an Irish parliamentary committee.

"Today I can tell you that I understand we have at least 12 member states who say they are fully comfortable this 70 per cent figure. This number is increasing on a daily basis."

He did not identify the 12 member states or say which countries were less comfortable with the 70 per cent figure.

An announcement last week that EU countries will receive 50 million more vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech this quarter has given the executive additional comfort on its delivery targets, Breton said.

It has also provided "room for manoeuvre" to cope with Breton's expectation that the bloc will initially have fewer Johnson & Johnson shots than hoped.

Related: Europe's vaccination programme is taking off - and could catch the UK

10:28 AM

Fiji closed schools and cancelled as first cases found outside quarantine

The Pacific nation of Fiji has closed schools and cancelled sporting events as it deals with its first coronavirus infections outside quarantine in more than a year.

A soldier and a room cleaner at a quarantine facility have both tested positive, but there hasn't been any indication so far the virus is spreading more widely in the community.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama says Fiji is again facing a "grave and present danger". The government has ordered all gyms, bars and theatres within two containment zones closed and large gatherings across the nation cancelled for at least two weeks.

Home to a little under one million people, Fiji has recorded just two Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began, but experts fear its health system would be ill-equipped to deal with a major outbreak.

10:19 AM

Israel mulls 'green travel corridor' with the UK

Israel and the UK are exploring the possibility of opening a "green travel corridor" between them, Israel's Foreign Ministry said today, citing the success of the two countries' vaccination drives.

The issue was discussed at a meeting between Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Michael Gove in Jerusalem, an Israeli statement said.

"We will promote, together with the UK, mutual recognition of vaccines in order to allow tourists and business people from both countries to safely return to their routines," the statement quoted Ashkenazi as saying.

Israel and Britain had made "great progress" in their vaccination campaigns, opening the "possibility of creating a green travel corridor", the Israeli ministry said.

It gave no timeline for implementing such a measure, which apparently would apply only to vaccinated travellers. But last week Israel announced it will start allowing the limited entry of vaccinated tourist groups as of May 23.

10:11 AM

Alaska to offer free vaccines at airports in a bid to boost summer tourism

The state of Alaska is to offer free Covid vaccinations to anyone landing at its airports from June, its governor has announced.

The move is a bid to boost tourism, with the generous offer of a free Pfizer or Moderna vaccine “another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer”, governor Mike Dunleavy told a press conference.

“If you come to Alaska, you get a free vaccination if you want one,” he added.

The vast state took the lead in vaccinating its tiny population earlier this year and now nearly 40 per cent of those over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated and 47 per cent have received one dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Snowmobiles, boats and planes were deployed to enable vaccination teams to overcome sparse settlements, vast distances and forbidding weather.

Anne Gulland has more details on this story here.

09:57 AM

India red list decision 'taken too late', says former government adviser

The decision to place India on the red list for travel to the UK in response to a double-mutated strain of the coronavirus was taken too late, the Government's former chief scientific adviser has said.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, told BBC Breakfast: "These decisions are almost inevitably taken a bit too late in truth, but what's absolutely clear is that this variant is more transmissible in India. You can see that it's becoming the dominant variant and the other concern about it is that it has a second change in the spike protein which may mean that it's able to be a bit more effective at escaping an immune response, either a natural one or vaccine-induced one, so there's good reasons for wanting to keep it out of the country if at all possible.

"What we need to do is get the population vaccinated and also get booster vaccines prepared that will be able to deal with these new variants - so buying time... against these new variants is really important."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told Sky that delaying placing the most strict travel restrictions on India until 4am on Friday was "the right approach".

09:56 AM

Over-80s deaths fall by 97pc since second wave

Deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen by 97% since the second-wave peak, the latest ONS figures suggest.

A total of 172 Covid-19 deaths in the 80-and-over age group occurred in England and Wales in the week ending April 2, down from 5,361 deaths in the week ending January 22.

Deaths for those aged 75-79 and 70-74 also dropped 97% in the same period, compared with falls of 95% for those aged 65-69 and 93% for those aged 60-64.

Deaths that occurred in the most recent week of reporting - the week to April 9 - are still being registered.

09:31 AM

Deaths in care homes down 15pc in one week

Some 73 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales were registered in the week to April 9, down 15% on the previous week.

A total of 42,262 care home residents in England and Wales have now had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate since the pandemic began.

The ONS figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.

09:11 AM

Total of 151,795 deaths

A total of 151,795 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

The highest number of deaths to occur on a single day was 1,474 on January 19.

During the first wave of the virus, the daily death toll peaked at 1,461 deaths on April 8 2020.

08:54 AM

Fifth week of below-average deaths

The number of deaths registered in England and Wales was below the five-year average for the fifth consecutive week, the ONS said.

Some 9,098 deaths were registered in the week to April 9, 11.7% below the average for the corresponding period in 2015-19.

Prior to the five most recent weeks, the last time deaths had been below average was in the week to September 4 2020.

08:50 AM

Lowest weekly death rate since Oct

A total of 379 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending April 9 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - the lowest number since the week ending October 2.

The figure is down 5% on the previous week's total, although the ONS said the number of deaths registered was affected by the Easter Monday bank holiday.

Around one in 24 (4.2%) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to April 9 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

08:45 AM

Covid in India, in pictures

Migrant workers arrive at a bus station to board buses to return to their villages after Delhi government ordered a six-day lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of New Delhi, India - Adnan Abidi
Migrant workers arrive at a bus station to board buses to return to their villages after Delhi government ordered a six-day lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of New Delhi, India - Adnan Abidi
Migrant workers seen at Kaushambi bus stand boarding for their hometowns - SIPA USA/SOPA Images
Migrant workers seen at Kaushambi bus stand boarding for their hometowns - SIPA USA/SOPA Images

08:18 AM

Indian variant discovered in Israel

Israel has registered eight cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in India and believes that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is at least partially effective against it, an Israeli health official said on Tuesday.

An initial seven cases of the Indian variant were detected in Israel last week among people arriving from abroad and who have since undergone preliminary testing, the Health Ministry said.

"The impression is that the Pfizer vaccine has efficacy against it, albeit a reduced efficacy," the ministry's director-general, Hezi Levy, told Kan public radio, saying the number of cases of the variant in Israel now stood at eight.

The ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for more details on the research into the Indian variant.

Britain and Ireland have also said they are investigating the variant after detecting it within their borders.

Israel, whose population is 9.3 million, has fully vaccinated around 81% of citizens or residents over the age of 16. COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations are down sharply.

07:56 AM

'If not when' variants will beat vaccine protection, warns WHO

Here is WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro saying he eventually expects variants to beat the protection offered by vaccines around the world.

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07:44 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance to chair partnership to slash vaccine development to 100 days

A new Pandemic Preparedness Partnership (PPP) which aims to slash the time taken to develop new vaccines to 100 days will be launched today, in an attempt to better prepare for future disease epidemics, writes Sarah Newey.

The partnership - chaired by the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance - will offer advice to the UK during it's G7 Presidency to accelerate vaccine, drug and diagnostic development.

It will be backed by a £16 million investment from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation to fund global vaccine manufacturing capacity and critical R&D to rapidly respond to the threat of new coronavirus strains.

"Covid-19 has shown us that it’s possible to develop and deploy high-quality vaccines much faster than previously imagined," said Sir Patrick.

"The group of experts from across the globe will advise the UK G7 Presidency as to how we can accelerate and scale up the development of effective vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to save lives from future diseases with pandemic potential," he added. "I look forward to progressing such vital work."

The PPP is meeting formally for the first time today at a two day virtual Pandemic Preparedness Partnership Conference, taking place under the UK’s Presidency of the G7.

Related: Next pandemic could see jab 'within 100 days'

07:10 AM

Boris Johnson press conference this afternoon

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to hold a coronavirus press conference this afternoon.

07:10 AM

Police warned they must not abandon face-to-face contact with crime victims

Police have been warned not to abandon routine face-to-face contact with the public once the pandemic has passed.

At the height of the crisis, many forces resorted to remote working for routine incidents, dealing with matters on the phone or online, rather than visiting victims of crime in person.

While the system helped reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission between officers and the public, it also improved efficiency for hard-stretched forces and allowed them to deal with a greater volume of incidents more quickly.

But a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services into the policing of the pandemic, has warned forces against adopting this system too readily once the pandemic has passed.

It found that while many members of the public preferred not to see an officer in person, remote policing meant there was little opportunity to build up a rapport with people.

Inspectors also warned that failing to attend an incident in person meant officers did not have the opportunity to secure evidence, or spot when a vulnerable person needed support or safeguarding.

07:04 AM

India red list delay 'right thing to do', insists minister

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson defended the delay in putting India on the travel "red list" to protect against coronavirus.

He told Sky News: "It's standard practise to give people a sort of short window in order to be able to manage their affairs. It's the right approach to do, it's the approach we've taken with other countries around the world when they've gone onto the red list.

"The Government continuously reviews the data, continues to review the information we're getting from the scientific community in terms of what countries should be put onto the red list, and sadly India has been one of those countries that has had to be added."

06:54 AM

Sunak: 'Furlough has protected 11.2million jobs'

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "Protecting jobs and the economy has been my main focus since this pandemic began - through the furlough scheme alone we have protected 11.2 million jobs.

"As we progress on our road map to recovery I will continue to put people at the heart of the Government's response through our Plan for Jobs - supporting and creating jobs across the country."

06:36 AM

At least 49 on New Delhi to Hong Kong flight test positive

At least 49 passengers on a flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong have tested positive for coronavirus, authorities said, as the financial hub introduced an emergency ban on all flights from India in a crackdown over a new wave of cases.

All of the passengers who tested positive flew into Hong Kong on a flight run by Indian operator Vistara on April 4.

The positive tests are significant as Hong Kong is regularly recording fewer daily cases than the total detected on the flight since it brought a fourth wave under control in January.

Authorities imposed a two-week ban on all flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from Monday, categorising the countries as "extremely high risk" after detecting the N501Y mutant Covid-19 strain for the first time.

India is battling skyrocketing infections, with hospitals running out of beds and the government forced to reimpose economically painful restrictions.

Its capital New Delhi went into lockdown from Monday night as officials scramble to get surging cases under control.

06:24 AM

Watch: Boris Johnson raises pint 'cautiously but irreversibly' to his lips

The Prime Minister visited a pub in Wolverhampton for the first time since the third national lockdown was partially lifted.

He talked of raising a pint "cautiously but irreversibly" to his lips.

06:21 AM

Five million people still on furlough

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: "The latest figures suggest that the jobs market has been broadly stable in recent months after the major shock of last spring.

"The number of people on payroll fell slightly in March after a few months of growth.

"There are, though, over 800,000 fewer employees than before the pandemic struck, and with around five million people employed but still on furlough, the labour market remains subdued.

"However, with the prospect of businesses reopening, there was a marked rise in job vacancies in March, especially in sectors such as hospitality."

06:13 AM

Another 56,000 out of work last month

The number of UK workers on payrolls dropped by 56,000 last month and has fallen by 813,000 since March 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

06:06 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Apr 20.

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06:02 AM

India hopes US will soon ease ban on vaccine material exports

India is hopeful the US will soon lift a ban on the export of vaccine raw materials that threatens to slow India's inoculation drive, two Indian government sources told Reuters on Monday, after the foreign ministers of the two nations spoke.

One official said the Biden administration had told India that its request for a lifting of the ban was being considered and would be acted upon "at the earliest".

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted that he and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed, among other things, "issues pertaining to our health cooperation".

The Indian foreign ministry declined to elaborate. The US State Department confirmed the two diplomats discussed Covid-19, but did not give details.

Read more: Pyres built on pavements as Covid overwhelms India’s hospitals and crematoriums

05:41 AM

Cases in Thailand continue to climb in third wave

Thailand reported 1,443 new coronavirus cases and 4 new deaths on Tuesday, as it battles a third wave of Covid-19 infections that has spread quickly across the country.

The new cases took the total number of infections to 45,185 with 108 deaths since the pandemic started early last year. A third of its total cases have been reported this month alone.

04:40 AM

Scores test positive on India flight to Hong Kong

At least 49 passengers on a flight from New Delhi to Hong Kong have tested positive for coronavirus, authorities said, as the financial hub introduced an emergency ban on all flights from India as it battles a new wave of cases.

All of the passengers who tested positive flew into Hong Kong on a flight run by Indian operator Vistara on April 4.

The positive tests are significant as Hong Kong is regularly recording fewer daily cases than the total detected on the flight since it brought a fourth wave under control in January.

Authorities imposed a two-week ban on all flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from Monday, categorising the countries as "extremely high risk" after detecting the N501Y mutant Covid-19 strain for the first time.

Read more: India placed on UK's travel 'red list'

03:21 AM

New Zealand airport worker tests positive

A worker in New Zealand's Auckland airport has tested positive for Covid-19, authorities said on Tuesday, a day after the country opened its border to Australian residents for the first time in more than a year.

The infected worker, who was fully vaccinated for the virus, had been cleaning airplanes coming from countries with known virus outbreaks, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

The worker tested negative on April 12 but tested positive on April 19 as part of routine testing, Ms Ardern told reporters in Auckland, adding that contact tracing was underway.

New Zealand's health authorities were liaising with their Australian counterparts, Ms Ardern said, with no initial indication that the so-called 'travel bubble' between the countries would be halted.

Read more: Tears and hugs as families from New Zealand and Australia reunite

New Zealand travellers arrive at Sydney International Airport, as quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand begins - Reuters
New Zealand travellers arrive at Sydney International Airport, as quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand begins - Reuters

11:59 PM

Philippines approves emergency use of J&J, Bharat Biotech vaccines

The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration has allowed the emergency use of Covid-19 vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson and India's Bharat Biotech, it said on Tuesday.

Both vaccines can be administered to people aged 18 and above in the Philippines, the agency chief, Rolando Enrique Domingo, said in a mobile text message.

The single-shot vaccines developed by J&J's unit Janssen and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin are the fifth and sixth to receive emergency use approval in the Philippines, which is battling one of the worst outbreaks in Asia.

J&J is conducting late-stage clinical trials for its Covid-19 vaccine in the Philippines.

Suspected coronavirus patients lie on hospital beds outside the emergency room of Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, in Marikina City, Metro Manila - Reuters
Suspected coronavirus patients lie on hospital beds outside the emergency room of Amang Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, in Marikina City, Metro Manila - Reuters

11:31 PM

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