Analysis: Every time life nears normal, along comes another variant
A total of 86 local authorities now have five or more cases of the Indian variant, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced amid ongoing concerns about the spread of the strain.
A total of 2,323 cases of the variant have currently been detected in the UK, including 483 in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, the most significant hotspots, where cases have doubled in the past week. Bedford is the next major area of concern.
Mr Hancock said that eight people had been hospitalised with the strain in Blackburn and 19 in Bolton - the majority of whom were eligible for a Covid vaccine but had not received one.
Across the UK, fewer than 1,000 people are in hospital with the virus and deaths are averaging at nine per day.
The Health Secretary said that surge testing and vaccines had been rolled out in Bolton and Blackburn on a scale unseen anywhere else so far in the pandemic.
A rapid response team visited 35,000 people this weekend to distribute and collect Covid-19 tests, and two new vaccination centers have been set up. Surge testing is now being deployed in Bedford.
It comes as Mr Hancock announced that the vaccination rollout campaign is set to be expanded to include anyone aged 37 and over from tomorrow.
Follow the latest updates below.
What happened today?
That's it for now, thanks for joining us. At the end of a momentous day for Britain's road back to normality, here's your evening roundup:
Thousands of British holidaymakers headed for Portugal as the ban on overseas travel lifted and airlines said confidence was creeping back - but confusion reigned over "amber list" countries as ministers again said tourists must not travel there for non-essential reasons
There are 86 local authorities where five or more Indian variant cases have been logged, with 2,323 total cases - including 483 in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen - and Bedford is the next major concern, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said as he pleaded with the vaccine-hesitant to come accept jabs
37-year-olds will be texted to receive their Covid vaccine on Tuesday, the NHS confirmed, and 36-year-olds on Wednesday - but Downing Street insisted local authorities should ensure younger people wait their turn and not skip the queue, even in variant hotspots
A planned review of social distancing measures could be delayed as a result of the Indian variant, Downing Street said
Tory MPs insisted that the June 21 "Freedom Day", when all restrictions are due to be lifted in England, should not be pushed back because of vaccine refuseniks, but Mr Hancock reassured that vaccine enthusiasm was on the rise
The European Medicines Agency approved the storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in fridges for up to a month, having previously only allowed it for five days.
EMA extends Pfizer jab fridge storage from five days to a month
The EU's drug agency has approved the storage of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in fridges for up to a month, in a move that should boost its rollout across the bloc.
The storage period in fridges of unopened vials of the vaccine, which initially had to be stored in super-cooled freezers, has been lengthened from five days.
"Increased flexibility in the storage and handling of the vaccine is expected to have a significant impact on planning and logistics of vaccine rollout in EU member states," the European Medicines Agency said.
"This change extends the approved storage period of the unopened thawed vial at two-eight degrees Celsius (35 to 46 Fahrenheit) [i.e. in a normal fridge after taking out of deep-freeze conditions] from five days to one month (31 days)," it added.
The Pfizer vaccine's high effectiveness against coronavirus has been tempered by the difficulty of storing and transporting the jab due to the need for the super-cold conditions originally required.
German developer BioNTech, which makes the vaccine along with US pharma giant Pfizer, said the EMA had made the decision based on new information it had supplied.
Our data team have the latest on Britain's Covid infection rates
Dominic Cummings calls Government's Covid border policy 'a joke'
Boris Johnson's former chief aide Dominic Cummings has launched a fresh attack on the Prime Minister's coronavirus approach, taking aim at "our joke borders policy".
In a Twitter thread this afternoon, Mr Cummings advocated tougher lockdowns over "pseudo lockdowns without serious enforcement", and sought to counter arguments that Sweden's economy has fared better because it did not pursue the same lockdown approach.
He wrote: "Fact: evidence clear that fast hard effective action best policy for economy AND for reducing deaths/suffering."
It comes as Matt Hancock, the health secretary, faced anger from MPs in the Commons this afternoon for the delay last month in naming India a "red list" country, as a variant from there now spreads in Britain.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Mr Hancock: "Does he accept we could have avoided this? Our borders have been about as secure as a sieve. The delay in adding India to the red list surely now stands as a catastrophic misstep."
Following similar pressure from Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, Mr Hancock insisted the Government acted with the data and could not benefit from hindsight.
Well, that's one way to dampen spirits
Spirits were high as passengers jetted off to green-list Portugal for some long awaited sun this morning, as The Telegraph's Gordon Rayner witnessed on board.
But the mood was dampened on one flight this morning, when a rather stark announcement was made:
Double jab in one go for flu and Covid being trialled
Trials whereby individuals would receive both their flu jab and booster Covid vaccine at the same time in each arm this autumn are under way, Matt Hancock has confirmed.
Asked in the Commons about whether this was a possibility, the Health Secretary replied: "We are trialling currently the co-administration of flu and Covid vaccines.
"I do this because you put one in each arm. It is something that we are looking at for the autumn, alongside... as part of a booster programme for Covid - so there is a lot of work under way in this space."
Mr Hancock also hinted that communities most hesitant to take up the offer of a vaccine could in future be given the choice over which jab they have.
Asked specifically about this, he told MPs: "As we reach into, further and further into, those who need encouragement to come forward, so we are willing to look at more and more creative solutions to tackle people's hesitancy."
Back to Britain, where the streets are bursting back to life
Pandemic worsens critical need for food aid in Madagascar
The Covid-19 pandemic has helped inflame an urgent need for huge amounts of food aid in southern Madagascar, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has warned.
Medical teams in the region are witnessing an exceptionally severe malnutrition crisis which, in some places, borders on famine.
“We’re seeing totally destitute people who have literally nothing to eat and are teetering on the edge of survival,” said Julie Reversé, MSF operations coordinator in Madagascar. “Some have had to sell their cooking utensils and don’t even have containers to fetch water."
Figures from UN agencies and similar organisations suggest 74,000 children across the southern region of Madagascar are acutely malnourished, around 12,000 of these with severe malnutrition, up 80 percent on the last quarter of 2020.
Drought and deforestation has helped create the crisis, but the Covid-19 pandemic has had a "spill-over effect" on the island's economy, MSF said, especially travel restrictions.
US to send another 20 million Covid jabs abroad amid shortages in poorer nations
The United States will release an additional 20 million doses of Covid vaccine to other countries, bringing the total being shipped out to 80 million, the White House has announced.
"The United States will send 20 million doses authorized for use in the United States to help countries battling the pandemic by the end of June," Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Ms Psaki said President Joe Biden would formally announce the move in a televised address later Monday, and would give more detail on where they will be sent.
It is the first time jabs authorised for US domestic use (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) have been sent abroad, as supply begins to overtake demand in the country.
It comes on top of the Biden's administration's prior commitment to share about 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of June.
Don't be fooled by 'freedom day' – this totalitarian nightmare is far from over
It is terrifying how willingly we surrendered our human rights in the face of such a disproportionate threat, writes Annabel Fenwick-Elliott.
Yesterday, I had to take a Covid test in order to gain access to the beer garden of a park in Munich which, like England, is currently in the glacial process of lifting lockdown. There was a big fence up around the tables, a long queue for entry, a burly bouncer at the front checking documents and taking phone numbers – all so we could sip a pint in the rain at a proper table, rather than sit cross-legged on the grass. It didn’t feel exciting. It felt dystopian.
World has reached 'vaccine apartheid' status, WHO announces
Turning to global developments, the world has now reached a situation of "vaccine apartheid", the World Health Organization's director-general has said.
"The big problem is a lack of sharing. So the solution is more sharing," Tedros Adhanom told a virtual Paris Peace Forum event, as jabs are concentrated in the global north.
Earlier, he called on Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers to make shots available to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility sooner than planned due to a supply shortfall left by Indian export disruptions.
Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum has cancelled its annual meeting - the blue riband event for the global elite to discuss the world's problems - due to be held in Singapore later this year, the organisers have announced.
Varying speeds of vaccine rollouts and the threat of new variants meant it was "impossible" to hold such a large event as planned on Aug. 17-20, the WEF said in a statement.
The event, which attracts VIPs from the worlds of politics and business, has been held since 1971.
Youths should not jump vaccine queues in Indian variant hotspots, says No 10
Local areas should not vaccinate young people earlier than planned to stem the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus, Downing Street has said.
It follows reports that officials in Bolton, Greater Manchester, have given Covid jabs to locals as young as 17 as the town races to overcome a hotspot of the strain.
This is despite the vaccine rollout only extending down to those aged 36 and 37 so far, with those groups being invited forwards this week.
The Prime Minister's spokesman cited advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that the best way to protect against the strain was to give vulnerable groups their second dose.
Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for ministers to be "flexible" and allow younger people to be vaccinated.
Asked whether the Government would stop local officials giving vaccines to younger people, the spokesman said: "We want every part of the country to abide by the advice set out by the JCVI, it's this unified approach that has allowed us to proceed so quickly with our vaccine rollout."
Do not travel to amber or red list countries, holidaymakers are told again
People should not travel to amber and red list countries or territories, Matt Hancock has stressed amid growing confusion and chaos among holidaymakers who had planned to travel.
The Health Secretary tells the Commons in a statement: "If it isn't on the green list then unless you have an exceptional reason, you shouldn't be travelling there."
Earlier, Downing Street defended the traffic light system with Portugal the only popular holiday destination available for travel, as it is green-listed.
Asked why it was not illegal to go to amber list destinations, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber countries, that's in the interests of public health.
"There may be unavoidable, essential reasons for which people still have to travel to amber list countries, that's why the rules are there."
The spokesman added: "It's right to have this three-tiered approach because there are some limited circumstances where - for unavoidable work reasons, for example - it's necessary to travel to these amber list countries where we know there are concerns but we don't have specific instances of variants of concern that we would want to place an outright ban on."
NHS releases more details on 36 and 37-year-olds getting the vaccine call-up
Here's some more detail on the vaccine rollout extending to 36 and 37-year-olds this week in a race against the Indian variant.
NHS England said in a statement just now: "More than a million more people will be eligible for a life-saving Covid jab with NHS.uk due to update at 7am.
"Texts inviting people to book a vaccination will be sent going to those aged 37 tomorrow (Tuesday) and to 36 year olds on Wednesday."
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Bookings for the fastest and most successful NHS vaccination programme in history continue to surge with more than 930,000 appointments made in a matter of days since opening up to 38 and 39-year-olds.
“With well over 30 million first doses of vital protection against coronavirus delivered just six months into the NHS vaccination drive, the NHS is able to open up to 36 and 37-year-olds as the programme continues at pace."
Meanwhile, people aged 50 and over and the clinically vulnerable will keep having their second doses brought forward to counter the spread of the Indian variant.
Speeding up vaccines for younger age groups dismissed by Hancock
Vaccinating all over-18s "is not our approach", Matt Hancock has stressed after Labour called for him to be more flexible with the rollout amid the Indian variant.
He tells the Commons the Government's strategy remains to speed up second doses to older age groups and first doses for all remaining over-50s. We remain on track for the target of vaccinating all over-18s by the end of July.
He says the Government has "surged in" its rapid response team to Bolton and Blackburn, telling MPs: "A hundred people so far who this weekend visited around 35,000 people to distribute and collect tests.
"We've installed six new testing units, we've brought in over 50 new vaccinators and set up two new vaccination centres, as well as extending opening hours and capacity at our existing sites.
"In Bolton, we've quadrupled the rate of vaccination. We carried out 6,200 vaccinations over this weekend."
Hancock pleads with the vaccine hesitant to 'save lives'
Matt Hancock has said that people taking up their offer of a vaccine "will help us all get out of this pandemic", as early data shows it works against the so-called Indian variant.
The Health Secretary adds that fewer than 1,000 people are in hospital with coronavirus and deaths are running at an average of nine per day.
He tells MPs: "It has been really heartening, I am sure the whole House will agree, to see the videos that have been published over the weekend of people queuing up to get the jab.
"To anyone who feels hesitant, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital - some of them in intensive care.
"Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic."
37-year-olds to be invited for vaccine this week, Hancock says
The Covid vaccine rollout will extend to 37-year-olds from Tuesday and will be expanding further later this week, Matt Hancock has announced.
The Health Secretary tells the Commons early data shows the Indian variant is more transmissable than other variants of coronavirus, but it is not yet known by how much.
He says we are making "careful further progress".
But "we must be humble in the face of this virus," he says, adding "we must be alert to new variants that can jeopardise the progress we have made"
Matt Hancock announces Indian variant is now in 86 local authorities
The Health Secretary has risen in the Commons for a statement on the Indian variant of coronavirus.
There are 2,323 cases of the Indian variant in the UK now, Matt Hancock confirms, including 483 in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen - where cases have doubled in the last week.
There are 86 local authorities where five or more cases have been logged, and Bedford is the next major concern.
Mr Hancock adds there are eight people hospitalised in Blackburn, and 19 in Bolton - the majority of whom are eligible for vaccine but have not yet had it.
He says this shows the variant is not penetrating into older groups, and underscores why people need to take the vaccine.
"Vaccines save lives and they will help us all get out of this pandemic," he says, adding there has been a surge of testing and vaccines in Bolton on a scale unseen anywhere else so far in the pandemic.
He adds: "The next biggest case of concern is Bedford where we are surging testing - and I would urge everybody in Bedford to exercise caution and engage in testing where it is available."
The latest UK Covid figures are in
A further five deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test and 1,979 new cases have been recorded in the last 24 hours, Government figures show.
Meanwhile, 131,318 more first doses of the Covid vaccine were administered, and 183,745 second shots.
Covid spikes in Indian variant hotspots 'driven by younger age groups'
Covid-19 rates in the UK's worst hotspots are being driven by a sharp rise in cases among younger age groups, new analysis shows.
The rates broadly follow vaccination lines, with over-60s much more likely to be jabbed, prompting calls for the vaccine rollout in hotspots to be extended as far as teenagers. Vaccine hesitancy may also factor in.
Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen are currently recording the steepest Covid-19 rates in the UK, blamed on the more infectious Indian variant.
In each of the three areas, case rates among younger people are running at a much higher level than those for older age groups. For example:
The worst hotspot - Bolton in Greater Manchester - recorded 733 new cases of Covid-19 in the seven days to May 11, but the rate among 10-19 year-olds is more than eight times that for over-60s
Broken down in Bolton, the case rate among over-60s is 59.9 per 100,000 people, but for those aged 10-19 it is 486.2, up from 200.7 a week earlier, while for those aged 20-29 the rate has jumped from 147.9 to 310.0
In Bedford, the second-worst hotspot, cases among those aged 60 and over stand at 24.6 per 100,000, compared to 324.5 for 10 to 19-year-olds (up from 109.7 a week earlier) and 189.8 among 20 to 29-year-olds (up from 86.8 a week earlier).
EU finally has its vaccine rollout on track, but history will still judge it a loser
The EU's vaccination rollout has picked up after a slow, rocky start plagued by contract rows with AstraZeneca and threats of a hard border in Ireland. Their problems are not yet over though.
The bloc's vaccine crisis has left Ursula von der Leyen with "a blotted copybook" and the bloc's unprecedented borrowing against its own budget has been described by some as a dangerous step towards federalisation.
Here The Telegraph's Europe Editor James Crisp explains why even though the EU's vaccine rollout is now on track, history may still judge it a loser.
Why is it that just as we unlock there is - yet again - a new reason to be cautious?
The vaccines seem to work against the Indian variant, so why the hysteria, asks Victoria Hewson.
The British people have stoically shivered through this wintry spring, clinging on to the hope of an indoor pint today, and even to the prospect of being allowed to meet more than 6 people inside from June 21. Then, right on cue, as if following the playbook of the conspiracy theorists, just as the re-opening reaches these milestones, a new variant appears, provoking calls from Sage to pause the roadmap journey and maintain restrictions. We should not accept the lowering of the threshold for curtailment of our civil liberties that has crept in over the past year.
Analysis: Latest Indian variant sequencing data suggests troubling picture
The Wellcome Sanger Institute has published its latest data on the spread of the India variant, known as B.1.617.2, and it doesn't make for happy reading, our correspondent Sarah Newey writes.
The organisation's Covid-19 Genomic Surveillance unit removes data from travellers and surge testing in its data release, so is seen as a good proxy for community spread.
Up to May 8, some 829 cases of B.1.617.2 were detected in England, up from 331 the week before and 113 in the last week of April. The variant is now responsible for roughly 20 per cent of all cases detected.
Bolton has reported the most cases - 210 - followed by Blackburn with Darwen, Sefton and Bedford. But the picture is more concerning across the country when looking at the proportion of cases detected caused by B.1.617.2.
In Bolton, the variant is responsible for 81.4 per cent of all cases, and it also seems to be prevalent across the North West more broadly and also London - 74 per cent of cases in Croydon, for instance, are linked to B.1.617.2.
A high proportion of cases in southern England more broadly are also the India variant, but cases here are much lower overall.
Is the Indian variant really a big cause for concern yet?
Hotspots of the Indian variant are not yet having a noticeable impact on coronavirus infection levels across the UK, according to a leading expert.
Prof Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King's College London, has seen no increase on the ZOE smartphone app, where people log symptoms of Covid-19.
Here's what he says:
Read more: I wouldn't meet indoors, says Sage scientist
Poll: do young people need to wait their turn for jabs?
Downing Street has said young people should not be allowed to get fast-tracked for coronavirus vaccines in hotspots for the Indian variant.
Instead, councils are told to prioritise giving second doses to older groups.
But on the ground, some teenagers are said to have received the call-up for a jab amid concerns they could spread the variant.
So what do you think?
Lloyd Webber hits out at 'selfish' vaccine refuseniks
The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned ministers not to allow "selfish" vaccine refuseniks to derail the final roadmap out of lockdown.
Lloyd Webber said that he would not be re-starting his shows until all Covid restrictions are scrapped as it is "too costly" to play to reduced audiences.
He warned that people who refuse to take a vaccine are jeopardising the June 21 date for the final stage of England's roadmap.
Lord Lloyd-Webber told BBC Radio 4's World At One that the June 21 date was "absolutely critical". "If that doesn't happen, I really don't even want to think about it," he said. "It has been such a devastating time for everybody.
"I just feel so strongly at the moment, particularly the people who are not getting vaccinated and everything, just how selfish it is, because so many people depend on this June 21 date, they really depend on it."
Tourism and hospitality chiefs demand talks with Sturgeon
Tourism and hospitality chiefs are calling for urgent talks with Nicola Sturgeon after Glasgow was left in Level 3 coronavirus restrictions following localised outbreaks.
The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) and UKHospitality have asked for a half-hour phone call with the First Minister after she announced on Friday that the Scottish Government would not move Glasgow and Moray to Level 2 restrictions like the rest of mainland Scotland. Many Scottish islands also dropped to Level 1 restrictions today.
In Level 3 restrictions, hospitality venues can only serve alcohol outdoors and meals indoors must stop at 8pm. Ms Sturgeon also announced a ban on travel in and out of the Glasgow and Moray council areas.
In a joint letter to Ms Sturgeon, STA chief executive Marc Crothall and UKHospitality Scotland executive director Leon Thompson said: "While I imagine the decision to keep Glasgow at Level 3 amidst the growing prevalence of the so-called Indian strain of the virus will have been a hugely challenging one for Government... this has thrown a significant part of our industry and, indeed, the supply chain back into crisis mode and the mental health, resilience and commercial viability of the sector are of considerable concern."
They warned that the travel ban has led to "widespread cancellations" for tourism businesses, food and drinks will go to waste and the supply chain has been "left in limbo".
They added that the £750 offered by the Scottish Government to support businesses hit by the requirement to remain in Level 3 is not enough.
As the UK takes another step out of lockdown, here's the latest pictures
Now a cyclone threatens to derail Covid-hit India's vaccine rollout
The strongest cyclone in over twenty years is set to hit the western Indian state of Gujarat this evening, bringing further disruption to India's Covid vaccine rollout, Joe Wallen reports.
At least 12 people have already died as Cyclone Tauktae brushed past India's western coast states.
The death toll is already expected to be much higher from the “extremely severe” storm as 28 fishing boats are missing in the Arabian Sea, according to an Indian official.
The strength of the cyclone is on par with a Category Three hurricane. Almost 150,000 people have already been evacuated from their homes in Gujarat. This is leading to fears of a renewed spread of Covid-19 as residents huddle together in large numbers in storm shelters.
Here's the latest from India as the sky proves an omen
Vaccine enthusiasm growing, says No 10 amid variant concern
Enthusiasm for getting a coronavirus vaccine has only increased as the rollout has gathered pace, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters this lunchtime: "Firstly it's really important whenever talking about hesitancy to highlight the fact that we have the most enthusiastic population for vaccine uptake in the world and that enthusiasm has only increased as we've progressed on the rollout.
"But that said we are not complacent and there are a number of different approaches we're taking with vaccine-hesitant groups to engage them whether be it via social media, with community leaders directly, using trusted voices, clinical voices, and that work continues."
Asked whether officials could go door to door to combat vaccine hesitancy, he said: "I'm not aware of any specific plans but those might vary on the ground as well."
No 10 added that concern about the the Indian variant was not just confined to vaccine refuseniks, but that vaccine efficacy is reduced, though there is no evidence of this so far.
Japanese opposition to Tokyo Olympics hardens with weeks to go
More than 80 percent of Japanese polled oppose hosting the Tokyo Olympics this year, a new survey shows.
The latest downbeat poll comes after Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday as the nation battles a fourth wave of infections.
Ten weeks before the postponed games are due to begin, the surge in cases has piled pressure on the country's healthcare system, with medical professionals warning about shortages and burnout.
Some 43 percent of respondents want the games cancelled, 40 percent want another postponement, and 59 percent want no spectators, the poll of 1,527 replies from 3,191 telephone calls by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found.
Only 14 percent said they supported holding the Games this summer as scheduled.
UK potentially 'in for another big wave' throwing lockdown easing into doubt
We could be set ‘for another big wave’ and roadmap is in ‘real uncertainty’, according to a vaccine rollout chief.
Professor Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), suggested he was hopeful the June 21 lifting of all restrictions could go ahead, but offered a dose of caution too.
"That's been the story all the way through, that things don't always turn out the way you expect," he said. "You lay down plans and then something changes, and I think we're still in a place where that is perfectly likely to happen.
"I really hope that these current concerns around this variant evaporate, that everything goes to plan, but I think we just have to accept the possibility that we're in for another big wave and that we will have to change what we're doing.
"That's not good news for people in businesses I know, but it's the reality... We're faced with real uncertainty here."
Indian variant could end in tiers after all
Downing Street has not ruled out a return to a tiered system of local lockdowns amid concern over the Indian variant of the coronavirus.
Last week, No 10 played down the prospect of tiers returning should the Indian variant situation worsen.
But asked this lunchtime whether ministers would consider a return to the tiered rules for hotspots, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "I don't want to get ahead of where we are at the moment and start getting into hypothetical situations.
"As the Prime Minister has set out, we've moved as a country into step three, albeit with a very targeted increase in surge vaccinations and testing in these areas where we're seeing rises and that's what we want to proceed with if at all possible but we don't want to rule anything out.
"And I think until we have more data and more evidence, we won't be making those judgments."
Plan to drop social distancing for good could be delayed, No 10 suggests
A planned review of social distancing measures could be delayed as a result of the Indian variant, Downing Street has said.
Boris Johnson previously said he would announce whether rules such as putting up plastic screens and sitting facing away from each other to reduce Covid risk could be relaxed by the end of May, to give businesses adequate notice before June 21.
But his spokesman told reporters this lunchtime: "We want to do it as soon as possible but... we need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India so I'm not going to give a set time for doing that. We want to do everything possible to give people enough time to prepare."
Asked whether this meant the announcement could come after the end of the month, he added: "We can't be definitive at this point because of this variant that has been identified."
Downing Street 'proceeding cautiously' with lockdown roadmap
In a briefing to journalists this lunchtime, Downing Street has said the Government is "proceeding cautiously" with the lifting of lockdown despite the risk from the Indian variant.
The Prime Minister's spokesman was asked if he agreed with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng that there was nothing to suggest the June 21 lifting would be delayed.
He replied: "The PM set out the position last week, you know we are proceeding cautiously, we will keep a close eye on the data and as the Business Secretary made clear this morning currently there's nothing in the data to suggest we can't proceed.
"But obviously we are keeping a very watchful eye on the outbreaks of the variant first identified in India, and particularly what impact it has on hospitalisation rates, and things like that."
Could slow vaccine rollout undermine Asia’s success in tackling Covid?
Over to Thailand now, where Somchai Maneetawat’s restaurant is on the brink of collapse. The 38-year-old’s business in Phuket would normally be thriving, but profits have plunged by 95 per cent as the Southeast Asian nation battles a third wave of Covid infections.
The golden sands of Phuket are supposed to reopen in July, leading the way as the first province of Thailand to scrap quarantine rules for vaccinated visitors in an important step towards reviving the country’s £46 billion tourism industry.
But after a successful first year of containing the pandemic, record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases – spiking at 4,887 on Thursday – and the slow pace of the vaccination programme may force a government rethink, and finally sink struggling businesses like Somchai’s.
Thailand’s worsening situation reflects an alarming surge of Covid-19 across much of Asia.
Nicola Smith, George Styllis and Sarah Newey delve into the issue
Don't wait for the vaccine refuseniks, Tory MPs tell Johnson
Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure from backbench Tory MPs this morning, unhappy at reports the Prime Minister is considering delaying the June 21 lifting of all lockdown restrictions amid low vaccine take-up among some groups.
Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, tweeted: "Concerning to hear Govt is entertaining the delay of the June 21 unlocking - causing massive problems for many people’s livelihoods - because some people won’t have a jab.
"Wider society’s fate can’t be sealed by the actions of a small group of people, whatever their reasoning.
"You can't say 'I'm not going to take the vaccine, but I need everybody else to change their lives to protect me’. I'm afraid that risk you run - it's on you."
Here's the latest on the Indian coronavirus strain
How is lockdown lifting in different parts of Britain?
Here's how restrictions are changing in all four nations of the UK today:
People in England can meet outdoors in groups of up to 30, and indoors in groups of six, or two households, with pubs and restaurants able to serve customers inside. Museums, cinemas and other indoor attractions can reopen.
The "stay in the UK" restriction will lift and people will be able to go on holiday to "green list" countries including Portugal without having to quarantine on their return, provided they take one post-arrival test.
Wales moves to alert level two with the reopening of indoor hospitality and entertainment venues.
In most of Scotland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue, and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.
But Glasgow and Moray will remain under Level 3 of the five-tier system, meaning pubs cannot serve alcohol indoors.
Northern Ireland is waiting until May 24 to lift more restrictions, including up to six people from two households allowed to meet in private homes, overnight stays allowed, and hospitality reopening indoors.
Travel firms plead for bigger green list as holidaymakers head for the sun
Thousands of people have departed on international flights after the ban on foreign holidays was lifted for people in Britain.
Travel firms welcomed the boost in demand but have called for coronavirus restrictions to be eased for more destinations.
Portugal, one of just a handful of destinations on the Government's quarantine-free green list, will welcome 16 flights from England at Faro Airport in the Algarve on Monday. Tui is using aircraft normally reserved for long-haul routes to accommodate the surge of passengers.
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said ministers must "start progressively assigning green status to many more lower-risk countries as their vaccination rates increase".
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren added: "The latest data suggests that most of Europe could actually already from right now go on to that green list of categories."
Here's the latest from joyful passengers this morning:
Analysis: Vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of Indian variant infections
Vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of infections with the Indian variant, real world data suggests, with no known cases of death among those fully vaccinated in the UK.
Ministers on Sunday repeated pleas for all those eligible to get the jab, with the Health Secretary warning that many of those hospitalised in this country with the variant had not had a vaccine.
He said that of 18 cases in Bolton hospitals – Britain’s worst hotspot – just one person was fully vaccinated, although most were eligible.
While the UK has now recorded 1,313 cases of the Indian variant, Matt Hancock said the Government is not aware of anyone who had died with the variant after receiving two jabs.
Our health editor Laura Donnelly has taken a look at the latest figures.
Hospitality chief warns of 'grave consequences' if local lockdowns imposed
Any further local lockdowns would have "grave consequences" for the hospitality sector, Greater Manchester's night-time economy adviser has warned.
Sacha Lord, also co-founder of Parklife festival, said he is "deeply concerned" about comments from Government ministers over the weekend refusing to rule out further shutdowns in Indian variant hotspots, such as Bolton.
"As local lockdowns and delays have now been raised as possible options to control the variant, the Government must come forward immediately and provide specifics on how nightlife businesses will be financially supported if these ideas do come to fruition, including whether business rates will be extended," he said.
"Floating these ideas without providing this information causes unnecessary stress and anxiety to business owners.
"Many venues have viewed June 21 as the date when they can finally begin to rebuild their livelihoods. To delay this or to impose new lockdowns without extending financial support will have grave consequences for a sector which has been fighting so desperately to stay afloat."
'All the passengers burst into applause'
Here's the latest from the joyful passengers heading for "green-list" countries this morning as the ban on overseas travel lifts.
Tui cabin crew member Kim Mariani, from Portsmouth, says it's "absolutely lovely" to be serving passengers flying from London's Gatwick Airport to Madeira, a Portuguese island.
She was volunteering at a Covid vaccination centre while on furlough since January, along with many of her colleagues. Passengers burst into applause as the plane touched down.
"It's so nice to be back and it's so nice to take people on holidays," she says. "Holidays are so important to people to spend time with their family and relax."
Meanwhile, Royal Mail postman Gary Underdown, 33, says he is "shocked" at how quickly he and his family got through airport security in Faro, Portugal.
Having flown from Gatwick with his partner Georgina Raven, who also works for Royal Mail, and their young son, he says: "We're key workers, we work for Royal Mail, we've been working a lot and very hard for the last year so we just want a break.
"Sit at the pool, do nothing, walk up into the mountains, that's all we want to do."
Dispatch: We're tested, forms are filled, and here's how it feels
On board flight BA500 from Heathrow to Lisbon, there is a distinctly celebratory mood in the air, writes Gordon Rayner.
For those lucky - or canny - enough to have bought a ticket on one of the first flights to a “green list” country, it felt like an escape from Covid, lockdown and, of course, the British weather.
Even the reams of form-filling, pre-flight tests and the early start for an 07.30 departure couldn’t take the edge off the sheer joy of taking to the sky for the first time in more than a year.
On board flight BA500 London-Lisbon with The Telegraph
The Telegraph has a reporter and a photographer on board the first flight from London to Lisbon.
Here is the story, told in pictures.
'Opening up is welcome but personally, we will remain extremely cautious'
Professor Peter Openshaw told BBC Breakfast: "What we're all saying moment is the opening up is welcome but personally, we will remain extremely cautious.
"And I think many members of the Government are saying that as well that 'personally, we're not going to be going into areas that are enclosed or poorly ventilated, we're still going to be wearing masks, we're still going to be washing our hands and keeping our distance'.
"And I think that's really wise advice at the moment especially what was so much uncertainty in the data."
The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, added: "It's a very difficult situation that we're in at the moment, we still don't really know enough about the B.1.617.2, the so-called Indian variant, in terms of its transmissibility, it does look like it is significantly more transmissible even than the B.1.1.7, or so called Kentish variant, which was more transmissible than the earlier variant.
"So it looks like the transmissibility as the virus continues to mutate is climbing, but we really didn't have the information last week when the decision needed to be made about opening up today in terms of just how transmissible it is and how much it is possible to prevent that transmission by vaccination."
'I think it's about individual risks and people taking that choice'
Asked if the opening up this Monday was going too far, Professor Graham Medley told LBC: "Well that's a Government decision, my job is ...to kind of assess the risks, and then the Government's job is to manage them.
"There has always been a risk that if we have another wave of infection between now and the end of the vaccination programme that we will end up with large numbers of people in hospital.
"This new variant does seem to be more transmissible, and so it's just increased that risk a bit."
He said there was "some suggestion" that vaccines might be slightly weakened against the Indian variant "but there's no clear data to suggest that so I think we are working to the positive at the moment, that the vaccine is going to work."
On whether he would go to a pub or restaurant indoors on Monday, he said: "If it was suitably organised, and it looks OK and I was in an area with low prevalence and the clientele was very old, then I would think 'OK, fair enough, they've all been vaccinated'.
"I think it's about individual risks and people taking that choice, which is different from what the Government has to do which is to avoid the risk of large numbers of people in hospital again."
Sage member: Less than 50pc June 21 will be delayed
Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advising the Government, said he thought there was a less than 50% chance that the June 21 road map will be delayed.
Asked by LBC's Nick Ferrari if June 21 could be delayed, he said the chance is "well less than 50%" but added "it is uncertain".
Asked later about June 21 and how confident businesses such as theatres could be in reopening, he said: "It's a risk ...I think it's better than 50% that we'll go through this next phase without having to close things again rapidly, but we're moving back to the situation we were in 2018 before all this all started when there was a risk that we would have a pandemic, but people weren't factoring that into account.
"Now we are in the middle of this epidemic and so the risks are bigger, but it's impossible to give an accurate number to it."
Prof Medley, who was speaking in a personal capacity, told LBC he thought "there's really one other wave" of infection to come in the UK, but hopefully "vaccines will hold back the virus and prevent people going to hospital".
He said there would be another wave "at some point during the summer, maybe late into September or October, depending on how much people mix - so one of the things we can't do is with the modelling is to basically predict what people will do".
Reopening joy, in pictures
Hugging is a 'high-risk procedure', says Nervtag scientist
Hugging is a "high-risk procedure", Professor Peter Openshaw said.
The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: "Some of us are quite happy not to be hugging and kissing many times on the cheek.
"This is a high-risk procedure, I would say in medical terms and I would certainly not be embracing people closely.
"I think you can greet people perfectly well at a distance with a smile and a kind word."
He added: "I think we must be extremely cautious.
"I think we're all in agreement that this is a moment when we need to be very cautious if we're going to preserve our freedoms going forward into the summer.
"The more cautious we are now, the more likely it is that we're going to be able to open up as we hope to over the summer."
Be cautious, even if you've been vaccinated, says Nervtag member
Asked about new travel freedoms, Nervtag's Professor Peter Openshaw urged people to be cautious, even if they had been vaccinated.
Prof Openshaw, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: "Well I think if you are going to be in an enclosed space, you must wear a really well-fitting mask, you must wash your hands and maybe travel with some hand sanitiser and do everything you can to reduce the likelihood of you being infected, even if you're vaccinated.
"It looks like this variant may be able to cause infection, to the degree that you may be able to transmit the virus even though the vaccines very, very much reduce the severity of disease and make it very unlikely, even if you're in the high risk group, that you're going to end up in hospital, or getting very severe infection."
Minister urges people in Bolton to come forward for vaccine
Those who are eligible for a vaccine in Bolton are being urged to take up the offer to guard against the Indian variant, the Business Secretary said.
Kwasi Kwarteng said he did not want to "stigmatise people" over alleged vaccine hesitancy, telling BBC Radio 4's Today: "What we are trying to do in Bolton is encourage people who haven't taken the vaccine to do so.
"I think that is being more effective - certainly at the beginning of the year, there was a certain degree of resistance to taking the vaccine.
"We're not exactly where we want to be among certain communities but I think the take-up has been much greater in the last few months and more and more people are convinced that this is the way to keep themselves and their families safe."
He added: "I would urge them (those who are eligible) very clearly to take up the vaccine."
More than 6,200 vaccines administered in Bolton over weekend
Dr Helen Wall, who is leading the vaccination effort in Bolton, said that over the weekend more than 6,200 vaccines were administered in the area.
Long queues of people were seen waiting for vaccines in the region - which is one of the places where the new variant of concern first identified in India has been spreading.
"We're seeing people coming forward that clearly had the option to have the jab for some time - older people, disabled people - and they've chosen to come forward now," Dr Wall told BBC Breakfast.
"I think in part that's because we brought this into the community as a trusted place, but also the things that are going on in Bolton are quite worrying for people and I think that's given some push to people coming forward now for the vaccine."
She said before the weekend there were around 10,000 people in the area in the highest priority groups - those deemed to be clinically vulnerable and the over-50s - who were yet to be vaccinated, but added: "I'm hoping that we've made a big dent into that now".
Minister defends Government's India timing
Kwasi Kwarteng defended the Government's timing when adding India to the red list of countries where returning travellers are required to quarantine in a hotel, and said he was "very confident" vaccines would protect against the variant first discovered in the South Asian country.
Asked whether the UK was "too slow" to close its borders to India, the Business Secretary told LBC radio: "I don't think we were.
"India was put on the red list on April 23 - before the variant was even identified we could see that there was something wrong.
"And even if you arrived from India before April 23, you had to have a quarantine and there were measures in place to restrict the danger.
"It is easy with hindsight to say things could have been better or quicker and all the rest of it, but I think there was a balanced approach.
"I think April 23 was fairly early - a month ago nearly - and we've managed to contain this variant, partly - principally actually - because of the rollout.
"The rollout has been very successful, something like 36 million people so far have had the first dose, 20 million have had two doses, and we are very confident that the vaccination will deal with the Indian variant as it has done with other variants of coronavirus."
'Concern' over older people yet to take vaccine, says NHS Providers chief
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said there were "concerns" about small numbers of older people who are yet to take up their vaccine offer.
"The biggest risk comes from, if there are large numbers of older people who are unvaccinated," he told Times Radio.
"Now the good news is we've done very well with the vaccine take-up but there is a very small number who are eligible for the vaccine, who actually haven't taken it and surprise, surprise, as the Secretary of State was saying yesterday, that's the majority of cases that we are now seeing.
"And as he said there were five people who've had a single dose in hospital, and only one person who's had a double dose - so that does suggest that Sir John Bell is correct when he says that actually the vaccine is really efficacious.
"The real issue is that we know that there are communities of people who haven't been vaccinated and who are eligible - and we know there's a link for example to deprivation, we know there's a link to ethnicity."
'Support British businesses', says London Mayor
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has urged people to "support British business" as lockdown rules ease.
He told Sky News: "We have begun the biggest domestic tourism campaign London has ever seen encouraging Londoners to come back to the West End and encouraging those across the country, who maybe a bit crestfallen that they cannot go on their international holidays, 'don't worry everything you need is in London'."
He said "this is probably the only spring and summer where you are not competing against international tourists" for museum, gallery or restaurant bookings.
He told the programme: "It is important that we of course have a good time, stay safe but also protect jobs.
"The reality is that one out of five Londoners works in hospitality or culture and so you can safely have a great time and also support British business."
Minister urges people not to drink too heavily on first day
A senior Government minister has urged people not to drink too heavily on the first day of being permitted to eat and drink inside pubs again.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC radio: "What the Prime Minister has said very clearly is, yes, we are opening partially ahead of June 21 but we've got to behave sensibly, we've got to exercise some caution because if people get too carried away, we could jeopardise the ability to reopen on June 21."
Asked how people could exercise caution at the pub, the Cabinet minister said: "It is fairly clear to me in terms of common sense that what you can do is socialise in a normal way but obviously we advise ordinarily against excessive drinking, endangering people, getting too many large groups together if that can be avoided.
"That's what he means, that we need to be cautious because if we get too carried away and the mutant variant spreads too quickly, that could endanger our ability to open up on June 21."
England reopens, in pictures
Watch | Pub-goers enjoy their first indoor drinks as lockdown restrictions ease
Some hardy drinkers couldn't wait for tonight, so queued up to get into a pub at the strike of midnight.
Restrictions 'may have to be reversed if variant escapes vaccine'
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, warned that restrictions may have to be reversed if the new variant "escapes" protection afforded to people by the Covid-19 vaccines.
"The new variant that has come, the B.167, is becoming dominant in parts of the UK," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"Yet vaccination across the country has been extraordinarily successful.
"I think we will see an increase of cases and infections over the coming weeks as some of the restrictions are lifted, but I think the key question is whether we have decoupled increased transmission and number of people who do get infected from the number of people that get ill and need to go into hospital or with long Covid.
"If we've decoupled them, then I think the country can cope with a marginal degree of an increase in transmission.
"So that is the key question and to be honest, we don't know that today and that is why I think a very careful lifting is reasonable, but we may have to reverse that if there is escape from the vaccine."
He added: "I just think we're at this point where we've lifted restrictions, and yet we don't have that full amount of information - I think it is reasonable to lift them today, but I do believe all of us need to be really, really careful."
Risk of Indian variant spread as UK starts flying
There is a risk that the variant first identified in India could be transmitted by people travelling out of the UK, Sir Jeremy Farrar said.
The director of the Wellcome Trust told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Britain is a very connected, and very small country and the chance of local cases becoming regional and then regional becoming national is very clear.
"And it is also connected internationally and I think that's also a concern not only for importation of new variants coming into the country, but also people travelling out of the country - there is a risk that this variant B.617 could be transmitted from the UK now.
"I think travel should still be very cautious and only when absolutely essential.
"But the only way to stop these variants occurring is to drive down transmission."
He added: "The biggest risk to countries like the UK - who have done very well with vaccine rollout - is variants arising from anywhere in the world and then spreading around the world when they have a biological advantage.
"So driving down transmission in this country is essential, but so is it in the rest of the world, and that means driving down transmission and making vaccines available globally."
Punters raise a glass to the easing of restrictions today
Pubs had a relatively slow start as they welcomed punters inside for the first time in at least four months due to the latest lifting of restrictions - the biggest easing since summer.
The Oak Inn in Coventry was among the venues opening their doors at midnight, with owner Darren Lee saying about 100 people had gathered for a drink but he noted the pub was not "overly busy".
It was much quieter in the capital, with most venues in south-west London remaining closed ahead of an expected busy day of trading today.
From today, people are allowed to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants, although the "rule of six" applies.
Hugs and other physical contact between households is permitted for the first time in a year; limited audiences are allowed to attend theatres, music venues and stadiums; cinemas, hotels and B&Bs reopen; and the ban on foreign travel has been lifted.
But the Prime Minister warned that there needed to be a "heavy dose of caution" as fears grow that a surge in cases fuelled by the Indian variant could delay further easing of restrictions.
Khan: Younger people in hotpots should get vaccine
A coronavirus vaccine should be given to younger people in those parts of the country where the Indian variant is causing concern, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said.
He said he has asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi for the "flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about this strain".
Mr Khan told Sky News that "what we are saying is be nimble in those pockets where we know there is an issue, let's use the vaccine sensibly".
He added there should be a "hyper-local approach" in affected boroughs which should include "those who are younger, who would have to wait a few weeks, to have this vaccine now to avoid the strain spreading".
Mr Khan urged people to test regularly and told the programme that "the virus isn't rigid and doesn't follow rigid rules and we have got to be nimble in our response to it".
I still wouldn't meet indoors, says professor
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that he would not meet indoors "at the moment".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring, mostly indoors, mostly in larger gatherings indoors with lots of different people, different families, different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment personally."
But he added: "I don't think it's unreasonable to lift the restrictions - we do need to lift the restrictions at some point, we've been in restrictions now for a very long time."
PM hails perseverance of everyone following rules
Here's Boris Johnson, who urges caution as society reopens.
Pubs reopen to 'over the moon' punters
Finlay Woodhead, 20, could barely contain his excitement at being back inside a pub.
"I'm over the moon, I've been waiting so long," he said while sitting next to his friend, 19-year-old Josh Utting, at Showtime Bar.
"It's so nice to be sat inside where it's warm. I love it, honestly, I love it."
Mr Snowball added: "I think for people from the North, it's kind of special to us, a pub.
"There's an intimacy when we all get together, with our friends, and we talk."
'As quick and easy a trip through airport as they will ever have experienced'
And he's off! Gordon Rayner is on the plane.
He writes, despite being told to have print-outs of my negative Covid test, proof of tests that are booked in Portugal and on return to the UK, I haven’t been asked to show them, making passage through the airport a breeze.
It might be a different story when we arrive in Portugal of course.
But for those lucky enough to have booked flights for today, it’s been as quick and easy a trip through the airport as they will ever have experienced.
'Good time to fly because there are no queues'
Also flying to Lisbon are Claire Madden and Steve Wilson, both 52, from Brackley, Northants., who are off for a five-day break.
Claire said: “It feels like a good time to be flying because the airport is very quiet and there haven’t been any queues.
“We thought there would be quite a wait when we got here but it was very smooth.
“It’s going to be amazing to get some sunshine, fresh air and seafood and put Covid behind us for a few days.”
'We just can't wait. It's unbelievable that we're really here'
At Heathrow Terminal 5’s Gate A13 the mood is one of celebration and relief for passengers flying for the first time in more than a year.
Tiggy Duchesne, 21, flying to Lisbon with boyfriend Henry Collins, also 21, said their holiday in Portugal would feel extra-special after the past year of restrictions.
She said: “We just can’t wait. It’s unbelievable that we’re here really.
“All my friends have been saying ‘what? You’re going abroad?’ - there is a bit of jealousy there!
“We booked on the off-chance two months ago and we’ve been lucky. Our RyanAir flights were cancelled but luckily we were able to rebook with BA.
“The form-filling and Covid tests were a bit of an irritation but it’s been worth it.”
Virtual queues and check your bags in from home
As well as a forthcoming trial of virtual queueing, Heathrow and its airlines are doing whatever they can to save passengers having to stand in lines or congregate in certain areas, as they try to make sure social distancing can be maintained wherever possible, writes Gordon Rayner.
Passengers getting the Heathrow Express train from Paddington can check in their bags at the station free of charge, so that they only have their hand baggage from then on, and can go straight to security when they arrive at the terminal.
If you want to spend around £150 extra, companies like Diamond Air will even pick up your bags from your home the night before and check them in for you.
From the next half term, a family zone will be open at Terminal 5, with 25 check-in desks dedicated to people travelling with children to “take away the stress for families”, according to Matthew Callard, BA’s head of ground experience (though most parents would probably say that taking away the children is the only way of taking away the stress of travelling as a family).
The Covid casualties at duty free
Changes in duty free rules mean that airport shopping isn’t quite the same as the way you might remember it, reports our Associate Editor Gordon Rayner.
Dixons, for example, has pulled out of Heathrow, so if you were hoping to buy some cut-price headphones to take with you on your trip, forget it.
John Lewis has gone from Heathrow Terminal 2 and Cath Kidston has also shut up shop.
The good news is that if you’re one of those people who pops across the concourse to buy a Rolex while your other half is finishing their Pret A Manger croissant, you’re in luck, as luxury brands are very much staying put. The perfume and aftershave shops are still open too.
What changes will I see when I fly?
Among the changes you will notice if you’re flying in the next few weeks (apart from the endless form-filling) is that Heathrow is constantly being cleaned and disinfected by a 100-strong army of cleaners, or hygiene technicians to give them their official titles, writes Gordon Rayner.
The most well-used “touch points” such as lift buttons are disinfected every 20 to 25 minutes, and the loos are zapped every three to four days with robots that frazzle all germs in their vicinity using UVC light. It’s so powerful that humans can’t be in the room when it happens, so it is only done at night time.
The robots in Terminal 5 are called Victoria and Kelly, though staff insist they have female names because “it’s like naming ships” rather than because of any suggestion cleaning is women’s work.
Once on board the aircraft, you’ll be breathing air which is completely replaced every two to three minutes, and is filtered to remove 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses, according to Mike Harrigan, BA’s head of health services. BA aircraft use the same filters that are used to ensure sterile air in operating theatres.
It means the air is refreshed 10 times more often than in the average office, and aircraft are designed so that air flows from the ceiling to the floor (where it is extracted, filtered and recirculated), meaning the air is not flowing backwards and forwards through the cabin, minimising the risk of airborne infections.
All aircraft are deep-cleaned overnight and wiped down between flights, and passengers must wear masks onboard and can’t leave their seats unless it’s to go to the loo or exercise. So no chatting with your friends five rows back.
BA pilot: 'We are ready and the aircraft are ready'
If you’re worried that aircraft might have rusty brakes or birds nesting in the engines after so long out of use, your fears are unfounded, as almost all aircraft have been used regularly during the pandemic, writes Gordon Rayner.
All of the British Airways fleet, apart from its A380s, have been used for passenger or cargo flights in rotation, as well as being moved between “dry store” destinations such as southern Spain or Palma in Majorca. Even those that have not been flown in active service have been maintained to higher than required standards, according to BA pilot Capt Al Bridger.
He told The Telegraph: “The aircraft and the pilots have been rotated, as we have never stopped flying. We’ve flown 12,000 tons of PPE for a start.
“Pilots have to be at the controls every 35 days or less, and they also have to be assessed in a simulator every six months.
“We have not had any issues with the aircraft, as the engineers have done a terrific job. The pilots are ready and the aircraft are ready.”
Telegraph's guide to flying to a 'green list' country
The Telegraph’s Associate Editor Gordon Rayner is about to board BA flight 500 to Lisbon, departing at 07.30, along with the lucky holidaymakers who had the foresight to book for the first day the “green list” comes into action.
He writes: "If you’re the sort of person who constantly checks they have their passport, even when you already know it’s in your bag, the list of forms you need to have with you now is likely to induce a fit of the collywobbles.
"If you want to fly to Portugal you will need to have with you: a certificate proving you have tested negative within 72 hours of flying; proof you have booked a virtual appointment to take a test in Portugal; a copy of your passenger locator form; proof you have booked a day 2 test when you return; an antigen test to take three days before you come back, and, of course, your passport (which must be valid for at least another six months as a result of Brexit).
"Everyone heading off to Portugal today will have spent around £150 on Covid tests to enable them to travel.
"PCR tests, which have to be completed 72 hours before departure as well as two days after returning, cost £40-60 each, with in-country tests, proving you have not caught Covid while on holiday, cost £33."
The 14 things you can do today that you couldn't yesterday
The further lifting of the lockdown restrictions means that from today:
Pubs and restaurants can open indoors
Groups of six or two households can meet indoors and overnight stays are allowed
You can hug someone not in your household
Cinemas, theatres and museums can reopen
Up to 30 people may meet outdoors
Outdoor events allowed up to the lower of 4,000 attendees or 50 per cent capacity
Social distancing and close physical contact with friends and family a matter of personal judgment
No limit to attendees at funerals
Up to 30 people can attend weddings and other life events
Care home residents are allowed up to five named visitors
Hotels, B&Bs, sport and gym classes may reopen
Overseas holidays permitted to "green list" countries
No face coverings required in secondary school classrooms
In-person teaching permitted at universities
Today's front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, May 17.
Taiwan scrambles for vaccines as domestic cases rise
A surge of coronavirus infections in Taiwan, one of the world's Covid-19 mitigation success stories, has left it scrambling to get vaccines as its stock of 300,000 doses starts running out with only about 1 per cent of its 23 million people vaccinated.
Taiwan has been a model of how to control the pandemic since it began and life had carried on almost as normal with none of the lockdowns and overwhelmed hospitals seen elsewhere, thanks largely to effective case tracking and closed borders.
But over the past week it has reported more than 400 domestic cases, out of a total of 1,682 infections recorded since the pandemic began.
Tough new restrictions have been imposed in the capital, Taipei, for the first time as authorities fear an increasing number of cases.
While Taiwan has begun vaccinations, it has only received about 300,000 shots, all AstraZeneca ones, having been caught up in the global shortage despite having 20 million on order, including from Moderna.
How to persuade your vaccine-hesitant friend to get the jab
The Government has announced an acceleration of the vaccination programme as a response to the rise of the Indian variant, with Boris Johnson urging anyone who is eligible, but not yet vaccinated, to come forward for the vaccine.
But how should you persuade a vaccine-hesitant friend or relative to get their jab? Should you focus on data showing how well vaccines work, or data showing the unlikelihood of serious side-effects? Or should you avoid science altogether, and try to appeal to their emotions?
India's surge continues and death toll rises
India on Monday reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,106.
The South Asian nation's total case load is 24.97 million with the death toll at 274,390, health ministry data showed.
Variant affecting more children in Singapore
Singapore warned on Sunday that the new coronavirus variants, such as the one first detected in India, were affecting more children, as the city-state prepares to shut most schools from this week and draws up plans to vaccinate youngsters.
All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.
"Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children," said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
None of the children who have contracted the virus are seriously ill and a few have mild symptoms, he added.
Thailand reports daily record of 9,635 new cases
Thailand reported on Monday a daily record of 9,635 new coronavirus cases, including 6,853 among prisoners, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a third wave of infections.
The combined cases bring the country's total infections to 111,082.
Thailand's Covid-19 task force also recorded 25 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 614 since the pandemic started last year.
G7 urged to donate 'emergency' supplies to COVAX scheme
The head of UNICEF on Monday asked G7 countries to donate supplies to the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme as an emergency measure to address a severe shortfall caused by disruption to Indian vaccine exports.
India has curbed exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by its Serum Institute, which had been pledged to COVAX, to be used by the country as it battles a massive second wave of infections.
UN agency UNICEF, which is in charge of supplying coronavirus vaccines through COVAX, estimates the supply shortfall at 140 million doses by the end of May and about 190 million by the end of June.
"Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, adding that this could help to prevent vulnerable countries from becoming the next global hotspot.
Today's top stories
Boris Johnson has said everyone "must play their part" and get a Covid jab, amid concern that the spread of the Indian variant is being fuelled by those who have refused to be vaccinated.
Vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of infections with the Indian variant, real world data suggests, with no known cases of death among those fully vaccinated in the UK.
Foreign holidays are “not a good idea” this year, a leading University of Oxford professor and government vaccine adviser has warned.
A “one shot” jab could be targeted at vaccine refuseniks in areas which see surges in cases, The Telegraph understands.
Glasgow may be facing weeks more of tougher lockdown restrictions to tackle the spread of the Indian variant, Scotland's national clinical director has warned ahead of lockdown being eased on Monday across most of the country.
UK towns have lost 529 bank branches since the start of the pandemic despite the City watchdog urging lenders to hold back on cuts during the Covid crisis, it has emerged.