Ending lockdown in February would be a 'disaster', Sage scientist warns

·30 min read
More than 50 personnel from RAF Leeming have been helping out at Covid testing locations - RAF Leeming
More than 50 personnel from RAF Leeming have been helping out at Covid testing locations - RAF Leeming

Removing coronavirus restrictions at the end of next month would be a "disaster" and put "enormous pressure" on the NHS, a Sage scientist has warned.

Professor John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it would be a disaster if we removed restrictions in, say, the end of February when we have gone through this first wave of the vaccination.

"First of all vaccines aren't ever 100% protective, and so even those that have been vaccinated would be still at some risk.

"If we relaxed our restrictions we would immediately put the NHS under enormous pressure again."

It came as the World Health Organisation warned that while measures like social distancing are working, we have to do them better.

Dr Margaret Harris told the BBC: "The public health measures that we know work: the distancing, not gathering in large numbers, understanding who has the virus and who has not, keeping the two apart, all those measures do work.

"They work over and over again in a number of countries, so we have to do them better.

"Some of the actions at the borders, like testing people, quarantining people, understanding where they're coming from, are all part of ensuring who has the virus, who has not and keeping them apart."

05:32 PM

Portuguese finance minister tests positive for coronavirus

Portugal's Finance Minister Joao Leao has tested positive for the coronavirus, his office has said, a day after he took part in an in-person meeting in Lisbon with top EU officials including Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The 46-year-old minister has so far shown no symptoms and will continue to work from home during a period of self-isolation, a statement from his ministry said. Self-isolation could last between 10 to 14 days.

05:23 PM

Watch: Salisbury Cathedral turned into 'beautiful' vaccine centre

05:05 PM

Denmark finds first case of South African coronavirus variant

Denmark has registered its first case of infection with a more transmissible coronavirus variant, first found in South Africa, known as B.1.351/501Y, the State Serum Institute has said.

04:56 PM

Italy suspends flights from Brazil in response to new coronavirus strain

Italy is suspending flights from Brazil, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, in response to a new coronavirus strain.

Anyone who has transited Brazil in the last 14 days is also prohibited from entering Italy, he said on Facebook, while people arriving in Italy from Brazil will be required to take a test for the virus.

"It is critical for our scientists to study the new strain. In the meantime, we are taking a very cautious approach", he said.

04:48 PM

Only 129 second doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in Wales

The number of people in the UK to have been given a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is 3,559,179 as of January 15, according to Government data published on Saturday - marking a rise of 324,233 from Friday's figures.

Some 117,906 first doses have been given in Northern Ireland, on top of the 3,090,058 in England, 126,375 in Wales and 224,840 in Scotland.

So far, 447,261 second doses have been administered in the UK, including 424,327 in England, 129 in Wales, 19,474 in Northern Ireland and 3,331 in Scotland.

The total number of jabs administered in the UK, including both first and second doses, is 4,006,440.

04:35 PM

UK doctors say virus patients getting younger and sicker

04:29 PM

Death toll in UK rises by 1,296

The Government said a further 1,295 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 88,590.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 104,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 41,346 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 3,357,361.

04:03 PM

Argentina detects first case of new variant

Argentina has detected its first case of a British-identified coronavirus variant that appears to be more infectious, authorities have said.

The infection was discovered in a man who arrived from Britain in Argentina in late December without symptoms of the disease.

Authorities "detected the variant of SARS-CoV-2 from the United Kingdom in a traveler," science minister Roberto Salvarezza said wrote Twitter, identifying the strain as "VOC202012/01"

The second batch of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has also arrived in Argentina on today, allowing the South American country to apply the second part of the two-dose program aimed at inoculating front-line health workers.

03:40 PM

Mass vaccination of health and social care workers begins in Glasgow

Up to 5,000 health and social care staff are expected to take part in a mass coronavirus vaccination exercise at Glasgow's NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital on Saturday.

The vaccination rollout for frontline health workers is being carried out by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) building that was converted for use as an emergency hospital during the pandemic.

Up to 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are due to be administered each hour from 8.45am to 7.30pm.

It comes as Scotland recorded 1,753 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours and 78 deaths of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the last 28 days.

03:22 PM

22 more die in Northern Ireland from coronavirus

Another 22 people with Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said. The death toll collated by the department now stands at 1,581.

A further 705 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period, the department said.

03:08 PM

England hits 3.5 million vaccinations

A total of 3,514,385 Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place in England between December 8 and January 15, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 324,711 on Friday's figures.

Of this number, 3,090,058 were the first dose of the vaccine, a rise of 320,894 on Friday's figures, while 424,327 were the second dose, an increase of 3,817.

02:45 PM

Chancellor urged to extend £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit

The Chancellor will damage the economic recovery from coronavirus if he fails to extend a £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit and instead replaces it with a one-off gift, Labour has warned.

Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering giving nearly six million benefit claimants a £500 payment as an alternative to the £1,000 yearly uplift to Universal Credit, described as a lifeline for struggling families.

The increase, worth £20 a week, was put in place last spring to help families cope with the coronavirus crisis, but it is due to expire in April.

According to The Times, Mr Sunak is concerned that legislating to extend the uplift could mean it becomes permanent. The paper said he has drawn up a proposal to give a one-off lump sum of £500 instead - costing around £3 billion.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds warned that cutting Universal Credit would be "devastating for families already struggling to get by".

02:25 PM

Councils accused of tighter Covid lockdowns against Government advice

Four local authorities have padlocked childrens' play areas with authorities on the coast closing beauty spot car parks. Patrick Sawer, our Senior News Reporter, has more:

Dozens of playgrounds have been shut and sealed off around the country by council leaders worried about families gathering together and ignoring social distancing measures.

The move comes despite the Government ruling that play areas, which were shut during the first lockdown last year, could stay open this time round.

It raises fears that children are being deprived of places to play safely outdoors at a time when lockdown measures are severely restricting the amount of time parents can take them outside.

Playgrounds have been closed in Essex, Hampshire, Sussex and Hertfordshire after local authorities decided to act amid “ongoing concerns” over high Covid infection rates in their areas.

You can read the full story here.

Activity equipment in the children's playground area of a park in London is closed off, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus - Yui Mok /PA
Activity equipment in the children's playground area of a park in London is closed off, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus - Yui Mok /PA

02:01 PM

Coronavirus holds back wolf wildlife progress

One of the world's longest-running wildlife field studies has fallen prey to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since 1959, a research team has spent most of the winter observing the interplay between wolves and moose at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But this year's mission has been scrapped to protect the scientists and support personnel from possible exposure to the virus, Superintendent Denice Swanke said.

Experts from several universities, the park service and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa had planned to assess how an effort to rebuild the wolf population is affecting the ecosystem.

The remote park is closed from Nov 1 to April 15 The winter researchers use a single cabin, which wouldn't allow for social distancing. Also factoring into the decision to cancel the expedition were the border closure between the United States and Canada, and a shortage of flight resources to bring supplies, Swanke said.

01:38 PM

Denmark has registered 256 cases of new B117 coronavirus variant

Denmark has registered 256 cases of infections with the new and more contagious coronavirus variant known as B117, health authorities have said.

Between mid-November and Jan 10, 256 Danes have been infected with the new variant, first seen in the UK, corresponding to 1.3% of all positive tests genetically analysed in that period, the State Serum Institute said in report published today.

01:14 PM

RAF veteran among hundreds to receive Covid-19 vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral

Former Flight Sergeant Louis Godwin, 95, gave a thumbs-up after being vaccinated in the cathedral, which dates back more than 800 years.

He described receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech jab as "absolutely marvellous" and "no trouble at all".

Salisbury Cathedral opened its doors to patients from five local GP surgeries on Saturday, with the aim of vaccinating 1,000 people aged over 80.

It will serve as a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network Covid-19 vaccination service, with other over-80s due to receive their jabs on Wednesday and Saturday next week.

"It has been absolutely marvellous to come into this wonderful building and have this jab," Mr Godwin said.

"I've had many jabs in my time, especially in the RAF. After the war, I was sent to Egypt and I had a couple of jabs which knocked me over for a week.

"This one, the doctor said to me 'Well that's done' and I thought he hadn't started. So it's no trouble at all and no pain."

12:58 PM

Russia to reopen air travel with Finland, Vietnam, India and Qatar

Russian authorities have said that flights between Moscow and the capitals of Finland, Vietnam, India and Qatar, suspended since the early weeks of the pandemic, would restart from Jan 27, after certain epidemiological criteria were met.

A statement shared following a meeting of the government's coronavirus HQ said that the four countries were seeing fewer than 40 new cases per fortnight per 100,000 people.

12:40 PM

Government reassures NHS staff over threats of legal challenges

At 10:28 we reported that health bodies are asking for protection from legal action over coronavirus deaths.

The Government says staff will be covered legally by the Coronavirus Act.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Dedicated frontline NHS staff should be able to focus on treating patients and saving lives during the pandemic without fear of legal action.

"We have reassured NHS staff that existing indemnity arrangements will rightly continue to cover the vast majority of liabilities which may arise, and we have made specific arrangements so any member of staff not covered by existing indemnity schemes will be protected under the Coronavirus Act.

"Health and care professional regulators have issued a joint statement making clear any concerns raised will be considered in the context of the challenging circumstances staff are operating in."

12:17 PM

Starmer backs tougher restrictions

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested he would back further coronavirus measures, as he said "the tougher the restrictions now the quicker we get the virus back under control".

Answering questions following a speech to the Fabian Society's new year conference, he said was "still worried" by the number of infections despite signs they are falling.

He said the "sense that we are through the worst" of the third wave is wrong, as he welcomed further restrictions on travel announced by the Government on Friday.

"Nobody likes restrictions but the tougher the restrictions now the quicker we get the virus back under control, the quicker we reduce the number of hospital admissions and the quicker we get that number of deaths, tragically, down."

He added: "(The NHS) is really under strain at the moment and we need to do whatever we can to reduce that strain, particularly in the next few weeks, which are going to be critical."

11:54 AM

Greece starts Covid-19 vaccinations among the elderly

Greece has kicked off Covid-19 vaccinations among the elderly, after first inoculating tens of thousands of frontline workers to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 75,000 healthcare workers and nursing home residents and carers have received the shot of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech since Greece rolled out the plan along with other EU countries last month.

"I couldn't wait. It will save people," a 91-year-old woman, who gave her name as Kassiani, told Greek state television after receiving the vaccine at an Athens hospital.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday that Greece aims to have 2 million people inoculated by March. The country has a population of about 11 million.

11:37 AM

Pakistan approves first coronavirus vaccine

Astrazeneca's Covid-19 vaccine has been granted approval for emergency use in Pakistan, the country's health minister said, the first vaccine against the disease to be given the green light in the South Asian country.

"DRAP granted emergency use authorisation to AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine," Pakistan's Health Minister Faisal Sultan told Reuters, referring to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan.

Pakistan is in the process of speaking to a number of vaccine makers, but this is the first local approval.

11:16 AM

UK hospitals have been relatively empty compared to Europe – so why is the NHS struggling?

Our stiff upper lip could be to blame for our excess mortality – the second-worst in Europe, writes Harry de Quetteville.

As politicians and clinicians alike proclaim we are in the hardest haul of the pandemic, and tearful tales from intensive care wards are the stuff of every news broadcast, is the NHS on the brink of collapse? Is the risk of running out of intensive care beds, as Boris Johnson warned this week, “very substantial”?

Clearly, the pressure caused by the new strain, B-117, is great. Across the country, Tier 4 restrictions, which kept the old version of the virus under control, saw a tenfold increase in variant cases every three weeks.

That explains the abrupt halt in the decline of UK cases after October and November’s second peak. In other comparable countries such as France and Italy, 2020 shows two clear, smooth arcs of hospital admissions – spring and autumn, up and down.

Not here. Here the autumn downturn was rudely interrupted then radically reversed. On December 2, three weeks after the November 11 peak of 1,711, daily admissions were down to 1,262. But the next day they started climbing again, up to 1,337. A month later there were 3,351 daily Covid-19 admissions.

You can read his full analysis here.

10:53 AM

Malaysia reports highest daily number of cases

Malaysia has reported 4,029 new coronavirus cases on, the biggest daily increase recorded in the country since the start of the pandemic, bringing the total number of infections to 155,095.

The health ministry also reported eight new deaths, taking the total number of fatalities to 594.

10:28 AM

Health bodies ask for protection from legal action over coronavirus

Emergency legislation is needed to protect doctors and nurses from "inappropriate" legal action over Covid-19 treatment decisions made amid the pressures of the pandemic, health organisations have argued.

A coalition of health bodies has written to the Government urging it to update the law to ensure medical workers do not feel "vulnerable to the risk of prosecution for unlawful killing" when treating coronavirus patients "in circumstances beyond their control".

Health groups argued that there is no legal protection for Covid-related issues such as when there are "surges in demand for resources that temporarily exceed supply".

The letter, addressed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, was co-ordinated by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), and signed by the British Medical Association, Doctors' Association UK, the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and Medical Defence Shield.

09:57 AM

Almost 50 tennis players quarantined ahead of Australian Open

Forty-seven players have been forced into two weeks of hotel quarantine in Melbourne after three coronavirus infections were reported on two chartered flights carrying them to the year's first grand slam, tournament organisers have said.

Two dozen players who arrived from Los Angeles entered strict hotel quarantine after an aircrew member and Australian Open participant who is not a player tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Later, another non-player passenger on a flight from Abu Dhabi tested positive, prompting the organisers to usher 23 players into hotel quarantine.

All three who tested positive had been transferred to a health hotel, the organisers said in a statement.

The players would not be able to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared, they said.

"They will not be eligible to practise," they added.

You can read the full story here.

09:35 AM

Government refuses to ban all international travel

Aviation minister Robert Courts insisted the Government has a "very strong" package of measures in place to protect the public from any new coronavirus variants.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Government was "toughening up already tough requirements" to ensure that new variants do not arrive from abroad while the vaccine is rolled out.

Mr Courts said a "total ban" on travel to the UK would not be right, and that pre-departure testing, passenger locator forms and the quarantine period makes the system "robust".

Travelers in the international arrival area of Heathrow Airport - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Travelers in the international arrival area of Heathrow Airport - NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

09:22 AM

Vaccines should protect against new variants

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said there would be lots of new coronavirus variants this year but the current vaccines should protect against the strains circulating in the UK.

He told Today: "As we look forward through 2021, we're going to see lots of new variants and we're going to have to get used to that.

"But the critical question is whether some of these new variants are adapting because of immunity amongst human populations - whether that is because of infection... or indeed as a result of vaccination."

But he said that new variants were being detected early, and stressed: "If indeed we do need to make new vaccines we will be able to stand those up really quickly."

09:20 AM

Switzerland could approve AstraZeneca vaccine very quickly, sources say

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine could win Swiss regulatory approval as early as this month, the NZZ newspaper reported, citing two sources.

It said watchdog Swissmedic plans a meeting at the end of the month to sign off on the jab. It has already approved vaccines from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, and from Moderna.

"If everything proceeds in an exemplary manner and we get the necessary data soon, the next approval decision can come very quickly," the paper cited a Swissmedic spokesman as saying without giving a date.

09:00 AM

Covid variants 'probably already in the UK'

Prof Edmunds said it was "likely" that there are already cases of both Brazilian coronavirus variants in the UK.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In terms of the South African one, we had imported cases already by the time we put in additional restrictions for South African travellers.

"For the Brazilian one... I don't think there is evidence that we've imported cases of the Manaus strain, as far as I'm aware at least, but it is likely that we probably have quite honestly.

"We are one of the most connected countries in the world so I would find it unusual if we hadn't imported some cases into the UK."

Two variants of interest have been identified in Brazil; the first has a small number of mutations and eight genomically confirmed cases of this variant have been identified in the UK.

The second, which has been detected in Manaus and in travellers arriving in Japan, has not been detected in the UK.

08:46 AM

Lockdown should be extended beyond next month, warns Sage scientist

Removing coronavirus restrictions at the end of next month would be a "disaster" and put "enormous pressure" on the NHS, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

Professor John Edmunds, who works on the Government's coronavirus response as part of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it would be a disaster if we removed restrictions in, say, the end of February when we have gone through this first wave of the vaccination.

"First of all vaccines aren't ever 100% protective, and so even those that have been vaccinated would be still at some risk.

"Secondly, it is only a small fraction of the population who would have been vaccinated and if you look at the hospitalisations at the moment, about half of them are in the under 70s, and they are not in the first wave to be vaccinated.

"If we relaxed our restrictions we would immediately put the NHS under enormous pressure again."

08:40 AM

Russia reports 24,092 new Covid-19 cases

Russia has reported 24,092 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 4,674 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 3,544,623, the world's fourth largest.

Authorities also confirmed 590 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 65,085.

07:58 AM

Bad weather affects vaccine rollout

Parts of eastern England could see up to 10cm of snow on Saturday as forecasters warned of the potential for "significant disruption".

The snow warnings follow bad weather on Friday that caused disruption to a further rollout of Covid vaccinations, with Leeds University delaying the opening of its asymptomatic Covid-19 test centre.

Over-80s who were due to receive their Covid-19 vaccine at Newcastle's Centre for Life were told they could rebook rather than risk making a trip in the icy conditions.

READ MORE: Up to 10cm of snow prompts warning of 'significant disruption' in England

07:50 AM

'We have to have an effective quarantine system'

The Government has been urged to act in a "proper, strategic way" in its closure of all travel corridors on Monday.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told the BBC: "The measures are necessary, I support them coming into effect.

"I do say to the Government to get a comprehensive plan and to act in a proper, strategic way, not in the short-term chaotic way we've seen over the past 12 months."

He said: "First of all it is about checking before people board airplanes and then checks on arrival.

"But to make this whole system work we have to have an effective quarantine system, and that's been a real problem."

READ MORE: Boris Johnson closes borders to shut out new Covid strains

07:43 AM

Concerns about new Covid wave in China

China's recent Covid-19 outbreaks in the northeast have come from travellers entering the country or contaminated frozen food imports, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Saturday.

NHC Minister Ma Xiaowei made the comments at a government meeting, where he also said the virus was spreading to rural areas and that the handling of the recent situation had exposed how prevention and control measures had been relaxed.

"Since December 2020, epidemic clusters have occurred in Beijing, Sichuan, Liaoning, Hebei and Heilongjiang," a statement posted on the NHC's website said citing the briefing by Ma.

"They mainly have the following characteristics. Firstly, they are all imported from abroad, caused by travellers from overseas, or contaminated cold-chain imported items."

Total case numbers remain well below what China saw at the height of the outbreak in early 2020, but concerns about a new wave are growing with the Lunar New Year a month away.

RELATED NEWS: China blames steamed buns for latest wave of infections as propaganda drive accelerates

07:10 AM

Three-quarters back curfews to prevent evening socialising

More than three-quarters of the public back curfews to stop people socialising in the evening, a YouGov poll has revealed.

Almost half the 1,566 adults surveyed – 48 per cent – said they felt "very comfortable" with curfews in the fight against Covid.

A further 29 per cent said they felt "fairly comfortable", meaning a total of 77 per cent of those polled supported the measure.

Read the full story here.

06:41 AM

Concerns about UK Covid variant in US

Coronavirus infections in the United States have surpassed 23 million - more than 388,000 of which have proven fatal, according to a Reuters tally.

Adding to anxieties over the pace of immunisations, the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday that a new, highly transmissible variant of the virus sweeping the UK could become the dominant form in the US by March.

RELATED: WHO calls for new names for Covid variants to avoid country stigma

06:07 AM

Global Covid deaths pass two million

The coronavirus pandemic has spread at a record pace, with global Covid-19 deaths surging past two million.

The World Health Organisation has called for accelerating vaccine rollouts worldwide.

WHO also wants countries to ramp up efforts to study the sequencing of the virus, which has infected more than 93 million people globally since it was first detected in China in late 2019.

The United Nations chief has urged the world to mark the "heart-wrenching milestone" of two million deaths from Covid-19 by acting with far greater solidarity to ensure vaccines are available and affordable in all countries - not just rich nations.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message that governments have a responsibility to protect their people, "but 'vaccinationalism' is self-defeating and will delay a global recovery".

"Science is succeeding - but solidarity is failing," he warned. "Vaccines are reaching high-income countries quickly, while the world's poorest have none at all."

05:57 AM

India tackles daunting vaccination programme

Government officials pray over a vaccine storage box containing Covid-19 vaccines due to leave for various vaccination centres in Mumbai, India, on Friday - Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
Government officials pray over a vaccine storage box containing Covid-19 vaccines due to leave for various vaccination centres in Mumbai, India, on Friday - Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

India started one of the world's largest coronavirus vaccination drives on Saturday.

The country, home to 1.3 billion people, has the world's second-largest caseload, and the government has given approvals to two vaccines - though one is yet to complete clinical trials - aiming to inoculate around 300 million people by July.

Authorities say they are drawing on their experience with elections and child immunisation programmes for the drive, which is a daunting task in an enormous, impoverished nation with often shoddy transport infrastructure and one of the world's worst-funded healthcare systems.

The vaccines will have high security, so that doses do not end up being sold on India's large black market for medicines.

READ MORE: From crowded Delhi to the remote Himalayas: the world's most complex vaccine drive begins

05:17 AM

Cathedral prepares for vaccination programme

Salisbury Cathedral will open its doors to people aged over 80 receiving the Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday.

The historic site, which was built 800 years ago, will become a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network Covid-19 local vaccination service.

Local GPs have invited patients in the over-80s priority group to attend the cathedral for their first Covid-19 jab.

A programme of music on the cathedral's famous Father Willis organ will be provided throughout the day.

Dr Dan Henderson, co-clinical director for the Sarum South Primary Care Network, said: "It's great to be further expanding the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Wiltshire.

"Today marks another step towards getting our lives back to normal.

"I understand that people are keen to get their jabs but please don't call your doctor or the hospital asking about when you will get an appointment, we are following the priority order set out by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and the NHS will be in touch when it is your turn to be vaccinated.

"The huge vaccine programme is a marathon, not a sprint, but we will get to everyone."

Patients attending appointments are from five GP practices - Salisbury Medical Practice, Harcourt Medical Centre, Three Chequers Medical Practice, Downton Surgery and Whiteparish Surgery.

Only patients invited by the NHS should attend and are asked to only arrive five minutes before their appointment time.

04:09 AM

PM closes borders to shut out new Covid strains

Britain's borders will effectively be closed from Monday amid growing fears over new variants of coronavirus, Boris Johnson has announced.

The Prime Minister has pulled the plug on all travel corridors, meaning everyone arriving in Britain from next week will need a negative Covid test and will then have to quarantine for 10 days.

The restrictions will last until at least February 15 – but, with other countries well behind Britain in vaccinating their populations, there are signs that travel will not return to normal until well beyond then.

Read the full story here.

04:06 AM

US Covid-19 vaccine stockpile didn't exist

The governors of several American states have accused the Trump administration of deception in pledging to immediately distribute millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses from a stockpile that the US health secretary has since acknowledged does not exist.

Confusion over a vaccine supply windfall that was promised to governors but failed to materialise arose as scattered shortages emerged on the frontlines of the most ambitious and complex immunisation campaign in US history, prompting at least one large New York healthcare system to cancel a slew of inoculation appointments.

Just 10.6 million Americans have received a shot since federal regulators last month granted emergency approval to two vaccines, one from Pfizer/BioNTech and a second from Moderna.

That tally falls far short of the 20 million vaccinations the Trump administration had promised to administer by the end of 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic raged virtually unchecked with ever-increasing record numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

READ MORE: Trump administration accused of deception over reserve of coronavirus vaccine doses

03:43 AM

Two Covid cases on Australian Open flight

Two coronavirus infections were reported on Saturday on a flight to the Australian Open, as Australia recorded a single locally transmitted case and said a cluster appeared to have been contained.

The positive cases were recorded after a charter flight from Los Angeles landed in Melbourne, carrying players and their entourage for the tennis grand slam.

Health officials in the state of Victoria said an aircrew member and Australian Open participant (who is not a player) had been transferred to a health hotel following positive test results for the virus.

"The passengers who have been designated close contacts will be unable to access training and will undertake a standard 14-day quarantine period," a representative for Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria said.

Tennis players, coaches and officials arrived at a hotel in Melbourne on Friday, before quarantining for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open - WILLIAM WEST/AFP
Tennis players, coaches and officials arrived at a hotel in Melbourne on Friday, before quarantining for two weeks ahead of the Australian Open - WILLIAM WEST/AFP

The inbound infections came as states began to relax travel bans on signs an outbreak in the northern state of Queensland had been contained.

"Unfortunately we have been informed by the health authorities that two people on your flight AR7493 from LAX that arrived at 5.15am on Friday 15 January have returned positive Covid-19 PCR tests on arrival in Melbourne," according to a letter sent to one of the plane's passengers.

Australia has agreed to accept around 1,200 players, officials and staff for the major sporting event that is due to begin next month.

Check out our Australian Open coverage here.

03:17 AM

UK faces delays in Pfizer vaccine delivery

The UK is set to face short-term delays in delivery of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine as the pharmaceutical company upgrades its production capacity.

Pfizer is upscaling production at its plant in Puurs, Belgium, in efforts to produce more doses than originally planned for 2021 - temporarily reducing deliveries to all European countries.

Shipments of the vaccine, produced in partnership with Germany's BioNTech, to the UK are set to be affected this month.

A Government spokeswoman said that it is still working to its plan of vaccinating all four priority groups by February 15.

Read the full story here.

01:05 AM

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