Coronavirus latest news: Boris Johnson must consider vaccines for over-12s, experts say

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Covid UK bank holiday heatwave - Graham Hunt/BNPS
Covid UK bank holiday heatwave - Graham Hunt/BNPS

Boris Johnson must consider giving children over 12 vaccines to stop teachers falling ill, experts have said.

Klaus Okkenhaug, professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge, said there was a "good argument" for inoculating 12- to 15-year-olds, while balancing their small risk of catching the virus.

The European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for this age group on Friday. The US and Canada have also given jabs the green light for under-16s, while UK regulators are considering it.

"I think for a whole population it would of course help for children to be vaccinated because it also reduces their opportunities to transmit this virus to their teachers," Prof Okkenhaug said.

Recommending the Pfizer jab given its safety record, he added: "I think given the phenomenal safety records of some of the vaccines out there, there's a good argument for going ahead at least with older children, say 12 and above."

The deputy chair of the JCVI, the UK's vaccine advisory board, said a "range of options" would be presented to the Government on vaccinating children as it is a "complicated" issue.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

12:25 PM

Watch: Thousands of fans celebrate being in Portugal ahead of Champions League final

Thousands of supporters have descended on Porto, Portugal, to watch the Champions League final.

Chelsea and Manchester City will face each other on Saturday in a bid to be crowned the best team in Europe.

12,000 ticket holders - and many more hopefuls - have arrived for the match, which was moved from Istanbul to allow English fans to travel within current coronavirus guidance as Portugal is on the UK's "green list" for quarantine-free travel.

Chelsea had to return 800 unsold Champions League final tickets to Uefa after fans complained of initial prices of up to £515.

12:06 PM

'Hugely grateful' Duchess of Cambridge gets her Covid vaccine

The Duchess of Cambridge has received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine at London's Science Museum.

Announcing the news on the Kensington Royal Twitter account, the Duchess said she was "hugely grateful".

The Duke of Cambridge has already received his first dose.

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11:54 AM

Glasgow sees 'significant' community spread of Covid - as surge vaccines rolled out

There is "significant community transmission" of coronavirus in the Glasgow hotspots, Scotland's Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned.

The city remains the last part of the country under Level 3 of tougher restrictions until at least June 5, with over-40s now urged to visit a new mobile drop-in centre if they are yet to have a first vaccine dose, or waited more than ten weeks for a second AstraZeneca shot.

Urgent work is being carried out to understand the outbreak in south Glasgow and how the Indian variant arrived, Mr Yousaf said.

"In a few concentrated hotspots... we are seeing significant community transmission. The levels and the numbers of cases are continuing to rise," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

In other parts of the country "local health teams tell us they are relatively contained outbreaks" linked to either schools or domestic clusters, but that was not the case in Glasgow.

"What we are seeing is it's coming in in areas where there is a large, diverse community so therefore there is a probability the variant has come in from international travel. Therefore we are trying to get to the bottom of how it managed to get in."

11:35 AM

As India records lowest case rise for 45 days, has its second wave peaked?

India has reported its lowest daily toll of coronavirus cases for 45 days, as the country's devastating second wave shows signs it has peaked.

The country on Saturday reported 173,790 new Covid-19 infections over the previous 24 hours, its lowest since mid-April, while deaths rose by 3,617.

The South Asian nation's tally of infections now stands at 27.7 million, with the death toll at 322,512, health ministry data showed.

Experts say the seven-day average of new cases in India is on a steady decline, having peaked at 392,000. While rates are declining in many cities, they are still rising in some less well-equipped rural regions.

Covid India - Narinder NANU/AFP
Covid India - Narinder NANU/AFP

11:23 AM

Wish you were here! Last week versus this week on Cairngorm mountain

As the sun finally creeps out across Britain for the Bank Holiday Weekend (making it less hard to believe it's May), the contrast to last weekend's weather couldn't be starker on Scotland's Cairngorm mountain.

As these visitors, enjoying their unlocked freedoms, found out:

Covid UK - Peter Jolly
Covid UK - Peter Jolly
Covid UK Cairngorm - Peter Jolly
Covid UK Cairngorm - Peter Jolly

11:03 AM

Holidaymakers 'poured into' coast at midnight to beat Bank Holiday rush

Thousands of holidaymakers were “pouring into” the southwest at midnight on Friday to beat Bank Holiday rush, according to police and road traffic experts.

Roads heading towards the country were full of vehicles at the start of the long weekend as temperatures are set to reach 25 degrees.

The level of congestion was "purely because of the volume of traffic" as people escaped to the country rather than any road accidents, according to Highways England.

The rush to beat the Bank Holiday traffic over a weekend the RAC predicts will see 11 million car journeys packed the M5 as early as Friday afternoon.

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10:40 AM

UK's Covid situation could go south 'very, very quickly', says expert

Caution is needed on Britain's easing of lockdown or the situation could turn bad "very, very quickly", according to a professor whose argument against herd immunity helped trigger England's first lockdown.

Sir Tim Gowers, Professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, said the downside of being "a bit more cautious" was smaller than that of getting it wrong - but No 10 says its current roadmap out of restrictions is on track. He added:

Because Boris Johnson has made a big thing about all the steps being irreversible, I think he's put himself in a position where once he takes a step, he'll be extremely reluctant to reverse because that would be a big U-turn, an embarrassing climbdown. So I think if that's the way you're going to play things, then you should be very, very cautious about every step you take ... And maybe everything [will] be OK, maybe the number of people who are vaccinated will be just enough ... 'R' will broadly speaking stay below one even with Indian variants. But if it's not OK, we know, because of mathematics, that things will get bad very, very quickly. Or at least, maybe it won't look that quick to start with, but it'll grow exponentially. So it'll pick up speed and become a big problem.

So what do you think?

10:26 AM

Surgery backlog will lead to '6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year'

Thousands of people will die as a result of the ever-swelling NHS waiting lists, Government figures show.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimates that 6,400 excess deaths will result from the record-breaking waiting lists by the end of 2022.

Figures also indicate 8,600 excess deaths were caused by reduced elective procedures in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and 3,200 likely as a result of the second wave.

A damning report from the Royal College of Surgeons of England published this week described the current situation as a "colossal backlog".

10:09 AM

Britons gear up for a lockdown-eased Bank Holiday

Just when we are allowed to enjoy bars and restaurants indoors, the sun comes out.

This is no doubt on staycationers' minds this weekend, as Britons flock to holiday hotspots for a "mini-heatwave" Bank Holiday.

The UK could see the hottest day of the year so far over the long weekend - with highs of 23C in London on Saturday and a forecast 24C in Manchester and Liverpool on Sunday.

And it could get even hotter on Bank Holiday Monday (here's a full weather forecast).

After a busy evening on the motorways last night, here is the scene in Dorset this morning.

Covid bank holiday - Graham Hunt/BNPS
Covid bank holiday - Graham Hunt/BNPS

09:43 AM

What is the latest data on Indian variant spread in the UK?

With between half and two thirds of all new Covid cases in the UK now down to the Indian variant, and the daily cases tally topping 4,000 on Friday for the first time since April 1, here are the latest numbers on how the strain is spreading.

09:20 AM

JCVI adviser: Vaccinating children is 'complicated'

Experts advising the Government on vaccines will give "a range of options" on the potential vaccination of children, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said.

Prof Anthony Harnden told BBC Breakfast: "It's a complicated position to decide on the immunisation of children, of course, then there's the wider global ethical argument about the use of vaccine in children when there are other people in the world that are at risk of not being vaccinated.

"So we need to think about all these issues, we probably will give the Government a range of options."

He added: "It's complicated, but we will think through these issues deeply and give some really good advice."

09:04 AM

Festivals facing 'lost summer' over lack of Government insurance backing

Music festivals are facing the prospect of another "lost summer" as a result of the Government's decision not to introduce a coronavirus insurance scheme, a report has concluded.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee's (DCMS) report into the future of the UK's summer circuit said the Government had "refused to take multiple opportunities" to address the concerns of organisers.

The document, the result of consultation with artists, organisers and sector leaders, calls on ministers to introduce a time-limited insurance scheme for events scheduled to take place after June 21 - when social distancing measures are due to end - in case they are disrupted by a return to Covid-19 restrictions.

Covid Glastonbury - Anna Barclay/PA Wire
Covid Glastonbury - Anna Barclay/PA Wire

Boomtown Fair, on the Matterley Estate in Hampshire, is among the events to have cancelled their 2021 editions, blaming pandemic uncertainty and the lack of a Government-backed insurance scheme.

In the report, MPs said they were "not confident" that pilot concerts held as part of the Events Research Programme, which included the Brit Awards, would deliver the evidence needed in time to lift all restrictions on live events from June 21.

They said festivals were "unique settings" yet were "overlooked" during the first series of pilots.

08:52 AM

Did Covid mutate naturally – or is the Wuhan lab really to blame?

Where did the Covid virus come from? President Biden this week asked the US intelligence community to inquire into the origin of the pandemic, including in particular the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab in China, Nicholas Wade writes.

Given that the pandemic started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is home to China’s leading laboratory of bat virus research, the possibility of lab escape was obvious from the start. Yet for the past year mainstream media around the world have ignored this common sense possibility in favour of the scenario that the virus jumped naturally to people from some animal host.

08:34 AM

'Good argument' for vaccinating over-12s

There is a "good argument" for vaccinating older children against coronavirus given the safety records of some Covid vaccines, an expert has said.

Klaus Okkenhaug, professor of immunology in the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge, told Times Radio that the decision on whether to give children coronavirus jabs was a "difficult question" that requires balancing wider benefits against the direct ones for children.

It comes after the European Medicines Agency, the EU regulator, approved the Pfizer/BioNTechvaccine for children aged 12 to 15 on Friday, the first in the bloc to do so.

Germany and Italy have signalled their intention to vaccinate under-16s, while the US and Canada have both already authorised jabs for children aged 12 to 15.

"I think for a whole population it would of course help for children to be vaccinated because it also reduces their opportunities to transmit this virus to their teachers," Prof Okkenhaug said.

While there is balance of risks to be struck, he said: "I think given the phenomenal safety records of some of the vaccines out there, there's a good argument for going ahead at least with older children, say 12 and above."

08:27 AM

Road to normality 'will be a gradual process even if the June 21 date goes ahead'

The unlocking of society will be a "gradual process" that requires a "cautious" approach even if the Government's target date for removing all legal limits on social contact in England is reached on June 21, an expert has said.

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast of the need to "look very carefully" at what happens with the Indian variant in the next one or two weeks.

"I think we need to look at that data very carefully before we completely un-lockdown," he said.

Prof Harnden suggested it was "better" to be on "the cautious side", adding: "even if we do un-lockdown, if you are in a vulnerable position, particularly if you've not been vaccinated, you do need to carry on being cautious, even if the June 21 date goes ahead.

"So I think we've all got used to living within boundaries at the moment and I think it's not an all or none, I think it will be a gradual process even if the June 21 date goes ahead."

Covid UK - OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images
Covid UK - OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

08:14 AM

Extra-safe Pfizer jab could be useful for children

The Pfizer vaccine could be a potential candidate to use on children due to its safety record, an expert has suggested.

Klaus Okkenhaug, professor of immunology in the Department of Pathology at Cambridge University, conceded it was a "fair point" when it was put to him that one or two "bad cases" of vaccine side effects could "spook" a large number of people.

Prof Okkenhaug told Times Radio: "I think the lower in age we go, the lower the risk from the virus is, then the more risk averse we become with relation to the vaccine."

He highlighted that with data from the tens of millions of people who had been vaccinated "if you go for children, you would want to go for the safest vaccine".

"And I think probably an argument could be that for children you go for the Pfizer, if that pans out, as it looks to be, (to) have an even better safety record."

08:02 AM

Newly-approved Johnson & Johnson jab could fuel UK booster campaign

The recently approved single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine could be used in a "booster campaign" later this year, an expert has said.

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast that despite the jab being available in the UK towards the end of this year there will still be unvaccinated people to "mop up" at that point.

He added: "It will also be useful because it is a different vaccine to the ones that we're using, that's the Pfizer, and the AstraZeneca and a bit of Moderna.

"And it may be that mixing vaccine schedules in terms of a booster campaign gives you some added and longer-term protection."

07:47 AM

Hospitality warns of misery if the lockdown-delay scientists get their way

Delaying the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England beyond June 21 could hamper the economic recovery, a pub chain boss warned.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of the Shepherd Neame brewery and pub company, told BBC Radio 4's Today: "If it's delayed for, say, seven days but there's still a certain outcome the restrictions will be lifted in full after that, then that will be a marginal impact.

"If, on the other hand, we're going into a cycle of a further five weeks of data review and uncertainty and more reviews at that time, then I think that will put a real damper on the recovery which is happening quite fast at this moment in time, and will really undermine consumer and business confidence."

Covid UK - Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Covid UK - Jane Barlow/PA Wire

07:46 AM

Real concern about Indian variant - but vaccines 'staggeringly effective'

People should be "very concerned" about the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus, but "reassured" by the scale of the vaccine rollout, an expert has said.

Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Breakfast that the variant was "clearly more transmissible" - though scientists do not know for sure how much yet.

"We need to be reassured that we're in a very different position now in that we've got a highly vaccinated population and we just need to continue moving at speed," he said.

Prof Harnden added: "We do know that with this particular variant you do need two doses to offer complete protection, and so we're very, very keen to make sure that all those, particularly higher risk groups, that's the over-50s and those with underlying illness, receive their second vaccination as soon as feasible."

He said people had been "very surprised" by how "quite staggeringly effective" Covid vaccines had been in prevent severe illness.

07:05 AM

In time for summer, Europe sees dramatic fall in virus cases

Europe is returning to a semblance of normalcy that was unthinkable even a few weeks ago.

Coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths are plummeting across the continent, after Europe led the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units.

Now, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations on Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. There are hopes for a rebirth of a tourism industry that in Spain and Italy alone accounts for 13 per cent of gross domestic product but was wiped out by the pandemic.

Europe saw the largest decline in new infections and deaths this week compared with any other region, while also reporting about 44 per cent of adults had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the World Health Organisation and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Read more: The European islands most likely to turn 'green' next

06:52 AM

Chinese city locks down neighbourhood after infections rise

The southern Chinese city of Guangzhou shut down a neighbourhood and ordered its residents to stay home on Saturday for door-to-door coronavirus testing following an upsurge in infections that has rattled authorities.

Guangzhou, a business and industrial centre of 15 million people north of Hong Hong, has reported 20 new infections over the past week.

Saturday's order to stay home applied to residents of five streets in Liwan District in the city centre.

The city government earlier ordered testing of hundreds of thousands of residents following the initial infections. The government said some 700,000 people had been tested by Wednesday.

Read more: Taiwan accuses China of disrupting vaccine supplies

People line up to test for Covid-19 at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site on Haizhu Square in Guangzhou - via Reuters
People line up to test for Covid-19 at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site on Haizhu Square in Guangzhou - via Reuters

06:38 AM

Consequences of delaying Freedom Day would be terrible

The Indian variant is spreading fast. The daily total of infections has started to climb again. New strains may still emerge, restrictions on British travellers abroad are starting to be reimposed, and we still don’t know if enough people have been fully vaccinated to create a barrier that the virus cannot break though.

Even with life starting to return to something a little closer to normality there are already fears that the roadmap for removing all Covid restrictions might be delayed – and we might not fully reopen next month.

However, the economy simply cannot afford such a delay.

Read Matthew Lynn's comment piece in full

05:54 AM

Afghanistan announces restrictions as virus surges

Afghanistan's Health Ministry announced the shutdown of all public and private universities and schools in the country's 16 provinces, including Kabul, for at least two weeks starting Saturday.

The decision follows a surge in cases. On Friday, 977 people tested positive and 18 died, most of them in Kabul. Only 3,800 were tested.

Over 600,000 people have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the ministry said, without counting the armed forces. The vaccination drive has been put on hold due to shortages and the remaining stocks are reserved for those who got the first shot.

Afghan people wait to receive the Indian version of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in Kabul - AP
Afghan people wait to receive the Indian version of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in Kabul - AP

05:28 AM

Vietnam detects hybrid of Indian and UK variant

Vietnam health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Saturday the country has detected a new variant of the coronavirus, a mix of the Indian and UK Covid-19 variants that spreads quickly by air, online newspaper VnExpress reported.

After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of last year, Vietnam is now battling an outbreak that is spreading more quickly.

Nearly 3,600 people have been infected in 31 of its 63 cities and provinces since late April, accounting for more than half of the country's total infections.

Read the full story

04:31 AM

Climbers undeterred by virus make push to Everest summit

A year after Mount Everest was closed to climbers as the pandemic swept across the globe, hundreds are making the final push to the summit with only a few more days left in the season, saying they are undeterred by a coronavirus outbreak in base camp.

Three expedition teams to Everest canceled their climb this month following reports of people getting sick. But the remaining 41 teams decided to continue with hundreds of climbers and their guides scaling the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) top in the season that ends in May, before bad weather sets in.

"Even though the coronavirus has reached the Everest base camp, it has not made any huge effect like what is being believed outside of the mountain," said Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, the biggest expedition operator on Everest. "No one has really fallen seriously sick because of Covid or died like the rumours that have been spreading."

Nepalese officials have downplayed reports of coronavirus cases on Mount Everest, apparently out of concern of creating chaos and confusion in the base camp. After a gap year of no income from climbers, Nepal has been eager to cash in on this year's season.

Read more: Climbers party on Everest despite 'daily evacuations'

The warmer weather that ushers in safer conditions for scaling the world's highest mountain has coincided with a wave of Covid-19 infections in Nepal - AFP
The warmer weather that ushers in safer conditions for scaling the world's highest mountain has coincided with a wave of Covid-19 infections in Nepal - AFP

03:19 AM

Music festivals face prospect of another 'lost summer'

Music festivals are facing the prospect of another "lost summer" as a result of the Government's decision not to introduce a coronavirus insurance scheme, a report has concluded.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee's (DCMS) report into the future of the UK's summer circuit said the Government had "refused to take multiple opportunities" to address the concerns of organisers.

The document, the result of consultation with artists, organisers and sector leaders, calls on ministers to introduce a time-limited insurance scheme for events scheduled to take place after June 21 - when social distancing measures are due to end - in case they are disrupted by a return to Covid-19 restrictions.

In the report, MPs said they were "not confident" that pilot concerts held as part of the Events Research Programme, which included the Brit Awards, would deliver the evidence needed in time to lift all restrictions on live events from June 21.

They said festivals were "unique settings" yet were "overlooked" during the first series of pilots.

02:42 AM

Blinken says US and India united in tackling virus

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday the United States and India are united in trying to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic together and Washington wants to make sure it takes action to help India with its crisis.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who has spent the past week in the US seeking help amid a devastating second wave of infections at home, told reporters while standing with Mr Blinken at the State Department that India is grateful to the United States for strong support and solidarity.

"In the earlier days of Covid, India was there for the United States - something we will never forget," Mr Blinken said. "And now we want to make sure that we're there for India as well."

Mr Blinken said the partnership between the US and India is "vital," "strong" and "increasingly productive".

A relative comforts the wailing son of a person who died of Covid-19, at a crematorium in Srinagar - AP
A relative comforts the wailing son of a person who died of Covid-19, at a crematorium in Srinagar - AP

02:11 AM

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