Politics latest news: Boris Johnson warns of 'real risk of disruption' to lockdown easing amid fears over Indian variant - watch live

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Boris Johnson has warned that "hard choices" may have to be made, including a possible "disruption" to the final stage in the roadmap, as a result of the Indian variant.

The Prime Minister said cases were rising but there are some "important unknowns", including the fact that it is not known how transmissible this variant is.

If it is "only marginally" more, the plan can continue as expected, but if it is considerably more "we will be facing some hard choices", he said.

"We are serving notice that it may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the roadmap... there is now the risk of disruption and delay."

Initially, authorities are seeking to dampen down the spikes that have emerged, with the army being deployed on the streets of Blackburn and Bolton handing out tests to help the surge testing efforts.

Remaining second doses for the over-50s will be accelerated so they come eight weeks after the first, instead of 12, Mr Johnson added.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:15 PM

Boris Johnson: 'On balance it is right to proceed with current plans'

The next question is whether Brits will get a holiday this year, and whether he believes opening up on Monday will come to be seen as a mistake.

Boris Johnson repeats that "we are in a different situation now", also because we are "able to spot things so fast".

He say "on balance it is right to proceed with current plans", given the very low numbers, but "obviously we remain very very alive to any change to the data and we will react accordingly".

The same applies to international travel, he adds.

"It is too early to talk about what the summer will be like."

05:13 PM

No delay to under-40s vaccine programme, says Prof Whitty

The next question is whether the UK will "dip into its stockpile" of vaccine supplies to speed up the programme.

Prof Chris Whitty says the prioritisation of over-50s' second doses will not slow down rates for younger people.

He says under-40s will be vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna, while the revaccination programme is with AstraZeneca.

"We don't have that trade off which has been the issue elsewhere," he says.

But the experts want to maintain the eight-week gap because "there are some advantages to that".

05:11 PM

Decision on next stage of roadmap 'in a couple of weeks'

Boris Johnson has repeated that the Indian variant may cause "disruption to our plans" - but stressed it may not.

The difference between now and Christmas is the vaccines, he says. "We are in a very different world now."

We will know a lot more "in a couple of weeks", he adds.

05:09 PM

'Critical question' is how transmissible Indian variant is

Prof Chris Whitty also picks up on the matter of the four tests, saying "virtually everything" is the same at is was.

The CMO says the variants of concern, excluding the Indian variant, there is also no change. The Indian variant is also expected to be dealt with by the vaccine, although the data is lacking on the extent of protection.

But he says the variant could "come to dominate" as the Kent variant did.

If it is a lot more transmissible, there could be a big surge, he says. "That is a really critical question to which we do not have the answer."

There is also not "a big enough number"to be certain about whether it is not getting into the over-45s, which would suggest the vaccine is working.

05:04 PM

Boris Johnson 'serving notice' that final stage of roadmap is in doubt

Boris Johnson is asked how he is "giving a green light" on the fourth test, which is that there are no variants of concern that change the risk profile. He is also asked whether it is true that there is evidence the Indian variant isn't rising in over-45s, and about the delay in closing the border to India.

The Prime Minister says India was not identified as having a "variant of concern" - he then gives a little cough and a smile.

But he stresses that everyone "had to face very tough quarantine rules" if travelling.

On the question about the four tests, he says "we are concerned about this variant - we are serving notice that it may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the roadmap".

But step three is fine, he adds.

05:02 PM

Boris Johnson urges people to 'think twice' about staying overnight

Boris Johnson is asked for advice for people planning to use freedoms from Monday to stay overnight with friends and family.

He says he would "urge people to think twice", particularly in those areas where there is "extra risk"

People should "exercise their discretion and judgement".

04:57 PM

Boris Johnson 'can't say for certain' if June 21 will go ahead

Turning to journalists' questions, Boris Johnson is asked how likely the June 21 "final unlocking" will go ahead as planned.

He says "everybody will be asking that question now" but he says "we can't say for certain".

The numbers of infections are low overall, even in Bolton where there has been this spike in the new variant.

There is also no spike in hospitalisation "and we are in the throws of an extraordinary vaccine rollout".

04:55 PM

All adults to get vaccine by July-end, says Prof Chris Whitty

The next question is about when under-30s will get the vaccine.

Prof Chris Whitty says the UK is "going in a very steady but hopefully rapid" line down the age groups.

It will move down in the weeks to everyone having one "by the end of July".

But he notes that for people "of all ages" there is the aim to accelerate the point at which they get the second vaccine.

04:51 PM

Boris Johnson: We will impose restrictions immediately if we have to

Boris Johnson then takes questions from the public, the first of which is about how soon restrictions could come in.

He says the answer "flows from what I said earlier on".

He says as soon as they saw there was a risk "then of course we would implement further restrictions immediately".

The press conference is to "alert people to that possibility".

04:49 PM

Bolton case study: Indian variant on the rise

Prof Chris Whitty stresses that the Indian variant is "seeded in quite a few places" but looking at Bolton, you can see increases in cases - but not hospitalisations.

He says it is "early days" - and we need to see what happens over the next two to three weeks.

Bolton
Bolton
Bolton
Bolton

04:47 PM

Indian variant on the rise

Prof Chris Whitty runs through the usual slides showing how cases have fallen:

Cases
Cases
Deaths
Deaths

However the slide showing the rise of the Indian variant shows there is "no doubt" it is more transmissible.

How much more will have implications for the next steps, he adds.

Indian variant
Indian variant

04:44 PM

Army deployed to give out tests as Indian variant surges

Boris Johnson urges people to take personal responsibility, but says the Government will "throw everything we have got" at the problem.

The Army is being deployed to give out tests and vaccine centres will be open longer hours.

He reminds people to observe social distancing and "think really carefully" about how to protect loved ones before seeing them.

04:42 PM

Boris Johnson: Step four might be affected by Indian variant

While there is no change to step three, Boris Johnson says he "has to level with you" that it might affect the final stage.

"We will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe," he adds.

The experts can assess the data to act in "very good time" before pressures build, but he urges people to "exercise caution" but choices n the next few days will have a "material effect" on the next few months.

He tells those in affected areas that it is "more vital than ever you play your part".

Businesses will be allowed to open as planned, but people must get the vaccine when they can, take tests regularly and self-isolate if they test positive.

04:40 PM

Second dose of vaccines brought forward for over-50s

The race between the vaccine programme and the Indian variant "may be about to come tighter", says Boris Johnson.

As a result, second doses for the over-50s and at risk will be accelerated to just eight weeks.

The NHS will be in touch, he adds.

There is no evidence of "unmanageable pressure on the NHS", with cases at the lowest national levels since last summer.

He says present evidence means there is no need to delay the third step.

04:38 PM

We may have to make hard choices over Indian variant, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson begins the press conference by saying he has seen "further clusters" of the Indian variant since Monday's press conference.

There are some "important unknowns" he says, including the fact that it appears to be more transmissible - but not by how much.

If it is "only marginally" more, the plan can continue as expected, but if it is more "we will be facing some hard choices", he says.

So far there is no evidence that the vaccines will be less effective.

"We are in a different position from the last time we faced a new variant, before Christmas," he says.

04:26 PM

Release headteachers from 'burden' of test and trace

The school leaders union has called on the Government to release them from "the burden" of test and trace.

A poll of NAHT’s members found that on average, the process had added 44 hours to an average head teacher's workload since September, although many reported having spent more than 100 hours.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: "To begin with, schools accepted that they were the people best placed to track and inform students when there was a Covid case in their school, because they were the ones who had all the contact information. But it has been a full year now and absolutely no effort has been made to release school leaders from this burden, or to give them additional staff or resources to do it.

"School leaders were the ones forced to phone families over the Christmas holidays, for example, to tell them they had to isolate. They have been responsible for delivering this bad news with virtually no training or guidance on how to do this. School leaders and their teams have been effectively propping up the national test and trace infrastructure since last September... The extra burden this has put on school leaders cannot be underestimated."

04:21 PM

Have your say: Will the Indian variant affect England's roadmap?

The surge in Covid cases caused by the Indian variant is threatening to derail the Government's roadmap, experts have warned today.

In Wales, the First Minister has paused easements, including telling people they cannot "cwtch" as hoped from Monday (see 9:18am). Nicola Sturgeon has been told they are "losing control" of the situation and that Scotland's roadmap should be halted (8:48am), while Professor Paul Hunter told Radio 4 "step four is in doubt" (see 8:21am).

But Andy Burnham has urged the Government not to deploy local lockdowns again, instead calling for vaccines to be diverted to Covid hotspots instead (see 9:31am). Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that was the plan - but said "nothing is off the table" in terms of other measures.

What does this mean for the final stage of the roadmap? Have your say in the poll below.

04:20 PM

Boris Johnson working to deliver 'brighter future' for Northern Ireland

Boris Johnson welcomed holding "good discussions" with his Irish counterpart Michael Martin.

At a working lunch at Chequers today, the Prime Minister discussed the Northern Ireland protocol, the Ballymurphy massacre and Troubles-era crimes, and the wider relationship between the two countries (see 3:30pm).

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04:16 PM

Nicola Sturgeon insists she is optimistic despite Indian variant 'bump in the road'

Nicola Sturgeon has said rising cases in parts of Scotland are a "bump in the road", as she confirmed that Glasgow and Moray will remain in Level 3 while the rest of the country enters Level 2.

"We do not yet have a full understanding of the impact of this variant, including on the protection afforded by the vaccines - however I do want to stress that nothing at this stage suggests it is causing more severe illness," the First Minister said.

"However, it is thought that this variant could be significantly more transmissible than even the Kent variant that was identified before Christmas - and that alone calls for an appropriate degree of caution."

Despite the decision, the First Minister told MSPs public health teams were "optimistic that enhanced testing and vaccination will be capable of getting this situation under control".

Figures in Moray, however, appear to be declining, the First Minister said, adding it was a cause for "cautious optimism".

03:57 PM

Who is Edwin Poots? Creationist and former farmer elected leader of the DUP

Before thanking his family, his wife and his team in his acceptance speech just now, new DUP leader Edwin Poots thanked God.

That priority is to be expected from the man who believes the Earth is just 6,000 years old and was created by God in about 4,000 BC.

Mr Poots has made clear he does not believe in evolution, famously saying of the Big Bang: "We've had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I've never seen anything come out of that that was good."

He has also taken a hard-line position on gay adoption, saying: "The natural order is for a man and a woman to have a child... therefore I think it’s in the best order for a man and a woman to raise a child".

But it is Mr Poots’ stance on the Northern Ireland protocol that will be intensely watched from Westminster.

Read more about the man who has just become DUP leader here.

03:49 PM

Edwin Poots calls for unionists to end 'bickering'

Edwin Poots delivering his acceptance speech - PA
Edwin Poots delivering his acceptance speech - PA

Edwin Poots has called for unionists to end the "bickering" as he was named the new leader of the DUP.

In his acceptance speech, he said he will be a "leader in unionism who will be reaching out to other leaders in unionism". He also calls for "a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland and with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties".

He said he wanted to ensure "we don't have unionist bickering that we have had in the past", so that the party can "set the foundations in this 2021 for anther 100 years of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom".

03:44 PM

Edwin Poots thanks God as he welcomes 'immense honour' of DUP leadership

Edwin Poots has said it is an "immense honour" to be named the new leader of the DUP, as he thanked God for helping him win.

He also thanked his family and team.

Mr Poots says he will work with other parties to make Northern Ireland "a great place", as it marks its centenary year.

Noting that Northern Ireland has "had its trials" over the years, he adds:" Throughout all of that our people have shown remarkable resilience and it is that resilience we will build on as we go forward."

03:41 PM

Edwin Poots named new leader of DUP

Edwin Poots has been named new leader of the DUP, defeating rival Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

The Stormont Agriculture Minister Mr Poots won by a wafer-thin 19 votes to 17 in the poll carried out within the party's 36-strong electoral college.

Arlene Foster was ousted after an internal heave by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership and will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

Mr Poots will be leader designate until Mrs Foster formally stands down. His election will now go to the party executive for ratification.

Paula Bradley was elected the party's new deputy leader. She defeated Gregory Campbell by 18 votes to 16.

03:35 PM

DUP leadership contest could be hugely significant, says MP

The new leader of the DUP is expected to be named in the next half an hour, taking over from the ousted former first minster Arlene Foster.

It might not have made huge waves on this side of the Irish Sea - but as Belfast-born former minister Conor Burns says, it could be hugely significant.

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03:24 PM

Boris Johnson press conference pushed back half an hour

Number 10 has pushed back the press conference with Boris Johnson this evening to 5:30pm.

I'm told we should not read anything into that: The Prime Minister held a working lunch meeting with Micheal Martin at Chequers earlier today.

03:21 PM

NHS Confederation: Roadmap may have to be paused or reversed in coming weeks

The head of NHS Confederation has said that "concern is mounting" about the Indian variant, which is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country.

Danny Mortimer said affected areas were seeing "much greater rates of infection than we have seen for many months now", adding that despite the success of the vaccine programme "we have still got a way to go".

NHS leader were striking a "note of caution" because of the "delicate period of trying to make inroads into the backlog of treatment caused by the pandemic", he added, suggesting measures around lifting lockdown and reopening the borders might need to be reconsidered.

There was "more that needs to be done" on self-isolation support, he added.

"It may well be that in the coming weeks, the Government has to take steps that just pauses or just reverse back some f the progress we have made, just to make sure the Indian variant doesn't impact on us in the way we saw over the winter."

03:06 PM

Welsh live music venues shuttered until July at the earliest, First Minister says

Nightclubs and live music venues in Wales will not reopen until July at the earliest, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Mr Drakeford told the PA news agency that just over half of people in their 30s, and a third of people in their 20s, had received a first jab, adding: "That number is going to keep on rising and rise pretty quickly over the weeks ahead... and that does mean that the reopening of some of those live venues will get closer.

"But the virus thrives in indoor settings, it thrives when people are close together, it thrives when people spend time together, and it thrives in places where ventilation is not a particularly strong feature of the venue.

"That's not far off describing a nightclub, so it's just inevitable those venues will come towards the end of the reopening queue."

"We're probably talking about the three-week cycle that will happen towards the end of June and into July before active consideration of those venues begins to happen."

02:52 PM

Germany could classify Britain as Covid risk region

Germany plans to classify Britain as a coronavirus risk region due to the emergence there of a highly infectious variant first detected in India, Reuters is reporting.

A final decision could be made as early as Friday, sources told the wire.

02:36 PM

DUP must stop 'fighting among ourselves' for good of Northern Ireland, says MP

Northern Ireland faces huge economic problems in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as well as the protocol, East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson has said.

"We have to find our way through for the good of consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland. That's what will unite us, fighting for the people of Northern Ireland, not fighting amongst ourselves," he said.

Mr Wilson declined to say whether he would be voting for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson or Edwin Poots in today's historic vote.

"It's a secret ballot and that's the way it should stay," he said.

02:30 PM

Boris Johnson and Micheal Martin agree delayed Ballymurphy report 'profoundly sad'

Boris Johnson and the Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin agreed it was was "profoundly sad" that the families of victims of the Ballymurphy massacre had to wait "so long for the truth", as the pair met at Chequers this afternoon.

During a working lunch, that comes amid a renewed focus on Troubles-era crimes, the Prime Minister pledged to find "a way forward in Northern Ireland that delivers for victims, aids truth recovery and helps communities in the future".

The Prime Minister and Taoiseach discussed their shared ambitions for the future of the UK-Ireland relationship, a Downing Street spokesman said.

"They agreed on the importance of working together to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and to maintain smooth trade between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland."

02:26 PM

Adults aged 20+ offered vaccine at walk-in centre amid Indian variant fears

People aged 20 and over are being offered their coronavirus vaccines in Sefton, Merseyside, amid growing concerns about the Indian variant.

The Liverpool Echo reports that a local pharmarcy is taking taking walk-in vaccinations from 3pm today. The vaccination centre will be offering the Pfizer vaccine on a first come, first served basis to anyone over the age of 20 years old.

Surge testing began in Sefton yesterday, as the area registered 54 Covid cases per 100,000 people in the week ending 9 May.

02:20 PM

'How big is the risk': NHS Providers calls for 'robust' forecast from ministers

NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts, has urged the Government for more advice on the risk posed by the Indian variant to ensure hospitals are prepared for any uptick in pressure.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said: "This is clearly a fast moving situation where evidence is still emerging. It is the NHS’s job, as ever, to be ready to provide care to all those who need it. But we need as much help as possible from the Government and the epidemiological and modelling community."

He called for a "a robust and aligned view of the risk the NHS faces here", adding: "How big is the risk? How widespread could it be? When might it realise?"

He added: "Given the combination of potentially lower vaccine efficacy, seemingly much faster transmission of the virus and the fact that many people are still unvaccinated, there is a risk that this variant could lead to a large group of people becoming ill with Covid-19 putting significant pressure on the NHS once more.

"Trust leaders need this risk assessment as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.

02:15 PM

More than 30m people have had first doses of Covid jab

More than 30 million first doses of the Covid vaccination have been delivered across England, the NHS has confirmed.

England’s lead for the NHS vaccination programme, Dr Emily Lawson said it was an "important milestone".

“The extraordinary success of the NHS Covid vaccination programme is not an accident but is thanks to the dedication of thousands of hardworking NHS staff and volunteers, and the exceptional planning and delivery of the world’s largest ever vaccine programme."

02:11 PM

Speaker has Westminster's Top Cat

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01:57 PM

Government 'failing to tackle climate crisis', says Labour

Labour has said the Government is "failing to tackle the climate crisis", despite the "rhetoric" around climate change summit Cop26.

Following Alok Sharma's statement today (12:39pm), Ed Miliband said: "We are in complete agreement that countries around the world must back up their climate targets with policies that match the scale of the emergency. But the COP President should have a word with Boris Johnson and his Ministers to ensure they've got that message.

"Because despite this Government's rhetoric, it is failing to tackle the climate crisis at anywhere near the pace and scale needed.

“The UK is way off track to meet its targets with the Government having failed to bring forward a major green stimulus, abandoned its flagship green home insulation scheme, flirted with a new coal mine, and failed to provide the support needed to help crucial manufacturing industries decarbonise."

01:50 PM

Mapped: The hotspots for the Indian variant of Covid-19 in the UK

Some 900,000 people in the UK now live in an area where the Indian variant may be the most common strain of Covid-19, data suggest.

More than half of coronavirus cases detected in English local authorities with a combined population of 899,734 have been flagged as being the Indian variant of concern in the last fortnight, according to figures published by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Public Health England.

Read more on that here.

01:30 PM

Further 552,470 vaccinations took place yesterday

A further 552,470 vaccinations were given in England yesterday, with the vast majority second doses.

Some 46.46m jabs have taken place since the programme launched on December 8, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses.

Yesterday saw a rise of 552,470 on the previous day.

NHS England said 30,146,933 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 173,820 on the previous day, while 16,314,333 were a second dose, an increase of 378,650.

01:28 PM

Arlene Foster: Best successor as DUP leader is 'very obvious'

Arlene Foster gave nothing away - PA
Arlene Foster gave nothing away - PA

Arlene Foster has voted in the election to replace her as DUP leader.

Briefly speaking to the media as she left party headquarters after casting her ballot, outgoing First Minister Mrs Foster said: "I voted for the person who will bring the Democratic Unionist Party forward and I think that's very obvious."

01:01 PM

Boris Johnson urged to 'hold his nerve' on roadmap

Boris Johnson must ‘hold his nerve’ and carry on with the lockdown release, because there is little evidence the Indian variant is causing a major problem, a public health expert has said.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the JCVI, said: “The Government needs to hold its nerve rather than allow itself to be pushed to measures that are unnecessary, demoralising and won’t work.

“The evidence just isn’t there yet. We have reports from India that vaccinated people, like medical workers, aren't getting the infection.

“Given that it’s typically seven days to symptomatic infection, the Indian variant has been around long enough for hotspot communities to be seeing a rise in admissions, but we haven’t seen any uptick. We have a rise in reported infections but that does not seem to be translating into hospitalisations.”

12:55 PM

Scotland may impose local lockdowns, Government confirms

Scotland may reintroduce local lockdowns in some parts of the country if cases do not come back under control, a spokesman for the Government has said.

As with England, the nation is expected to take a major step towards freedom from Monday - but the Indian variant has raised questions about whether such a move should be paused (see 8:48am).

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We've been clear since the beginning of the pandemic that we will continue to follow scientific advice.

"Our plans for careful unlocking take account of the improved situation, while also acknowledging the risks we still face.

"While we intend to take the next steps as a nation together where possible, we stand ready to deploy the revised levels at a more local level if necessary - if prevalence of the virus surges in some parts of Scotland but not others."

12:50 PM

Surge vaccines poised for Covid hotspots, says Bolton Council leader

The Government is planning to introduce "surge" vaccinations in the area where there has been a high number of cases of the Indian variant, the leader of Bolton Council has said.

David Greenhalgh told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "This is an issue of capacity but we have had very, very constructive talks and certainly all the soundings are is that they are looking to progress that as soon as possible.

"The vast majority of our cases are in their teens, 20s and 30s at the moment.

"If we can get vaccinations to (those aged) 16-plus, which are licensed by Pfizer, then it will make a total transformation of transmission as it moves forward.

"I think realistically that would start in targeted areas where we see the predominance (of the virus) currently."

12:48 PM

No reason to halt roadmap, says director of public health

A director of public health has said there is no reason for the roadmap to be halted as long as the public continues to follow the rules.

Margaret Jones of Sefton Council, in Merseyside, told Sky News that people "have to be mindful" of the situation, and authorities were still trying to "drive down all case of Covid as much as we possibly can".

But she added: "I don't think there is any reason to stop further relaxation of restrictions, but it is just important that everyone remember there are still rules around hands, face space."

Ms Jones said she wanted to "reassure people that we are a long, long way from looking at any sort of local lockdown", noting that while rates have gone up, they are still lower than they were in March.

12:16 PM

British holidaymakers will be allowed to enter Portugal

Portugal's tourist board has confirmed that UK holidaymakers will be allowed to enter the country from Monday.

The country is on the green list, however confusion was fulled by speculation that it might maintain its ban on non-essential travel in face of pressure from the EU.

Visit Portugal said in a statement: "The Portuguese minister of state for foreign affairs announced today that British tourists will be allowed to enter Portugal as of the 00:00 of 17th of May, next Monday.

"This decision will revoke the essential travel restrictions that is in place until the 16th of May.

"Any person entering Portugal will have, in any case, to have an RT-PCR test done 72 hours before departure."

12:06 PM

Four people in England have died from Indian variant: PHE

Four people have now died from the Indian variant of concern as of May 12, according to data published by Public Health England (PHE).

Meanwhile cases in the UK have more than doubled to 1,313. The figures released on Thursday have risen from 520 cases recorded by PHE up to 5 May.

12:01 PM

'Very, very real reasons' to halt roadmap, says Sage scientist

A Sage scientist has said there are "very, very real reasons to say the fourth test has not been met", ahead of further reopening on Monday.

The fourth test is whether there are any new variants of concern that changes "our assessment of the risks".

Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at St Andrews and a member of the Sage subcommittee on behavioural science, told Sky News that while meeting outdoors was "fairly safe", it was "highly inadvisable to meet indoors".

"A lot of messaging in last few weeks has implied it is all over bar the shouting - people think it is safe to hug each other and meet indoors - but it's not," he added.

It would be "very good sense to allow local directors of public health to decide whether to delay reopening" in Covid hotspots, he added.

11:51 AM

Lobby latest: Self-isolation support sufficient for 'vast majority', says No 10

Downing Street has insisted that the "vast majority" do self-isolate when they are told to, amid calls for the Government to increase financial support for anyone self-isolating.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told a Westminster briefing: "Throughout we have seen the vast majority of people abide by the ask to isolate when they have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

"And that has played an absolutely massive role in reducing the transmission rate of the virus, and we are sure people will continue to abide by that request."

Earlier today, Nadhim Zahawi pleaded with people to "isolate, isolate, isolate", amid growing concerns about the spread of the Indian variant.

11:48 AM

Have your say: Will the Indian variant affect England's roadmap?

The surge in Covid cases caused by the Indian variant is threatening to derail the Government's roadmap, experts have warned today.

In Wales, the First Minister has paused easements, including telling people they cannot "cwtch" as hoped from Monday (see 9:18am). Nicola Sturgeon has been told they are "losing control" of the situation and that Scotland's roadmap should be halted (8:48am), while Professor Paul Hunter told Radio 4 "step four is in doubt" (see 8:21am).

But Andy Burnham has urged the Government not to deploy local lockdowns again, instead calling for vaccines to be diverted to Covid hotspots instead (see 9:31am). Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that was the plan - but said "nothing is off the table" in terms of other measures.

What does this mean for the final stage of the roadmap? Have your say in the poll below.

11:44 AM

Boris Johnson to give press conference amid rising Covid cases

The PM will be speaking from 5pm - Getty
The PM will be speaking from 5pm - Getty

Boris Johnson will give a Downing Street press conference today, amid growing concerns about the surge in Covid cases.

The Prime Minister will be joined by the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

It is thought the focus of the conference will be on local measures such as surge testing and vaccinations, rather than lockdowns or any change to the roadmap.

11:29 AM

Covid passport plans ‘scaled back’ as ministers question health benefits

Plans for Covid passports have been significantly scaled back as government ministers privately question whether they should be adopted at all, The Telegraph understands.

Covid status checks are unlikely to be required for cinemas, small theatres or restaurants, according to latest government thinking, with pubs already ruled out.

A meeting of the Covid Operations (Covid-O) committee last Friday about how status certification should be used in the UK saw concerns aired. Some ministers questioned whether there was a clear health benefit to adopting the scheme and requested more evidence, according to a well-placed source.

Another government source said the merits of the scheme have been called into question as Covid case and hospitalisation figures dropped.

“The mood music has changed over the course of the last few weeks,” said the source. “This different reality has prompted people saying ‘well actually, I saw the benefit of it before but do we really need it?’”

11:24 AM

Fraser Nelson: We really need an inquiry into how Sage forced Britain into lockdown

With the promise of the Covid inquiry to begin next spring, Fraser Nelson's latest column offers his thoughts on one area of focus: why the Sage group of advisers ever ended up with so much power.

He writes:

Such models will always have monstrous error margins: how could they not? But ministers wanted to say they were being guided by “the science” and saw, in Sage, a convenient political shield. It was a political decision to stand behind a group of advisers – who had been asked to focus on only one part of a mixed crisis. It was a major failing, with huge consequences.

Read the rest of his column here.

11:17 AM

Director of public health attacks 'illogical' block on surge vaccinations

A director of public health has said the Government is "tying one hand behind my back" after his request for surge vaccines was rejected.

Professor Dominic Harrison of Blackburn with Darwen Council tweeted that areas currently seeing a surge in cases have "a window of opportunity to control the wider spread across the UK by a mixture of community engagement, surge testing and surge vaccination".

In an interview with BBC Radio Lancashire, Prof Harrison said it was "entirely illogical" and warned it would lead to the further spread of the virus.

He told the station: "I am furious, I cannot understand why the JCVI or the Department of Health and Social Care are stopping local directors of public health from taking the action they know will halt this surge of the Indian variant because actually it's not just going to be a problem for the number of local authorities who are first hit.

"This is going to be a problem, variants in general are going to be a problem, right over the next 12 months."

11:06 AM

November climate change summit 'last hope' for global warming goal

The massive climate change summit in November is the "last hope" for keeping the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C alive, Alok Sharma has said.

The Cop26 President and Cabinet minister said keeping to a limit of 1.5C of warming - beyond which hundreds of millions more people will be hit by the impact of climate change and many more species will lose their habitats - was critical.

And he said: "If we are serious about 1.5C, Glasgow must be the Cop that consigns coal power to history, the Cop that signals the end of polluting vehicles, the Cop that tackles methane emissions, and that calls time on deforestation, by making sustainable production pay."

Countries should use the Covid-19 recovery to reimagine their economies, as the investments being made to repair the damage inflicted by the pandemic would shape the decade, he added.

"Whether we like it or not, whether through action or inaction, we are now choosing the future."

10:57 AM

Boris Johnson to welcome Australian PM as 'guest' to G7 in Cornwall next month

Boris Johnson has said he looks forward to welcoming Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Cornwall for the G7 summit next month.

Australia, which has one of the strictest Covid travel bans in the world, is not a member of the G7 but Mr Morrison will be attending as a guest - as things stand.

During a call between the pair today, Mr Johnson said "the G7 would be a crucial opportunity to make progress on issues such as climate change and improving girls’ access to education around the world".

He also emphasised the importance of "all countries setting ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, and encouraged Australia to commit to reaching Net Zero by 2050".

There was a Covid outbreak at last week's G7 meeting of foreign ministers, among the Indian delegation.

10:51 AM

Northern Ireland protocol 'unlawful', court has been told

The Northern Ireland protocol is "unlawful on a number of grounds", a court has been told at the start of a legal challenge.

Launching the challenge, John Larkin QC said the protocol was "incompatible with the Act of Union" because it places the people of Northern Ireland "on a separate footing" to those in Britain.

"The Protocol, in its entirely, places Her Majesty's subjects in Northern Ireland on a different footing to Her Majesty's subjects in Great Britain in relation to the European Union and the Protocol," he said.

The judicial review is being taken in the name of unionists from across the UK, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, UUP leader Steve Aiken, TUV leader Jim Allister and Belfast Agreement architect Lord Trimble.

10:41 AM

Union boss in Priti Patel row insists 'I don't have a racist bone in my body'

The union boss who called for Priti Patel to be deported has said "I don't have a racist bone in my body", as he defends his position amid the row.

Howard Beckett told Sky News that he was speaking out about "institutionalised racism in the Conservative party", adding that the Home Secretary's "policies are racist, they need to be called out at such".

He said he would not be stepping down from the leadership contest for Unite, saying: "My voice will be heard."

"I have already issued a personal apology to Priti Patel... I never intended it to be interpreted literally.

He added: "That tweet was wrong [but] I do not want that tweet to remove us from discussing the treatment of refugees in our country."

10:34 AM

Union boss who called for Priti Patel to be deported says she is racist, not him

A union boss who called for Priti Patel to be deported has said he "certainly didn't meant it to be taken literally", and that he believes the Home Secretary is racist, not him.

Howard Beckett, who is a front-runner to replace Len McCluskey as Unite general secretary said he was "trying to highlight the fact that Priti Patel was taking a position of elitism and privilege, one that is racist".

He told Sky News: "I regret the words I used... my language was inappropriate."

"I don't look at Priti Patel and see her migrant background or the colour of her skin - I look at her and see a racist agenda, racist policies that are being carried out."

10:20 AM

Covid surge because Boris Johnson failed to shut border to India, Labour MP claims

With Covid cases surging thanks to the new Indian variant, Boris Johnson faces questions over why the Government failed to close the borders to India more quickly.

Thousands of people from India flew into Britain before it was added to the red list, while the four-day notice period prompted a surge of at least 1,500 people a day.

Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs committee, said Public Health England estimated that half of the new cases of the Indian Covid variant in the UK were related to international travel and could threaten the roadmap out lockdown.

"This was not inevitable. It is just the latest in a long list of examples where the Government was too slow to act at the border," she said. "he Government is still making the same basic mistakes at the border all over again."

10:05 AM

Keir Starmer says 'thoughts of whole Labour Party' with MP after cancer diagnosis

Sir Keir Starmer has said "the thoughts of the whole Labour Party are with Wes and his family at this difficult time", after the Labour frontbencher revealed his cancer diagnosis (see below post).

The party leader, who had just promoted Mr Streeting, said: "Wes is a friend and a colleague and I know he'll come back from this even stronger and more determined than ever before.

"I can't wait to see him back in Parliament as soon as possible."

10:03 AM

Labour frontbencher reveals he has kidney cancer

Newly-promoted Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting has announced he has kidney cancer at the age of just 38.

The shadow child poverty secretary has issued a statement, saying the cancer has been caught early and "my prognosis is good".

However he will be "taking time off from the end of next week", he added. Watch his statement below.

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09:58 AM

Greensill and GFG's relationship 'should have set alarm bells ringing' for David Cameron

A senior Labour MP has suggested that the relationship between Greensill and GFG should have "set alarm bells ringing" for David Cameron.

The Serious Fraud Office opens an investigation into the latter firm for fraudulent trading and money laundering (see 10:20am).

Dame Angela Eagle, who sits on the Treasury committee which heard from Mr Cameron yesterday, said the two had a "very twisted symbiotic relatoonship".

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09:51 AM

IndyRef2 is 'of paramount importance', says Scotland's newest MP

Anum Qaisar-Javed is just 28 - PA
Anum Qaisar-Javed is just 28 - PA

Scotland's newest MP has said a second independence referendum is "of paramount importance", once Covid recovery is on track.

New SNP MP Anum Qaisar-Javed also pledged she would "fight for independence" after being elected to represent the constituency of Airdrie and Shotts.

The by-election, which took place just a week after the Scottish Parliament election, was sparked by former MP Neil Gray's decision to step down from the Commons and run for Holyrood.

Ms Qaisar-Javed said: "The initial priority has to be the Covid recovery... [but] when the time is right, then yes of course we will be looking to campaign for another independence referendum, as is the right of people of Scotland.

"Whatever the result is of that referendum, so be it, but that choice is of paramount importance."

09:40 AM

Will history repeat itself with the Indian variant?

Wales has paused its easements. Scotland looks likely to follow. Andy Burnham is decrying local lockdowns before they have begun, while Boris Johnson is insisting there is no change to the plan.

It's all starting to feel eerily familiar. But, of course, there is one big difference this time: the vaccine.

With the caveats that no vaccine is entirely effective, it's clear that the vast majority of people who are most at risk will be protected this time around. But it is not all.

The pilot vaccinating entire multi-generational households may help with lingering vaccine hesitancy. If granny sees her teenage relatives lining up for the jab, they may feel more confident than before.

But with many millions of younger adults yet to be called up, cases among the less vulnerable groups will almost certainly rise.

Far from being history repeating itself, this surge could well be the first test of the Government's appetite for the longer term approach to Covid as an endemic disease.

09:30 AM

DUP members vote on who will succeed Arlene Foster today

Jeffrey Donaldson (R) is one of two vying to succeed Arlene Foster as DUP leader - Pool
Jeffrey Donaldson (R) is one of two vying to succeed Arlene Foster as DUP leader - Pool

The first leadership vote in the history of the DUP will take place on Friday afternoon.

The 36 members of the party's electoral college, made up of its MPs and Stormont Assembly members, will be able to cast their votes for either Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Edwin Poots between 12pm and 4pm in east Belfast.

Ahead of the vote, a virtual meeting of the college has been scheduled to enable both politicians to make a final pitch for support.

It is anticipated that the winner, which will be announced by party chairman Lord Morrow, will be confirmed at around 5pm.

09:20 AM

Serious Fraud Office investigates Sanjeev Gupta's GFG Alliance

The business empire of Liberty Steel owner Sanjeev Gupta is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office over suspected fraudulent trading and money laundering, including its financing arrangements with failed company Greensill Capital UK.

The announcement comes a day after David Cameron gave evidence about his role lobbying on behalf of Greensill.

However the former prime minister left many questions unanswered. You can read our full write-up of it here.

09:13 AM

Whole households to get vaccine to stop Indian variant, minister says

People as young as 18 could receive the vaccine in the coming days if they live with older relatives, in a bid to tackle the crop of Covid outbreaks caused by the Indian variant, a minister has confirmed.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said that pilots in Luton appeared to have been successful and it was now being considered as "a tool in our armoury".

"Clinicians will make recommendations, and we will flex vaccination programme accordingly," he told BBC Breakfast.

It comes as a rapid response surge team, with 100 nurses, public health advisers and environmental health officers, is deployed to Bolton to assist local authorities.

Surge testing will launch shortly in Formby on Merseyside. It is already taking place in parts of London as well as Bolton, Birmingham and Worcestershire.

Mr Zahawi told Sky News that Monday's easements would go ahead "because the vaccines are delivering and vaccines are keeping people out of hospitals and away from severe infection".

But he noted the situation was being carefully monitored, with Boris Johnson receiving daily briefings on the changing data, saying: "We rule nothing out, whatever action we take regionally or nationally."

09:08 AM

Minister urges public to 'do their bit' to keep roadmap on track

The vaccines minister has urged people to keep "doing their bit" to ensure the roadmap can stay on track, amid surging cases of the Indian variant.

Bolton’s infection rate has doubled in the past week and currently sits at 152 cases per 100,000 people – the second highest in the country after Erewash in Derbyshire, whose own spike has been linked to an outbreak in a secondary school. Other surges have been identified in parts of London and Merseyside.

Nadhim Zahawi told LBC's Nick Ferrari that this Monday's reopening of indoor meet-ups "is still on".

When pressed on whether the plans for June 21 could be paused, he said: "The way we don't have to do that is by everybody doing their bit, by taking the two tests a week, doing your PCR test in those areas, and to isolate, isolate, isolate.

"We have got to break the cycle of infection, because one of those big tests was infection rates have to be suppressed, and the other big test is variants.

"If those cause a problem, then the tests will fail. The four tests have to be met for June 21."

08:59 AM

Boris Johnson faces tough call as Indian variant surges

To call off Monday’s reopening now would create huge harm - not to mention a terrible political storm - Reuters
To call off Monday’s reopening now would create huge harm - not to mention a terrible political storm - Reuters

Later today, Boris Johnson will face one of his most difficult decisions yet - to delay or push ahead with Monday’s long awaited reopening which will see indoor mixing in pubs, restaurants and homes fired up again.

The problem is the Indian variant. It is making worrying progress in a series of hotspots across the country and, if left unchecked, could undo the huge progress made over the last few months.

Despite the speed of the UK vaccination rollout, we remain vulnerable: over 40 percent of the population are unvaccinated and less than 30 percent have received both jabs.

The Prime Minister’s decision will be informed by Sage, which convened on Thursday to consider the fast-moving situation. But that briefing is likely only to pose hard choices.

Read our global health team's analysis here.

08:41 AM

Have your say: Will the Indian variant affect England's roadmap?

The surge in Covid cases caused by the Indian variant is threatening to derail the Government's roadmap, experts have warned today.

In Wales, the First Minister has paused easements, including telling people they cannot "cwtch" as hoped from Monday (see 9:18am). Nicola Sturgeon has been told they are "losing control" of the situation and that Scotland's roadmap should be halted (8:48am), while Professor Paul Hunter told Radio 4 "step four is in doubt" (see 8:21am).

But Andy Burnham has urged the Government not to deploy local lockdowns again, instead calling for vaccines to be diverted to Covid hotspots instead (see 9:31am). Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that was the plan - but said "nothing is off the table" in terms of other measures.

What does this mean for the final stage of the roadmap? Have your say in the poll below.

08:32 AM

Indian variant may require 'regional or national' measures, minister says

Nadhim Zahawi has said the Government "will take nothing off the table" in dealing with the Indian variant, noting it could require "regional or national" measures.

The vaccines minister told BBC Breakfast: "Over a year of dealing with this pandemic suggests that the most effective way of dealing with this, because we have had such a successful vaccination programme, is the surge testing by postcode, the genome sequencing and isolation, so that is our focus, that is our priority.

"But we will take nothing off the table, whether it is regional or national further measures that we would need to take, we will deal with this."

08:31 AM

Don't reintroduce local lockdowns to deal with Indian variant, Andy Burnham urges

Andy Burnham has urged the Government not to reintroduce local lockdowns to combat the spread of the Indian coronavirus variant, saying "they really didn't work".

The Greater Manchester Mayortold Sky News his "heart sank" yesterday on learning they were a possibility.

"We were under different forms of local lockdown pretty much for the whole of the second half of last year and it took a huge toll on people, obviously on our businesses and our economy," he said.

"We are in a different situation this year because, even though we are seeing spread of the Indian variant in Bolton, we are not seeing the same numbers of people going into hospital because obviously older people are more protected now.

"So we don't need to have the same response that we had last year. We do believe if we move quickly on vaccination we can take away any risk of a local lockdown."

08:20 AM

Greater Manchester Mayor calls on Government to divert vaccine supplies to Covid hotspots

Andy Burnham has called on the Government to "go further" and divert more vaccine supplies to affected areas to protect "the younger working age population, the student population".

The Greater Manchester Mayor told BBC Breakfast: "That is what is needed if we are to make the most decisive and effective intervention into this situation that we can right now.

"We recognise the pressure on vaccine supplies all over the country but we have been moving at a pace where we have been treating all areas equally and I think the time has now come to recognise areas with the highest case rate do need to be able move more quickly down the ages."

08:18 AM

No 'cwtching' in Wales as Indian variant takes hold

People in Wales will not be able to "cwtch" from Monday, mainly due to the Indian variant, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Within your own household bubble or extended household you'll be able to make decisions about who you hug and who you cwtch.

"But we're not yet thinking, largely because of the Indian variant, we're not going to change the rules about people more generally. We expect the two-metre social distance to be sustained."

Asked whether people will be able to hug a family member outside of their household bubble or extended household, Mr Drakeford replied: "I'm afraid you have to wait a little bit longer."

08:08 AM

Surge vaccine plan problematic, warns expert

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, has raised a question-mark over whether the Government's surge vaccination plan would work.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The downside of that is who do you take the vaccines from?

"And it does take a couple of weeks to work, so if you're moving vaccines away from areas where they currently don't have much Indian variant and that is increasing, by the time you start getting round to vaccinating that group again when maybe the epidemic, the Indian variant, is increasing rapidly again, probably you might well have been able to stop that if you hadn't diverted vaccine to surge areas.

"So it's not an easy question either way, to be honest."

See 8:25am for more.

08:06 AM

Labour suspends union boss for saying Priti Patel should be deported

One of the front-runners to take over from Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite is embroiled in a row over a tweet in which he called for Priti Patel to be deported.

In a now-deleted post, in response to yesterday's scenes in Glasgow, Howard Beckett said: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.”

The Labour Party has suspended him, but despite apologising for the original tweet, the union official told Sky News he would not be dropping out of the leadership.

Tory MP Steve Baker said it was "an extraordinary, absolutely intolerable remark" which must have a "robust response" from Labour.

07:53 AM

'Why doesn't the Government release David Cameron correspondence?'

David Cameron might have hoped that his marathon grilling before two parliamentary committees would put an end to the questions about his lobbying.

But, as our chief political correspondent points out, there are still many areas that are still unclear - not least, what the responses were to his various texts.

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07:48 AM

Scotland must not lift restrictions as it is 'losing control' of Covid, expert warns

Scotland is seeing a "loss of control" of the pandemic in some areas and it is premature to lift restrictions, an epidemiologist has warned.

Cases in Glasgow have surged to 70.9 per 100,000 people, while Moray currently has the highest rate in Scotland at 98.1 cases per 100,000.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani told BBC Good Morning Scotland ministers "should be considering the opposite" of relaxing restrictions.

"This is what early exponential rises look like and we're seeing loss of control of the pandemic in many parts of Scotland, and the situation is likely much wider and other places will follow unless action is taken to actually prevent this and pre-empt this now."

She said the arrival of new variants in the UK was not inevitable and was a result of a "failed border policy".

07:44 AM

Boris Johnson to meet Irish Taoiseach amid growing tensions

Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin will travel to Chequers today for a working lunch with Boris Johnson amid ongoing tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol and Troubles-era crimes.

Unionists and loyalists have expressed anger at what they regard as a border in the Irish Sea and separation from the rest of the UK, sparking widespread protests with some resulting in serious disorder last month.

The meeting also comes after the Prime Minister was criticised for his response to an inquest finding that 10 people killed in shootings involving the Army in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971 were "entirely innocent".

A statement that the Prime Minister had apologised on behalf of the state in a phone call with First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was dismissed by the families as a "third-party apology".

A letter of apology which Mr Johnson sent to the families' solicitor as Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis made an apology in the House of Commons on Thursday was branded "unacceptable".

07:36 AM

Wales told 'don't travel unless you need to'

People in Wales will be able to travel abroad but are advised not to unless they "need to", the First Minister has said.

"People from Wales will be able to travel abroad to green list countries and not need to quarantine on their return," Mark Drakeford told BBC Radio Wales.

"But the advice is, unless you need to travel, then it is much safer to stay, enjoy everything that we have to offer in Wales.

"This is the year to think about your own safety and that of other people. Enjoy Wales, it's a fantastic place with so much to offer."

07:29 AM

Minister commits to 'data-led' decision for final stage of roadmap amid Covid surge

Nadhim Zahawi has said clinicians are meeting for a second time today to develop a plan to deal with the surge in Covid cases.

The vaccines minister said the reasons for the "four weeks plus one" between each step was to allow the Government to assess the data before opening further.

Asked if the June 21 date was set in stone, he said if the four tests are met "we will absolutely meet it".

"We will share the data with the nation... that is what data-led, evidence-driven policy is about."

07:25 AM

Government will 'flex vaccine programme' to deal with Indian variant surge

Nadhim Zahawi has said the Indian variant "seems to be more infectious, but there is no evidence on the severity of disease".

More than 4,400 cases have now been identified.

Noting the surge testing in Bolton and other parts of the country, he said the Government was looking to "flex the vaccination programme", with more doses being sent into the town, although stressed "vaccine supply is finite".

The vaccines minister highlighted the pilot of vaccinating everyone in multi-generational households to "increase the uptake" of the jab within at-risk communities.

"We have got to make sure we protect all those communities," he added.

07:21 AM

Indian variant surge means 'step four of roadmap in doubt', warns expert

The surge in cases caused by the Indian variant means the final stage of the roadmap "is in doubt", an adviser to the World Health Organisation has said.

Professor Paul Hunter told Radio 4's Today programme: "The hospitalisation rate doesn't seem to be increasing yet [but] it is certainly a concern - I think step four is in doubt in June now."

He added: "We really need to see what impact it has on severe disease to be certain... if the epidemic continues to increase.... at the same rate as it has in recent weeks, we are going to have a huge number of cases by June."

But he noted that so far it was mostly among "unvaccinated younger people - it's not yet that much active in older people... so maybe we will be able to weather it and still have step four in June.

"If it increases in older people... step four would be in doubt."

07:16 AM

Welsh Government 'pauses' part of roadmap

The Welsh Government has "paused" plans to allow smaller events to reopen, as well as relaxing rules on people meeting, due to the Indian variant, the First Minister has said.

"We had thought of moving ahead with the reopening of smaller events, we'll pause that for a moment," Mark Drakeford told Sky News.

"We were thinking of liberalising the rules in the way in which people can meet together, not just in their extended household but beyond that, we'll pause that for the moment.

"If the advice on the Indian variant is that it is safe to move ahead, we won't need to wait for the end of our next three-week cycle to do those things, but the Indian variant is giving us cause for concern."

He said they had to take "a precautionary approach" until evidence about the transmission rate and the impact of the vaccine on the Indian variant was clearer.

07:14 AM

Holidaymakers told to check what Portugal advises before travel

A minister has told would-be holidaymakers to check what the latest advice is for Portugal, as UK restrictions on travel are lifted just as the Covid backdrop is worsening.

The country has extended its "state of calamity", its second-highest state of alert, until May 30 - however, the country is one of the few to make it onto the UK's "green list", with quarantine-free travel allowed from Monday.

Asked what British tourists should do, Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: "It is really important that this year, whether you are planning a holiday to Portugal or elsewhere, to check our Foreign Office advice but also the destination country.

"It is a rapidly changing situation as we have just seen with this variant... You have to really check exactly what the requirements are."

07:06 AM

Greensill scandal has been 'painful period' for David Cameron, minister says

The Greensill scandal has been a "painful period" for David Cameron, Nadhim Zahawi has said, following the former prime minister's grilling by MPs.

The vaccines minister, who is one of those lobbied by Mr Cameron during last year, said he "did the right thing to come before two select committees yesterday".

Asked whether he thought it had left Mr Cameron's reputation in tatters Mr Zahawi told Sky News: "This was a painful period for him. It cannot be easy for a former prime minister to go through this.

"This was a difficult time for him, and we should respect that."

07:04 AM

Minister raises doubt over final stage in roadmap amid surge in Indian variant

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has expressed caution over whether the final stage in the roadmap will go ahead on June 21 as planned, as the Indian variant causes new Covid outbreaks around the country.

He told Sky News that Monday's easements would go ahead "because the vaccines are delivering and vaccines are keeping people out of hospitals and away from severe infection".

But he noted the situation was being carefully monitored, with Boris Johnson receiving daily briefings on the changing data.

"We have got another period of four weeks plus one before we get to June 21," he added. "We rule nothing out, whatever action we take regionally or nationally."

06:42 AM

PM to push ahead with reopening despite rise in Indian variant cases

Boris Johnson vowed on Thursday to push ahead with Monday's lockdown easing despite a spike in Indian variant cases, amid hopes that a local surge in vaccinations can contain the threat.

The Prime Minister is considering bringing forward the point at which vulnerable people in the worst affected areas can get their second Covid vaccine in order to ensure they are protected.

Advice is being sought from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, an independent advisory panel to the Government, with a decision possible as early as Friday.

If the plan is adopted, people aged over 50, health and social care workers and those with vulnerabilities at risk from the Indian variant will not have to wait 12 weeks for a second jab.

Consideration of the policy – a change at a local level of the rules which have guided the nationwide vaccine rollout – shows the degree of concern in the Government.