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Covid news – live: Tories revolt over potential post-Easter schools return

Lockdown lifting ‘a long way off’, Hancock says

The UK recorded 30,004 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with 610 further deaths in the latest 24-hour period, according to official figures.

Government data up to 23 January shows that over six million Covid-19 vaccine jabs have been administered in the UK so far, including 6,353,321 first doses and 469,660 second doses. In order to meet the government’s target of 15 million first doses by 15 February, an average of 393,031 first doses would be needed each day.

It comes as the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Anthony Harnden, said that delaying a second dose of the vaccine may give stronger protection in the long term.

Prof Harnden defended the government’s decision to delay the second dose of vaccinations to allow more people to receive their first dose, adding that the strategy will hopefully “get more people immunised and protect the vulnerable elderly” as well as “give protection to the populations as a whole”.

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‘We must open schools’, urge Tory MPS

Tory MPs are calling on Boris Johnson to open schools “as soon as possible”, amid concerns they could be closed until Easter.

More than a dozen Conservatives are said to be urging the PM to provide clarity on the plan to return to the classroom.

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 22:42

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Dismay over school shutdown ‘until Easter’

Several newspapers are focusing on concerns about a prolonged closure of schools and the effect it could have on children.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said earlier today that he hoped schools in England could reopen by Easter – but admitted it would depend on the levels of infection in the community at that time.

“We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme,” he said. “The education secretary (Gavin Williamson) has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return. I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.”

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 22:21

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Greece detects 32 cases of ‘UK variant’

Greece has detected 32 cases of the faster-spreading UK variant of Covid-19, according to health authorities.

Laboratory tests of 235 samples taken at border entry points, hospitals and people in close contact with a confirmed case of the mutant virus showed that 33 were positive for the Β117 mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Health authorities said 17 of the positive samples were detected in Athens.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new variant may be associated with a higher level of mortality, although scientists have said the evidence on that remained uncertain.

The variant was first detected in samples that were taken in southeast England in September.

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 22:02

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Biden to reinstate Covid travel ban on UK

Joe Biden will reinstate the ban on travellers from the UK, Ireland, Europe and Brazil to contain the spread of new variants of Covid-19, the White House has confirmed.

The US president will on Monday rescind an order made by Donald Trump to lift the restrictions, said press secretary Jen Psaki.

Mr Biden will also impose an entry ban on non-US citizens who have recently been in South Africa because of the new variant detected in that country.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director.

Dr Schuchat said the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 21:50

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Brazilians protest over Bolsonaro’s handling of pandemic

Thousands of Brazilians took the streets for a second day to call for the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose support has fallen sharply over his handling of Covid-19.

Cars paraded through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and a dozen or more other cities as other protesters marched on foot, some calling, “Get out Bolsonaro!”

Sunday’s protests were called by conservative groups that had once backed the president, while those on Saturday had come from the left.

“When Bolsonaro arrived, we voted for him for his proposals that we found interesting, but the situation now with the pandemic is terrible”, said Meg Fernandes, a 66-year-old engineer who joined a protest in Rio on Sunday.

 Coronavirus has claimed more than 216,000 lives in Brazil since the start of the pandemic.

Protestors call for the impeachment of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo

Protestors call for the impeachment of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo

(EPA)

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 21:39

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France facing third lockdown as hospital admissions rise

France has seen its biggest jump in hospital admissions for Covid-19 since mid-November, with the number of people in hospital with the virus up by 493 to 26,393, health ministry data has revealed.

The number of people in intensive care with the virus also rose again, by 69 to 2,965, also the highest one-day increase since early November. 

Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the scientific council that advises the government on COVID-19 response, said the country was facing a “critical week”.

He told BFM TV: “We probably need to go towards a confinement. Whether that needs to be a very strict confinement like in March or a softer form like in November, that is a political decision. If we do not tighten regulations, we will find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation from mid-March … This is a critical week, politicians must decide.”

The government will meet on Wednesday to decide whether it needs to take extra measures.

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 21:30

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Anti-lockdown riots in Netherlands

Rioters threw rocks at police and started fires in the Dutch city of Eindhoven during further anti-lockdown protests today.

Officers responded to the violence with tear gas and water cannons and arrested at least 55 people. The central square near the main railway station was littered with rocks, bicycles and shattered glass.

Police also used a water cannon to disperse an outlawed anti-lockdown demonstration in Amsterdam. Video footage showed police spraying people grouped against a wall of the Van Gogh Museum. More than 100 people were arrested in the capital.

It comes after the government imposed a 9pm to 4.30am curfew on Sunday, with the lockdown due to continue until at least 9 February.

Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus condemned the violence. “This has nothing to do with demonstrating against corona measures,” he said in a statement. “This is simply criminal behaviour; people who deliberately target police, riot police, journalists and other aid workers.”

Anti-lockdown protesters at Amsterdam’s Museumplein

(ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Police face protesters in Eindhoven

(EPA)

A car was set on fire at the train station in Eindhoven following an anti-lockdown rally

(ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 21:16

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Italy to take legal action over vaccine delays

Italy will take legal action and step up pressure in Brussels against Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca over delays in deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines with a view to securing agreed supplies, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has said.

The aim was to get the companies to meet the vaccine volumes they had promised and not to seek compensation, Di Maio said on RAI state television.

“This is a European contract that Pfizer and AstraZeneca are not respecting and so for this reason we will take legal action… We are working so our vaccine plan programme does not change,” he said.

Pfizer said last week it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output. On Friday, AstraZeneca said initial deliveries to the region will fall short because of a production problem.

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 21:05

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Covid outbreak at DVLA branded a ‘scandal’

Ministers have been urged to intervene after a mass outbreak at the DVLA’s offices in Wales, by a union declaring the government agency’s response a “scandal”.  

More than 350 employees at the UK vehicle licensing agency’s contact centre in Swansea tested positive in the four months to December, bringing the total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to above 500.

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 20:54

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We should be wearing medical grade masks, says Hunt

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has called for medical-grade masks to be compulsory on public transport and in shops.

Some epidemiologists fear that cloth masks, which are often home made, are not sufficient to deal with the new strains of Covid-19.

Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care at the University of Oxford, said “the context has changed” over the course of the pandemic and everyone should be wearing medical-grade coverings.

Prof Greenhalgh tweeted on Sunday: “Double-layer cloth masks seemed OK when a) supplies of PPE were very low, b) virus was less contagious, c) incidence was lower. The context has changed. We need to be wearing medical-grade.”

Mr Hunt retweeted the post, adding: “I agree.”

Peter Stubley24 January 2021 20:31

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