New Covid-19 variant from Philippines found in England

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Filipino health workers In PPE perform swab tests on a village in Manila – Aaron Favila/AP

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07:01 PM

Roundup of today’s news

Here is your evening roundup of today’s news:

06:51 PM

‘I had the AstraZeneca vaccine,’ Duchess of Cornwall reveals

The Duchess of Cornwall has revealed she was given the AstraZeneca Covid jab and praised the UK’s vaccine rollout, telling a doctor: “You need to get people in.”

Camilla said it “didn’t matter” which vaccine she was given – and joked she did not ask because “I hate injections so much” during a visit to a pop-up inoculation centre in London with the Prince of Wales.

A string of European countries – including Germany, France, Italy and Spain – have paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab in their vaccine rollouts due to concerns over possible adverse side effects.

Story continues

Some 30 cases of blood clots have been reported to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) by March 10 among almost five million people vaccinated, but additional cases had been reported over the weekend.

There is “no indication” the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has caused blood clot incidents, the director of the EMA has said.

The EMA is conducting a full scientific review of the AstraZeneca jab, but has said it currently “remains convinced” that the “benefits of this vaccine outweigh the risk”.

06:33 PM

New variant from Philippines found in England

Two cases of a new coronavirus strain first reported in the Philippines have been found in England.

Public Health England said the variant contains a number of notable mutations, including the E484K spike protein found in the Manaus variant.

Concerns have been raised that vaccines may not be as effective against this protein.

The new strain has been designated as a variant under investigation (VUI) rather than a variant of concern, such as the Manaus strain.

Public Health England said one of the cases was linked to international travel and the other is still being investigated, but did not confirm where either had been found.

It came after the Philippines reported 33 cases of a new variant on March 9.

06:26 PM

Arlene Foster outlines ‘cautious but optimistic’ easing out of lockdown

Northern Ireland’s First Minister said the region has begun a cautious but optimistic journey out of lockdown as she outlined a series of relaxations.

From April 1

  • Up to six people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.

  • Ten people, from no more than two households, able to participate in outdoor sporting activities. Golf courses to reopen (clubhouses to remain closed).

  • Click and collect purchases allowed from garden centres and plant nurseries.

From April 12

  • Up to 10 people from no more than two households can meet outdoors in a private garden.

  • Click and collect at all non-essential retail outlets.

  • “Stay at home” requirement lifts. Will be replaced by “stay local” message.

  • Outdoor sports training to resume for sports clubs affiliated with recognised governing bodies with no more than 15 participants in one training group. Indoor club facilities, apart from toilets, to remain closed.

06:16 PM

Lithuania suspends use of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

In a change of policy, Lithuania suspended use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine as “a precaution” until the European Medicines Agency gives a final evaluation of its safety, the country’s Health Minister Arturas Dulkys said on Tuesday evening.

“We are taking the decision now, because over the previous few hours we have received three reports about serious, unexpected, unwanted thromboembolic cases in patients who were given the AstraZeneca vaccine in Lithuania”, the head of the country’s medicine authority Gytis Andrulionis told reporters on Tuesday.

“We do not have proof whether this is a coincidence or due to the vaccine”, he added.

AstraZeneca status across Europe

06:09 PM

Two new cases of Brazil variant found in England

Public Health England on Tuesday said two new cases of the P.1 coronavirus variant, first discovered in northern Brazil had been detected.

This brings the total number of reported cases of the variant in Britain to 12.

The health authority said both new cases were linked to international travel with Brazil.

PHE added that another variant, first identified in the Philippines, was also being investigated after two cases were identified in England. One of the cases was linked to international travel, with the other still under investigation.

06:00 PM

U.S. in talks to supply countries with extra vaccines

U.S. President Joe Biden has said the United States is in talks with several countries about who will get any extra doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

“We’re talking with several countries already,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House to promote his coronavirus stimulus package in Pennsylvania.

“I’ll let you know that very shortly,” he said.

Biden has promised to make sure every American has access to a vaccine before giving any to other nation.

05:52 PM

UK poll on AstraZeneca safety

A poll of national safety concern of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

05:49 PM

Italy’s PM says EMA comments on AstraZeneca vaccine encouraging

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Tuesday the latest comments by Europe’s Medicines Agency (EMA) on the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine were encouraging.

Italy and numerous other EU nations have suspended use of the vaccine after some people it was administered to suffered blood clotting problems.

Draghi spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and the two leaders agreed they were ready to begin inoculating with the AstraZeneca product “quickly” if EMA gives a green light on Thursday, a statement from Draghi’s office said.

“The preliminary statement today from EMA was positive,” the statement said.

05:43 PM

Face masks in class are causing ‘physical harm’ to children

Face masks in the classroom are causing physical harm to children, ministers have been warned amid reports of breathing difficulties, headaches and dizziness.

Year 9 students wear protective face masks as they take part in lessons – Toby Melville/Reuters

Children around the country are suffering from a range of side effects including light headedness, fatigue and facial rashes, according to a symptom tracker launched by the parent campaign group UsForThem.

The tracker, which was launched at the end of last week, has so far gathered over 50 reports of youngsters suffering “shocking” physical reactions to face masks.

It comes amid rising pressure on the Government over its latest guidance on masks, which says they should be worn by secondary pupils in lessons as well as anywhere indoors at school where it is not possible to socially distance.

This goes much further than the earlier official recommendations on face masks in secondary schools. During the autumn term, guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) said face masks should be worn in corridors and communal areas in parts of the country under Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions.

Camilla Turner has the full story here

05:30 PM

European Commission hits out at EU governments for hoarding unused Covid vaccines

The European Commission on Tuesday attacked EU governments for hoarding unused coronavirus vaccines as a political crisis threatened to engulf Angela Merkel’s government over Germany’s decision to suspend use of the AstraZeneca jab.

The rare rebuke from Brussels came after Germany, France, Italy and Spain joined 11 other EU nations in halting the rollout of the Oxford vaccine over blood clot fears until the results of a European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigation, expected on Thursday.

Stella Kyriakides, the health commissioner, said after a virtual meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels: “Even with the immense and regrettable challenges around production capacity and deliveries, there are reports of unused reservoirs of vaccines across the European Union.

“We currently see the proportions of available vaccine doses distributed range from 50 to 100 per cent across member states.

James Crisp has the full story here

05:21 PM

Rape and sexual offence lawyers handling 80pc more cases amid pandemic

Prosecutors dealing with rapes and serious sexual offences have 80% more cases than they did before the coronavirus pandemic, MPs heard.

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyers are now handling on average around 27 such cases – as opposed to 15 prior to the outbreak, the Commons Justice Committee was told.

Chief executive Rebecca Lawrence said CPS prosecutors had been operating for nine months with a “hyper inflated” caseload, which was 63 per cent higher than it was in February last year.

In magistrates’ courts, lawyers have 20 per cent more cases per lawyer, on average about 101, she said, while crown court lawyers have 27 per cent more cases.

She told MPs: “Our rape and serious sexual offences lawyers, so much in our thoughts at the moment and in the public’s mind, have on average 80% more cases per lawyer than they did at the start of the pandemic.

05:15 PM

Comment: Europe’s big problem now is that it lacks a clear alternative to AstraZeneca

Countries that have suspended its use lack a strategy to lift themselves out of their Covid hole, writes Ross Clark.

If EU states don’t want to vaccinate with AstraZeneca, what alternative do they have? Pfizer’s factories are not producing enough shots for everyone in Europe, and the EU is going to face an uphill struggle in attracting other manufacturers to bring their operations to the bloc: who would want to invest in an EU-based plant knowing that exports from that plant could be stopped by the EU at whim.Between them, the EU and its member states risk turning their territory into a vaccine desert. The result will be many more deaths among Europeans, from blood clots included, which are, after all, a symptom of Covid-19.

Read Ross Clark’s full commentary here

05:03 PM

No indication’ AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots, says European Medical Agency

There is “no indication” the AstraZeneca vaccine has caused blood clot incidents, the director of the European Medical Agency (EMA) has said.

The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing death and hospitalisation outweigh the risks of side effects, Emer Cooke said.

An estimated 17m AstraZeneca vaccines have been administered across Europe.

Ms Cooke also said there were similar reports about blood clots related to other coronavirus vaccines approved for use in Europe, including Pfizer and Moderna.

04:55 PM

Scotland: Retail and tourism bosses welcome timetable to end lockdown

Groups representing retail and tourism businesses have welcomed clarity from the Scottish Government on the easing of restrictions in Scotland.

Under new plans, announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday, more retailers, including click-and-collect services, garden centres, car dealerships, homeware and electrical repair stores and barbers and hairdressers, will also be able to reopen from April 5.

All non-essential retail will also reopen from April 26, the same date it is hoped that travel restrictions across the country can be lifted, along with portions of hospitality and tourism businesses.

Marc Crothall, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “The First Minister’s announcement of an indicative timeline for the phased reopening of our tourism and hospitality sector will be massively welcomed by the sector today; it is the most positive news we have received in a long time.”

Today’s announcement will offer some very much needed light at the end of what has been the darkest tunnel for our industry.

04:49 PM

110 new deaths from Covid-19 in UK

The Government said a further 110 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 125,690.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 148,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 5,294 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

It brings the total to 4,268,821.

Coronavirus excess deaths – by UK region

04:39 PM

South Africa approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

South Africa’s drugs regulator SAHPRA has approved a “section 21” emergency use application for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

SAHPRA added in a statement that the approval was subject to further efficacy and safety surveillance of the vaccine in the country, including against the dominant local Covid variant.

Global vaccine rollout – top 10

04:26 PM

Covid-sceptic vote thrives amid anti-lockdown riots in Netherlands

In the strict Protestant town where the first Dutch coronavirus riots broke out, feelings are riding high as voting starts in elections focused on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Posters and stickers for the populist, Covid-sceptic Forum for Democracy party are plastered in many places in Urk, a fishing community historically known for its hostility to vaccinations of all kinds.

Dutch riot police break up a crowd of lockdown protesters – AFP

Two weeks ago Urk warmly welcomed a visit by the Forum’s young leader Thierry Baudet, who has added strong opposition to coronavirus rules and scepticism about vaccines to his usual anti-immigration policies.

It was in Urk that the introduction of the Netherlands’ first curfew since World War II sparked unrest, culminating in the burning down of a Covid testing centre.

Violence then flared across the country for three more nights, the worst riots the country had seen in four decades.

04:13 PM

Protests will be lawful again from March 29, Downing St says

Protests will be lawful once again under England’s coronavirus rules from Mar 29, Downing Street has said.

In a fortnight, people will be allowed to gather providing organisers complete health and safety assessments and social distancing is maintained.

A number of demonstrations have been controversially shut down by police during the Covid pandemic due to officers determining they breach lockdown laws.

In recent days, women’s safety protests have resulted in arrests in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death and in the summer activists and the police clashed during the Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion marches.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “The stay-at-home order will lift on March 29, which means it is no longer illegal to leave your home save for the exemptions which we are all aware of.

Read the full story here

04:08 PM

Surge testing in West Midlands amid S.A variant discovery

urge testing is being deployed in the West Midlands after cases of the South African Covid-19 variant were found.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said additional testing was being rolled out in the DY4 postcode of Sandwell to help monitor and suppress the virus.

Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help increase understanding of variants and their spread within these areas.

People living within the targeted area are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not, the DHSC said.

The UK’s testing regime has significantly ramped up

04:07 PM

Duchess of Cornwall given AstraZeneca jab

The Duchess of Cornwall has revealed she was given the AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab, during a visit to a pop-up vaccine centre at Finsbury Park Mosque in London with the Prince of Wales.

Dr John McGrath, a GP, who was administering the rollout at the mosque, asked the duchess which vaccine she had received previously and was told AstraZeneca.

Camilla added: “Although it didn’t matter. I didn’t ask. I don’t even ask because I hate injections so much that I shut my eyes … whatever comes out.”

04:02 PM

Russia says its vaccines work on new variants amid discovery of S.Africa variant

Russia’s Covid-19 vaccines have proven effective against new variants of the coronavirus in trials, a Moscow scientist has said.

It consumes after the consumer regulator reported its first cases of a variant first detected in South Africa.

President Vladimir Putin last month ordered a review to determine the efficacy of the three vaccines produced and registered in Russia against new variants spreading in different parts of the world.

He said he wanted the results by March 15.

Consumer regulator Rospotrebnadzor said it had identified the first two cases in Russia of the new variant of first detected in South Africa.

Countries with South African Variant Cases

03:55 PM

Elaine Paige performs Memory from Cats musical as she gets vaccine

Elaine Paige performed a song about the Covid vaccination to the tune of Memory from the musical Cats as she got her second dose of the jab.

The West End star and broadcaster, 73, who originated the role of Grizabella in the show and and had a top 10 hit with the song, was given her vaccine at St George’s Hospital in Tooting.

In a video posted on Twitter, she can be seen singing: “Vaccine, I am having my vaccine, to protect against Covid, make sure you have yours too.

“When you have it, you’ll understand what happiness is.

“Look, a new life will begin!”

03:47 PM

75pc of people aged over 80 in England have Covid antibodies

Three-quarters of people aged over 80 in England now have immunity against coronavirus, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Some 75.7 per cent of over-80s were found to have antibodies to the virus in the latest ONS infection survey, which ran up to March 3, compared with 56.4 per cent in the previous fortnight.

The survey picks up people who have been vaccinated and also those who have developed natural immunity through a Covid infection.

Its results show an overall increase in immunity in England of 48 per cent in two weeks, with one in three people – 34 per cent – now carrying antibodies, up from 23.3 per cent.

Sarah Knapton has the full story here

03:41 PM

Animal Crossing achieves Nintendo record amid lockdown gaming boom

Animal Crossing has proven to be a lockdown hit for Nintendo, with the latest instalment becoming the firm’s fastest-selling game ever launched in Europe.

Since the release of New Horizons a year ago, more than seven million copies have been sold across the continent, the Japanese gaming giant said.

The title was praised by reviewers for enabling people to gather virtually at a time when meeting in person became impossible due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

More than a third of the 20 million Nintendo Switch owners in Europe have now started their own deserted island getaway in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It is the fifth main game to spawn from the light-hearted life simulation franchise, which tasks players with building an island from scratch by gathering materials to craft items, as well as the ability to visit islands belonging to friends online.

03:27 PM

Dutch infections surged by 24pc last week

The number of new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands increased by 24 per cent in the week through Tuesday, the biggest weekly jump since mid-December, Dutch health authorities said.

A total 39,527 new cases were confirmed in the country of 17 million people in the past week, taking the total number of Covid-19 patients since the start of the pandemic to almost 1.2 million, with 16,119 related deaths.

Three-quarters of the new cases were caused by a new, more contagious mutation of the virus first discovered in Great Britain, the Dutch Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said.

That prompted the government last week to extend a broad lockdown to fight the pandemic, including a night-time curfew that has angered some Dutch citizens, until at least the end of this month.

Coronavirus Netherlands Spotlight Chart – Cases default

03:16 PM

Older workers face ‘scrapheap’ as lockdown job losses bite

Older workers are at risk of being left on the “scrapheap” following a 50 per cent rise in unemployment for the over-50s during the second lockdown, latest figures have shown.

Data from the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment among 50 to 64-year-olds rose to 4.1 per cent in October to December last year, up from 2.7 per cent between April and June.

These levels of unemployment for older workers during the second coronavirus lockdown, announced by the Prime Minister in October, were the highest since 2014.

Analysis by the Telegraph found that the number of age discrimination claims at employment tribunals had also risen to its highest level in three years.

Mason Boycott-Owen has the full story here

03:10 PM

Italy hopes AstraZeneca ‘mess’ won’t sink vaccine plan

Most of Italy is back in lockdown but the new government hopes its vaccination drive will make this one the last – as long as concerns over AstraZeneca’s safety do not derail things.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi unveiled at the weekend a new vaccination strategy that aims to massively speed up inoculations to cover 80 per cent of the population by September.

However, trouble with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine – temporarily suspended across much of the EU due to safety concerns – risks upending the plan before it really gets going.

“It is a big mess, there is no point denying it,” Giorgio Mule, a junior defence minister, told Il Messaggero newspaper.

Draghi’s plan counts on Italy receiving 16 million vaccine shots by the end of the month, rising to 52 million during the second quarter of the year, and 85 million in the third quarter.

How many people have been vaccinated in Italy?

03:05 PM

New variant detected in France

Scientists are investigating a new coronavirus variant that has been detected in Brittany in western France and may evade testing more successfully than other versions, the regional health authority said on Tuesday.

Eight cases of the new variant were identified in a cluster in a Brittany hospital.

France’s health ministry said that early analysis did not suggest the mutation was more contagious or more deadly than earlier versions of the virus.

“Investigations will take place to determine how this variant reacts to vaccination and to antibodies developed during prior Covid infections,” Brittany’s regional health authority said in a statement.

Scientists also want to understand if the variant can hide from testing after several of the patients delivered negative PCR tests and returned a positive result only from samples taken from blood or deep in the respiratory system.

02:59 PM

Scotland to move into Level 1 in early June

Scottish Government plans to move Scotland into Level 1 in early June, before shifting to Level 0 by the end of the month, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said she hoped that vaccination and Test and Protect would lead Scotland closer to normality, but added she could not say when restrictions would be fully lifted.

“For me to set a precise date for all of that right now would involve plucking it out of thin air – and I’d be doing it to make my life easier, not yours,” she said.

“I am not going to do that. But I do believe that over the coming weeks – as more and more adults are vaccinated – it will be possible to set a firmer date by which many of these normal things will be possible.

“I am optimistic that this date will be over the summer.

02:56 PM

Scotland: Businesses to receive up to £7,500 in Covid relief

Businesses will receive a “restart grant” from the Scottish Government as coronavirus measures ease, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister told MSPs those in receipt of the Strategic Business Framework Fund would receive a final payment on March 22.

She added: “Then on April 19, recipients will receive a combined final payment comprising a further two weeks closure support and a one-off restart grant.

“For eligible retail businesses this will mean a payment on April 19 of up to £7,500 and for eligible hospitality and leisure businesses a payment of up to £19,500.

“This will provide support that is both more generous and also more flexible than previously envisaged.”

02:52 PM

Nicola Sturgeon urges public to stay at home amid loosening of restrictions

Nicola Sturgeon has urged the public to keep adhering to the current restrictions in Scotland

The First Minister of Scotland told a press conference: “Until April 2, please stay at home, except for specific purposes.

“Please don’t meet people from other households indoors. And please follow the FACTS advice when you are out and about.”

By doing this over the last long months, we have protected each other and saved lives. By doing it in the weeks ahead, we can make steady and sure progress back to normality. And we will continue to protect each other as we journey towards those brighter days that are now in sight.

02:46 PM

Scotland: Cinemas, outdoor contact sports, indoor group exercise to resume on May 17

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the following loosening of restrictions on May 17.

  • Adult outdoor contact sports and indoor group exercises can resume.

  • Cinemas, amusement arcades and bingo halls will reopen from that date.

  • Outdoor and indoor events will also restart.

  • Colleges and universities will return to a more blended model of learning from mid May – meaning that more students can be on campus.

  • People can meet up inside each other’s homes again – initially in groups of up to 4 people from no more than 2 households.

02:40 PM

Scotland: Pubs and gyms to reopen on April 26

From April 26 pubs can stay open outdoors until 10pm but indoors only until 8pm.

On this date gyms can also reopen with outdoor socialising allowed for six people from three households

Travel will be allowed within all mainland Scotland. Self-catering accommodation will also reopen.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “Restrictions on journeys between Scotland and other parts of the UK and the wider common travel area can also be lifted, if not on 26 April, then as soon as possible thereafter.”

“However, we need to keep this under review, as part of our efforts to reduce the risk of new cases being imported into Scotland and we will update the position during April.”

02:38 PM

Scotland: Non-essential retail, hairdressers and barbers to reopen on April 5

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the following loosening of restrictions in Scotland

  • Contact sports for those aged between 12 and 17 can also resume and students in further education will be allowed to return to campus.

  • Click and collect services and garden centres can also reopen on April 5.

  • Hairdressers and barbers can reopen on April 5

  • Meanwhile, the stay at home rule will be lifted on April 2. This will be replaced by guidance to stay local.

  • On April 2, people can meet up outdoors, including private gardens, in no more than groups of four from two households.

02:31 PM

Scotland records seven new deaths from Covid

Scotland has recorded seven deaths from coronavirus and 597 positive tests in the past 24 hours, the latest figures show.

It brings the death toll of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days to 7,517.

The Public Health Scotland figures show 210,605 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up from 210,008 the previous day.

The daily test positivity rate is 3.8 per cent, down from 4.7% on the previous day.

There are 440 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, down seven in 24 hours, and 42 patients are in intensive care, an increase of two.

A total of 1,943,507 people have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 170,892 have received their second dose.

02:25 PM

Spain’s AstraZeneca suspension will not alter vaccination calendar, minister says

Spain’s two-week suspension of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shot will not alter the country’s vaccination calendar, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero has said.

Following similar decisions by other European countries, the Health Ministry decided on Monday to halt using the vaccine for at least two weeks amid concerns of blood clotting.

Spain aims to vaccinate 70 per cent of its 47 million population by the end of summer.

How many people have been vaccinated in Spain?

02:19 PM

Latvia joins host of EU countries suspending AZ vaccine

Latvian government health agencies have announced a “temporary suspension” of up to two weeks of the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in the country.

The move is “an additional precaution” while the vaccine is scrutinized, and no problems have been linked to its use in Latvia, the agencies said in a statement.

“The decision is based on reports from individual European Union countries of thromboembolism and similar cases observed at various times after receiving the vaccine,” they said.

“To date, there is no data on the causal link between vaccination and serious health problems,” they added.

Which EU countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine?

02:16 PM

Sweden pauses use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Sweden is pausing the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as a precautionary measure amid concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe.

“The decision is a precautionary measure,” Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said in a statement.

The move by the Swedish Public Health Agency was to remain in effect until an investigation by the European Medicines Agency into suspected side effects is complete.

The European Medicines Agency has said there is “no indication” the AstraZeneca vaccine has caused blood clot incidents.

02:14 PM

Nicola Sturgeon to announce hospitality and retail opening dates

Nicola Sturgeon is due to shortly announce further aims for the easing of lockdown measures on hospitality and retail in Scotland.

01:57 PM

German Covid-19 cases ‘growing exponentially’

Covid-19 infections are rising exponentially in Germany, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Tuesday, putting at risk plans to lift the lockdown and revive the economy.

The number of cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday was 83.7, up from 68 a week ago, and the RKI has said that metric could reach 200 by the middle of next month.

Germany is definitely in a third wave of the pandemic, driven by the fact it has loosened restrictions in recent weeks just as a more transmissable variant has spread, Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the RKI said.

“It has been totally irrational to loosen up here. It is just fuelling this exponential growth,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed a phased easing of curbs earlier this month along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers rise above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

Coronavirus Germany Spotlight Chart – cases default

01:52 PM

When vaccinating millions it is ‘inevitable’ incidents like these arise, says EMA

Emer Cooke, head of the EMA, said: “A situation like this is not unexpected.

“When you vaccinate millions of people it’s inevitable you have rare or serious incidences of illnesses that occur after vaccination. Our role is to evaluate these…so we can figure out is this a real side effect or is it a coincidence.”

I want to also stress that at present, there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions. They have not come up in the clinical trials, and they’re not listed as known or expected side events of the vaccine in clinical trials.

“Both the vaccinated people and the people who received the placebo, have shown small, some very small numbers of blood clot developments,” she added.

“We are currently, we are still, firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation that outweighs the risk of the side effects.”

01:48 PM

Similar numbers of blood clot cases linked with Pfizer and Moderna jabs as AZ

Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said that other EU-approved vaccines, the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, appeared to be linked to similar numbers of blood clots as the suspended AstraZeneca jab.

Ms Cooke said that there was “no indication” at present that AstraZeneca vaccines caused blood clots and that the benefits of the jab outweighed the risks of side effects.

The EMA will announce the results of its investigation into the Oxford University jab on Thursday.

“We are looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines,” Ms Cooke said after newspaper reports in the US linking the other vaccines to thrombosis.

The current focus, because of the reported incidents in Europe is on the AstraZeneca, but we have looked at the background rates for all, all the vaccines currently in circulation, and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in, across the world but that is something that will have to be evaluated by our committee.

01:40 PM

Pfizer to delivery 200m vaccine doses to EU by June

The European Commission expects to receive about 200 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in between April and June.

The EU is aiming to vaccinate at least 255 million people, or 70 per cent of its adult population, by the end of the summer but has faced criticism for the slow rollout of its inoculation drive.

Besides supply delays from some drugmakers and hiccups in vaccination plans, the suspension of inoculations using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to potential health issues is also affecting the bloc’s campaign.

The EU had not previously said how many doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is administered in two shots, it would receive in the April-June period under two confidential supply contracts with the drugmakers.

The expected Pfizer second-quarter deliveries will include 10 million doses originally due in the third and fourth quarters of this year, the Commission said.

Vaccination rates in the UK and the EU

01:35 PM

EMA: Scientists to meet on Thursday to draw conclusions on AZ vaccine

Emer Cooke, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director, said its experts will be meeting on Thursday to draw their conclusions on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

She told a virtual press conference on Tuesday that the committee’s conclusions will be made public immediately afterwards, and added: “We have pulled together an ad hoc meeting again today to help us evaluate these cases with all the surrounding information that the member states will have.

“The experts will then carry on their assessment and again will meet on Thursday to come to a conclusion on the full information that has been gathered and to advise us as to whether there are any further actions that need to be taken.

“We will inform the public of the outcome immediately after this meeting.

01:21 PM

EMA: ‘Firmly convinced’ that benefits of AZ vaccine outweigh risks of side-effects.

Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said they remain convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risk of side-effects.

Ms Cooke said that there is no indication that the estimated 17m AstraZeneneca vaccinations delivered across Europe have caused these blood clot incidents.

She said that the number of thromboembolic cases seems not to be higher than that seen in general population.

“We know that many thousands of people develop thousands of clots annually for many different reasons”, she said.

Anyone who has received the vaccine and have experienced a side-effect should contact their relevant health care system, she added.

01:08 PM

EU seeks to restart travel with Covid ‘passport’

The European Union will tomorrow unveil a Covid-19 pass to allow free travel this summer and support the struggling tourism sector despite the bloc’s sluggish vaccination campaign.

The EU’s executive European Commission will propose creating a bloc-wide “green digital certificate” that would combine information on vaccination, Covid-19 tests and recovery from the disease to allow people to take flights and cross borders.

“It will allow everyone from the European Union to come and visit us with security,” said Alfonso Lopez, director of The Hat hotel and Villa Verbena restaurant in Madrid.

“I think it will help us have a reasonable summer season,” he said, calling last summer “an absolute disaster”.

new vaccine passport holiday poll

01:04 PM

AstraZeneca fears fuel vaccine scepticism in Ukraine

Ukraine’s inoculation drive has already been plagued by problems and now faces an alarming new roadblock: vaccine scepticism, fuelled by reports of side effects from AstraZeneca’s jab.

Even hospital workers are not immune to this scepticism.

“Out of 40 people who initially wanted to be vaccinated, only 10 still do,” says Dr Yuriy Shylenko of his colleagues at hospital Number Five in the capital Kiev.

“They want to be vaccinated,” he says. “But they want to know what will happen first, and what the result will be.”

Ukraine, one of Europe’s poorest countries, struggled at first to secure any doses at all for its population of around 40 million, and only launched an inoculation drive in February, far behind its neighbours.

How many people have been vaccinated in Ukraine?

01:00 PM

Macron to consult officials after AstraZeneca suspension as cases surge

President Emmanuel Macron will consult with doctors and scientists advising his government on the pandemic, a government official said, after he suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Infection rates have recently soared in parts of France.

Macron has resisted the calls from some senior medics and epidemiologists for a third nationwide lockdown in the hope France’s faltering vaccine rollout will slow infections and reduce the number of hospitalisations.

Yesterday, shortly after announcing that France would pause its use of the AstraZeneca shot, Macron said decisions would doubtless have to be taken in the next few days.

The government source said Tuesday’s discussions were to get an update on the epidemic’s evolution from advisors and growing pressure on intensive care wards.

AsteaZeneca status across Europe

12:51 PM

EMA briefing to begin shortly

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will hold a news conference shortly to discuss its investigation into incidents of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts in people who had been given AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine.

In a statement, the EMA said its Executive Director Emer Cooke would give an update at a European Union Commission news briefing at 1300 GMT.

12:49 PM

Moderna begins vaccine trials on children

Moderna has begun trialling its Covid-19 vaccine in children aged between six months and 11 years old in the U.S. and Canada, in the latest effort to widen the mass-vaccination campaign beyond adults.

The vaccine has been found to be 94.1 per cent effective at preventing Covid-19 in adults and more than 50 million doses have been administered in the United States.

The Massachusetts-based company intends to recruit 6,750 healthy children for the trials which will start by testing different dose levels and immune responses.

In the second phase, participants will be given either two doses of Moderna’s vaccine or a placebo. Researchers will track the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

“This pediatric study will help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate in this important younger age population,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.

12:42 PM

Covid origins report postponed till next week

An international expert team that visited China to investigate the origins of Covid-19 has postponed publishing their report, which will now likely appear next week, the WHO said Tuesday.

“The report is simply not ready,” World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters.

“What we hear from the technical experts, from the mission members, is that the report most likely will come out now next week,” he added.

The highly-anticipated report is expected to examine a range of theories about how the virus first jumped from animals to humans, which the experts looked into during their four-week mission to Wuhan.

Experts believe Covid-19 originally came from bats, and crossed into humans via an intermediate animal, but remain unsure on when and how that happened.

12:38 PM

Over 16,000 laptops and tablets dispatched to children remote learning

More than 16,000 additional laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched by the Government to help children with remote learning over the past week.

New figures from the Department for Education suggest 705,030 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since the lockdown began on January 4 – which is an extra 16,713 devices compared with last week.

A total of 1,267,451 laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the pandemic.

12:35 PM

Brazil’s Bolsonaro picks fourth health minister since start of pandemic

As Covid-19 rages in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro picked his fourth health minister since the pandemic began.

Marcelo Queiroga, the head of the country’s cardiology society who in the past has spoken favourably of the country’s conservative leader will replace the incumbent Eduardo Pazuello,

Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general with expertise in logistics landed the position last May despite having no prior health experience.

A Covid-19 patient arrives by ambulance at a public hospital in Brasilia – AFP

Yesterday, Pazuello acknowledged in a press conference that Bolsonaro aimed to replace him. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, rejected it.

Pazuello had presided over the healthy ministry for the longest period of the three pandemic ministers before Queiroga.

12:30 PM

90pc of England’s pupils have returned to school, figures show

Nearly nine in 10 pupils have attended schools in England since they began to fully reopen last week, Government figures show.

Around 89 per cent of secondary school pupils were in class on March 15 – a week after schools began to stagger the return of these pupils for mass testing, the Department for Education (DfE) analysis shows.

Attendance in primary schools began at 96% at the start of last week, but it fell slightly to 94 per cent on March 15, the figures suggest.

Overall, attendance in state schools steadily increased from 68 per cent on March 8 to 89% on March 11.

The DfE estimates that one per cent of all state school pupils on roll did not attend school for Covid-19 related reasons on Thursday last week.

12:23 PM

Top officer calls for rapid review of public gathering rules after Sarah Everard vigil

The chief constable of the largest police force outside London has called on legislators to carry out a rapid review of Covid-19 public gathering rules, following the Met’s handling of the Clapham Common vigil.

Sir David Thompson, who leads West Midlands Police, said the current regulations should be “quickly realigned”, adding a rethink was needed before the end of lockdown rules in June.

Sir David said: “I make no comment on the Met’s response at Clapham Common, as it is subject to review.

“I do however think Parliament need to review the regulations governing public assembly under Covid regulations so they are quickly realigned with the freedoms expected in the country on protest.

12:18 PM

Another pandemic by 2030 a ‘realistic possibility’, Government warns

Another novel pandemic remains a “realistic possibility” before 2030 as population growth and the loss of wildlife habitats are set to increase the risk of diseases jumping from animals to humans, the government has said.

The warning comes in the Integrated Review, the government’s long-awaited vision for security, defence and foreign policy over the next nine years, published on Tuesday.

In the foreword to the review, Boris Johnson says the UK is “emerging from the pandemic with renewed determination and optimism”.

He pledges that by 2030 the UK will “have built back better from Covid-19 with a strong economic recovery and greater national resilience to threats and hazards in the physical and digital worlds”.

However, the review warns that infectious disease outbreaks are likely to become more frequent by 2030 and many are likely to be zoonoses – that is, they will have jumped from animals to humans.

Anne Gulland has more detail on this story:

12:12 PM

India’s government criticised over exporting vaccines while cases surge at home

India’s main opposition Congress party has hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for exporting nearly twice the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses than vaccinations conducted at home.

This is despite a recent surge in infections.

India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has gifted or sold 59 million locally produced doses compared with 33 million doses given to its own people since its vaccination drive began in mid-January.

While some rich countries such as the United States are being accused of vaccine nationalism, India is being lauded globally for sending shots to 71 countries, mainly the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as some of Bharat Biotech’s homegrown product.

Many Indians, however, now want the government to make vaccines available to more of its own people instead of only the elderly and those above 45 suffering from health conditions.

How many people have been vaccinated in India?

12:07 PM

Jordan uses tear gas to clamp down on anti-lockdown protesters

Police forces in Jordan used tear gas yesterday to suppress protests against a curfew imposed to stem a severe outbreak of Covid-19, witnesses and residents said.

Security forces took action after hundreds of protesters in several cities, including Amman, demonstrated for a second day and defied a night curfew which was extended last week.

Jordanian security forces disperse a protest in Amman – Khali Mazraawi/AFP

Many of the protesters called on the government to resign and demanded an end to emergency laws in place since the outset of the pandemic, which civic groups say violate civil and political rights.

Others were angry after nine people, mostly Covid-19 patients, died on Saturday when medics in a government hospital allegedly ignored depleted oxygen supplies on respirators for at least two hours.

12:02 PM

Second wave of Covid-19 saw deadliest day of pandemic

The UK suffered its worst day for Covid-19 deaths during the second wave of the virus, new analysis confirms.

A total of 1,463 deaths occurred on January 19 where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

This is four more than the 1,459 deaths that occurred on April 8 2020, which was previously the UK’s “deadliest day”.

The total for January 19 has only now overtaken April 8, due to a small number of deaths that have recently been registered.

The figures have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and provide the fullest picture so far of how the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded in the UK.

Coronavirus excess deaths – UK-wide

11:57 AM

One in three people in England tested positive for Covid-19 from Feb-March

Around one in three people in private households in England were likely to have tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies in the 28 days to March 3, up from one in five in the 28 days to February 3, according to the latest ONS estimates.

The figure for Wales is one in three, up from one in seven; for Northern Ireland it is also one in three, up from one in seven; and for Scotland it is one in four, up from one in nine.

The presence of Covid-19 antibodies suggests someone has either had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.

Map of UK’s seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority

11:47 AM

Germany hits climate target thanks to pandemic

Germany has met its national climate goal for 2020 as the pandemic helped to drive the biggest reduction in emissions for three decades in Europe’s biggest economy.

Greenhouse gas emissions last year were around 41 per cent lower than 1990 levels, the biggest yearly decline in more than three decades, the country’s environment minister said.

“It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic has fuelled the reduction in emissions,” Svenja Schulze told reporters, warning there was “no reason to relax”.

“Catastrophes and economic crises cannot replace sensible climate policy and sustainable restructuring of our economy,” she added.

11:43 AM

EU secures quicker delivery of 10m Pfizer vaccines

The European Union has reached a deal on Tuesday to accelerate the delivery of 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to member states.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the doses would be moved forward from the bloc’s third quarter order and arrive before July.

“I know how critical quarter two is for the rollout of our vaccination strategies in the member states,” the head of the EU executive said.

“These accelerated 10 million doses will bring the total doses of BioNTech/Pfizer in quarter two up to over 200 million,” she added.

How are different countries’ vaccine rollouts progressing?

11:32 AM

Matt Hancock claims 1pc pay rise for NHS workers was increase not cut

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said a one per cent pay rise for NHS workers was an increase, not a cut.

Giving evidence to the Health Select Committee, he said that NHS workers had been “carved out” of the pay freeze in the rest of the public sector.

When asked why it was one per cent when the NHS 10-year plan made a 2.1 per cent provision for annual pay increases for NHS workers, he said: “The NHS was carved out of the pay freeze that has been applied due to the enormous pressure on the public finances, that has been applied to everyone else in the public sector.

“We put in place evidence reflecting what is affordable and we of course will study what the pay review body says.”

Asked whether it was a pay increase or a real-terms pay cut, Mr Hancock added: “Inflation is below one per cent and therefore a proposed one per cent pay rise is indeed a pay rise and that’s simply a matter of fact.”

11:29 AM

List of EU countries suspending Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

Which EU countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine?

11:27 AM

Russia extends travel ban on UK flights by one month

Russia has extended a ban on flights to and from Britain by one month up to April 16 due to a new variant of the coronavirus first detected in the UK, Russia’s coronavirus task force has said.

Russia has reported 28 cases of the more infectious variant, consumer health regulator Rospotrebnadzor said on Tuesday, and has had the flight ban in place since December 22.

Countries with UK Variant Cases

11:20 AM

EU medicines regulator to hold news conference at 1pm

The European Medicines Agency will hold a news conference at 1300 GMT on Tuesday, a spokesman for the EU’s executive arm said.

EMA is conducting an investigation into the safety of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after Spain, Germany, France, Italy suspended the use of the vaccine over isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts.

11:13 AM

Too many families not reunited with care home residents, charity says

Too many families have not been reunited, despite the Government saying that care home residents in England can receive indoor visits from a nominated person, a charity has said.

Some care homes are saying they will not open to visitors until April 12, while others will not allow indoor visits until residents have had their second vaccine dose, the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) said.

Others are refusing to allow access to visitors who provide essential care and support to their loved one, which was also allowed from last Monday, its helpline has heard.

The latest Government guidance says care home residents can receive regular indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative, who must be tested and wear protective gear.

Those with the highest care needs are also able to receive visits from a loved one providing essential care or support, with these visits permitted to continue even if the home has a coronavirus outbreak, unless there are “specific reasons”.

11:05 AM

Care home resident deaths fall by over 75pc in single month

Care home resident deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales have fallen by more than three quarters in a month, figures show.

There were 2,175 care home resident deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate registered in the week ending February 5, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The latest weekly figures show 467 care home resident deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in the week to March 5 – down 78.5 per cent in four weeks.

The figures cover deaths of care home residents in all settings, not just in care homes.

The ONS data also shows that the overall number of deaths of care home residents have been below the average for this time of year for three weeks in a row.

10:40 AM

Northern Ireland timetable agreed

Stormont ministers have agreed a timetable for all school children to return to classes in Northern Ireland, the PA news agency understands.

Primary pupils in years P1 to P3 are already back in classes and secondary schools children in year groups 12 to 14 are due back on Monday March 22.

On Tuesday morning ministers agreed that remaining primary pupils in P4 to P7 will also return on March 22.

The final cohort – secondary pupils in years 8 to 11 – will go back to classes on April 12 after the Easter holidays.

10:21 AM

Covid deaths among over-80s down 86pc

Deaths involving Covid-19 among people aged 80 and over have fallen by 86% since the second-wave peak, the latest ONS figures show.

A total of 743 Covid-19 deaths in the 80 and over age group occurred in England and Wales in the week ending March 5, down from 5,339 deaths in the week ending January 22.

Deaths for those aged 75-79 also dropped 86% in the same period, compared with falls of 85% for those aged 70-74, 75% for those aged 65-69 and 72% for those aged 60-64.

People aged 80 and over were the second group on the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines, with doses being offered from early December.

10:15 AM

EU orders more Pfizer vaccine

Here is the latest from Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.

We agreed with @BioNTech_Group @pfizer on an accelerated delivery of 10 million doses for quarter 2.⁰
This will bring the total deliveries of this vaccine to 200 million doses for that quarter.⁰
It will give Member States room to manoeuvre and possibly fill gaps in deliveries. pic.twitter.com/abBr3lKUXc

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 16, 2021

09:38 AM

Covid around the world, in pictures

Health workers arrive to apply Sinovac vaccines, in the Kalunga Vao de Almas community, a rural area on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil – Eraldo Peres/AP

Moviegoers wait for a film to start at the AMC 16 theater, in Burbank, Calif. Los Angeles County – Mark J Terrill/AP

A health worker applies a dose of the Sinovac vaccine from the door of her vehicle, in the Kalunga Vao de Almas community, a rural area on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil, – Eraldo Peres/AP

09:13 AM

Risk of blood clots from Covid ‘far exceeds’ vaccine risks, says JCVI chairman

The risk of blood clots from Covid “far exceeds” any potential risks from vaccination, an expert has said.

Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Good Morning Britain that around 11 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine had been administered in the UK and experts were “not seeing any increase” in signals of blood clots between those vaccinated and what would be expected in the general population.

He emphasised that the JCVI, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) had all come out to say the vaccine is “safe”.

Prof Harnden said “clearly we need to keep a very close monitoring of this situation”, but added: “It’s really important to remember that Covid is a vascular illness and causes clots all over the body”.

“So the risk of developing blood clots from Covid far, far exceeds any potential risk from the vaccination,” he added.

09:00 AM

WHO meeting today on AstraZeneca

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging countries to continue using the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as global medical leaders meet to discuss reports of blood clots.

WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety will hold a meeting on Tuesday, while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will also meet, with a view to publishing further guidance on Thursday.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, told a media briefing “we do not want people to panic”, as she said no association has been found so far between blood clots and Covid-19 vaccines.

She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population”.

08:50 AM

Raab defends £2.6m White House-style media briefing room

The Foreign Secretary has defended the Government spending more than £2.6 million on creating a White House-style media briefing room in Downing Street after pictures of the refurbishment surfaced this week.

Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast: “It is not something I’m responsible for but I do think that making sure we communicate with the public is very important.

“We saw that in the press conferences that the Prime Minister and other senior ministers, myself included, had (during the coronavirus pandemic).

“Making sure we communicate directly with the public is something I think they welcome and making sure we can do it in an effective, coherent way is very important.”

08:27 AM

EU ambassador to UK says it was not Bloc’s decision to suspend AstraZeneca

Joao Vale de Almeida, EU ambassador to the UK, said it was not an EU decision to suspend rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that when there are doubts, the “principle of caution prevails”.

He added: “It is not an EU decision, these are decisions taken by individual governments.

“Like the British Government, all our governments are worried, concerned and focused on the safety of citizens, when doubts appear for whatever reason I think the principle of caution prevails.”

08:24 AM

Foreign Secretary ‘crystal clear’ AstraZeneca jab is safe

The Foreign Secretary has urged Britons to continue to take up the offer of the AstraZeneca vaccine and said it was “crystal clear” that the jab was safe.

It comes after a host of countries in Europe and elsewhere paused use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine due to concerns over possible adverse side effects.

Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast: “Different countries have different approaches but I can tell you crystal clear that the UK regulator, the European EU regulator and the WHO all say that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and people should continue to take it.”

He added: “It is safe, people should get the vaccine and I think it has been very clear, both from the MHRA, the UK regulator, that the risks of taking the vaccine are no more than, in terms of for example blood clots, than the population at large.

“There is no extra risk on the evidence that we’ve seen, which is why they have authorised the vaccine and haven’t taken any further action.

“We respect the process and procedures that some other countries may need to go through but the vaccine is safe and people should certainly continue to take it and to protect themselves and their friends and family.”

08:21 AM

Sweden suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Sweden’s health agency said on Tuesday it was pausing vaccinations against Covid-19 using AstraZeneca’s vaccine as a precautionary measure.

Germany, France and Italy said on Monday they would stop administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after several countries reported possible serious side-effects.

08:15 AM

Thai PM first person to get AstraZeneca jab after rollout was suspended

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha became the first person to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in the Southeast Asian country on Tuesday after the rollout had been temporarily put on hold over safety concerns.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha receiving a shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – Shutterstock

Mr Prayuth and other cabinet members had been initially due to get their vaccine shots on Friday, before Thailand suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports it could cause blood clots prompted a number of European countries to hit pause.

“Today I’m boosting confidence for the general public,” Mr Prayuth said, before he received a shot in his left arm.

Thailand’s health minister said on Monday the rollout would resume after many countries had said there were no blood clot issues with the vaccine.

However, on Monday, Germany, France, Italy and Spain joined other European nations and also suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The move, described as “baffling” by British scientists, went against the advice of the EU’s medicines regulator and the World Health Organisation, who have said the jab is safe.

07:58 AM

Europe ‘will never get vaccinated’ if it continues on this route, warns Belgian health minister

Here is the latest from Belgium from our Brussels Correspondent James Crisp.

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroueke speaking on local radio on Tuesday morning said: “The health of people who have been vaccinated is much better than those who have not been vaccinated. Especially with older people. We will not let go of the older population.

“We have just started a major vaccination campaign. And they are vulnerable if they become infected. We know that our vaccines provide good protection against this. And we want to protect them. Especially now that the pandemic is gaining momentum.”

“But it is of course also important that those vaccines are safe. That is essential. But we want data on adverse events to be collected at European level and thoroughly investigated. We do not have any data that would show that it is better not to vaccinate or to vaccinate. But if Europe draws conclusions, we will of course follow them. We do not think it is prudent to stop administering a vaccine at a time when the virus is circulating like this.”

The minister regrets that it was suddenly decided in many European countries to stop.

“It’s a kind of waterfall of decisions,” he added.

“I spoke to my Portuguese colleague yesterday. There they decided to suspend the vaccination campaign, but they have no data to do so. They probably will not like to be confronted with cases [of people with side effects] for which they have no explanation. But people are much more at risk if they become infected with Covid than if they are faced with side effects. Covid is a serious disease.

“We are never going to get Europe vaccinated like this. Then we’re going to get a third, fourth, fifth wave. We have to be careful with those chain reactions.”

07:53 AM

New children’s commissioner says pandemic has had profound impact on children

England’s new children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on children and young people.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the pandemic has had a profound impact on children and young people’s lives, on many of them, on their education, on the time they spend with friends and family, on their mental health.

“There are some real worries.

“But I have also been delighted by the return to school and I think that’s where children and young people need to be and that’s where we can really start to sort these things out.

“So I think it’s time that the adults recognise what the children have been through, I think it’s time we put children at the heart and the centre of policy making.

“I would like to hear the Prime Minister and the Chancellor mention children, and policies for children, and children and the economic recovery in every speech.”

07:24 AM

Pausing Oxford jab ‘a disaster’ to EU vaccine rollout, says professor

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the decision to pause rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab could be a “disaster” for Covid-19 vaccine uptake in Europe.

Asked what he would say to those in the UK who are booked to receive an Oxford jab, Prof Openshaw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I really wouldn’t be worried at the present time.

“I think it is very clear that the benefits of being vaccinated at the moment so far outweigh the possible concern over this rather rare type of blood clot.

“It really is a completely one-sided argument statistically that we need to be vaccinating.

“I think it is a disaster for the vaccination uptake in Europe, which is already on slightly unsteady ground in some countries.”

Asked why he thought the rollout pause had been taken so widely, he added: “I think the committees are probably afraid of not making that decision to pause on the basis that they might be in some way thought culpable if they didn’t, but actually these are such rare events.”

07:19 AM

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Mar 16.

dt

07:00 AM

Beijing poised to issue visas to foreigners who had Chinese jab

China is poised to ease border restrictions to allow some foreigners – including from the US, India and Pakistan – back in, provided they have taken a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine.

The country has been closed to most foreigners since last March to stem the spread of coronavirus which it has largely brought under control at home, stranding many foreigners with jobs and family inside China overseas.

But Chinese embassies in several countries have issued notices saying the country will open visa applications to select people who have taken a China-made jab.

06:46 AM

Infections in Germany spreading exponentially, says RKI expert

German coronavirus infections are spreading exponentially, up 20 per cent in the last week, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases said on Tuesday.

“We are exactly on the flank of the third wave. That can no longer be disputed. And at this point we have eased the restrictions and that is speeding up the exponential growth,” RKI epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann told German ARD television.

Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed a phased easing of curbs earlier this month along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers rise above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

On Monday, the number of cases per 100,000 rose to 83, up from 79 on Sunday and 68 a week ago, and the RKI has warned that metric could reach 200 by the middle of next month.

Cases, deaths and vaccinations, coronavirus world map

06:28 AM

Cambodia reports daily record of new infections

Cambodia reported a daily record 105 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, as a rare outbreak spread further and authorities urged people not to travel between regions amid a sharp rise in infections.

Although Cambodia has recorded among the fewest number of confirmed cases in Asia, its 1,430 infections are nearly triple the number of a month ago, when its latest outbreak was first detected.

More than half of the new cases reported on Tuesday were in one district of Kandal province, which borders Vietnam, the ministry said in a statement.

06:11 AM

New variant found in Brittany

A new coronavirus variant has been found in the French region of Brittany, said the French health ministry in a statement late on Monday, adding that initial analysis did not show this new variant to be more serious or transmissible than others.

The health ministry said the new variant had been found in a cluster of cases in a hospital centre in Lannion.

05:58 AM

Manila orders anyone below 18 to stay indoors as cases surge

The Philippine capital Manila will widen a ban on minors leaving their residences to include youths of up to 18 years old for two weeks starting on Wednesday, tightening restrictions in a bid to tackle a new surge of infections.

Only those aged 18-65 years old will be allowed out of their homes, the Metro Manila Development Authority said in a statement, citing an agreement among mayors.

The Philippines late last year started easing one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns though a rule that anyone under 15 must stay indoors in Manila remained in place.

An armed policeman talks to a jeepney driver at a checkpoint placed to implement a curfew in Quezon City, Metro Manila – Reuters

05:11 AM

China approves fourth vaccine for emergency use

China has approved a new Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, one that was developed by the head of its Centre for Disease Control, adding to its arsenal.

Gao Fu, the head of China’s CDC, led the development of a protein subunit vaccine that was approved by regulators last week for emergency use, the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology said in a statement on Monday.

It is the fourth such vaccine to be given emergency use approval. China has approved four vaccines developed by three Chinese companies for general use.

The vaccine was developed jointly by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The team finished phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials in October of last year and is currently conducting the last phase of trials in Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Indonesia, according to the statement.

Vaccine distribution maps by vaccine/region

04:53 AM

India reports more than 20,000 infections for sixth straight day

India reported 24,492 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the sixth straight day of more than 20,000 infections, as curbs to try to stop the spread of Covid-19 were expanded in parts of the country that have recorded a surge.

Total cases have now risen to 11.41 million and deaths increased by 131 to 158,856 in the past 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed.

India’s worst affected state, Maharashtra, on Monday ordered cinemas, hotels and restaurants to limit guests to half of capacity until the end of the month. Weddings and other social events will also have limited attendance.

Another western state, Gujarat, has also decided to not allow fans into the world’s biggest cricket stadium hosting international matches between India and England, after seeing a spurt in cases.

03:06 AM

Japan’s PM receives first dose of vaccine

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga received his first dose of Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday in preparation for a meeting with US President Joe Biden next month.

Mr Suga is the first Japanese government official to publicly receive the vaccine. Some 80-90 officials will be inoculated before heading to the US early next month, where Mr Suga will become the first world leader to meet Mr Biden as president.

“It didn’t hurt,” Mr Suga said after he was inoculated.

Japan began its inoculation campaign last month with imported doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech vaccine.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga receives the vaccine – AFP

02:31 AM

China donating 300,000 doses of vaccines to UN peacekeepers

China’s UN ambassador says China is donating 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to UN peacekeepers, with priority given to those serving in Africa.

Ambassador Zhang Jun sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informing him of the donation, China’s UN Mission said on Monday. It follows the announcement by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of Beijing’s intention to donate vaccines at a UN Security Council meeting on Feb. 17.

The mission said: “China attaches great importance to the safety and security of peacekeepers” and the donation “is a further step to make China’s vaccines a global public good, and also a demonstration of China’s firm and continuous support to the UN and multilateralism.”

Last month, the UN thanked India for offering 200,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses for UN peacekeepers.

02:04 AM

Venezuela won’t authorise AstraZeneca’s vaccine

Venezuela will not authorise AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on Monday, citing unspecified “effects on patients”.

Mr Rodriguez’ comments came after several European countries paused inoculations using the vaccine following reports of blood coagulation in recipients. Other countries, including Canada and Australia, have continued to recommend its use.

Venezuela has so far used Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm in its vaccination programme.

12:23 AM

Brazil’s president picks fourth pandemic health minister

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday picked his fourth health minister since the pandemic hit, amid the worst throes of the disease in the country yet and after a series of errors decried by public health experts.

Marcelo Queiroga, the president of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, will replace Eduardo Pazuello. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, rejected it.

Mr Pazuello’s two predecessors left the position amid disagreements with Mr Bolsonaro, who criticised broad social distancing and supported the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to treat the disease. He continues to hold those positions, despite health experts’ admonishments and studies showing the drug has no effect.

12:00 AM

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