Covid news LIVE – Lockdown blow as Boris told DON'T ease UK rules until test and trace can detect mutant coronavirus

BRITAIN'S hopes of lockdown easing have been dealt a blow as Boris Johnson was warned not to lift measures anytime soon.

The head of NHS Providers Chris Hopson warned the PM not to risk a major coronavirus setback by racing to unlock before systems are in place to prevent another massive surge in deaths.

He urged Boris to ensure the NHS' Test and Trace app was able to detect different strains of the virus within two or three days before easing lockdown rules in order to prevent a vaccine-resistant outbreak.

As things stand test and trace is only able to show whether somebody has covid or not, not whether they have the original strain that most vulnerable people will be vaccinated against within a few months, or a mutant strain such as the South Africa variant which vaccines may work less well against.

Follow the live blog below for the very latest news, updates and analysis of the coronavirus crisis…

  • Ben Hill

    HOLA-DAYS

    Spain will bounce back to becoming a first-choice sun and sand destination for British holidaymakers this summer, the country’s tourism chiefs have predicted.

    Tourism minister Maria Reyes claimed a fortnight ago the country would begin to open up to international travellers at the end of spring.

    Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism yesterday reinforced the idea Britain’s favourite holiday destination will be back on the road to recovery by summer.

    Fernando Valdes told Costa Blanca-based Spanish daily Informacion: “We’re putting all our efforts into making sure we have a decent summer from a health and tourist point of view."

  • Ben Hill

    VAX VOW

    Brits must not be forced to get a Covid vaccine before they can return to work, the health minister warned business bosses today.

    Edward Argar said jabs have to remain voluntary and there are other ways firms can make their offices secure from the virus.

    He was commenting on reports that companies could use existing health and safety laws to try and force their staff to get vaccinated.

    Mr Argar said there are no plans to introduce vaccine passports or immunity certificates that would give those who have been jabbed greater rights.

  • Ben Hill

    TAXPAYERS FORKING OUT FOR RENT

    Taxpayers have forked out more than £5.7million for the Government to rent land for a temporary Brexit lorry park.

    The site handles customs checks and hauliers' paperwork.

    Waterbrook Park in Kent is being used while work continues on the purpose-built Sevington lorry park nearby.

    But construction has been delayed by heavy rain and it is not due to become operational until the end of the month.

    An HMRC spokesman said: "We will continue to monitor spends associated with the inland border facilities."

  • Ben Hill

    CZECH RECOMMENDATION

    The Czech Health Ministry will recommend the use of Covid-19 therapies that contain casirivimab/imdevimab and bamlavinimab antibodies ahead of standard approval, the ministry said on Monday.

    Both therapies are being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the agency said last week.

    The Czech Republic has been among the European countries worst hit by the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of new infections per 100,000 people higher only in Portugal and Spain, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) released last week.

  • John Hall

    TIP OF THE ICEBERG

    Lockdown could last longer if the South African Covid variant spreads, a Sage scientist today warned.

    Dr Mike Tildesley said "it's very possible" the mutated strain is already widespread in the UK – as 147 cases were confirmed by the health minister.

    Dr Tildesley, an infectious disease expert at Warwick University, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "surge testing" taking place in certain areas in England "really needs to be effective" to halt transmission.

    But he warned that "sadly we may be in a similar situation to the Kent variant" which eventually spread across the whole of the UK.

  • John Hall

    COVIDIOTS RESCUED

    A mountain rescue volunteer has suffered life changing injuries after falling 500ft while trying to rescue two Covidiots who broke lockdown rules to camp in the Lake District.

    The volunteer in his 60s was part of a team responding to calls one of the campers was suffering chest pains while staying on Red Screes, above Kirkstone Pass, near Ambleside, in the early hours of Saturday.

    But the male volunteer slipped and fell and needed to be helicoptered to hospital by the Coastguard.

    Cumbria Police said officers issued £200 fines to each camper, a man from Liverpool and a man from Leicester, for breaching Covid restrictions.

  • John Hall

    YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING'

    Piers Morgan today blasted a minister's "staggering" lack of knowledge as he failed to say whether the Government had signed any hotel quarantine deals, with just days to go before they start.

    The Good Morning Britain host got into a fiery row with Health Minister Ed Agar over the new quarantine regime which is due to start in a week's time.

    Anyone coming in from at least 30 'red list' countries must isolate for 10 days inside their hotel – and they can only be released with two negative tests.

    It's designed to stop the more transmissible mutant variants of Covid from grabbing hold in Britain and spreading.

  • John Hall

    JAB SCAM

    Cops are warning of a scammer wearing full PPE who claims to be administering door-to-door Covid jabs.

    A worried householder in Fife refused them entry and contacted their local GP, who in turn contacted police.

    Chief Inspector Anton Stephenson, of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Division, said: “We will pursue anyone who sets out to cause this kind of harm and anxiety to our communities, especially linked to health when people are understandably anxious as the vaccine programme is rolled out across Scotland.”

  • John Hall

    JAB AMNESTY

    Illegal migrants are to be given an amnesty to encourage them to come forward to get the Covid vaccine, it has been reported.

    The estimated 1.2 million with ‘irregular status’ will be guaranteed they will not be penalised including those who entered secretly, such as on a boat or in the back of a lorry.

    Already, some 11.5m have been given at least one of two jabs, with the government aiming to have around 14 million of the most vulnerable vaccinated by February 15.

    In a bid to encourage uptake of the vaccine, the Home Office will take no action if illegal migrants register with a GP to be inoculated.

  • John Hall

    SOUTH AFRICA HALTS VACCINE ROLLOUT

    South Africa halted Monday's planned rollout of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccinations after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild infection from one variant.

    The coronavirus has killed 2.3 million people and turned normal life upside down for billions but new variants have raised fears that vaccines will need to be tweaked and people may have to have booster shots.

    Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in a prior-to-peer analysis that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the so-called South African variant among young people.

    "This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected," said Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.

  • John Hall

    COVIDIOT DRIVER

    A driver who put his skates on and tore along an icy road at 109mph in his car was booked for speeding – and got a £200 fine for breaking the lockdown law too.

    North Wales Police today condemned the 'stupid' motorist for putting lives at risk by speeding like a maniac on the ice rink road and risking a spread of the coronavirus germs.

    Traffic cops stopped him on the A55 at Broughton, Flintshire, after their cameras recorded him doing 109mph, nearly 40mph faster than the national speed limit.

    One officer said "At that speed, on a really dangerous icy road surface, he could have skidded out of control and killed innocent people." They said he was also in breach of coronavirus regulations as his reason for travelling was 'not deemed essential'.

  • John Hall

    POWER OF PRAYER

    Tanzania has spent more than six months trying to convince the world it has been cured of the coronavirus through prayer, while refusing to take measures to curb its spread.

    However, dissent is mounting, along with deaths attributed to "pneumonia", with even a politician in semi-autonomous Zanzibar admitting he has the virus.

    "Covid-19 is killing people and we see a lot of cases but we cannot talk about the disease," said a doctor in a public hospital in Tanzania's biggest city Dar es Salaam, who like many asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

    Tanzanian President John Magufuli has continually played down the seriousness of the virus even as neighbouring countries shut borders and implemented curfews and lockdowns.

  • John Hall

    'HIJACKING' PANDEMIC

    Britain's largest teaching union has been accused of "hijacking" the Covid pandemic to secure a pay rise.

    Leaders of the National Education Union (NEU) claimed the crisis was a "turning point" as the union pushes for "key demands", it's reported.

    Pay demands are included in the union's list, The Telegraph reports.

    Union bosses have also reportedly called for reductions in class sizes to be "long term".

  • Ben Hill

    COVIDIOTS RESCUED

    A mountain rescue volunteer has suffered life changing injuries after falling 500ft while trying to rescue two Covidiots who broke lockdown rules to camp in the Lake District.

    The volunteer in his 60s was part of a team responding to calls one of the campers was suffering chest pains while staying on Red Screes, above Kirkstone Pass, near Ambleside, in the early hours of Saturday.

    But the male volunteer slipped and fell and needed to be helicoptered to hospital by the Coastguard.

    Cumbria Police said officers issued £200 fines to each camper, a man from Liverpool and a man from Leicester, for breaching Covid restrictions.

  • John Hall

    MUTANT SPREAD

    A total of 147 people in the UK have been infected with the South African variant, the health minister confirmed today.

    Officials have identified an additional 42 cases after door-to-door "surge testing" was ramped up in the past week.

    It came after 11 new cases of the variant with no links to travel were detected in eight postcodes across England.

    Asked about the latest case figures on BBC Breakfast today, Edward Argar said: "147 is the latest figure I have.

    "So, it's by no means the dominant variant in the UK – that's the historic variant we've had for a long time – and the Kent variant."

  • John Hall

    MAY NEED THREE

    Brits face needing a third jab this year amid concerns about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine's effectiveness against the South African coronavirus variant.

    Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was forced to defend the vaccine after a new study in South Africa found it was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious mutation.

    South Africa has suspended the rollout of the British-designed vaccine to healthcare staff following the results, which have yet to be peer reviewed.

    Mr Zahawi urged the public to keep faith with the Oxford jab as scientists working on the vaccine raised the prospect of having a booster dose available by the autumn.

    Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the minister said: "While it is right and necessary to prepare for the deployment of an updated vaccine, we can take confidence from the current roll out and the protection it will provide all of us against this terrible disease."

  • Ben Hill

    JAB SCAM

    Cops are warning of a scammer wearing full PPE who claims to be administering door-to-door Covid jabs.

    A worried householder in Fife refused them entry and contacted their local GP, who in turn contacted police.

    Chief Inspector Anton Stephenson, of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Division, said: “We will pursue anyone who sets out to cause this kind of harm and anxiety to our communities, especially linked to health when people are understandably anxious as the vaccine programme is rolled out across Scotland.”

    The Fife case follows similar allegations south of the border where a 92-year-old woman was reportedly tricked out of £160 for a fake coronavirus vaccination in London.

  • Ben Hill

    SOUTH AFRICA HOPEFUL FOR NEW VACCINE

    South Africa hopes to get some doses of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine around the end of this week, a senior health official said on Monday, after halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to disappointing trial data.

    Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was a good fit at this stage, health ministry Deputy Director-General Anban Pillay told state broadcaster SABC, but did not say how many doses the country would soon receive.

    Previously, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country had secured 9 million J&J doses that were due to start arriving in the second quarter.

    The J&J vaccine is not yet authorised for use in South Africa, although the U.S. company has initiated a "rolling submission" with local regulator SAHPRA.

  • John Hall

    ON TRACK

    Britain is on track to have given 15million Covid jabs by Valentine’s Day as the rollout goes from strength to strength.

    Nearly 1,000 vaccinations are now being done every minute, the Government said.

    Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi revealed the landmark was in sight as more than 12million Brits have had their first doses.

    A total of 2,700 sites across the country are now rolling them out as quickly as they can — including 200 pharmacies, 250 hospital hubs, thousands of GPs, and 100 mass vaccination centres.

  • Ben Hill

    UNDOCUMENTED MIGRANTS GET JABS

    Undocumented migrants in Britain will still be able to get Covid vaccines without being subject to status checks, the government said on Monday.

    Anyone in Britain can register with doctors and access free frontline medical care, regardless of their immigration status.

    Some data is shared with the interior ministry, which is responsible for border enforcement and investigating irregular immigration, including deporting those with no right to remain.

    However, the health ministry has made clear to officials in the NHS that people receiving Covid-19 vaccinations, as well as testing and treatment, are not subject to any immigration status checks.

    "Coronavirus vaccines will be offered to everyone living in the UK free of charge, regardless of immigration status," a government spokeswoman said.

  • John Hall

    WRONG SAID FRED

    British Airways have been left red faced after appearing to praise Right Said Fred for 'going mask-less' and 'speaking out on Covid and the lockdowns'.

    The nineties pop-duo tweeted that one of them had passed through Heathrow Airport's terminal 5 on Thursday and boasted that staff were 'lovely' and even suggested he had been 'thanked' by them.

    British Airways claimed the now-deleted response was the result of 'human error'.

    Right Said Fred, who are heavily criticised lockdown sceptics on Twitter, said: "I am at Heathrow.

    "I was dreading travelling, but it's been the very opposite of what I expected."

  • Ben Hill

    CONTINUED SUPPORT

    French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Monday that he continued to support the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, arguing it provided sufficient protection against "nearly all the variants" of the virus.

    Veran was shown on French television receiving the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a centre in Melun, France.

    A British junior health minister said on Monday there was no evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine did not prevent death or serious illness, and added South Africa had only imposed a temporary halt on using the vaccine.

    South Africa decided to put on hold use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot in its vaccination programme after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country's dominant coronavirus variant.

  • John Hall

    EXPERT WARNING

    Large crowds at sporting events and big weddings may not return for years in order to stop further Covid outbreaks, experts have warned.

    Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London said social-distancing measures and masks may be kept far beyond current lockdown measures despite the vaccine rollout.

    Professor Spector told Times Radio that he "can't see us suddenly having another Cheltenham Festival with no regulations again".

    The horse racing event sparked fury last year as tens of thousands of people gathered despite the emergence of Covid-19 and with a national lockdown called just days later.

  • John Hall

    JAB OUTRAGE

    Paedo pop star Gary Glitter has had his Covid vaccine — while his victims and many prison officers guarding him await their life-saving jab.

    Glitter, 76, is one of the first lags to get protected, outraging justice campaigners.

    Sources said last night that prisoners were not being prioritised ahead of the general public or jumping the queue.

    Sex offenders are likely to be among the first to get the jab as they form a large part of the older prison population.

  • John Hall

    TOGETHER FOREVER

    Childhood sweethearts who were married for 56 years died seven hours apart from Covid-19.

    Leigh and Cynthia Bryant were struck down by the virus last month.

    The couple, from Wellington, Somerset, were both taken to Musgrove Hospital in Taunton after testing positive.

    Cynthia, 75, was first affected and her 77-year-old husband was admitted to the same hospital five days later.

    Cythia died at 6.15pm on January 22, and her husband passed away at 1.15am the next morning.

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