Coronavirus UK news update – Lockdown should NOT be lifted until Britain has 'nearly eradicated' covid, BMA warns

LOCKDOWN should NOT be lifted in the UK until we have "nearly eradicated" covid, the British Medial Association has warned.

The head of the doctors' union said there was a "growing consensus" that the number of cases needs to reach levels not seen since last summer before any moves to reopen the country go ahead.

On Monday the PM will announce the UK's route out of lockdown, which he insisted would be "cautious but irreversible" but the BMA says the NHS remains in a "precarious" position and could easily be overwhelmed again.

The news comes amid fears a new Covid "super-variant" found in Finland that doesn’t show up in tests could be fuelling its spread.

The Fin-796H mutation is different from all of the previously found strains in South Africa and the United Kingdom, according to new research.

Follow our coronavirus live blog below for the very latest news and updates on the pandemic

  • Alice Fuller

    CONTINUED

    Mr Drakeford added: "As well as the good things – the vaccination programme, the falling numbers – we've also got difficulties as well, we've got new variants cropping up, we don't know the impact that they will have on the circulation of the virus.

    "The minute we begin to lift the lockdown, we know the virus will start to circulate again. It's whether we can do that in a way that keeps it under control and creates more capacity for freedoms to be restored, freedoms for families to meet, freedom to begin the first steps of reopening the tourism sector.

    "It'll all have to be done step-by-step, carefully, and in a way that allows us always to review the evidence from any steps we take to make sure we're not trying to do too many things too quickly."

  • Alice Fuller

    RESTRICTIONS EASING IN WALES

    Stay-at-home restrictions in Wales could be eased in three weeks, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

    Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio Wales: "I hope that this will be the last three weeks of the strict, straight, stay-at-home requirement.

    "So if in three weeks time the numbers are still falling, the positivity rate is falling, the R number is below one, hospital pressures continue to reduce, then I hope we'll be able to move beyond stay at home.

    "I think it's just at the moment too uncertain for me to be able to say whether that will be to a stay local arrangement of the sort we had last year, or whether we will be able to go beyond that.

    "Of course our aim is to restore freedoms to people as fast as we're able to do so but always provided it is safe to do so."

  • Alice Fuller

    PINTS DOWN THE DRAIN

    A landlord has had to pour £1,500 worth of booze down the drain after the government banned takeaway drinks as part of the Covid-19 lockdown.

    Patrick Mahony, 62, stocked up in the belief his pub would be able to sell takeaway alcohol.

    But when off sales were banned Patrick had to tip gallons worth of pints and says his business is losing £4,000 every month.

    Patrick, who runs The Winchester Arms in Taunton, Somerset, said: "I'm going to have to throw between £1,000 and £1,500 worth of beer, cider and lager away because it's gone off."

  • Alice Fuller

    'NOT PRACTICAL TO ELIMINATE COVID'

    Professor Adam Finn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "living with the disease does involve quite a lot of effort – you can't just live with it and let it rip".

    Prof Ferguson, who said he had not yet booked a holiday, added: "I don't think it's practical to eliminate (Covid), we would be isolating ourselves forevermore.

    "We're not going to eliminate globally so we won't eliminate here. I would like to see this virus become like influenza and managed in similar ways.

    "And I think the one thing this pandemic has generated is a whole new generation of vaccines which frankly are much more effective than the influenza vaccines we typically use year to year.

    "And so I think long-term we do have very promising prospects for pulling down the burden of disease, the mortality caused by this virus, quite dramatically."

  • Alice Fuller

    VACCINES CUT INFECTIONS AND TRANSMISSIONS BY TWO THIRDS

    The Oxford and Pfizer vaccines cut Covid infections AND transmissions by two thirds, new data shows.

    Boris Johnson is due to be presented with results showing just one dose of either vaccine blocks transmission of the virus in all age groups by about two thirds, The Telegraph reports.

    The first "real world data" on the vaccines' impact will boost hopes Britain's lockdown nightmare can be lifted soon.

    Whitehall sources told The Telegraph the results were "very encouraging".

    A PHE spokesman said: "We have been analysing the data since the start of the vaccination programme rollout and will publish our findings in due course."

  • Alice Fuller

    VACCINE EFFECTIVENESS 'LOOKING PROMISING'

    Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London and a senior scientific adviser, said data on vaccine effectiveness and how quickly infection, deaths and hospital cases were declining was "looking promising at the moment".

    He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The trade off we have is between how quickly can we relax and how quickly we can immunise and protect the population.

    "And there's still risks at the moment in relaxing too quickly when we don't have enough immunity in the population bearing in mind that no vaccine is a panacea, no vaccine will offer perfect protection."

    He said it was still "early days" when it came to the data on vaccine effectiveness but suggested that a figure of two-thirds efficacy from a single dose of a vaccine was "not too far off".

  • Alice Fuller

    SCHOOLS REOPENING WILL HAVE 'MINOR EFFECT' ON R RATE

    Schools reopening for all pupils will only slightly bump infections next month, a report shows.

    The Legatum Institute think tank says getting all kids back on March 8 will only see 789 admissions to hospital.

    This is based on Sage scientist estimates that the R rate will increase by 0.2 to 0.5 when classrooms reopen.

    Legatum Institute boss Baroness Philippa Stroud said: "Policy makers are now faced with an unenviable task of making choices on how to unwind restrictions in a way that balances significant health, economic, and social costs and benefits."

  • Alice Fuller

    NO MASK DELIVERY DRIVER SACKED

    A delivery driver is believed to be the first worker in Britain sacked for refusing to wear a face mask during the pandemic – inside his lorry.

    Deimantas Kubilius was fired following the incident two months into the first national lockdown in 2020.

    The driver 'dug his heels in' when he arrived to make a delivery at a Tate and Lyle sugar refinery and ignored their requests for him to put on a mask in the cab of his HGV as part of their new Covid-19 rules.

    Bosses at the site were concerned he could pass on the virus while speaking out of the window, but Mr Kubilius, based in Basildon, Essex, argued that 'my cab is my home' and refused to comply.

    The driver was sacked as a result of his stance and then launched legal action against his company – but he has no lost his case after a judge ruled distribution firm Kent Foods was entitled to fire him.

  • Alice Fuller

    WALES TOURISM REOPENING AT EASTER, SAYS DRAKEFORD

    The Welsh Government will work with the tourism industry in Wales on some "limited reopening" around Easter, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

    Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: "I met our tourism taskforce in Wales yesterday, the people who work in the sector.

    "What we will work on with them is the possibility – and it is only that – of some limited reopening around Easter of self-contained accommodation only, places where people don't mix with other people, where there aren't shared facilities.

    "That is how we began the reopening of tourism in Wales last year, if we can bring that forward to Easter if conditions allow, I know that will be a huge relief to many many hundreds of thousands of families in Wales.

    "Six weeks is a very long time in the business of dealing with coronavirus so we will have to make that final assessment much closer to the time."

  • Alice Fuller

    SHARING VACCINES WITH POORER COUNTRIES

    Asked when the UK would be in a position to share extra vaccines with poorer countries, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said it is "difficult to say with any kind of certainty".

    He told BBC's Today: "There are a number of variables, some of which are in our control.

    "The speed of vaccinating our own people for example, which is going very well… other variables include when vaccines get the green light by regulators and how quickly the companies can produce those vaccines.

    "We're not really able to give with certainty either a timescale or the numbers involved.

    "Our first duty is to protect our own people, that is the first duty of all governments, but we are also a global force for good and that's why we're leading the world in calls to ensure that the poorer countries in the world are also made safe."

  • Alice Fuller

    MP JAMES CLEVERLY REVEALS FAMILY COVID LOSS

    Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has revealed he has lost a cousin to coronavirus.

    Speaking to LBC, he also urged BAME communities to get the vaccine.

  • Alice Fuller

    BACK TO SCHOOL IN WALES

    All primary school children in Wales will return to face-to-face teaching from mid-March provided the coronavirus situation in the country "continues to improve", First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

    Mr Drakeford confirmed to BBC Radio 4's Today programme that children in the foundation phase of Welsh education – pupils aged between three and seven – would return to primary schools from Monday.

    "I'll be saying today that on Monday March 15, provided things continue to improve, all primary school children will be back in face-to-face education and those students in secondary schools who are facing examinations, we aim to get them back in the classroom as well," Mr Drakeford said.

    "And then we will carefully review as part of our deal with our teaching unions and local education authorities.

    "We take a step, we collect the evidence, we decide what to do next."

  • Alice Fuller

     PPE MUST BE UPDATED, SAYS HEALTH ORGANISATIONS

    A range of health organisations have told the Prime Minister that guidance on PPE (personal protective equipment) must be updated to reflect the risks to medics and care workers from airborne transmission.

    In a letter to Mr Johnson, they said that lives are being put at risk and branded measures to reduce airborne spread of the virus in high-risk health and care settings as "inadequate".

    The coalition includes the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), British Medical Association, Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Royal College of Midwives, among a number of others.

  • Alice Fuller

    STAGGERED START FOR SCHOOLS

    Some kids won’t be back in class until April and secondary schools must have a staggered return, an academy chief has warned.

    Steve Chalke, founder of multi-academy trust Oasis which runs more than 50 schools, said mass testing pupils is a “huge logistical exercise” and could take weeks to complete.

    He warned that secondary schools with 2,000 students might need to use a phased return system and invite just one year group back each week, reports the Telegraph.

    It means if the process started on March 8 – widely tipped to be when the Prime Minister will reopen schools in England – it would not be complete until April 19.

    Mr Chalke told the Telegraph: “If every child has to be tested in school as they come back, twice in the first week, it is a huge logistical exercise.”

  • Alice Fuller

    OVER-40S NEXT FOR JAB

    The over 40s could be vaccinated by the end of March – but key workers will not be given priority.

    Under government plans age brackets are expected to be wider than before, with 40 to 49-year-olds likely to have jabs after the 32million in the top nine groups have received their first.

    This means the over 40s could be sent for their vaccinations in less than five weeks, the Daily Mail reports.

    The government roll out is expected to hit its current target as soon as March 24, if the daily average is maintained.

    Advisers have recommended the next stage of the vaccine rollout should focus on age rather than prioritising key workers.

  • Alice Fuller

    'ONE MORE HEAVE' ADVERTISING BLITZ

    Boris Johnson’s restrictions-lifting roadmap will be accompanied by an advertising blitz urging “one more heave” of lockdown.

    The Government is currently spending millions on a Covid public awareness campaign designed to shock people into staying at home.

    But ahead of the first restrictions easing on March 8, a new softer message will be deployed as more freedoms are restored.

    A source said: "As we wait for the vaccine rollout to reach everyone, it’s essential that the rules are not ignored at the final stretch.

    "The adverts will urge one more heave to get the country over the line."

  • Abe Hawken

    UK DEBT

    Government borrowing jumped to £8.8 billion last month as the country’s debt soared to another record high, according to official figures.

    The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said it was the first January deficit in a decade and highest borrowing figure for the month since 1993.

    Public sector net debt has now risen by £316.4 billion over the 10 months since the start of April, following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Abe Hawken

    NEW LAW

    Placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal from September, the Education Secretary has announced.

    Ofsted will be given extra powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered children’s homes under reforms unveiled by Gavin Williamson.

    Ministers will also introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation for older children in care or care leavers, those who are aged 16 and over, to ensure the settings are consistently high quality.

  • Abe Hawken

    'CAUTIOUS'

    The desire to have lockdown lifted by end of April is a “careful and cautious” approach, the leader of the Covid Recovery Group has claimed.

    Mark Harper, who leads the anti-lockdown group of MPs, said the proposed timetable took the rollout of the vaccine into account and came after Boris Johnson agreed that “data, not dates” should inform the easing of restrictions.

    The Prime Minister is expecting updated evidence of the jabs’ affect on hospital admissions and deaths to be with him by the end of today, ahead of setting out his “road map” next week.

  • Patrick Knox

    CHARLES BACKS CELEBS IN PLEA FOR ETHNIC MINORITY BRITS TO GET JAB

    The Prince of Wales, who battled the virus last year, said he has been “saddened by the variable uptake” in some communities.

    Comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Romesh Ranganathan plus Olympian Denise Lewis are launching a campaign to get more life-saving jabs in arms.

    NHS figures show 213,000 black Brits have had their first dose — a significantly lower proportion than for white and Indian Brits.

    Just 116,000 in the Pakistani community have been jabbed, while uptake among Bangladeshis is 37,663.

    For those three groups, roughly half of those eligible have had their vaccine.

  • Patrick Knox

    BRAZIL PASSES 10 MILLION VIRUS INFECTIONS

    The South American country, which has the second-highest coronavirus death toll, passed the 10-million mark for reported infections today, amid a deadly second wave and problems with its vaccination campaign.

    The country became the third to reach the grim mark — after the United States and India — with more than 51,900 new infections in 24 hours, according to official data.

    Over the same one-day period, 1,367 people died, bringing the total to over 243,400.

    Brazil's figure of 10,030,626 came amid mounting criticism of how President Jair Bolsonaro's government has handled the epidemic and vaccination response.

    So far, three percent of the population of 212 million have received one of two required vaccine doses.

  • Patrick Knox

    NHS OFFERS FELLA JAB AFTER HEIGHT LISTED AS 6CM

    Liam Thorp, who is in his 30s with no underlying health conditions, was surprised to be told he qualified for a Covid shot.

    He later learned the NHS had listed him as 6.2cm tall, giving him a worrying body mass index of 28,000. 

    Speaking to BBC Radio 5, he said: "I've put on a few pounds in lockdown but I was surprised to have made it to clinically, morbidly obese.”

  • Patrick Knox

    BORIS JOHNSON TO MAKE VACCINES PLEDGE AS HE HOSTS G7 MEETING

    The PM will pledge to donate the majority of surplus coronavirus vaccines to poorer nations as he tries to rally world leaders to work together on efforts to combat the pandemic.

    The Prime Minister will chair a virtual gathering of G7 leaders on Friday, including US President Joe Biden in his first major multilateral meeting, to discuss the response to the crisis.

    Mr Johnson will also urge them to back an ambitious target of supporting the development of vaccines for emerging diseases in 100 days in the future, a third of the time it took to successfully develop the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

    The Prime Minister will use the meeting to confirm that the UK will share the majority of its surplus Covid-19 vaccines with the international Covax initiative to support developing countries.

    He will urge the G7, made up of the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and Italy along with the UK, to increase funding for Covax.

  • Patrick Knox

    NEW ‘FINNISH’ MUTANT STRAIN MIGHT EVADE TESTS 

    According to new research, the Fin-796H variant is different from all of the previously found strains in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

    The discovery was made by Helsinki-based Vita Laboratories who say it’s unlikely the variant emerged in Finland, given the country’s low rate of coronavirus infection.

    “Mutations in this variant make it difficult to detect in at least one of the WHO-recommended PCR tests,” said the lab.

    “This discovery could have a significant impact on determining the spread of the disease.”

    Referring to the South African and UK strains, the lab said the new strain’s “inheritance has the same features as the previously widespread variants in the world, but it does not appear to belong to the lineage of any of the previously known variants”.

  • Patrick Knox

    WHAT SIDE EFFECTS COULD HAPPEN AFTER A COVID VACCINE?

    According to the NHS, most side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine are mild and should not last longer than a week, such as:

    • a sore arm where the needle went in
    • feeling tired
    • a headache
    • feeling achy
    • feeling or being sick
    • You can take painkillers, such as paracetamol if you need to.

    If you have a high temperature you may have coronavirus or another infection.

    If your symptoms get worse or you are worried, call 111.

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