The reopening of secondary schools for most pupils will be delayed for two weeks, the Education Secretary has announced.
Gavin Williamson said pupils in years 11 and 13 would not return until Jan 11, with the rest of pupils going back on Jan 18.
The majority of primary schools will still reopen on Jan 4, but in some Tier 4 areas this will only be for the most vulnerable children.
In a statement, he said: “We must always act swiftly when circumstances change. The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term.”
Follow the latest updates below.
04:41 PMCovid testing will begin in January with military support
Gavin Williamson said that testing will begin “in earnest” in January, with those in exam years at the head of the queue.
He told MPs: “During the first week of term on or after January 4, secondary schools and colleges will prepare to test as many staff and students as possible and will only be open to vulnerable children and children of key workers.
“The 1,500 military personnel committed to supporting schools and colleges will remain on task providing virtual training and advice on establishing the testing process with teams on standby to provide in-person support if required by schools.
“Testing will then begin the following week in earnest with those who are in exam years at the head of the queue.”
04:35 PM’Last resort’ to close schools in areas with high Covid rates
Gavin Williamson added: “We’ll be opening the majority of primary schools as planned on Monday, January 4. We know how vitally important it is for younger children to be in school for their education, wellbeing and wider development.
“In a small number of areas where the infection rates are highest we will implement our existing contingency framework such as only vulnerable children and children of critical workers will attend face to face.
“We will publish this list of areas today on the GOV.UK website. I’d like to emphasise that this is being used only as a last resort. This is not all Tier 4 areas and that the overwhelming majority of primary schools will open as planned on Monday.”
04:29 PMEducation Secretary – ‘We must continue to do all we can to keep children in school’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons the Government must make an “immediate adjustment” to its plans to reopen all schools in January.
In a statement, he said: “We must always act swiftly when circumstances change. The evidence about the new Covid variant and rising infection rates have required some immediate adjustment to our plans for the new term.”
He added: “The latest study we have from Public Health England is that Covid infections among children are triggered by changes in the community rate. The study also says that the wider impact of school closures on children’s development would be significant.
“I’m quite clear that we must continue to do all we can to keep children in school.”
04:27 PMAreas with high infections will not see primary schools reopen for face-to-face teaching
Primary schools in a “small number of areas” of England where Covid-19 infection rates are the highest will not reopen for face-to-face teaching to all pupils as planned next week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
04:24 PMReturn timetable for secondary schools
Jan 4 – Secondary schools and colleges with the children of vulnerable and key workers will return, as well as preparing testing programmes.
Jan 11 – Those who have exams return to school.
Jan 18 – Full time secondary schools and college return.
04:21 PMOverwhelming number of primary schools will open
Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons that the majority of primary schools will return next week.
He said that the planned return of most children in all years will be on January 18 as schools roll out testing during the first week of term.
04:11 PMIsle of Wight moves from Tier 1 to 4 in a week
Rising coronavirus infections have seen the Isle of Wight plunged from Tier 1 into Tier 4 in just one week.
The island’s 142,000 residents will now effectively return to November lockdown rules.
Infections on the island have been escalating far faster than at any point throughout the pandemic.
On Boxing Day the region was moved into Tier 3, and Tier 4 restrictions will come into force from midnight on Thursday.
04:09 PMSwiss drugs regulator says ‘no link’ between vaccine and death of 91-year-old
Swiss drugs regulator swissmedic said it saw no connection between the death of a 91-year-old person in the canton of Lucerne and the Covid-19 vaccination, adding the deceased individual suffered from multiple previous illnesses.
“Clarifications carried out by the cantonal health authorities and swissmedic determined that as a result of the illness history and the course of disease that a link between the death and the COVID-19 vaccine was highly unlikely,” the regulator said in a statement.
04:08 PMHealth secretary explains changes to vaccine roll-out
Matt Hancock indicated the decision to move to a 12-week window from a three-week window for people waiting for a second dose was due to people being protected after their first dosage.
He told the Commons: “Those who have appointments before January 4 should come forward for their appointment. Those who have appointments from January 4 onwards, those appointments will be rescheduled.
“I understand that this will obviously mean some effort especially in primary care and I understand that some people are looking forward to having their second dose.
“However, the overriding health priority and all the clinical advice is that because we can get the protection from the vaccine after the first dose, to save lives we need to move to the 12-week window rather than the three-week window that we had with the Pfizer jab.”
04:05 PMWhat tier am I in now?
As 20 million more people have moved into Tier 4 and many more into Tier 3, there are now 44 million people living in areas with the highest restrictions.
You can find out if your area will see changes from tomorrow with our handy Covid postcode checker.
03:55 PMNorth East calls for national lockdown
A statement on behalf of nine council and other leaders in the north-east of England said: “Our view is that the Government should consider a national lockdown now to ensure the spread of the new variant is slowed and efforts can be focussed on the crucial roll-out of the vaccine.
“This is a national problem and a national solution is required now.
“After a disrupted Christmas the last thing any of us wanted was further restrictions as we enter 2021 but sadly we feel this is the only sensible option to protect our health and care services and the most vulnerable in our communities.”
03:47 PMEssex requests military assistance
Conservative Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) expressed concern about Essex declaring a “major incident”.
Sir Bernard told MPs: “I can confirm to (Matt Hancock) that Essex has declared a major incident and can I also inform him that at this very moment they are submitting a request for military assistance to the civil authority, a MACA request to assist with the construction of community hospitals, additional hospital capacity and supported by the armed forces and party staffed by the armed forces.
“They would also like armed forces help with the roll-out of the vaccine to accelerate that in Essex and to assist with testing in schools.”
03:43 PMRussia to supply Bolivia with 2.6 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine
The Russian sovereign RDIF fund and Bolivia have signed a deal on the supply of 2.6 million doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, RDIF said in a statement .
It added the agreement will make it possible for more than 20% of Bolivia’s population to access the vaccine. Supply of the vaccine will be facilitated by RDIF’s international partners in India, China, South Korea and other countries.
03:38 PMNobody in tier 2
A total of 12 million people will be in Tier 3 from December 31, or 22% of the population of England.
No area will be in Tier 2, while some 2,000 people – the population of the Isles of Scilly – will be in Tier 1.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to take “personal responsibility” to stop the spread of the virus.
Responding to Labour, he told the Commons: “It is on all of us, and it is about how everybody behaves.
“Because if we collectively decide to stop this by taking personal responsibility and not coming into contact with others unless it is absolutely necessary that is how we can slow the spread of this virus within of course the tier restrictions which are necessary.
“But ultimately it is about how we all behave, that is how we get through the next few weeks together and then the vaccine can come and save us.”
03:33 PMPharmacies to play ‘key role’ in vaccine says national body
Pharmacies can play a ‘key role in the Covid-19 vaccination programme’, according to the National Pharmacy Association.
It said that it would be effective to get the vaccine to poorer areas and combat misapprehensions about the jab.
Chair of the National Pharmacy Association, Andrew Lane, said: “While the number of pharmacies involved initially may be small, we expect the pharmacy network to be a key plank of the programme as it rolls out. By vaccinating record numbers of people against flu this year, pharmacies have shown that they are capable of delivering vaccinations at scale.
“NHS England has acknowledged that pharmacies may be especially important in achieving uptake in poorer communities, because of the relatively high level of access to pharmacies in deprived neighbourhoods.
“What’s more, people have a high level of trust in their local pharmacists, which could be an important factor in overcoming doubts and misapprehensions about vaccines for Covid-19.”
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine – enough to vaccinate 50 million people – Sean Elias /PA 03:25 PMHigher tiers will be big hit to businesses – mayors
Metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram said: “Despite our area leading on many of the medical developments in the fight against Covid, we have seen transmission rates rise recently in every part of our city region, leading to a worrying uptick in positive cases.
“At the same time cases have risen at alarming rates across the rest of the country, threatening to push our NHS to its limits.
“Being placed into Tier 3 today is something that none of us wanted but I hope that these new measures help to slow down and contain the spread of the virus quickly.”
He promised to support local businesses and called for more Government assistance.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen said: “Moving Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool into Tier 4, the very highest level of restrictions, will be incredibly disappointing to businesses across the region, but advice from Public Health England and the scientific advisers has strongly recommended that we need to move into Tier 4.
“I understand the frustration felt by many people, especially business owners, at the increased restrictions, but the outpouring of community spirit in the face of the coronavirus has shown that even during one of our darkest periods our community spirit cannot be broken.”
03:22 PM44 million people now under toughest restrictions
An additional 20 million people will be in Tier 4 of the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions from December 31.
This means a total of 44 million people will now be in Tier 4, or 78% of the population of England.
Matt Hancock said: “And I know that Tier 3 and 4 measures place a significant burden on people, and especially on businesses affected, but I am afraid it is absolutely necessary because of the number of cases that we’ve seen.
03:16 PM’Majority’ of new cases are new strain
Matt Hancock said: “Sharply rising cases and the hospitalisations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”
The Health Secretary told MPs that the majority of new cases recorded yesterday “are believed to be the new variant”.
Mr Hancock added: “Unfortunately, this new variant is now spreading across most of England and cases are doubling fast.
“It is therefore necessary to apply Tier 4 measures to a wider area, including the remaining parts of the South East, as well as large parts of the Midlands, the North West, the North East and the South West.”
03:14 PMNew restrictions are necessary to ‘suppress the virus now’
The Health Secretary told MPs: “It brings forward the day on which we can lift the restrictions that no-one in this House wants to see any longer than are absolutely necessary.
“But we must act to suppress the virus now, not least because the new variant makes the time between now and then even more difficult.
“And so whilst we have the good news of the vaccine today, we also have to take some difficult decisions.”
03:13 PMVaccine to give protection from ‘first dose’
Matt Hancock said that the Oxford vaccine will give people protection against Covid-19 after the first dose. He told the Commons: “Today’s news means that everyone who wants one can get a vaccine.
“We already have 530,000 doses available to the UK from Monday, with millions due from AstraZeneca by the beginning of February.”
He continued: “The clinical advice is that the Oxford vaccine is best deployed as two doses up to 12 weeks apart.
“And the great news is people get protection after the first dose. This means we can accelerate the speed at which we can vaccinate people for the first 12 weeks before we return to deliver the second doses for that longer-term protection.”
03:11 PMWhen will the tiers come into force?
These new tier 3 and tier 4 restrictions will come into force from the beginning of tomorrow.
03:10 PMMore areas move up to tier 3
In addition to many areas of the country moving up to the highest tier, other areas will be moved into tier 3.
The Health Secretary said that the areas which will see the tougher tier 3 measures will be:
Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin
Worcestershire (Bromsgrove, Malvern Hills, Redditch, Worcester, Wychavon, Wyre Forest)
Liverpool City Region (Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens)
York & North Yorkshire (Scarborough, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Selby, Craven, Ryedale, Harrogate, City of York)
Bath and North East Somerset
Devon, Plymouth, Torbay (East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, West Devon, Plymouth, Torbay)
03:08 PMTier 4 announced
Three quarters of the country will now be in tier 4
Matt Hancock has announced that the new areas moving into the highest tier will be:
Leicestershire (Oadby and Wigston, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth, Blaby, Charnwood, North West Leicestershire, Melton)
Lincolnshire (City of Lincoln, Boston, South Kesteven, West Lindsey, North Kesteven, South Holland, East Lindsey)
Northamptonshire (Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough)
Derby and Derbyshire (Derby, Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield, Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, High Peak)
Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (Gedling, Ashfield, Mansfield, Rushcliffe, Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, Broxtowe)
Birmingham and Black Country (Dudley, Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton)
Warwickshire (Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwick, North Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent (East Staffordshire, Stafford, South Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Staffordshire Moorlands, Newcastle under Lyme, Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent)
Lancashire (Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Blackpool, Preston, Hyndburn, Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Wyre)
Cheshire and Warrington (Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Warrington)
Cumbria (Eden, Carlisle, South Lakeland, Barrow-in-Furness, Copeland, Allerdale)
Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
Tees Valley (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees )
North East (County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland)
Gloucestershire (Gloucester, Forest of Dean, Cotswolds, Tewkesbury, Stroud, Cheltenham)
Somerset Council (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset)
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
Isle of Wight
03:03 PMVaccine offers hope for the ‘whole world’
Matt Hancock says that the new vaccine offers hope not just to the UK but for the whole world.
He told the House of Commons that the Brexit deal will allow the UK to become even more of a “powerhouse” for natural sciences.
02:59 PMHancock to announce tiers
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, is due to announce new tiers for swathes of England as the virus continues to spread.
The Government has been warned in recent days that the new strain of the virus is rapidly pushing cases up across the country, mainly in the South and London.
According to data from the ONS, modelling shows that as many as 70 per cent of the new cases in London were of this more transmissible strain.
Ministers have refused to rule out a national tier 4 lockdown as the daily number of cases of coronavirus passed 50,000 and hospitals reported they were running at nearly full capacity.
Boris Johnson and the Covid-19 Operations committee discussed tougher restrictions on Tuesday night while millions of people wait to see what tier they will be in.
02:47 PMMore than 2,000 cases recorded in Northern Ireland in 24 hours
More than 2,000 positive cases of Covid-19 have been notified in Northern Ireland.
The latest figures on the Department of Health’s dashboard also included six further deaths, bringing the toll in the region to 1,311.
In total, 2,143 individuals tested positive for the virus in the previous 24-hour period.
There has been 7,100 new cases of Covid-19 in the last seven days.
The dashboard also shows continuing pressures on hospitals, with a 96% occupancy rate.
As of today, there were 492 inpatients with Covid-19, of which 35 were being treated in intensive care units.
02:33 PMAstraZeneca working to get its vaccine approved in Brazil ‘as fast as possible’
AstraZeneca has said it is working efficiently and transparently to bring its vaccine to Brazil as fast as possible, adding that it remains committed to seeking full regulatory approval in Brazil after authorization in the UK.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said it would keep up the ongoing submission of its late-stage trial results, but made no mention of seeking emergency use approval — a process that Pfizer has described as cumbersome in Brazil.
An employee is seen at the Reference Center for Special Immunobiologicals (CRIE) of the Federal University of Sao Paulo (Unifesp) where the trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine are conducted – Amanda Perobelli /Amanda Perobelli 02:27 PMScotland hits record daily case numbers
Scotland has recorded 43 deaths from coronavirus and 2,045 positive tests in the past 24 hours, the highest daily case figure on record, Scottish Government figures show.
It brings the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 4,510.
The latest statistics show 124,831 people have now tested positive in Scotland, up from 122,786 the previous day.
There are 1,133 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up 41 in 24 hours.
Of these patients, 69 are in intensive care, an increase of four.
02:19 PMAlmost 500 more die of coronavirus in England
A further 494 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 49,719, NHS England has said.
Patients were aged between 30 and 100. All except 20, aged between 36 and 92, had known underlying health conditions.
The deaths were between November 9 and December 29.
There were 23 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.
Hospitals across the south of the country are struggling to keep up with the influx of new coronavirus patients – Peter Macdiarmid/London News Pictures Ltd 02:07 PMTop children’s doctor says schools should be ‘last to close’
Ahead of an announcement from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on the plan for pupils going back after the Christmas break, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said schools “should be the last places to close”.
Professor Russell Viner called for an “ambitious, national and properly funded recovery plan” for children and young people which he described as “especially vital” if schools remain partially or fully closed in the early part of the year.
He said: “Our view remains that schools should be the last places to close and the first to open. We’ve said many times that it is not a simple choice between protecting the community and prioritising children’s access to school. Both are vital and the right balance is hugely difficult but hugely important.
“If schools are to close, there are vital, practical questions that need an answer – most obviously, equal access to technology for all schoolchildren, which is by no means easy or even possible for every family.”
He added: “The interruption of education is a huge issue, but we also need to prepare for the impact on mental health and child protection services, on missed diagnoses and cancelled procedures. Many children will also be living in families pushed further into financial insecurity or outright poverty.
The Royal College said schools should be the last places to close and the first to open – Danny Lawson /PA01:58 PMSweden to require negative Covid tests for UK arrivals
People travelling from Britain to Sweden will need to show a negative test result for the new coronavirus before enterting the country, the Swedish government has announced.
The requirement will come into force on January 1 and will not apply to Swedish citizens, Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg told a news conference.
Last week, Sweden shut its borders to travellers from Britain and Denmark with some exceptions.
Earlier today Sweden registered 8,846 new coronavirus cases and 243 new deaths, taking the total to 8,727. But the health agency has said statistics over the Christmas period are less reliable than usual due to less testing and delays in reporting of deaths.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours’ but lower than in several other European countries. Here is a look at the trajectory of the pandemic:
01:52 PMNew variants will continue to emerge unless the entire world is vaccinated, Sage expert warns
“There is no value in just vaccinating one country or one population,” according to Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of Sage and head of Wellcome.
Responding to the news that the UK has approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, he reiterated that “vaccines must be available to the whole world at the same time as promised by many politicians”.
“If we continue vaccinating only people in rich countries, while allowing the virus to continue to spread unchecked in other parts of the world, then new variants will emerge in these parts of the world against which our vaccines and treatments may no longer work,” he said. “And these new variants will inevitably spread around the world. Then we are all be back to square one.
“We must keep asking ourselves ‘are we doing enough’ and responding fast to new and continued challenges, in order to save lives now and as we move into 2021.”
Sir Jeremy added that “like everyone I wish life could get back to normal, but the UK is in a precarious position.
“We must remain humble, cases are increasing and hospitals in UK are treating more patients today with Covid than at any time during this pandemic. This after an already incredibly very difficult year. We have to reduce transmission to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.”
01:47 PMVaccine will make holidays possible ‘from May 1’
Holidays will be back on “with certainty” by May 1, with the rollout of the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, according to a travel industry expert.
A coronavirus vaccine developed by drug firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University has been approved for use in the UK, the government announced this morning, paving the way for a mass rollout.
Paul Charles, CEO of the PC Agency, told Telegraph Travel how the timeline could look for our holidays in the coming months.
“The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will enable so many more people to be offered protection faster. That will not only boost confidence to book but also open up travel more quickly.
“I’d be booking for May 1 onwards with certainty. Staycations will return from March onwards. Short-haul travel in Europe will be definite again from late April but most long-haul destinations will still take time to open up, most likely from September onwards.
“Without doubt though, scientists have delivered a game-changer which makes travel certain again this spring. There will be a bumper summer in 2021.”
Follow all the latest travel news over on our liveblog here.
01:39 PMThe view from Zimbabwe: New school term delayed due to spiralling cases
Zimbabwe has postponed the re-opening of schools planned for next week, the government said on Wednesday, due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region.
The government had set January 4 as the date to re-open primary and secondary schools, after many students missed class for much of last year as the country tried to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Zimbabwe has recorded more than 13,000 cases of Covid-19 and 359 deaths. Daily cases have averaged more than 100 this week, compared to less than 50 last month.
A teachers’ union earlier petitioned the courts to stop the re-opening of schools, saying it was not safe for students to return to class.
Tumisang Thabela, secretary for the ministry of primary and secondary education said the surge in infections and the threat from tropical storm Chalane, expected to hit Zimbabwe from Mozambique, had forced the postponement of the new term.
“The date for the commencement of the 2021 school calendar for all primary and secondary schools will be announced in due course as the government monitors the situation,” Thabela said in a statement.
Since March, pupils have only had a few weeks of classes, if any, as schools offered a staggered reopening from September, with students studying for public exams a priority.
With internet access limited, online learning is confined only to the richest families.
01:31 PMOxford vaccine distribution to begin in Wales on Monday
People in Wales will begin receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from Monday, health minister Vaughan Gething has told the Welsh Parliament. Mr Gething said more than 30,000 people are estimated to have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Wales since it was approved earlier in December.
“Today, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been given the go-ahead by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and its rollout across Wales and the rest of the UK will start next week, from Monday,” Mr Gething said.
“It will arrive in small quantities initially, with more of our population-based allocation arriving each week.”
Mr Gething said the vaccine being stored at “normal vaccine fridge temperatures” meant it was easier to use in community settings such as care homes and primary care.
He told the Senedd: “This is excellent news for our response to the pandemic, and our NHS plans are in place to ensure Wales has the capacity, systems and staff to increase vaccination activity.”
But Mr Gething warned the effects of the vaccines may not be seen nationally “for many months” and urged people to continue follow advice to limit the spread of Covid-19.
01:24 PMFrnace: Slow start to Covid-19 vaccinations draws critics
France’s slow start to its Covid-19 vaccination campaign compared to its European neighbours has come under fire from some doctors and scientists today, although the government has insisted it plans to ramp up the programme.
France, which is primarily targeting the most vulnerable people in nursing homes for the first phase of vaccination, has administered doses to about 140 people so far.
That is well below the 42,000 tally in Germany, for instance, which also began its roll-out on Sunday as part of a coordinated European campaign.
The French health ministry confirmed the number of jabs, while officials have said the slow start was deliberate as they get to grips with logistics. A million people will have had the vaccine by February, and France will catch up with other nations, the government has said.
But some doctors have decried an excess of caution and red-tape in the campaign, in one of the countries with the highest rate of vaccine sceptics in the world.
Opinion polls show less than half the population intends to get a Covid shot, even though France is one of the hardest hit countries in Europe.
“It’s not by advancing by baby steps that we’ll manage to convince people, on the contrary,” geneticist Axel Kahn told Europe 1 radio this morning.
01:14 PMCrunching the numbers
A fascinating tweet from Sky’s Isabel Webster here, crunching the around how much the UK government has spend on varying interventions:
Oxford Vaccine is around £3/dose.
UK govt has ordered 100m doses = £300m.
Compared with around £22bn on test and trace..
Approx £200bn on furlough
£10bn on railways
And £850m on Eat Out To Help Out…
Oxford game-changer will cost the least by quite a margin! Amazing !
— Isabel Webster (@SkyNewsIsabel) December 30, 2020
01:10 PMToday in photos
Here’s a quick look at the pandemic in pictures today.
Heath Secretary Matt Hancock gives a thumbs up after the news that a Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been approved for use in the UK, paving the way for a mass rollout – Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Ambulances queued outside the Royal London Hospital last night. England’s hospitals now have more Covid-19 patients than during April’s first-wave peak. – Yui Mok/PA Wire
Los Angeles, America:
People line up in their vehicles at Dodger Stadium as post-Christmas COVID-19 testing resumes during a surge in positive coronavirus disease cases – REUTERS/Bing Guan
Colombo, Sri Lanka:
Health workers wearing protective gear wait to collect swab samples from residents to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus in Colombo – Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP
Officials carry out disinfection works at Fatih Mosque in Istanbul – disinfection is regularly carried out in in 346 mosques as part of the coronaviruscontrol measures. – mrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A medical worker waits for the next individual to take a swab test for the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Beijing – oel Celis / AFP12:58 PMA year on: Dr Tedros reflects on the pandemic so far
Tomorrow marks a year since the Wuhan Health Commission alerted the world to a threat of a mystery “pnuemonia of unknown origin”.
A year later the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reflects on the lessons learned in 2020 – and what 2021 might hold:
12:51 PMGermany eyes rapid EU approval of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, says top official
Germany expects the European Union to give rapid approval to the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca that was cleared for use in the UK today, a top vaccines official has said.
Berlin’s support for AstraZeneca comes as EU member countries seek to fill supply chains for vaccination drives that began last weekend using a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech – the only one to win EU approval so far.
Germany has made relatively quick headway, reporting a total of 78,000 shots administered, but there have been reports of setbacks with some vaccination centres shutting down temporarily due to supply shortages.
Fatalities linked to Covid-19 in Germany hit a record daily high of 1,129 today, bringing total deaths to 32,107, as local health authorities caught up with a Christmas reporting backlog. Total confirmed cases reached 1.69 million.
Klaus Cichutek, head of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, said that, thanks to the rolling EU review of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it would be possible to take a quick decision once a formal application was submitted.
No such application had been received by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) by Wednesday morning, Cichutek told reporters, but a debate in its councils would follow as soon as it arrived.
“Once the application is submitted a decision can be taken quickly,” Cichutek told a news conference.
12:43 PMTeachers not set to receive blanket vaccine prioritisation
Teachers are not set to get blanket prioritisation for a Covid-19 vaccination, the British Medical Journal has reported.
Earlier today the Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations were asked at a press conference whether teachers would be included as key workers. But it looks like advice is unchanged:
It sounded like teachers would get priority for the Oxford/AZ vaccine in this morning’s briefing.
But PHE just told me they are only covered with everyone else over 50/under 50 w/ health conditions.
So teachers are not being prioritised for the covid vaccine due to their job.
— Elisabeth Mahase (@emahase_) December 30, 2020
12:40 PMQ&A: An expert answers your Oxford, Moderna and Pfizer questions12:17 PMChief Medical Officers support guidance to prioritise first vaccine dose
In a joint statement the UK’s chief medical officers have said that they support the JCVI plan to prioritise first doses – meaning it will be longer before second doses are offered.
“The four UK Chief Medical Officers agree with JCVI that at this stage of the pandemic prioritising the first doses of vaccine for as many people as possible on the priority list will protect the greatest number of at risk people overall in the shortest possible time,” they said in a statement this morning.
They added that the JCVI recommended that the Pfizer-BioNTech jab is given between three to 12 weeks following the first dose, while that the booster dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine may be given between four to 12 after the first injection.
“It will have the greatest impact on reducing mortality, severe disease and hospitalisations and in protecting the NHS and equivalent health services,” they said.
“Operationally this will mean that second doses of both vaccines will be administered towards the end of the recommended vaccine dosing schedule of 12 weeks. This will maximise the number of people getting vaccine and therefore receiving protection in the next 12 weeks.”
12:13 PMWatch: Oxford vaccine is ‘70% effective’ three weeks after first dose, say regulators12:09 PMGPs: It will be easier and quicker to rollout Oxford vaccine
The Royal College of GPs has said the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will make it easier for family doctors to vaccinate more people, more quickly.
“It is the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel that we desperately need to get us through this difficult winter and ultimately overcome the virus,” said Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the college.
“GPs and our teams are already working incredibly hard delivering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to our most vulnerable patients in the community, overcoming huge logistical challenges in doing so.
“This vaccine will overcome many of those challenges as it is much more like other vaccines already delivered in general practice, making it easier for GPs, our teams, and other primary care professionals to store it appropriately, and ultimately vaccinate a greater number of patients, at a faster pace in the community.”
He added that GPs have already been preparing “as much as we can for delivery of this vaccine”.
“We now eagerly await further details on how it will be rolled out across general practice and primary care, including details about vaccine supply.”
12:02 PMTension between regulators and Pfizer?
Some mixed messages this morning over dose regimens. Pfizer has said in a statement that any “alternative” dosing regimens should be followed with surveillance by health authorities.
“Data from the phase three study demonstrated that, although partial protection from the vaccine appears to begin as early as 12 days after the first dose, two doses of the vaccine are required to provide the maximum protection against the disease, a vaccine efficacy of 95%.
“There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”
But in the UK, regulators have said today that the focus should be on giving at-risk people the first dose of whichever vaccine they receive, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said that everyone who receives the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccines will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of the first.
11:57 AMGlobal news summary
Away from vaccine newss, here is a summary of other key global developments to be aware of this morning:
Switzerland has documented five cases of a coronavirus variant from Britain and two cases of a South African variant. But the government has decided against imposing further restrictions to curb Covid.
The first known case of the so-called UK variant has also been detected in the United States in Colorado, as President-elect Joe Biden warned it could take years for most Americans to be vaccinated for the virus at current distribution rates.
Taiwan has agreed to buy almost 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, including 10 million from AstraZeneca. The government has also confirmed the island’s first case of the new variant first found in the UK.
The European Union will buy an extra 100 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, bringing the total from the two companies to 300 million doses, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
South Korean authorities scrambled to contain a cluster of infections in a Seoul prison as inmates waved signs through barred windows pleading for help.
Deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean from Covid-19 have now topped 500,000, while cases soared above 15 million.
Australian authorities restricted movement and tightened curbs on gatherings in Sydney, hoping to avoid a coronavirus “super spreader” event during the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.
The coronavirus situation in Tokyo is quite severe and the Japanese capital could potentially face an “explosion” of COVID-19 cases, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said ahead of the New Year’s holiday.
11:46 AMWhat did we learn?
Here’s an overview of the key snippets from the MHRA press conference this morning:
Dr June Raine, chief executive of the regulator, insisted that no corners have been cut during the rolling review and analysis of data on safety, effectiveness and quality has been “rigorous”.
She said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will save “many lives”.
Head of the JCVI, Professor Wei Shen Lim, said that doctors would not give any preference over which vaccine (Pfizer of astrZeneva) that should be given as there is no difference in protection.
He added that both jabs provide an “impressive” level of immunity after one jab, meaning that “delivery of the first dose of the vaccine should be prioritised” to ensure as many people are protected as possible.
Professor Lim said that data seen by the regulator puts the efficacy of the Oxford jab at around 70 per cent 22 days after dose one is delivered.
He added that there are no plans to alter guidelines on who should be vaccinated first, in spite of the new variant. This is because the mutation does not increase the risk of severe disease – meaning the same groups are at most risk as before it emerged.
Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, said that the vaccine is safe for people with severe allergies to food and other medicines. But anyone who is allergic to active ingredients in the Oxford jab should not receive it.
Regulators have also updated guidance on the Pfizer-BioNTech jab so that it is the same. They say that after more data from hundreds of thousands of vaccinations it is clear that the risk of extreme allergic reaction can be managed.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should be offered vaccines on a case-by-case basis after discussions with their doctor of the risks and benefits. This is because of a relatively small body of evidence in these groups.
Sir Munir said that there is not enough data to confirm whether the Oxford jab reduces transmission as well as severe illness.
The Oxford and Pfizer jabs should not be mixed as there is no data yet available about whether this works, Sir Munir said. Trials are planned.
Finally, all the experts stressed that while we are hurtling towards the light at the end of the tunnel, it is vital to continue to follow the rules as the vaccines are rolled out to contain Covid.
11:29 AMEveryone should follow the rules while vaccines are rolled out
We are now onto closing remarks. Sir Munir Pirmohamed says that, with the authorisation for vaccines, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,
However we are not there yet. “While we hurtle towards that light it is really important that everyone follows the rules to contain Covid”, he says.
Dr June Raine echoes these comments – “no one should drop their guard at the moment,” she says. But we are fighting back and this is “another blow to the virus”.
She finishes by reiterating that the public should have “every confidence in the safety, effectiveness and quality” of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
And with that the briefing comes to a close.
11:26 AMNo need to update JCVI guidance in light of new variant
Everyone should adhere to guidelines on social distancing and public health, says Professor Wei Shen Lim, even if they have been vaccinated. Vaccines are just one tool to control the pandemic.
He is reluctant to say whether life will return to normal by Spring, as Matt Hancock suggested this morning.
The professor then answers a question from Rebecca Thomas at the Health Service Journal about whether the JCVI will issue new prioritisation guidance – especially for health workers and given the new variant.
Professor Wei Shen Lim he is well aware of the risks for his colleagues within the NHS, and as vaccine supply is broadened thanks to the approval of the Oxford jab it will become much easier to vaccinate them all.
He also says that at the moment it is thought that the new variant spreads more but does not cause more severe disease. And those most at risk from the original variant are also at most risk from the new variant – so there is no need to adjust guidance on allocation.
11:19 AMOxford and Pfizer jabs should not be mixed, says Sir Munir
Asked for more information about giving a second jab up to 12 weeks after the first, Sir Munir Pirmohamed says that they felt the data was “most robust” at between four to 12 weeks.
There is some data to suggest the jab is still effective if given after 12 weeks, he adds, but not enough to confirm this with certainty.
Asked by the Rhys Blakey from TheTimes if the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines can be mized, Sir Munir says no.
We are not advising mixing of different doses, he adds, because there is no data on this yet. So if your first dose if the Pfizer jab, your booster jab should be too.
He says, though, that trials to explore whether mixing different vaccines is effective are planned.
11:15 AMNot enough data to confirm if vaccine reduces transmission
Jane Merrick from the i newspaper asks about whether the vaccine reduces transmission as well as severe disease.
Sir Munir Pirmohamed says that there is not yet enough data to “determine if it also reduces transmission”, but it clearly does prevent severe disease.
He adds that there is no data at the moment to suggest that the new variant evades the vaccine – but studies are ongoing to confirm this.
11:13 AMPublic can be confident in scientific rigour of assessment, says Dr Raine
Tom Moore at Sky News asks whether regulators are using unpublished data to justify a regime of using two doses 12 weeks apart. How confident can we be that it will be effective?
Dr June Raine says the public can be “absolutely confident that the scientific rigour of our assessment has been as we would normally do according to guidelines and standards”.
Sir Munir Pirmohamed says regulators looked at all the dose regimen, and identified that the interval between the two doses was “quite long”. When Oxford first released their data, they said the vaccine was up to 90 per cent effective when a full dose was followed by a half dose.
But Sir Munir says that “we feel that that result may be related to that interval rather than the dose itself”.
Dr Raine adds that there will be full data published on this later today.
11:08 AMOxford jab 70 per cent effective after first injection
We are now onto journalist questions, starting with the BBC. Fergus Walsh asks how effective the jab is after one dose and what data is available around efficacy in the elderly.
The data shared with us calculated efficacy between day 22 of dose one, and the time of dose two being delivered. The figure is around 70 per cent, he says.
Dr June Raine adds that safety and effectiveness in the elderly are approved and when we have more data to confirm that, we will update. Sir Munir Pirmohamed adds that more data on elderly people in early 2021 from the US and Brazil.
Dr Raine adds that, for transparency, they will put more data in the public domain today particularly around use. In due course full analysis will be shared.
11:05 AMFirst dose of vaccine should be prioritised
The JCVI chair, Professor Wei Shen Lim, is now talking about similarities and differences between the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine – with the main difference being logistical. The latter does not need to be “deep frozen”, but can be stored in a fridge.
He says that doctors would not give any preference over which vaccine should be given as there is no difference in protection.
Both vaccines have been approved for a two does regimen, he adds.
But because there is an “impressive” level of immunity delivered after the first dose, he says “delivery of the first dose of the vaccine should be prioritised”, for both jabs, to “ensure the greatest number of people can be vaccinated”.
But he says the second booster dose is still important to ensure long term immunity. The committee recommends this is given within 12 weeks of the first dose.
slide10:59 AMUpdates on Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine
Dr June Raine is providing an update about data from Pfizer-BioNTech. She says that the vaccine can now be used in pregnant and breast feeding women on an individual basis, after a conversation with medical professionals about the benefits and risks.
Dr Raine also adds that, in a much wider pool of patients, the regulators have further assurance that teh risk of a severe allergic reaction can be managed. Anyone with an allergy to food or other medicines or vaccines can therefore have the jab – unless you are allergic specifically to ingredients in the jab.
She says that there is also a recommendation that the second dose is at least 21 days after the first – rather than exactly at 21 days. This allows for a slightly longer period in between the first and second jab.
This means that “even more people are now eligible for vaccination”, she says.
10:55 AMTwo doses should be given over 4-12 weeks
Sir Munir Pirmohamed said “many hours of work went into the decision to approve” the vaccine, adding that they have recommended a standards two dose regime – with the second jab given 4-12 weeks after the first. He says this offers roughly 80 per cent efficacy.
He adds that there is a good safety profile, with some small short term side effects – for instance soreness around the vaccination site.
Sir Munir adds, though, that people with allergies for any known ingredients included in the jab should not have the vaccine – although people who are allergic to food or have other allergies are able to take the vaccine.
He also says that, as there is limited data around the safety for pregnant or breast feeding women, decisions about whether they should take the jab should be an individual choice after conversation with medical experts.
10:51 AMScientists assessed risks against benefits
Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, is now talking at the press conference.
He says that the expert working group he chaired was made up of “independent scientists” from a range of different areas – including immunologists, vaccinologists and epidemiologists.
He says that in particular, the group weighed the benefits against potential risks.
“As Dr Raine has said this was a rolling review, which means we were looking at data as it was coming in. When we felt it was not adequate we went back to the company to ask for more data and more analysis.”
This slide is shown to help explain what the committee were looking at:
Slide10:47 AMNo corners have been cut, says Dr June Raine
The safety of the public is the priority, says Dr June Raine, as the Downing Street press conference kicks off.
She adds that the UK regulator – the MHRA – have conducted rigorous reviews of all data on safety, effectiveness and quality “around the clock”, even throughout the holiday period.
“We all know that we are facing a major threat to health, not only to the UK public but around the world. As the UK regulator we take this very seriously.
“Vaccines such as this one will save many lives and see us come through this period,” she adds.
“No corners whatsoever have been cut,” Dr Raine says, adding that the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca was released last night..
10:44 AMOxford vaccine briefing beginning from Downing Street
A press conference from scientists talking about the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is starting now.
We will hear from Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of Commission on Human Medicine Expert Working Group, and Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of JCVI.
10:33 AMCzech Republic reports record high with more than 16,000 new cases
Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, coronavirus infections have hit a new record high with the number of confirmed cases surpassing 16,000 in one day for the first time.
The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 16,329 on Tuesday, over 5,400 more than a week ago. The ministry says a record 48.54 per cent of all tests were positive.
The previous record was 15,725 cases on Nov 4.
New infections have been on the rise since early December, and have started to surge again after slowing during Christmas vacation, mainly due to a significantly lower numbers of tests conducted.
The government imposed tough restrictions, including a nighttime curfew and a closure of all stores other than those selling essential goods. Bars, restaurants, museums, swimming pools and ski resorts are shut and public gatherings of more than two are banned.
The country of 10.7 million had 701,622 confirmed cases with 11,429 deaths:
10:25 AMWatch: Oxford vaccine director celebrates MHRA approval10:24 AMTrial participants ‘delighted’ by Oxford vaccine approval
A participant in the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine trial has said she is “delighted” that the jab has been approved for use in the UK.
Janet, a retired nurse from Yorkshire who did not want her surname to be used, told the PA news agency: “I am a retired nurse and wanted to help in the only way I could. I am delighted and have texted all my friends and family. I always thought we would sort this somehow.”
The 75-year-old took part in the trial in October, and said she would like to get back to “meeting my friends, singing in the Hull NHS choir, and travelling” once she is “unblinded” from the trial, meaning she will find out whether she received the vaccine or a placebo.
Participants who are offered a vaccine are unblinded from the trial, receiving a jab if they were part of the placebo group.
10:16 AMStep change needed in vaccine rollout, says British Medical Association
There needs to be a “step change” in the distribution of Covid vaccines, according to Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association council chairman.
“With infections spreading rapidly across the country, and with record numbers of Covid-19 patients now in hospital, piling pressure on the health service like never before, the approval of another safe, effective vaccine is welcome news for doctors and the public alike,” he said.
“It is now crucial that supplies of this vaccine are given to as many GP practice sites and hospital hubs as possible and that this happens as quickly as possible so that we can begin vaccination en masse.
“With 100 million doses of this vaccine already ordered we need to see a step change in distribution so that doctors can protect their patients and communities, beginning with those most at risk, and crucially this must include health and social care workers as they confront the virus on the front line,” Dr Nagpual said.
He added that while the may not have the same logistical hurdles as those associated with the Pfizer jab, “the task of vaccinating such large numbers of patients in a short space of time is a huge challenge”.
“Doctors taking part in the campaign, whether that’s in hospitals, GP-led sites or mass vaccination centres want to get on with the rollout and this needs support and investment while GPs will need to have the flexibility to deprioritise other services to focus on this vital work,” he said.
10:04 AMGermany reports record daily death toll as fatalities exceed 1,000
Away from the exciting vaccine developments, Germany has reported more than 1,000 coronavirus-related deaths in one day for the first time since the pandemic began.
The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said this morning that 1,129 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours. That exceeds the previous record set a week ago of 962 and brings Germany’s total death toll to 32,107.
While delayed reporting of statistics over holidays and weekends is often an issue in Germany, the latest figure fits a recent pattern of high numbers of deaths.
Germany had a relatively low death rate in the first phase of the pandemic but has seen hundreds of deaths per day in recent weeks. Among major European nations, Italy, the UK., France and Spain still have higher death tolls.
A shutdown that was deepened on December 16 with the closure of schools and most shops is scheduled to remain in place until January 10. It appears almost certain to be extended when Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors review the situation next week.
The RKI said 22,459 new coronavirus cases were reported over the past 24 hours. That’s a bit lower than a week ago, but lower testing of non-acute cases over Christmas may also play a role. Germany has reported nearly 1.69 million cases in total.
09:52 AMToday ‘a day for the team to celebrate’, says Sarah Gilbert
Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford who has led efforts to develop the coronavirus vaccine, has said that today is a day for the team to celebrate.
“This is a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate, after a year of extremely hard work under difficult circumstances,” she said this morning.
“Now that the first authorisation of use of the vaccine outside of clinical trials has been granted we still have more to do, and will continue to provide more data to multiple regulatory authorities, until we are able to see the vaccine being used to save lives around the world.”
Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Oxford-based Jenner Institute, added: “For the past 25 years, staff at the Jenner Institute have worked to develop vaccines using novel technologies to protect people around the world from diseases that claim many lives each year.
“We are delighted to see the first emergency-use licensure.”
09:48 AMCovid deaths rose in England and Wales in the week up to Christmas
A total of 2,986 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending December 18 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is an increase from 2,756 deaths in the week to December 11 – a rise of 8 per cent.
The increase follows two weeks in which the number of deaths had dropped slightly.
Nearly a quarter (22.9 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to December 18 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.
In total, more than 88,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have now occurred in the UK, the figures show.
09:41 AMCoronavirus pandemic may not ‘the big one’, WHO warns
The coronavirus pandemic may not be “the big one” in terms of new infectious disease outbreaks that epidemiologists have been warning about, the World Health Organisation said.
The worldwide Covid-19 outbreak should act as a “wake-up call” to prepare for the emergence of other diseases, said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.
“This pandemic has been very severe. It has affected every corner of this planet. But this is not necessarily the big one.”
He went on: “These threats will continue. One thing we need to take from this pandemic, with all of the tragedy and loss, is we need to get our act together.”
09:36 AMWhitty: Collective effort led to jab approval
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has praised the “collective effort” that led to the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab in the UK.
“It is very good news that the independent regulator has now authorised for use the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said. “There has been a considerable collective effort that has brought us to this point.
” The dedication and hard work of scientists, regulators and those who funded the research, such as the National Institute for Health Research, United Kingdom Research and Innovation and United Kingdom Vaccine Network, and the willingness and selflessness of so many volunteers who took part in the vaccine trials were essential in delivering this safe and effective vaccine.
“They deserve our recognition and thanks.”
09:28 AMLuther Letlow: US Congressman died of Covid before taking office
A recently elected member of the US House of Representatives has died of Covid-19 before he could take office, becoming the first American congressman to die of the coronavirus.
Luke Letlow was elected in Louisiana and announced on December 18 that he had tested positive.
The 41-year-old Republican had won a runoff election on December 5 for the 5th District seat, which represents Northeast and Central Louisiana. He was due to be sworn in on Sunday.
John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Governor, said he on Twitter that he and his wife “offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Luke Letlow’s family on his passing after a battle with Covid-19.”
09:24 AMLord Sugar loses brother and sister to Covid-19
Lord Sugar’s sister has died after becoming “another victim of Covid”, just a fortnight after the death of the tycoon’s brother from the disease.
The Apprentice star announced earlier this month that his brother had died after suffering from coronavirus. “Today I lost my long-suffering brother Derek, another victim of Covid which added to his underlying health issues,” he tweeted.
Now the 73-year-old has said his oldest sister Shirley has also died.
“My eldest sister Shirley passed away today at the age of 88,” he posted on Twitter.
“She had been sick for a while but I guess Covid got her in the end to join our brother Derek, who passed two weeks ago. RIP SHIRL”
He added on Instagram: “I guess another victim of Covid.”
09:16 AMIsrael: The world’s fastest Covid inoculation drive
Meanwhile in Israel, the country has already inoculated 5.7 per cent of its population – more than five times the 1.2 per cent reached in Britain – just nine days into its Covid-19 vaccination drive.
More Israelis have now been vaccinated than have caught the virus and that includes more than 25 per cent of those aged 60 and above.
Such is the power of the world’s fastest vaccination drive, it is predicted that the proportion of over 60s among the critically ill will drop from 70 per cent to just 20 per cent by mid-January.
“It’s really being treated like a war… and Israel is experienced in battles,” said Professor Allon Moses, Director of the Hadassah Medical Organisation’s Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
“The hospitals are involved, the community clinics are involved, the army enlisted about 700 paramedics to help with the injections of the vaccine… It’s very similar to battle: you have an enemy, you have the right ammunition … and you just have to deliver”.
Abbie Cheeseman explains more about how this enormous effort works here.
09:08 AMThe day ahead – announcements on schools and tiers expected
It’s already been an incredibly busy morning following the news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by UK regulators, paving the way for a “route out” of the pandemic.
Expect many more developments today, though. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to make a statement about the return of schools in England in January, Matt Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“The Education Secretary will be setting out his proposals later today. Clearly we want to protect education as much as possible,” the Health Secretary said. “But the new variant does make it much easier for this disease to transmit. So we are going to protect education as much as we can.”
Mr Hancock is also expected to be updating the Commons on tiers later today, as ministers prepare to push “far more areas” into a Tier 4 lockdown.
08:58 AMSturgeon: Light at the end of the tunnel just got a lot brighter
The Oxford-AstraZeneca approval means the “light at the end of the tunnel just got a lot brighter”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The Scottish First Minister added, though, that “we’ve still got some difficult winter weeks ahead”:
Much needed good news on the Covid front – and it is very good news. We’ve still got some difficult winter weeks ahead – but the light at the end of the tunnel just got a lot brighter. Let’s stick with it now – Spring will bring better times. https://t.co/ARvU2AXtgR
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 30, 2020
08:51 AMOxford vaccine ‘the fruition of decades of ground breaking vaccinology’
The approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is “the fruition of decades of ground-breaking vaccinology and hard graft by the team at the Jenner [Institute] in Oxford,” experts have said.
Daniel Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the news was the result of years of work developing adenovirus vaccines and today’s announcement “couldn’t be more timely and desperately needed”.
“At a time when we see the pandemic accelerating beyond our control, a rapid, efficient vaccination programme with good population coverage is our only way out,” he said.
“This vaccine induces good levels of neutralising antibodies and T cells. With two vaccines now in the roll-out and very substantially more doses, it starts to look realistic that this could be achievable by the Spring or early Summer,” Prof Altmann added.
08:47 AMMore good vaccine news – China jab 79 per cent effective, stage three trials show
A vaccine developed by a unit of China National Biotec Group (CNBG) is 79.34 per cent effective at protecting people from Covid-19 and the company is seeking regulatory approval for general public use in China, the developer said today.
The efficacy rate, based on interim analysis of Phase 3 clinical trials, is lower than 86 per cent rate for the same vaccine announced by the United Arab Emirates on December 9, based on preliminary data from trials there.
A company spokeswoman declined to explain the discrepancy and said detailed results would be released later, without giving a timeline.
There have been fragmentary releases of efficacy data for Chinese vaccine makers’ Covid-19 candidates, which are being considered by many developing countries for mass inoculation campaigns.
Health experts warn that the differing results could undermine confidence in vaccines.
Turkish researchers said on Thursday their interim results from a Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech showed 91.25 per cent efficacy only to see a confusing readout the same day from Brazil, which said the vaccine’s efficacy was between 50 per cent and 90 per cent.
While the efficacy of the China-developed shots trails the more than 90 per cent success rate of rival vaccines from Pfizer Inc and its partner BioNTech and Modern , it points to progress China has made in the global race to develop successful Covid-19 vaccines.
08:41 AMAstraZeneca chief: We will vaccinate millions of people by April
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot has said that the company will be able to ramp up production of the coronavirus vaccine “very rapidly”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said that the company is ” aligning our delivery schedule with the government so we can progressively ramp up the vaccination programme”.
“We can [supply a million doses a week]. We are going to ramp up very rapidly in the first week, first and second week of January. Essentially we will start delivering today or tomorrow we will be shipping our first doses.”
He added that the “good news with this vaccine” is that a “good level of protection” is acquired after the first dose of the jab.
“[We can] give the second dose two to three months later and that enables us to protect many more people because we can wait 2-3 months for the second dose,” Soriot said.
“We can go to two million [doses a week]. With one dose, we will be able to inject millions of people in the first quarter, we will possibly vaccinating several million people in January.”
He added that he believes the immunisation is effective against the new variant detected in the UK.
“”Our belief at this point is the vaccine should be effective against the variant. Our colleagues at Oxford are working very hard with the NHS to confirm this. If we need at some point to develop a new vaccine, we can, but it will of course take a little point of time to develop it.”
08:34 AMWatch: Ambulances queue outside London hospital as cases ‘verging on unmanageable’08:28 AMCare homes welcome Oxford vaccine with ‘fewer logistical problems’
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the membership organisation is “delighted” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved. “With community transmission on the increase it is all the more important that we learn lessons from the first wave and focus on protecting those living and working in care homes,” he said.
“Care homes have been flagged up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) as a priority and this must be adhered to.
“Fortunately there are fewer logistical problems, such as transportation, with the Oxford vaccine so the rollout should be quicker than the Pfizer vaccine.
“We look forward to working with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that care homes remain a priority.”
08:15 AMPolitical leaders praise scientists
Fantastic news. Thank you to everyone involved, from the scientists to the volunteers.
We now need a national effort to get vaccinations delivered across the country. https://t.co/IyjgCNd3uE
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) December 30, 2020
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey tweeted: “This is a real moment of hope. The work done by scientists to create safe vaccines so quickly is amongst the greatest achievements of any generation.
“Now we need the Govt to get the virus under control and properly manage an urgent vaccine roll out.”
The Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford tweeted: “Very pleased that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been given the go-ahead.
“Over 25,000 vaccines have already been administered in Wales and this second vaccine will start to be rolled out here in the New Year.”
08:13 AMWhy this vaccine makes an ‘enormous difference’
Professor Andrew Hayward said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine not needing to be stored at the very cold temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine would make “an enormous difference”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It means that all of the centres that would normally get involved in vaccination, all the GP practices, as well as more simple community centres, for example, can get involved in the vaccine.
“It means we can take the vaccine to where it’s needed, rather than bringing people in to the limited places where we can deliver it.
“So it should make for a step change and it should also allow us to reach out to the most affected communities.”
08:11 AMCBI: This is another weapon in our arsenal
The CBI business group welcomed the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine approval as “hugely positive news and a real feather in the cap for the UK life sciences sector”.
Matthew Fell, the chief UK policy director at the CBI, said: “It adds another weapon to the UK’s pandemic arsenal, bringing us one step closer to returning to a more normal way of life.
“This is not the end of the battle, though. Rising infection rates and new strains mean tough precautions remain necessary in the short-term.
“Businesses understand this and continue to do their utmost to protect their staff and customers.”
08:06 AMHow does the Oxford vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers). The virus is genetically modified so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus’s specific “spike protein” – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.
08:02 AMTaiwan buys in Oxford vaccine
Taiwan has agreed to buy almost 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, including 10 million from AstraZeneca Plc, the government said on Wednesday, adding that it had confirmed the island’s first case of the new British variant of the disease.
Taiwan has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention and strict quarantine of all arrivals, with imported cases accounting for almost all its tally of 798, including seven deaths.
The island’s Central Epidemic Command Centre said apart from AstraZeneca, it had agreed to buy 4.76 million doses from global vaccine programme COVAX, and was still in talks with another company it did not name.
The first vaccines are expected to arrive in March at the earliest, it added.
07:51 AMWho will get it, when and how?
The Government has secured 100million doses of the Oxford vaccine. The initial doses are due to be dispatched from Germany, with a large proportion then manufactured in the UK.
Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, people will need two doses. There will be four million doses available post authorisation and tens of millions of doses in the first quarter of next year.
A specific schedule is difficult to establish as batches need to be quality approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
– How will a vaccine be rolled out?
The Oxford vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature for at least six months so it is hoped the logistics of administering it will be easier. Rollout begins on Jan 4
AstraZeneca said was building up a manufacturing capacity of up to 3 billion doses worldwide next year, and aims to supply the UK with millions of doses in the first quarter in 2021.
All of the people at the top of the priority list created by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have not yet been vaccinated.
Therefore vaccinators will continue to work their way through the list.
It is hoped more people in care homes will be reached with the rollout of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
The JCVI’s guidance says the order of priority should be:
1. Older adults in a care home and care home workers
2. All those who are 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
3. All those who are 75 years of age and over
4. All those who are 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, excluding pregnant women and those under 18 years of age
5. All those who are 65 years of age and over
6. Individuals aged 16 to 64 years with underlying health conditions
7. All those aged 60 and over
8. All those aged 55 and over
9. All those aged 50 and over
07:38 AMBoris Johnson: A triumph for British science
The Prime Minister has reacted to the uplifting news:
Meanwhile, the shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth tweeted: “Some good news. Now let’s go hell for leather to get jabs rolled out. We’ve seen how more virus circulating means opportunities for variants to emerge.
“This is now a race against time. We need vaccination ramped up, especially for NHS staff urgently.”
07:34 AMHancock: We can see a route out of the pandemic
Matt Hancock said there would be a 12-week gap between the two doses of the Oxford jab. He said the speed of delivery would depend on the speed at which the vaccine could be manufactured.
“The rollout will start on January 4 and will really accelerate into the first few weeks of next year,” he told Sky News. “The NHS stands ready to deploy at the sort of pace that is needed to help us get out of this pandemic by the spring. The NHS will deliver the vaccine into people’s arms as fast as it can be produced.”
He added: “It is going to be a difficult few weeks ahead.
“We can see the pressures right now on the NHS and it is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster.
“But we also know that there is a route out of this. The vaccine provides that route out. We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come.”
07:25 AMAstraZeneca boss: This is effective, well-tolerated and simple to administer
AstraZeneca said it aimed to supply millions of doses in the first quarter of next year as part of an agreement with the Government to supply up to 100million doses.
Its chief executive Pascal Soriot said: “Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
07:22 AMOxford professor: This is a landmark moment
Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford trial, said: “The regulator’s assessment that this is a safe and effective vaccine is a landmark moment, and an endorsement of the huge effort from a devoted international team of researchers and our dedicated trial participants.
“Though this is just the beginning, we will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere, as many as possible as soon possible.”
07:20 AMHancock: Rollout begins on Jan 4
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said the approval of the Oxford vaccine was “fantastic news” and confirmed that the rollout would begin on Jan 4.
He said: “This is a moment to celebrate British innovation – not only are we responsible for discovering the first treatment to reduce mortality for Covid-19, this vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease.
“It is a tribute to the incredible UK scientists at Oxford University and AstraZeneca whose breakthrough will help to save lives around the world. I want to thank every single person who has been part of this British success story. While it is a time to be hopeful, it is so vital everyone continues to play their part to drive down infections.”
07:15 AMVaccine is a ‘game changer’
Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.
Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90 per cent protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.
The overall Lancet data, which was peer-reviewed, set out full results from clinical trials of more than 20,000 people.
Among the people given the placebo drug, 10 were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death. But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.
The half dose followed by a full dose regime came about as a result of an accidental dosing error.
However, the MHRA was made aware of what happened and clinical trials for the vaccine were allowed to continue.
On Monday, Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described the vaccine as a “game changer” but said it would take until summer to vaccinate enough people for herd immunity – when the virus struggles to circulate.
06:58 AMExhausted doctors warn hospitals are at ‘breaking point’Ambulances queued outside the Royal London Hospital on Tuesday – Yui Mok/PA Wire
Ambulances with Covid-19 patients have been seen queueing outside hospitals in England as the Health Secretary prepares to announce tougher restrictions amid surging cases.
Footage on social media appeared to show emergency vehicles lined up outside the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel and Queen’s Hospital in Romford, both in east London, on Tuesday, when NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery warned pressure on the NHS was “rising at an unsustainable rate”.
A statement released by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen’s Hospital, urged people to only contact ambulance services in the case of real emergencies.
Coronavirus patient numbers have reached their highest levels during the pandemic, with 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths reported on Tuesday.
Ambulances were shown queueing outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke tweeted a photo, taken by registrar Punith Kempegowda, with the caption noting there was a “sick patient inside every one” of the vehicles.
“This is the reality of Covid – right here, right now. Hospitals are at breaking point,” Dr Clarke said.
A junior doctor has said his London hospital is “aggressively overstretched” by Covid patients and he expects the situation to worsen.
“There’s just been a huge expansion in the number of Covid in-patients, the number of patients we’re admitting and the baseline sickness of the patients,” he said.
He said he and fellow staff are suffering from exhaustion and many patients are being handed over to doctors on the next shift because staff “can’t get through them quickly enough”.
Read the full story here.
06:00 AMSingapore kicks off vaccine programme
Singapore began vaccinating healthcare workers with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine on Wednesday, kicking off one of Asia’s first inoculation programmes against a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people globally.
Sarah Lim, a 46-year-old nurse, and 43-year-old infectious diseases doctor Kalisvar Marimuthu were among the more than 30 staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases who were vaccinated.
They will return for the second dose of the vaccine on January 20.
Singapore is the first country in Asia to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It has also signed advance purchase agreements and made early down payments on several other vaccine candidates, including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac.
It expects to have enough vaccine doses for all 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021.
Singapore acted swiftly after the first cases of the virus were reported, and although it was blindsided by tens of thousands of infections in migrant workers’ dormitories, it has reported just a handful of new local cases in recent months. The country has one of the world’s lowest Covid fatality rates – 29 people have died of the virus.
To show the vaccine is safe, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, said he and his colleagues would be among the early recipients of the shots. They will be free and voluntary, but the government is encouraging all medically eligible residents to take them.
05:48 AMUS records first case of UK variant
The first known American case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant discovered in the UK was detected in Colorado on Tuesday.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said his state had discovered the nation’s first known case of the highly infectious coronavirus variant B117.
Mr Polis said the infected patient was a man in his 20s with no recent travel history who is currently in isolation in Elbert County, a semi-rural area on the outskirts of the greater Denver metropolitan area.
“Public health officials are doing a thorough investigation” and the individual has “no close contacts identified so far”, Polis said, adding that the state had notified the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Colorado State Laboratory scientists confirmed the UK variant after noticing that a diagnostic test sample was missing a key gene signal, prompting them to sequence the patient’s viral genome.
05:43 AMAmbulances forced to wait as hospitals struggle to cope
High numbers of patients with coronavirus are taking their toll on hospitals and medical staff in the UK.
Social media has shown ambulances queueing outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke tweeted a photo, taken by registrar Punith Kempegowda, with the caption noting there was a “sick patient inside every one” of the vehicles.
“This is the reality of Covid – right here, right now. Hospitals are at breaking point,” Dr Clarke said.
These ambulances are queuing outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham tonight. There’s a sick patient inside every one of them. They can’t even enter the building.
This is the reality of Covid – right here, right now. Hospitals at breaking point. (H/T @drpunith) pic.twitter.com/YlKLH8GBUW
— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) December 29, 2020
04:26 AMTravel becomes less attractive for Chinese
Chinese tourists – millions of whom have shunned overseas travel this year because of the global pandemic – are further narrowing the scope of their journeys, visiting nearby cities and avoiding trips out of their provinces.
Recent cases of coronavirus in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern, already shaken by calls to avoid non-essential travel during the festive season between January 1 and the start of Lunar New Year in mid-February.
Millions of domestic tourists travel in the week before and after January 1 in a typical year.
The Chinese capital has cancelled large-scale events, including the 2021 Beijing Book Fair, and ordered travel agencies not to sell packages for the city during the New Year and Lunar New Year holidays.
Many other cities have followed suit.
Shenzhen and Dalian have told residents not to leave “unless necessary”, while businesses have been ordered not to organise gatherings.
In central Hubei province, where the pandemic began, locals were told to stay indoors and cap family gatherings at 10 people.
04:20 AMFull lockdown ‘needed to cope with surge’
The Government has refused to rule out imposing a nationwide Tier 4 lockdown after daily UK coronavirus cases exceeded 50,000 for the first time.
The tougher restrictions were discussed by Boris Johnson and the Covid-19 Operations committee on Tuesday night after 53,135 cases were recorded that day.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will inform the Commons on Wednesday which areas of the country will be moved into higher tiers.
It was previously thought that up to two thirds of England would be placed in the toughest restrictions amid fears the current tiers are not strong enough to curb the virus.
READ MORE: Government refuses to rule out national Tier 4 lockdown as daily Covid cases pass 50,000
04:15 AMRed tape puts off volunteer vaccinators
Retired medics have been prevented from returning to the NHS frontline to help battle the coronavirus pandemic by bureaucracy including a requirement to provide 21 pieces of evidence, The Telegraph can reveal.
Claire Barker, a retired GP, said it was “impossible” for her to apply because she did not have the required proof, which includes evidence of Prevent Radicalisation training.
It comes as the NHS boss overseeing recruitment revealed that only one in eight retired medics who had applied to return to the frontline have been able to work.
READ MORE: Bureaucracy stopping retired medics from returning to NHS front line to fight Covid
04:05 AMToday’s top stories