Coronavirus latest news: Boris Johnson says ‘make your own informed decision’ on hugging as lockdown eases

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Sue Rickett hugs her grandchildren Ben (right) and Isaac (left) for the first time in over a year - Martin Rickett/PA
Sue Rickett hugs her grandchildren Ben (right) and Isaac (left) for the first time in over a year – Martin Rickett/PA
  • Covid lockdown roadmap: Rules changing from today, May 17

  • Everyone ‘must play their part’ to beat Indian variant, PM says

  • Vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of Indian variant infections

  • Foreign holidays are not a good idea, warns Oxford expert

  • ‘One shot’ vaccines could be targeted at refuseniks in Covid hotspots

The Prime Minister has said people need to make their own informed decision on hugging as parts of the UK reopened society in the next step out of lockdown.

Boris Johnson hailed the “fantastic success of vaccination programme and perseverance of everyone following the rules” as the Government stuck to its May 17 easing of restrictions in England.

But he has said there needs to be a “heavy dose of caution” as the Indian variant threatened to derail the next step of reopening on June 21. From today, people can eat or drink indoors at a pub or restaurant, fly abroad, hug people outside their households, visit a cinema or theatre and meet in groups of six indoors.

Mr Johnson said: “We’re updating the guidance on social distancing among family and friends so you can make your own, informed decisions. But please, be cautious about the risk to your loved ones. Remember, that close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease.

“So you should think about the risks. Consider whether they are vaccinated and whether there has been time for the vaccine to take effect.”

​​Follow the latest updates below.

07:27 AM

Risk of Indian variant spread as UK starts flying

There is a risk that the variant first identified in India could be transmitted by people travelling out of the UK, Sir Jeremy Farrar said.

The director of the Wellcome Trust told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Britain is a very connected, and very small country and the chance of local cases becoming regional and then regional becoming national is very clear.

“And it is also connected internationally and I think that’s also a concern not only for importation of new variants coming into the country, but also people travelling out of the country – there is a risk that this variant B.617 could be transmitted from the UK now.

“I think travel should still be very cautious and only when absolutely essential.

“But the only way to stop these variants occurring is to drive down transmission.”

He added: “The biggest risk to countries like the UK – who have done very well with vaccine rollout – is variants arising from anywhere in the world and then spreading around the world when they have a biological advantage.

“So driving down transmission in this country is essential, but so is it in the rest of the world, and that means driving down transmission and making vaccines available globally.”

07:23 AM

Punters raise a glass to the easing of restrictions today

Pubs had a relatively slow start as they welcomed punters inside for the first time in at least four months due to the latest lifting of restrictions – the biggest easing since summer.

The Oak Inn in Coventry was among the venues opening their doors at midnight, with owner Darren Lee saying about 100 people had gathered for a drink but he noted the pub was not “overly busy”.

It was much quieter in the capital, with most venues in south-west London remaining closed ahead of an expected busy day of trading today.

From today, people are allowed to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants, although the “rule of six” applies.

Hugs and other physical contact between households is permitted for the first time in a year; limited audiences are allowed to attend theatres, music venues and stadiums; cinemas, hotels and B&Bs reopen; and the ban on foreign travel has been lifted.

But the Prime Minister warned that there needed to be a “heavy dose of caution” as fears grow that a surge in cases fuelled by the Indian variant could delay further easing of restrictions.

07:14 AM

Khan: Younger people in hotpots should get vaccine

A coronavirus vaccine should be given to younger people in those parts of the country where the Indian variant is causing concern, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said.

He said he has asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi for the “flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about this strain”.

Mr Khan told Sky News that “what we are saying is be nimble in those pockets where we know there is an issue, let’s use the vaccine sensibly”.

He added there should be a “hyper-local approach” in affected boroughs which should include “those who are younger, who would have to wait a few weeks, to have this vaccine now to avoid the strain spreading”.

Mr Khan urged people to test regularly and told the programme that “the virus isn’t rigid and doesn’t follow rigid rules and we have got to be nimble in our response to it”.

07:09 AM

I still wouldn’t meet indoors, says professor

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that he would not meet indoors “at the moment”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring, mostly indoors, mostly in larger gatherings indoors with lots of different people, different families, different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment personally.”

But he added: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to lift the restrictions – we do need to lift the restrictions at some point, we’ve been in restrictions now for a very long time.”

07:07 AM

PM hails perseverance of everyone following rules

Here’s Boris Johnson, who urges caution as society reopens.

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06:58 AM

Pubs reopen to ‘over the moon’ punters

Finlay Woodhead, 20, could barely contain his excitement at being back inside a pub.

“I’m over the moon, I’ve been waiting so long,” he said while sitting next to his friend, 19-year-old Josh Utting, at Showtime Bar.

“It’s so nice to be sat inside where it’s warm. I love it, honestly, I love it.”

Mr Snowball added: “I think for people from the North, it’s kind of special to us, a pub.

“There’s an intimacy when we all get together, with our friends, and we talk.”

06:42 AM

‘As quick and easy a trip through airport as they will ever have experienced’

And he’s off! Gordon Rayner is on the plane.

He writes, despite being told to have print-outs of my negative Covid test, proof of tests that are booked in Portugal and on return to the UK, I haven’t been asked to show them, making passage through the airport a breeze.

It might be a different story when we arrive in Portugal of course.

But for those lucky enough to have booked flights for today, it’s been as quick and easy a trip through the airport as they will ever have experienced.

06:36 AM

‘Good time to fly because there are no queues’

Also flying to Lisbon are Claire Madden and Steve Wilson, both 52, from Brackley, Northants., who are off for a five-day break.

Claire said: “It feels like a good time to be flying because the airport is very quiet and there haven’t been any queues.

“We thought there would be quite a wait when we got here but it was very smooth.

“It’s going to be amazing to get some sunshine, fresh air and seafood and put Covid behind us for a few days.”

06:34 AM

‘We just can’t wait. It’s unbelievable that we’re really here’

At Heathrow Terminal 5’s Gate A13 the mood is one of celebration and relief for passengers flying for the first time in more than a year.

Tiggy Duchesne, 21, flying to Lisbon with boyfriend Henry Collins, also 21, said their holiday in Portugal would feel extra-special after the past year of restrictions.

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She said: “We just can’t wait. It’s unbelievable that we’re here really.

“All my friends have been saying ‘what? You’re going abroad?’ – there is a bit of jealousy there!

“We booked on the off-chance two months ago and we’ve been lucky. Our RyanAir flights were cancelled but luckily we were able to rebook with BA.

“The form-filling and Covid tests were a bit of an irritation but it’s been worth it.”

06:32 AM

Virtual queues and check your bags in from home

As well as a forthcoming trial of virtual queueing, Heathrow and its airlines are doing whatever they can to save passengers having to stand in lines or congregate in certain areas, as they try to make sure social distancing can be maintained wherever possible, writes Gordon Rayner.

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Passengers getting the Heathrow Express train from Paddington can check in their bags at the station free of charge, so that they only have their hand baggage from then on, and can go straight to security when they arrive at the terminal.

If you want to spend around £150 extra, companies like Diamond Air will even pick up your bags from your home the night before and check them in for you.

From the next half term, a family zone will be open at Terminal 5, with 25 check-in desks dedicated to people travelling with children to “take away the stress for families”, according to Matthew Callard, BA’s head of ground experience (though most parents would probably say that taking away the children is the only way of taking away the stress of travelling as a family).

06:28 AM

The Covid casualties at duty free

Changes in duty free rules mean that airport shopping isn’t quite the same as the way you might remember it, reports our Associate Editor Gordon Rayner.

Dixons, for example, has pulled out of Heathrow, so if you were hoping to buy some cut-price headphones to take with you on your trip, forget it.

John Lewis has gone from Heathrow Terminal 2 and Cath Kidston has also shut up shop.

The good news is that if you’re one of those people who pops across the concourse to buy a Rolex while your other half is finishing their Pret A Manger croissant, you’re in luck, as luxury brands are very much staying put. The perfume and aftershave shops are still open too.

06:27 AM

What changes will I see when I fly?

Among the changes you will notice if you’re flying in the next few weeks (apart from the endless form-filling) is that Heathrow is constantly being cleaned and disinfected by a 100-strong army of cleaners, or hygiene technicians to give them their official titles, writes Gordon Rayner.

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The most well-used “touch points” such as lift buttons are disinfected every 20 to 25 minutes, and the loos are zapped every three to four days with robots that frazzle all germs in their vicinity using UVC light. It’s so powerful that humans can’t be in the room when it happens, so it is only done at night time.

The robots in Terminal 5 are called Victoria and Kelly, though staff insist they have female names because “it’s like naming ships” rather than because of any suggestion cleaning is women’s work.

Once on board the aircraft, you’ll be breathing air which is completely replaced every two to three minutes, and is filtered to remove 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses, according to Mike Harrigan, BA’s head of health services. BA aircraft use the same filters that are used to ensure sterile air in operating theatres.

It means the air is refreshed 10 times more often than in the average office, and aircraft are designed so that air flows from the ceiling to the floor (where it is extracted, filtered and recirculated), meaning the air is not flowing backwards and forwards through the cabin, minimising the risk of airborne infections.

All aircraft are deep-cleaned overnight and wiped down between flights, and passengers must wear masks onboard and can’t leave their seats unless it’s to go to the loo or exercise. So no chatting with your friends five rows back.

06:19 AM

BA pilot: ‘We are ready and the aircraft are ready’

If you’re worried that aircraft might have rusty brakes or birds nesting in the engines after so long out of use, your fears are unfounded, as almost all aircraft have been used regularly during the pandemic, writes Gordon Rayner.

All of the British Airways fleet, apart from its A380s, have been used for passenger or cargo flights in rotation, as well as being moved between “dry store” destinations such as southern Spain or Palma in Majorca. Even those that have not been flown in active service have been maintained to higher than required standards, according to BA pilot Capt Al Bridger.

He told The Telegraph: “The aircraft and the pilots have been rotated, as we have never stopped flying. We’ve flown 12,000 tons of PPE for a start.

“Pilots have to be at the controls every 35 days or less, and they also have to be assessed in a simulator every six months.

“We have not had any issues with the aircraft, as the engineers have done a terrific job. The pilots are ready and the aircraft are ready.”

06:14 AM

Telegraph’s guide to flying to a ‘green list’ country

The Telegraph’s Associate Editor Gordon Rayner is about to board BA flight 500 to Lisbon, departing at 07.30, along with the lucky holidaymakers who had the foresight to book for the first day the “green list” comes into action.

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He writes: “If you’re the sort of person who constantly checks they have their passport, even when you already know it’s in your bag, the list of forms you need to have with you now is likely to induce a fit of the collywobbles.

“If you want to fly to Portugal you will need to have with you: a certificate proving you have tested negative within 72 hours of flying; proof you have booked a virtual appointment to take a test in Portugal; a copy of your passenger locator form; proof you have booked a day 2 test when you return; an antigen test to take three days before you come back, and, of course, your passport (which must be valid for at least another six months as a result of Brexit).

“Everyone heading off to Portugal today will have spent around £150 on Covid tests to enable them to travel.

“PCR tests, which have to be completed 72 hours before departure as well as two days after returning, cost £40-60 each, with in-country tests, proving you have not caught Covid while on holiday, cost £33.”

06:11 AM

The 14 things you can do today that you couldn’t yesterday

The further lifting of the lockdown restrictions means that from today:

  1. Pubs and restaurants can open indoors

  2. Groups of six or two households can meet indoors and overnight stays are allowed

  3. You can hug someone not in your household

  4. Cinemas, theatres and museums can reopen

  5. Up to 30 people may meet outdoors

  6. Outdoor events allowed up to the lower of 4,000 attendees or 50 per cent capacity

  7. Social distancing and close physical contact with friends and family a matter of personal judgment

  8. No limit to attendees at funerals

  9. Up to 30 people can attend weddings and other life events

  10. Care home residents are allowed up to five named visitors

  11. Hotels, B&Bs, sport and gym classes may reopen

  12. Overseas holidays permitted to “green list” countries

  13. No face coverings required in secondary school classrooms

  14. In-person teaching permitted at universities

06:04 AM

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, May 17.

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05:46 AM

Taiwan scrambles for vaccines as domestic cases rise

A surge of coronavirus infections in Taiwan, one of the world’s Covid-19 mitigation success stories, has left it scrambling to get vaccines as its stock of 300,000 doses starts running out with only about 1 per cent of its 23 million people vaccinated.

Taiwan has been a model of how to control the pandemic since it began and life had carried on almost as normal with none of the lockdowns and overwhelmed hospitals seen elsewhere, thanks largely to effective case tracking and closed borders.

But over the past week it has reported more than 400 domestic cases, out of a total of 1,682 infections recorded since the pandemic began.

Tough new restrictions have been imposed in the capital, Taipei, for the first time as authorities fear an increasing number of cases.

While Taiwan has begun vaccinations, it has only received about 300,000 shots, all AstraZeneca ones, having been caught up in the global shortage despite having 20 million on order, including from Moderna.

People sign up to get a rapid test following a surge of coronavirus infections in Taipei - Reuterss
People sign up to get a rapid test following a surge of coronavirus infections in Taipei – Reuterss

04:58 AM

How to persuade your vaccine-hesitant friend to get the jab

The Government has announced an acceleration of the vaccination programme as a response to the rise of the Indian variant, with Boris Johnson urging anyone who is eligible, but not yet vaccinated, to come forward for the vaccine.

But how should you persuade a vaccine-hesitant friend or relative to get their jab? Should you focus on data showing how well vaccines work, or data showing the unlikelihood of serious side-effects? Or should you avoid science altogether, and try to appeal to their emotions?

Read the full story

04:27 AM

India’s surge continues and death toll rises

India on Monday reported 281,386 new coronavirus infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,106.

The South Asian nation’s total case load is 24.97 million with the death toll at 274,390, health ministry data showed.

03:09 AM

Variant affecting more children in Singapore

Singapore warned on Sunday that the new coronavirus variants, such as the one first detected in India, were affecting more children, as the city-state prepares to shut most schools from this week and draws up plans to vaccinate youngsters.

All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.

“Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

None of the children who have contracted the virus are seriously ill and a few have mild symptoms, he added.

01:46 AM

Thailand reports daily record of 9,635 new cases

Thailand reported on Monday a daily record of 9,635 new coronavirus cases, including 6,853 among prisoners, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a third wave of infections.

The combined cases bring the country’s total infections to 111,082.

Thailand’s Covid-19 task force also recorded 25 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 614 since the pandemic started last year.

01:03 AM

G7 urged to donate ’emergency’ supplies to COVAX scheme

The head of UNICEF on Monday asked G7 countries to donate supplies to the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme as an emergency measure to address a severe shortfall caused by disruption to Indian vaccine exports.

India has curbed exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by its Serum Institute, which had been pledged to COVAX, to be used by the country as it battles a massive second wave of infections.

UN agency UNICEF, which is in charge of supplying coronavirus vaccines through COVAX, estimates the supply shortfall at 140 million doses by the end of May and about 190 million by the end of June.

“Sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, adding that this could help to prevent vulnerable countries from becoming the next global hotspot.

Relatives can be seen performing the last rites of a patient who died of the Covid-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi - Getty
Relatives can be seen performing the last rites of a patient who died of the Covid-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi – Getty

12:08 AM

Today’s top stories

  • Boris Johnson has said everyone “must play their part” and get a Covid jab, amid concern that the spread of the Indian variant is being fuelled by those who have refused to be vaccinated.

  • Vaccines appear to prevent 97 per cent of infections with the Indian variant, real world data suggests, with no known cases of death among those fully vaccinated in the UK.

  • Foreign holidays are “not a good idea” this year, a leading University of Oxford professor and government vaccine adviser has warned.

  • A “one shot” jab could be targeted at vaccine refuseniks in areas which see surges in cases, The Telegraph understands.

  • Glasgow may be facing weeks more of tougher lockdown restrictions to tackle the spread of the Indian variant, Scotland’s national clinical director has warned ahead of lockdown being eased on Monday across most of the country.

  • UK towns have lost 529 bank branches since the start of the pandemic despite the City watchdog urging lenders to hold back on cuts during the Covid crisis, it has emerged.

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