Coronavirus latest news: British spies say Wuhan lab leak is ‘feasible’

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The Wuhan Institute Virology is at the heart of intense debate around the origins of the pandemic - HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP
The Wuhan Institute Virology is at the heart of intense debate around the origins of the pandemic – HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP
  • NHS staff to face compulsory coronavirus vaccination

  • Hancock facing fresh questions over Covid in care homes

  • Vaccine clot patients ‘closely monitored’ as they may remain at risk​

  • Comment: No reason new variants should prevent us from reopening

  • Heathrow chief: Reveal future green list to avoid soaring prices

The Vaccines Minister has insisted that the World Health Organization must be able to fully investigate the origins of the pandemic, following reports that British agents believe it is “feasible” that the coronavirus emerged after a laboratory leak.

Speaking to Sky News, Nadhim Zahawi said it’s vital that the WHO is “allowed to conduct its investigation unencumbered” as it seeks to better understand how the initial outbreak began, adding that “we should leave no stone unturned”.

There has been renewed interest in how the pandemic began this week, after President Joe Biden asked US intelligence agencies to re-investigate the origins and report back in 90 days. Facebook also said it will no longer ban posts claiming Covid-19 was man made.

According to a Sunday Times report, Western intelligence – including Britain – at first considered there was only a “remote” chance that it had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where research is conducted into bat-derived coronaviruses.

But there has since been a reassessment, and a lab escape is thought “feasible”, sources revealed.

Yet, amid mounting tensions between China and the West, the WHO’s director of emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan, warned on Friday that efforts to better understand how the virus emerged are “being poisoned by politics”.

“We would like for everyone out there to separate, if they can, the politics of this issue from the science,” he told a press conference.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

09:27 AM

Pandemic in pictures

Cochabamba, Bolivia:

 Municipal officials fumigate a street amid a stringent weekend quarantine in Cochabamba to try to halt a surge in infections - Jorge Ábrego/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Municipal officials fumigate a street amid a stringent weekend quarantine in Cochabamba to try to halt a surge in infections – Jorge Ábrego/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

New Delhi, India:

Homeless people mostly working as daily wage labourers and are out of jobs due to the lockdown queue as volunteers distribute food along the roadside - Prakash SINGH / AFP
Homeless people mostly working as daily wage labourers and are out of jobs due to the lockdown queue as volunteers distribute food along the roadside – Prakash SINGH / AFP

London, UK:

Demonstrators participate in an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protest in central London -  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Demonstrators participate in an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protest in central London – REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

09:17 AM

Indian crisis risks severing supply of vital drugs to the UK

Britain is on amber alert. The country faces the prospect of a shortage of everyday medications, from painkillers and steroids to anaesthetics.

While one third of generic medicines used by the NHS are manufactured in Britain, the same proportion comes from India. The Covid crisis unfolding on the subcontinent has drastically reduced factory output.

The volume of medication being shipped to the UK is dropping and stocks could reach dangerously low levels in the coming months, the trade body representing generic drug makers in the UK has warned.

The British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) says around two thirds of its members have suffered disruption to supplies. Of those, nearly three quarters say the impact could be felt in the next three months.

These drug makers are already stretched thanks to the pandemic so the supply chain squeeze from India poses a real threat, Mark Samuels, the BGMA’s chief executive, says.

Julia Bradshaw has more details on this story here.

09:05 AM

Care homes were ‘forgotten’ in the early days of the pandemic

Following on from the post below, here’s the other side of the story: according to sector leaders, care homes were “forgotten” during the “dreadful” early stages of the Covid pandemic.

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, told Sky News it had been a “frightening” time for staff and residents.

Mr Padgham was questioned in relation to the claim made by former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings to MPs this week that suggestions care homes were shielded were “complete nonsense”:

“I don’t believe myself there was a ring of protection thrown round us. In those very early days it was difficult. We were forgotten. We’ve been forgotten over decades. That’s the only issue in social care.

“We weren’t prepared. We weren’t ready. We didn’t have the PPE, we didn’t have the testing. And it took the Government many, many weeks to actually see what was happening in homes, despite our best efforts and protestations.”

The Telegraph visited one of the care homes Mr Padgham runs last summer, where 10 people died in a fortnight after a patient with Covid-19 was discharged from hospital without a coronavirus test. You can read our report from last June here.

A staff member at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough - Simon Townsley
A staff member at St Cecilia’s Nursing Home in Scarborough – Simon Townsley

08:50 AM

‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing’: Vaccines Minister quizzed on care homes

The Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has defended Matt Hancock amid growing anger following Dominic Cummings’ claims that the Health Secretary lied about testing for patients being discharged to care homes.

Asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr show this morning whether Mr Hancock misled the Prime Minister, Mr Zahawi said:

“Matt Hancock was very much focused on delivery. I think it’s worth putting this in context, in the sense that in the eye of the storm we were only capable of doing about 2000 tests, a day early.

“What Matt did was to say that people going into care homes absolutely should be tested, and then the system NHS operationalised that and grew that number from 2,000 a day to the first target which was 100,000.”

He also insisted that “hindsight is a wonderful thing”.

Pushed again as to whether the Government really put a protective ring around care homes, as Mr Hancock has repeatedly insisted, Mr Zahawi said: “Yes I do”.

He also refused to apologise for the deaths in care homes. Here’s what Mr Zahawi said when asked to say sorry:

“We’re going to have an inquiry, a proper public inquiry where ministers, and civil servants, and frontline practitioners can come and give them an under oath to hear the story. And if we make mistakes, of course we will absolutely come forward and apologise for them, and of course we will learn from them.”

08:43 AM

‘Threatening’ NHS staff with compulsory jabs bad idea, says Labour

“Threatening” NHS staff to have the vaccine is not a good idea, according to Labour shadow cabinet minister Thangam Debbonaire.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, she said that working with staff, rather than against them, would be more conducive.

“Threatening staff, I don’t think is a good idea,” she said, adding that Public Health England and the NHS had been successful when they had worked with people to address their doubts and answer questions about the jab.

“I would like to see the Government work with the NHS and social care staff.”

Related: NHS staff to face compulsory Covid vaccination

08:30 AM

New variants may impact decisions to vaccinate children

The emergence of new coronavirus variants could influence the decision on whether to vaccinate children, an expert has said.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told Times Radio that there were “debates” about the possible risks of “very, very rare complications” associated with vaccination, which had to be balanced against the “certainty” that someone can get “very severe complications” by catching Covid.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he added:

“It may well be that actually giving children vaccines will become a clearer option once we know more about the disease in children and whether the new variants are spreading further into the paediatric population and causing more significant disease. That could certainly change the risk-benefit ratio.”

Prof Openshaw said the UK placed an emphasis on “public health benefits” and therefore “vaccinating those who may be transmitting disease, sometimes unknowingly, is a perfectly good justification for vaccination”.

“The new variants extending further down the age range and being of quite high prevalence even in children as young as four, it may be that actually children and school children are going to be a more important part of the transmission chain as the virus becomes more transmissible as new variants arise.

“So… the benefits might change and that might affect the decision about whether to vaccinate children in the future.”

08:26 AM

Minister confirms Government exploring compulsory jabs for NHS staff

We reported today that NHS staff could be legally required to have a Covid vaccine under plans to crack down on transmission of the virus within hospitals (story here, and you can see our front page splash below).

Asked about the story by Sky News this morning caccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed the Government was considering the move:

“It’s absolutely the right thing and it would be incumbent on any responsible government to have the debate, to do the thinking as to how we go about protecting the most vulnerable by making sure that those who look after them are vaccinated,” he said.

“There is precedent for this, obviously surgeons get vaccinated for hepatitis B, so it’s something that we are absolutely thinking about.”

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08:10 AM

Ministers knew about Indian variant in Britain for a fortnight before public told

Authorities knew that the Indian variant was in Britain for a fortnight before it was announced to the public, according to an investigation in the Sunday Times.

The paper reported that ministers were given the news of the variant’s arrival on April 1 – yet no official statement was made until April 15. And it was eight days later that India was finally placed on the travel red list.

By contrast, last December a travel ban was imposed on South Africa within two days after it was discovered that the strain from that country had entered Britain.

The Indian variant was spreading fast across India by late March and the country’s health officials had warned that it could be highly infectious and might undermine vaccines. People were dying without treatment because hospitals were overwhelmed.

However, no action was taken to stop travel from India even though the country’s neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were placed on the red list on April 2 – the day after ministers were informed the variant had been found in Britain.

At least 20,000 passengers – who could have been infected with the virulent new strain – were allowed to enter Britain in the first three weeks of April.

08:00 AM

Watch: Why the Cummings attack could end up saving Matt Hancock’s job

07:50 AM

Keep to June 21 roadmap, hospitality urges Government

The British Beer and Pub Association has urged the Government to provide advance notice to businesses if restrictions are to remain after June 21.

The organisations chief executive, Emma McClarkin, acknowledged the Government was in a “difficult situation” but insisted Whitehall needs to “stick to its road map”. Here’s what she told BBC Breakfast:

“We need the Government to stick to its road map of removing those restrictions by the 21st of June if we want to see the great British pub really begin its recovery. What I need to say is June 21 is absolutely critical to the recovery of the sector. Recovery day only starts when the restrictions are removed.

“If the Government does leave any lingering restrictions in play then they really need to give us advance notice of that and it needs to talk seriously about financial compensation. But right now we are asking the Government to stick to their road map.”

07:38 AM

Cases continue to surge in Malaysia after warning to ‘prepare for the worst’

Cases in Malaysia have dipped a little after five straight days of record case counts in the Southeast Asian nation.

The country reported 6,999 new coronavirus infections today, bringing the total infections in the country to 565,533. It’s a slight decrease from yesterday, with 9,020 cases – the fifth consecutive day of highs, as the chart below shows.

Earlier this week Malaysia’s health authorities warned the public to “prepare for the worst” as cases surge.

The chilling message came from Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia’s director-general of health, who tweeted this week that the country’s daily infections are “following an exponential trend” and could trigger a “vertical surge.”

The spike in cases, which has picked up speed since April, means that Malaysia now has more than 200 cases per one million people – surpassing India, which has been devastated as the virus rampages out of control.

Nicola Smith has more details here on the unfolding situation.

07:15 AM

Calls for more debate before easing restrictions

A health chief has called for a more informed debate on the planned lifting of all legal limits on social contact in England on June 21.

The continued spread of the Indian variant has prompted experts to argue restrictions should remain in place until more people have received both doses of a vaccine amid reports ministers are drawing up plans for a partial end of lockdown.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told BBC Breakfast a “much better quality of debate” was needed on the implications of easing measures.

Hospitals were dealing with patients with complex needs who had delayed treatment earlier in the pandemic and now required longer stays, he said. Staff were “going full pelt” to deal with waiting lists and do not have the space for a significant increase in Covid patients.

He also suggested the Government needs to consider the increased burden on hospitals in UK holiday hotspots in coming months, saying staff at trusts in such areas were “really worried” ahead of summer.

06:13 AM

Social distancing to kick off in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam’s business hub Ho Chi Minh City will begin social distancing measures in the city for 15 days starting from Monday in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported today.

“All events that gather more than 10 people in public are banned city-wide, but the city is considering to lower the number of people to just five,” the newspaper reported.

“While all citizens of Go Vap district are not allowed to go out if not necessary.”

Ho Chi Minh City earlier this week shut down shops and restaurants.

05:44 AM

Coronavirus hits worker at Melbourne aged-care facility

Australia’s state of Victoria reported five new local cases of Covid today, including in a worker at a Melbourne aged-care facility where not all of the residents have been vaccinated.

The infections on the third day of a week-long lockdown raise the total to 40 in the latest cluster, which started with a returning overseas traveller who tested positive after leaving a quarantine hotel.

Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, said at a briefing that 70pc of the traveller’s close contacts have so far tested negative for coronavirus.

The case at the aged-care facility was of an unknown origin, health authorities said, and residents have been confined to their rooms.

More than half of the residents and about a third of the staff have been vaccinated.

  • ​Anger inside ‘Fortress Australia’ at yet another lockdown

05:12 AM

India: Lowest daily rise in cases in 46 days

India has reported its lowest daily rise in new coronavirus infections in 46 days – 165,553 cases during the previous 24 hours.

Deaths rose by 3,460.

The nation’s tally of infections now stands at 27.9 million, and the death toll has reached 325,972.

04:41 AM

The few vaccinated variant-carriers likely to be very infectious

Fully vaccinated people infected with Covid variants may be likely to pass the virus on, researchers have said.

No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, and while the number of people who contract Covid after vaccination – known as post-vaccine breakthrough cases – is tiny, a growing number of studies show that these cases are more likely to be infected with variants that have emerged in recent months.

READ MORE: Fully vaccinated people who catch Covid variants may pass virus on, study finds

04:02 AM

Couples cancel summer weddings over reopening uncertainty

Couples have already started to cancel or postpone their summer weddings due to a “vicious cycle” of uncertainty about the June 21 reopening date, say wedding planners.

Gina Brown, a wedding planner at Brown Bear Events, said the company’s first lot of clients to cancel had dates booked close to June 21, and were unwilling to risk lockdown restrictions not being lifted in time.

Some couples have even decided to cancel without a future date in mind; instead choosing to spend the time and money invested in wedding planning on starting a family earlier, said Ms Brown.

READ MORE: Couples cancelling summer weddings due to ‘vicious cycle’ of uncertainty over June 21 reopening

03:00 AM

Research reveals police concerns during pandemic

A third of officers from one UK police force felt unsafe dealing with the public during lockdowns, according to research.

Police officers of different ranks and roles from Hampshire Constabulary were surveyed for the study by the University of Portsmouth.

About 35pc of those surveyed said they had been abused or threatened by a member of the public during lockdowns, while a third said they felt unsafe dealing with the public – although nearly 38pc said they did feel safe.

The report states that frontline officers recorded the lowest wellbeing scores, with custody staff, neighbourhood police and response and patrol officers reporting an increased burden resulting from workload pressures.

The research found that officers were concerned about potentially infecting family members with coronavirus and others had difficulties providing childcare, particularly with schools in lockdown.

Hampshire Assistant Chief Constable Maggie Blyth said: “The pandemic has placed significant pressures upon officers and staff, but the results of this research show that Hampshire Constabulary is successfully delivering support to the officers that need it.”

02:55 AM

Vaccine clot patients ‘monitored’ as they may remain at risk​

People who suffer from the rare clotting side effect linked to the AstraZeneca/Oxford University jab could be at risk of future clots for several months, a leading haematologist has warned.

Dr Sue Pavord, who heads the expert haematology panel advising the government on the condition, said that those who fall ill post-vaccine are followed up every other day to try to prevent any relapses.

However, she said she is aware of one case where the person suffered another thrombosis. The patient made a full recovery.

There have been 332 cases of the rare side effect – known as vaccine-induced thrombosis and thrombocytopenia (VITT) – in the UK up to May 19.

Read the full story here.

02:48 AM

Today’s top stories

  • NHS staff would be legally required to have a Covid vaccine under plans to crack down on transmission of the virus within hospitals.

  • Matt Hancock was facing new questions over the spread of Covid to care homes on Saturday night as it emerged that guidance from his department ordered hospitals to discharge patients without any mention of a need to test them first.

  • Holidaymakers will be hammered by soaring prices if the Government keeps its green list for July and August under wraps, the boss of Heathrow Airport has warned.

  • Health experts are urging Boris Johnson to consider giving the Covid-19 vaccine to children as young as 12 to protect teachers.

  • Long Covid is highly uncommon in children, scientific studies suggest. Children are far less at risk from Covid than adults and account for a miniscule number of cases and deaths.

  • High streets are threatened with a “tsunami” of shop closures as landlords are freed to claim billions of pounds in unpaid rent through the courts, retailers have warned.

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