Coronavirus latest news: Delay unlocking by a few weeks to allow vaccines to contain Indian variant, says government adviser

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vaccinations  - Andrea Fasani/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
vaccinations – Andrea Fasani/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
  • Exclusive: UK vaccine passport plans to be scrapped

  • British WHO scientist dismisses Wuhan lab Covid leak

  • France restricts travellers from the UK

  • Delaying reopening would be astonishing, says business head

  • Ministers racing to offer all over-50s a second jab

The unlocking of coronavirus restrictions on June 21 should be delayed “by a few weeks” due to signs the UK is in a new wave of Covid-19 infections, says a government adviser.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Indian variant was driving the rise in cases.

He said: “I think the problem is we are not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus and I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.

“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.

“Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.”

Asked whether the UK was already in a third wave of coronavirus infections, the University of Cambridge academic said: “Yes, there has been exponential growth in the number of the new cases and at least three-quarters of them are the new variant.

“Of course the numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive, so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave.

“It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.”

​​Follow the latest updates below.

08:04 AM

Today’s front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, May 31.

tel front page
tel front page

07:55 AM

Covid cases ‘slowing’ in Bolton

Dr Helen Wall, senior responsible officer for the Covid vaccine programme in Bolton, said the rise in cases is slowing but that there is no room for complacency.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m pleased to report that things are starting to slow in terms of the rise here in Covid cases, but we really can’t rest on that.

“It’s only been a few days of the rates slowing down so we really are keen to keep pushing forwards and get the rates down further.”

Dr Wall said there are very young populations in many of the areas that have seen the highest rises in Bolton, and each time the age comes down for vaccine eligibility thousands more people are able to come forward for the jab.

“I think the age of eligibility going down every few days has really helped, and will really help us, if we can get those people through the doors to be vaccinated asap,” she said.

Coronavirus signs in Bolton town centre in Bolton, England, which is one of the eight areas experiencing a spike in cases - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Coronavirus signs in Bolton town centre in Bolton, England, which is one of the eight areas experiencing a spike in cases – Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

07:34 AM

We need to do ‘everything’ we can to minimise risk of cases climbing, says JCVI member

Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said there is a question mark over how fast the rise in Covid cases is going to be and how high numbers will go.

“And in those circumstances we’d all be better off doing everything we can to minimise that risk so that we don’t get to a position where we have to really go backwards in terms of the restrictions that we’re all having to endure,” he told Times Radio.

Prof Finn said the JCVI will give advice to the Government on vaccinating children but said more evidence is needed before it can give clear advice.

07:12 AM

First case on remote Pacific state

The remote Pacific nation of Palau has reported its first confirmed case, but authorities said it was historical and posed no transmission risk.

The tiny island state of 21,000 has so far managed to avoid Covid-19 after closing its borders early in the pandemic.

The health ministry said a traveller who arrived in Palau earlier this month was found to have the virus, even though they tested negative once before departing for the island and twice during a two-week quarantine.

“Further tests revealed that this is a historical – past infection – case of Covid-19, and it is not infectious,” it said in a statement. The ministry estimated the person contracted the virus in January this year.

07:02 AM

Delay unlocking restrictions by a few weeks, says government adviser

Government adviser and microbiologist Professor Ravi Gupta said the unlocking of coronavirus restrictions next month should be delayed by a few weeks because of signs the UK is in a new wave of Covid-19 infections.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think the problem is we are not too far from reaching the sort of levels of vaccination that would help us contain the virus and I think that people are not saying we should abandon the June 21 date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.

“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing.

“Yes, we will learn to live with it but this date that was set did not take into account the fact we would have a new variant on the horizon, with properties that allow it to evade antibodies to some extent and a virus which is more transmissible.”

06:42 AM

We need to vaccinate the world by 2022, says PM

06:36 AM

Exclusive: UK vaccine passport plans to be scrapped

Plans to make Covid-19 passports a legal requirement for large events are set to be dropped, The Telegraph understands.

Officials working on the review into Covid-19 status certification believe there is no chance the law will be changed to mandate their use within the UK.

“It’s not a case of ‘it’s finely balanced’. It’s not going to happen,” said one well-placed government source close to the review.

“Everyone says it’s dead.”

Read the full story here.

05:56 AM

Wealthy Asians fly to US for ‘vaccine tourism’ trips

Wealthy Asians are escaping vaccine shortages and flying thousands of miles to the US to get their life-saving injections.

As American states entice their citizens with lottery tickets and doughnuts in exchange for a jab in their arms, travel agencies are popping up in Asian nations offering tailored packages for vaccine tourism.

The promise of vaccination in the US has recently been advertised in Thailand, Vietnam, India and Taiwan – all nations that initially performed well during the first year of the pandemic only to have their defences breached by more infectious variants that bounced back as the virus ran rampant globally.

Read the full story by Nicola Smith here.

04:56 AM

25 million second doses administered

More than 25 million people in the UK are now fully vaccinated.

As of May 31, a total of 25,332,851 people have received both doses of a coronavirus jab.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock took to social media to thank those who had contributed to the success of the vaccination programme.

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04:28 AM

Army medics help fight pandemic in Northern Ireland

Army medics administered an estimated 100,000 doses of vaccine in Northern Ireland, the Ministry of Defence has revealed.

About 100 combat medical technicians worked at the vaccination centre at the SSE Arena in Belfast in recent months.

As they prepared to leave at the weekend, Health Minister Robin Swann sent a video message of thanks for their work: “You have been a welcome addition and provided much-needed relief and support at a time when our workforce faced huge challenges.

“I want to put on record our thanks and my thanks for your efforts in supporting Northern Ireland’s response to Covid-19 and the help that you have supplied by doing what you have done.”

Lance Corporal Leah Clayton-Smith, 22, from Scarborough, said her two months at the SSE was her first visit to Northern Ireland and it had been very rewarding - Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Lance Corporal Leah Clayton-Smith, 22, from Scarborough, said her two months at the SSE was her first visit to Northern Ireland and it had been very rewarding – Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It was the latest contribution by the armed forces in the pandemic in Northern Ireland in what has been described as the first public-facing, intimate assistance to the civil authorities since the end of Operation Banner in 2007.

Lance Corporal Leah Clayton-Smith, 22, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, was among the CMTs who worked at the SSE vaccination centre. She previously helped at the Royal London hospital in a Covid ward as a nursing assistant.

Corporal Paul Grimmitt said: "We had some nervous people, but more than happy to get the vaccine and over the moon when they do" - Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Corporal Paul Grimmitt said: “We had some nervous people, but more than happy to get the vaccine and over the moon when they do” – Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Corporal Paul Grimmitt, 28, from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, said: “It’s been great working alongside the NHS, helping out and getting as many vaccinations in the public as we can.”

04:08 AM

Pandemic surge in volunteers a ‘positive legacy’

The thousands of NHS volunteers who supported others during the Covid-19 pandemic should provide a “positive legacy” for the health service’s future, England’s top nurse has said.

According to NHS England, new data shows that 436,000 people from the NHS Volunteer Responders programme have carried out nearly two million tasks for those who had to stay home during the coronavirus crisis.

This included phone calls to the isolated, delivering medicines, and stewarding vaccination sites.

The figures are released as the NHS converts Twickenham rugby stadium in south-west London into the “biggest vaccination centre in England” – staffed with the help of volunteers.

03:00 AM

Upskirting crime still an issue despite pandemic restrictions

Scores of people reported being victims of upskirting last year, despite coronavirus restrictions limiting the amount of time people could spend outside their homes, figures show.

Data from police forces in England and Wales shows girls as young as 14 were routinely among those targeted by people attempting to take a sexual image of them without consent.

The overwhelming majority of incidents involved female victims, although a 16-year-old boy was among the handful of male victims.

Figures from 33 police forces found there were 196 allegations of upskirting during 2020, with offences reported to have taken place in a range of public places such as supermarkets, parks and on public transport.

This was despite restrictions during the early days of the pandemic last year effectively forcing people to stay at home, avoid public transport and shops, and reduce social contact.

02:55 AM

More cases recorded in locked-down Victoria

Australia’s state of Victoria reported five new local Covid cases today.

The infections raise the total to 45 in the latest cluster, including in a worker at a Melbourne aged-care facility where not all of the residents have been vaccinated.

Victoria is half way through a seven-day lockdown to fight the latest outbreak.

02:15 AM

Blackburn overtakes Bolton with case rates

Blackburn with Darwen has replaced Bolton as the area of the UK with the highest rate of new cases of Covid-19.

A total of 584 confirmed cases were recorded in Blackburn with Darwen in the seven days to May 26, Public Health England said.

This is the equivalent of 390.1 cases per 100,000 people – the highest seven-day rate for the area since the start of February, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

By contrast, the seven-day rate in Bolton currently stands at 386.7 cases per 100,000.

This is down from 452.8 on May 21, and suggests the recent surge in cases in the town, driven by the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus, may have peaked.

01:46 AM

Local cases in China blamed on Indian variant

China reported a sudden surge of Covid-19 in the country’s south today, with 20 new local cases.

The new cases were recorded as authorities locked down areas of Guangdong province’s capital city.

Residents lined up for coronavirus testing in the Liwan District in Guangzhou in southern China's Guangdong province on Wednesday - AP
Residents lined up for coronavirus testing in the Liwan District in Guangzhou in southern China’s Guangdong province on Wednesday – AP

Of the 27 new cases reported by the national health authority in its daily updates, only seven infections were imported, with the remainder originating in Guangdong province.

On Saturday, authorities placed a neighbourhood in the capital city of Guangzhou under lockdown as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of the virus.

State media reports have suggested that the the recent outbreak is linked to the Indian variant.

01:37 AM

UK travellers restricted from entering France

France has restricted travel from the UK requiring passengers to provide “compelling reasons” for entering the country from today to combat the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19.

Those who are allowed to make the journey must take a pre-departure Covid test and quarantine for seven days on arrival.

Travel to France from Britain will only be permitted for EU nationals, French residents, or those travelling for essential reasons.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the new French rules apply to all air, car, ferry and train passengers.

Read the full story here.

12:42 AM

Today’s top stories

  • Exclusive: Plans to make Covid-19 passports a legal requirement for large events are set to be dropped, The Telegraph understands.

  • A British scientist who took part in a World Health Organisation mission to investigate whether Covid leaked from a Wuhan laboratory has suggested that China had been “misunderstood” over its refusal to address growing suspicions about the origins of the disease.

  • France has restricted travel from the UK requiring passengers to provide “compelling reasons” for entering the country from Monday to combat the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19.

  • Matt Hancock was “completely mischaracterised” by Dominic Cummings, the UK’s vaccine minister has said, as he defended his colleague over the accusation he lied about testing patients who were being discharged from hospitals into care homes.

  • A family returning to the UK have said staying in a quarantine hotel was their “worst ever experience” after a mother and baby were left needing hospital treatment.

  • Delaying the June 21 reopening date in England would be “astonishing”, the chair of a major business group has warned, telling the Government “the time is now” to ease restrictions.

  • Ministers are in a race to offer all over-50s a second coronavirus vaccine dose before the planned end of restrictions on June 21, the vaccines minister has said.

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