Europe’s vaccination programme is taking off and could catch UK
Fears variants are escaping vaccines as cases of SA strain double
Doctors reveal horror of India’s ‘double mutant’ second wave
Analysis: Arrival of India’s ‘double mutation’ adds to variant woes
Worldwide Covid-19 deaths have surpassed three million, according to AFP.
The number of coronavirus fatalities continues to rise globally despite vaccination campaigns, as countries such as India and Brazil are battling meteoric rises in Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations.
After a slight lull last month, daily death tolls have been increasing, with an average of 12,000 deaths a day last week.
For comparison, three million people is more than the population of Jamaica or Armenia, and three times the death toll of the Iran-Iraq war which raged from 1980-1988.
While some countries like Israel have benefited from mass inoculation efforts, the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP’s tally.
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Dubai expands vaccine eligibility in certain cases
The Dubai Health Authority said on Saturday it was allowing women who are breastfeeding and those planning on conceiving to take the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Dubai Media Office.
In a Twitter post, the media office said this was in line with the latest international studies and guidelines on coronavirus vaccines.
It also said the DHA was cutting the time frame of vaccine eligibility for those who have previously contracted Covid-19 to 10 days from three months, provided the case was mild or asymptomatic.
Madrid to host charity bullfight for matadors left jobless by Covid-19
Crowds will return to Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic next month for a charity bullfight to raise money for matadors left jobless by Covid-19, officials said on Saturday.
Almost all of Spain’s bullrings, or plazas, have remained closed for the last year due to lockdown restrictions – plunging the controversial spectacle and its matadors into financial crisis.
A maximum of 6,000 people will be allowed in to watch the May 2 bullfight, Madrid’s regional government said. That is equivalent to 40% capacity as the arena, considered the world’s most important bullring by fans.
Face masks will be mandatory and strict social distancing measures will be in place at the event.
Major bullfighting festivals such as San Isidro, Sevilla’s April Fair, and Pamplona’s San Fermin in July were cancelled last year, with bulls being sent from ranches straight to the slaughterhouse.
But even before lockdown bans brought bullfighting to a virtual standstill, the traditional emblem of Spanish culture had been struggling for survival in recent years.
Coronavirus around the world, in pictures
Columbus, New Mexico
Sao Leopoldo, Brazil
‘Mystifying’ that India is not on the red list yet, says immunology professor
Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said “we should be terribly concerned” after 77 cases of a potentially vaccine-busting Covid-19 mutation first discovered in India were identified in Britain.
Prof Altmann said he found it “mystifying” and “slightly confounding” that those flying in from India were not required to stay in a hotel, with the virus soaring in the south Asian country.
India is not currently on the Government’s “red list” for travel, which sees people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days refused entry to the UK.
British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.
Prof Finn said, with the pandemic “raging” in places such as India – which recorded more than 217,000 cases in 24 hours on Friday – and Brazil, international travel would continue to pose a “problem”.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters that the Government’s red list of travel ban countries is “under constant review”, when asked why India did not feature on it.
No 10 said Mr Johnson’s visit to India “is still happening later this month” but, as already announced this week, would be “slightly shorter” than the initial four-day planned trip, with most of the meetings expected to be shoehorned into a single day.
‘Travel won’t go back to normal yet’, says prof Finn
Professor Adam Finn, asked whether India should be placed on the “red list” of hotel quarantine countries following the discovery of a new variant there, said there needed to be caution about international travel still.
“I think we’re going to go on seeing restrictions on travel for some time to come, with the pandemic raging in so many countries around the world,” he told Times Radio.
“We’ve got very big epidemics going on in India, in Brazil and in other countries that have previously been less affected. This is going to be a problem.
“We’re going to need to continue to be really quite careful to avoid moving the virus around, so I think travel won’t go back to normal yet.”
Pressed on whether Boris Johnson should still be visiting India later this month, Prof Finn added: “I’m sure he’s going to take lots of care to avoid getting infected.
“If you mean the message of going there, well, I think he has to balance up the importance of the trip. The Prime Minister’s in a different position from the rest of us, of course.”
Europe’s vaccination programme is taking off – and could catch the UK
Following a debut marred by delays and a dearth of supplies, the EU’s vaccination drive is finally gathering pace, leading some even to suggest – chief among them President Emmanuel Macron himself – that it could catch up with Britain “in the coming weeks”.
“With all the shots rolling in, it’s even no longer unthinkable that the EU will finish vaccinating its entire adult population ahead of the UK,” claimed Joshua Livestro, member of the Committee on European Integration of the Advisory Council on International Affairs of the Dutch Foreign Ministry.
“While the UK is likely to finish its vaccination marathon crawling on all fours, the EU will be sprinting toward the tape.”
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Crowds to return to indoor sporting events in ‘vital’ step to normality, says snooker chair
Crowds are returning to some sporting events this weekend for the first time in months as part of a scheme which could help shape England’s route out of lockdown.
Limited and socially distanced crowds will be permitted at both the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, as part of the government’s pilot scheme.
The Chairman of World Snooker, Barry Hearn, says the findings have implications for other sectors.
He told BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme: “Let’s hope that we are successful, because we are sending out a message to all other indoor sports.
“The data that comes from this is going to be vital to get to the land of milk and honey of normality.”
Mr Hearn added: “This is a major pilot scheme which will set the tone, and the rules probably, for everything from cinemas to theatres because we’re going to use the data to disprove or prove various arguments about the effect of Covid on live crowds.”
Fans will be required to show a recent negative Covid test result but proof of vaccination won’t be required.
Global Covid death toll tops three million
The number of people who have died from Covid-19 around the world passed three million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally at 0830 GMT, as the number of fatalities continues to rise despite vaccination campaigns.
After a slight lull last month, daily death tolls have been increasing, with an average of 12,000 deaths a day last week.
While some countries like Israel have benefited from mass inoculation efforts, others such as India are battling meteoric rises in infections.
Immunity from vaccines ‘won’t just disappear’, says JCVI member
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said immunity from Covid-19 vaccines “won’t just disappear” despite warnings that new variants could “scupper” the route out of lockdown.
He told Times Radio: “We’ve all expected evolution of this virus to occur from the start.
“The changes that we saw at the end of the year were not really vaccine-related, it was just the virus learning to be more infectious which, of course, gives it an advantage.
“As we see more and more immunity from the infection and vaccination occurring, then mutations in the virus that favour the virus and enable it to escape that type of immunity will inevitably occur.
“We always knew this was going to happen. I also think that we know from other viruses and previous experience that the immunity that vaccines give won’t just disappear.
“It will be a gradual erosion. It won’t be back to square one. I would be really surprised if that happened. So, I think, possibly, that interpretation is a bit pessimistic.”
Snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan says he wants ‘protection’ from fans at Crucible
Defending snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan says he wants “protection” from fans at the World Snooker Championship.
The Crucible Theatre will be at around 25 per cent occupancy when the tournament starts on Saturday, with plans for it to reach capacity for the final as part of the government’s pilot scheme.
Despite the pilot scheme aiming to find a safe return to fans viewing sport live again, the World Snooker Tour has advised players not to pose for selfies or sign autographs while in Sheffield.
“You have to try and get rid of all the risk there is,” O’Sullivan told the BBC.
“You are here to do a job. The first thing is to pass the Covid-19 test. If you don’t pass the test you can’t play, so as sportsmen we can’t work if we get ill.
“It’s not that you don’t want to mingle with the fans. It’s just that you don’t want to pull out of the tournament.
“Hopefully the players get a little bit of protection from World Snooker so that we don’t have to fend off over-excited fans or someone who might have had a drink that wants to get in your space.”
India’s variant could ‘scupper’ UK’s march to freedom, scientist warns
The Indian coronavirus mutation could “scupper” the UK’s march to freedom, a leading scientist has warned, despite the lockdown and vaccine programme leading to cases falling to a seven-month low.
Covid-19 infections across the UK dropped to the lowest level since the autumn, according to the latest figures.
But a professor of immunology has called for Britain to be on its guard against a third wave after 77 cases of another possible vaccine-busting mutation was recorded domestically.
Public Health England reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, had been found, while a further four cases were identified in Scotland.
Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said that as a result, those arriving into the country from India should be subject to a hotel quarantine if the UK is to shut out variants that could set back the Prime Minister’s lockdown easing plans.
Prof Altmann said he suspected the Indian mutation would be escalated to a variant of concern as it holds properties that allow it to evade the vaccines currently on offer and was more transmissible.
“I think we should be terribly concerned about it,” he told the BBC. “They (variants of concern) are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry.”
High Street sees a ‘really positive’ bounce after reopening
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said high street shops had seen a “really positive” bounce after non-essential retail was allowed to reopen this week.
“It certainly started really well,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“Although footfall was down on two years ago – because there wasn’t a lot of point measuring it against last year because we were already in lockdown in 2020 as well – it wasn’t down anything like it had been during the period of lockdown.
“From a retail point of view, people really did come out and support their local businesses and all the retailers I’ve spoken to said those first few days of the past week or so had been really positive in terms of trading.
“I think your piece highlighted the excitement of people getting back out and the excitement of the businesses in getting ready to welcome their customers back safely.”
On the growth of online shopping, Ms Dickinson said she expected some of that to “absolutely shift back” now physical shops were open but said many retailers would continue to embrace the change, adding: “More and more people in the industry are seeing this as an opportunity rather than a threat.”
Scotland revealed to be harshest country in UK for lockdown
New rules allowing Scots to travel outside council areas and meet more people outdoors have come into force, as it emerged that Scotland endured one of the most stringent lockdowns of anywhere in the world.
From Friday, Scots can travel anywhere in mainland Scotland and meet up to six others from six households outside.
Announcing the latest easing of restrictions at an unscheduled briefing on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said the continued decline in virus cases meant the restrictions could be eased earlier than planned.
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Australia to continue vaccine review after woman dies
Australia will continue its review of coronavirus vaccines after a 48-year-old woman’s death was likely linked to the inoculation, Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Saturday.
On Friday, Australia reported its first fatality from blood clots in a recipient of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shot. It was the third case of the rare blood clots appearing in people who have been administered the vaccine in the country.
“The government will ask ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) to ensure continuous review of all of the vaccines in terms of their safety and their efficacy,” Mr Hunt said at a televised briefing.
He said there will be no immediate change to further limit the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine and reiterated that the Pfizer vaccine remains the preferred option for people under the age of 50.
Cases rise in Thailand’s third wave
Thailand reported 1,547 new coronavirus cases and two additional deaths on Saturday, amid a third wave of infections in the Southeast Asian country.
The new cases took the total number of confirmed infections to 40,585, with 99 fatalities.
Death toll nears 3 million as India cases surge
The global coronavirus death toll was expected to reach three million on Saturday, as the race for immunisation continues and countries like India grapple with rising infections and new lockdowns.
The virus that surfaced in late 2019 in central China and the ensuing pandemic has infected more than 100 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
In Japan, rising virus cases have stoked speculation that the Olympic Games – postponed last year due to the pandemic – could be cancelled.
Gunmen open fire on vaccine convoy in Mexico
Mexican health authorities said on Friday that 14 of the country’s roughly 2,600 townships have refused to allow vaccination teams to administer anti-coronavirus doses there, and a convoy transporting vaccines came under an armed attack in another part of the country.
The army said gunmen opened fire on soldiers escorting a shipment of vaccines in the western state of Michoacan. Nobody was injured and the convoy delivered the vaccines. But when soldiers returned to scene, gunmen again opened fire. One man was arrested and five assault rifles were seized.
Also Friday, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said the townships were concentrated largely in the heavily Indigenous southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
He did not give specific reasons why those communities did not want to be vaccinated, citing only “cultural and perhaps religious beliefs”.
Gatherings limited in Ontario amid wave of infections fuelled by variants
Canada’s most populous province is limiting outdoor gatherings to those in the same household and will close playgrounds and golf courses amid a record wave of coronavirus infections fuelled by variants, Ontario’s premier announced on Friday. The decision sparked widespread condemnation in a province already on lockdown.
Police in Ontario will have the authority to require any individual not at home to provide a reason that they’re out and provide their address. Tickets can be written.
Quebec closed its border to Ontario and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said interprovincial travel will be limited.
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Guatemala blocks travel from Brazil, UK and South Africa
Guatemala will restrict entry to visitors who have recently been to Brazil, the United Kingdom and South Africa in an effort to control a jump in coronavirus cases, President Alejandro Giammattei said on Friday.
The measure will go into effect on Saturday and last through April 30, applying to tourists who have been to those countries within the prior two weeks, Mr Giammattei said in a public address.
He noted that Guatemala had registered 5,813 new infections in the last five days, bringing the total in the Central American country to 210,667 confirmed cases.
“That has triggered our alerts and forces us to have to decree a state of prevention immediately,” Mr Giammattei said.
Weekend shutdown in Delhi as Covid grips India
New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown on Saturday as India faces a ferocious new coronavirus wave, with more than 200,000 fresh daily cases and families clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have beaten the pandemic have been dashed with India seeing over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing shutdowns.
India’s per-capita rates remain low by international comparison, raising the prospect that infection numbers – fuelled possibly by a virulent new “double mutant” – may explode further.
Read more: Arrival of India’s ‘double mutation’ adds to variant woes
Prince Philip remembered: a royal funeral like no other
After 73 years of marriage, the Queen will say farewell to Prince Philip during a televised funeral service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on Saturday, attended by a small group of close family and friends.
Covid regulations have reduced the scope of the service with public elements cancelled, mourners reduced from around 800 to just 30, and all guests wearing face masks and sitting apart.
But Prince Philip’s children and grandchildren have been paying tribute to his life and legacy and welcoming the support and warm words from the public who have left flowers and cards.
Prince Philip’s “unwavering loyalty” to the Queen and “courage, fortitude and faith” will be hailed at his funeral.
No sermon will be delivered during the ceremonial royal service, in keeping with the Prince’s wishes.
Read more: Prince Philip’s funeral timings and the procession route
Today’s top stories
New Covid variants appear to be escaping vaccines, with the latest figures showing a doubling in cases of the South African mutation in the UK in the last month.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that India’s “second wave” is being driven by new, more infectious variants – some from abroad and others that have mutated and spread within India.
Downing Street has insisted lateral flow tests are “accurate” after leaked emails warned that they may only pick up two per cent of Covid cases.
Face masks will not be used at a series of large-scale pilot events in the coming weeks as ministers plan for the return of mass gatherings without Covid rules.