Health minister says ‘no evidence’ Oxford/AstraZeneca jab ‘not effective in preventing hospitalisation’
Cases of coronavirus have dropped to pre-Christmas levels across all four UK nations, according to the latest government figures, with London seeing rates fall in every one of its local areas.
The national rate for Wales (122.4 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 3 February) is at its lowest since early October, while the figure for southeast England (87.4 cases, down from 274.0 a week earlier) is at its lowest since 7 December. An analysis of all four countries is in the blog below.
It comes as Britons are being warned they may need a third booster jab by autumn amid concerns about the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against the South African coronavirus variant.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who urged the public to keep faith with the jab, was forced to defend the vaccine after a new study in South Africa found it was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious mutation.
South Africa has suspended the rollout of the British-designed vaccine to healthcare staff following the results, which have not yet been peer reviewed.
Meanwhile, No 10 has confirmed that health secretary Matt Hancock and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam will host today’s daily Covid briefing at 5pm.
Hancock to host Covid briefing alongside Van Tam and Kanani
Today’s coronavirus press conference will be hosted by health secretary Matt Hancock, alongside deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam and Nikki Kanani of NHS England at 5pm.
No 10 confirmed the lineup this afternoon.
Sam Hancock8 February 2021 13:21
External tourists to be banned in Scotland – even when restrictions end
Our travel correspondent, Simon Calder, reports the following:
The Scottish first minister has indicated that the country will remain closed to tourism from outside even when restrictions are lifted.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped a combination of lockdown restrictions and the vaccination programme would drive infection rates down.
“If we can then open up some greater domestic normality within our own borders, then that would be good for the domestic economy.
“It would be good for domestic tourism.
“But the price we would have to pay for that, for a period of time, is not having travel into and out of the country from elsewhere.”
Ms Sturgeon has already said that arrivals to Scotland from every country outside the UK and Ireland will be obliged to go into “managed isolation” for 10 days.
In England, only travellers from 33 “red list” countries will face hotel quarantine from 15 February.
Sam Hancock8 February 2021 13:17
Covid cases drop to pre-Christmas levels across UK
All four UK nations have seen cases of coronavirus drop to their lowest level since before Christmas, according to new analysis.
The national rate for Wales is now at its lowest since early October. In London the seven-day rate has fallen to its lowest since 8 December, while the figure for southeast England is at its lowest since 7 December.
While some local areas across the UK have recorded a week-on-week rise in the latest figures, most of the increases are small.
The analysis, conducted by the PA news agency, suggests current lockdown restrictions are working as they should be.
Here is a breakdown for each nation:
Scotland recorded 122.6 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 3 February – down week-on-week from 144.4, and the lowest since 20 December.
Eight out of 32 local areas recorded a rise in the latest figures. The biggest jumps are in Falkirk, up from 166.6 to 218.8 – the highest rate in Scotland – and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles), up from 44.9 to 86.1.
The biggest week-on-week fall is in North Lanarkshire, down from 249.3 to 181.6. The Shetland Islands is the only area of the UK to record no new Covid-19 cases in the seven days to 3 February.
Wales recorded 122.4 cases per 100,000 people in the week to 3 February, which is the lowest seven-day rate since 4 October. It is also well below the second-wave peak of 649.2 on 17 December.
Rates are currently falling in 17 of the 22 local areas of Wales, with the biggest drop recorded in Wrexham (down from 385.4 to 228.0).
The biggest rise is for the Isle of Anglesey, up from 135.6 to 177.0.
Northern Ireland’s rate stood at 177.7 cases per 100,000 in the seven days to 3 February. This is down from 222.0 one week earlier, and is the lowest rate since 15 December.
Nine of the 11 local areas in Northern Ireland recorded a drop in rates in the latest figures, with the biggest fall in Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon (down from 401.5 to 286.8).
There has been a very slight rise in Causeway Coast & Glens (from 121.5 to 125.7) and Ards & North Down (123.0 to 125.5).
For England as a whole, the rate of new cases in the week to 3 February stood at 222.4, which is down from 295.1 for the previous week – and is the lowest rate since the week to 13 December.
While case rates dropped in the West Midlands as of 3 February, from 352.0to 285.8 per 100,000 people – making it the lowest recorded in the region since Boxing Day, it is still the region with the highest number of cases.
The East Midlands has the second-highest regional rate in England, with 259.0 down from 300.3 in the previous week, largely because the town of Corby currently has the highest rate for any local area in England: 468.0, down slightly from 494.3.
In the northwest, Blackpool and Wyre have seen small rises in the latest figures (up from 223.7 to 231.6 and 233.7 to 238.2 respectively).
A further two areas are in the top five highest rates in England: St Helens, which is in fourth place (currently on 397.0) and Knowsley, in fifth place (390.4). Both these areas have recorded large week-on-week falls, however.
The regional rate for northwest England is currently 255.9 – down week-on-week from 321.4, and the lowest level since 28 December.
Northeast England currently has a regional rate of 223.3, the lowest since 25 December and down week-on-week from 253.5, and cases are down in all local areas besides two: North Tyneside (up from 187.6 to 221.2) and Sunderland (up from 297.8 to 323.4).
Yorkshire & the Humber has the second lowest regional rate in England: 182.0 cases per 100,000 people, down week-on-week from 212.3 and the lowest since Christmas Day. All local areas, apart from north Lincolnshire (up from 117.2 to 131.8) and northeast Lincolnshire (up from 93.4 to 101.5), recorded drops in week-on-week cases.
Over in the southwest, the rates continue to be the lowest in the country: 146.5, down week-on-week from 200.0. The rate has not been this low since 20 December.
Local rates are down in each area except two: Torbay, up from 146.8 to 160.0, and Mid Devon, up from 115.4 to 127.6.
London is the only region of England where every local area is currently recording a week-on-week fall in case rates, with the biggest drops occurring in Brent (down from 508.5 to 328.7) and Waltham Forest (down from 388.5 to 209.8).
The seven-day rate of new cases for the whole of London currently stands at 233.4 per 100,000 people – down from 356.4 one week earlier.
It may be snowing heavily in the southeast at the moment but the region’s Covid case rate is at its lowest since 7 December. There were 187.4 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 3 February, down from 274.0 a week earlier.
The biggest drops are in Slough (down from 590.5 to 347.7), Reading (441.3 to 264.6) and Eastbourne (401.0 to 233.3).
And finally, eastern England – also being hit by Storm Darcy right now – has seen its regional rate fall to its lowest level since 10 December. It is currently 218.8, down week-on-week from 306.2.
Rates are down in all local areas except one: South Cambridgeshire, where they are up slightly from 174.7 to 179.8.
Additional reporting by PA
Sam Hancock8 February 2021 12:57
Government ‘too slow’ at responding to anit-vaxxers online, says chief nurse
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has said health and community leaders continue to be “too slow” at reacting to anti-Covid vaccine misinformation on social media.
She said there is a “real distrust” around the Covid-19 vaccination programme in some communities – particularly in those from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds. And that many older people are being influenced by younger generations who see anti-vax messages online.
Asked whether myths about vaccines circulating on social media have increased in recent weeks, Dame Donna told BBC Breakfast: “I think they have been around for a long time and I believe that we as community leaders or clinical leaders have been slow to react to them.
“I can send you at least 10 videos on my WhatsApp that have been circulated from since about last March with doctors, other professionals – you don’t know where they’ve come from – but all you can say about them is they’re clearly anti-vaxxers, and they claim to be protecting the BAME community from something that will harm them.”
She added: “Ever since we talked about a vaccine on social media we’ve had video after video of anti-vaxxers telling people scary things about the vaccine.
“So we’ve got a lot of work to do as community leaders to actually ensure that people get the truth about the vaccine.
“Social media influences more people than we perhaps realise, and quite often when I talk to communities, it’s often the young people in the communities that are hesitant to take the vaccine and influence the older people.
“That’s why we say, if you’ve got concerns about it, speak to a trusted health professional.”
In an appeal to viewers still unsure about the jabs, Dame Donna told the BBC that nurses would not be leading the charge for the Covid-19 vaccination programme if they did not believe in it.
Sam Hancock8 February 2021 12:30
People turned back at border with Northern Ireland under new rules
People travelling from Northern Ireland into the Republic are being turned back at the border if they do not have an essential reason for travel.
A number of Garda checkpoints are operating along the border today to enforce the new Covid-19 regulations.
People living in Northern Ireland who cross the Irish border without a reasonable excuse face a 100 euro fine.
One such checkpoint, near Emyvale on the Tyrone-Monaghan border, had seen three motorists turned back this morning.
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 12:20
Health secretary to lead press briefing
Health secretary Matt Hancock will lead a Downing Street press conference later today, Number 10 has announced.
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 12:06
No UK travel until May, predicts poll
After a Sussex hotelier announced plans to reopen to guests from 8 March, a snap Twitter poll indicates most regard him as wildly optimistic.
Harry Cragoe, owner of The Gallivant, in Camber, East Sussex, told The Independent it would be “fantastic” to take guests in a month’s time.
But almost all of the 2,000-plus social media users who responded to the one-hour Twitter survey dismissed his optimism.
Travel correspondent Simon Calder has more details:
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 11:56
South African Covid variant: Everything we know so far
The government has sought to reassure the public over its vaccine programme amid mounting concerns surrounding the South Africa coronavirus variant.
Early data from a small trial indicates that the vaccine offers “minimal protection” against mild and moderate disease caused by the variant, known as B.1.351.
Samuel Lovett has put together this guide on everything we know so far about the South African variant:
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 11:40
Illegal immigrants to be given vaccine without checks on status
Illegal immigrants will be given coronavirus vaccines without checks on their immigration status, the Home Office has confirmed.
The government is working to reach people who are not registered with a GP to ensure they are offered the jab amid the drive to vaccinate the UK population.
It means the Home Office will take no action if someone in the UK illegally registers with a GP to be inoculated.
A government spokesman said: “Coronavirus vaccines will be offered to everyone living in the UK free of charge, regardless of immigration status.
“Those registered with a GP are being contacted at the earliest opportunity and we are working closely with partners and external organisations to contact those who are not registered with a GP to ensure they are also offered the vaccine.”
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 11:31
Mountain rescue volunteer falls 500ft during callout to campers despite lockdown
A mountain rescue volunteer is in hospital with serious injuries after falling 500ft while trying to reach two campers in the Lake District.
Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team had been called out to Red Screes, above Kirkstone Pass, following reports of a 47-year-old man suffering chest pains in the early hours of Saturday morning.
But while they were making their way to the casualty, the experienced volunteer, a man aged in his 60s, fell down steep ground and suffered spinal and facial injuries.
An air ambulance had to be called out to airlift him to hospital, where he remains in a serious but stable condition.
The camper suffering chest pains was carried off the hill on a stretcher and taken to hospital by land ambulance. He was discharged later the same day.
Cumbria Police fined the two 47-year-old men, from Leicester and Liverpool, £200 each for breaching coronavirus rules.
Chiara Giordano8 February 2021 10:54