It comes as South Africa announced it had suspended the rollout of the British-designed vaccine to healthcare staff following the results, which have yet to be peer reviewed.
The number of people in the UK who have received a first dose of a vaccine passed the 12 million mark, with jabs administered at a rate of almost 1,000 per minute during a one hour period over the weekend.
147 confirmed cases of South African variant in UK so far
Health minister Edward Argar said there have been 147 confirmed cases of the South African coronavirus variant in the UK but acknowledged his figures may be “a day or so out”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The latest figures I have, which may be a day or so out, is 147 cases in this country.
“So it’s still very much not the dominant strain here, the dominant strain here is very much the historic one, the one we’ve been dealing with since last year, and to a large degree the so-called Kent variant.”
Gavin Williamson ‘looking at’ summer term extension
Health minister Edward Argar did not rule out that the Government is considering extending the summer term to give pupils time to catch up.
Asked about reports that ministers are considering the proposal, he told BBC Breakfast: “It’s quite right that Gavin (Williamson, the Education Secretary) is looking at a whole range of things to see how we can make sure the impact on them is minimised to the extent that’s possible.
“But it would be premature for me to comment on what may or may not be what he does announce.”
Virus could ‘bounce back’ if restrictions lifted too early
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, said that the virus will “bounce back” if restrictions are lifted too early.
He told BBC Breakfast that the nation should not repeat the same “mistake” that it did last year.
Hospitals are still “incredibly busy” with Covid patients, he said, adding: “I think trust leaders are really clear that we need to be careful about relaxing the restrictions too quickly, because we made that mistake last year and look what happened in the north after the summer – the virus has bounced straight back.”
He added: “We’ve all worked incredibly hard over the last nine months as a nation – and over the last few months, last few weeks in terms of this immediate set of restrictions.
“What we mustn’t do is rush to lift them, and then find the virus bounces straight back.”
Mr Hopson said NHS Providers is writing to the Prime Minister asking him to consider a number of factors when considering easing restrictions, including: case numbers and infection spread, hospital admissions, vaccinations, the new variants of the virus and ensuring the Test and Trace programme is “capable of identifying those mutations and genomically sequencing large numbers of tests really rapidly”.
Government could shorten summer holidays
This would give children more time in school
Annual booster vaccine ‘not unreasonable’
Health minister Edward Argar said it “would not be unreasonable” to have annual coronavirus booster jabs to protect against new strains that emerge.
He told Sky News: “What we would all expect is every year we have our flu booster jabs, or our flu jabs, it would not be unreasonable to suggest something similar here.”
The minister said the virus “will always try to outwit us”, adding: “We’ve just got to make sure we get ahead of the game and we outwit it.”
‘No evidence Oxford vaccine won’t protect against severe illness’, says Health Minister
Health minister Edward Argar has said there is “no evidence” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective at preventing severe illness from coronavirus.
He told Sky News: “There is no evidence that this vaccine is not effective in preventing hospitalisation, severe illness and death, which is ultimately what we’re seeking with these vaccines.”
The minister noted that the “dominant strains in this country are not the South African strain”, with “only a small number of cases of that”.
He added that South Africa’s suspension of the rollout of the vaccine is only “temporary” at this stage.
AstraZeneca believe vaccine will prevent against more serious disease
Scientists agreed more research is required into the level of protection the Oxford vaccine affords against the South African variant but some expressed concern over the preliminary findings from the southern hemisphere.
AstraZeneca said on Sunday the fact the study into the E484K mutation involved 2,000 people who were mostly young and healthy meant it had “not been able to properly ascertain” whether it prevented against severe illness and hospital admission.
But the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant said it believed “our vaccine will still protect against severe disease” as the neutralising antibody activity is “equivalent to other Covid-19 vaccines that have demonstrated activity against more severe disease”.
Fines for Irish border crossers unveiled
People living in Northern Ireland who cross the Irish border without a reasonable excuse face a 100 euro fine from today.
The new measures apply to anyone who is “not ordinarily resident” in the Republic of Ireland.
The Garda said, if enforcement is required, a fixed payment notice for 100 euro will be issued to each person who is in breach of the regulation.
If gardai stop a car with a driver and two passengers then each of the three adults will receive a fine of 100 euro.
The new rules mean the Garda can turn back day trippers from Northern Ireland who cross the border.
Disadvantaged pupils struggled during remote learning – study
Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds found remote learning significantly more difficult than other students last year, a new study has found.
Non-profit body ImpactEd monitored 62,000 pupils in England through eight months of 2020 to assess the effect of online schooling during the pandemic.
Their report, Lockdown Lessons, found that among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – those at schools eligible for the Government’s Pupil Premium grant – only 45% said they understood their schoolwork in lockdown, compared with 57% among other students.
The survey assessed pupils using a range of measures including their home learning environment, their metacognitive strategies and their learning habits, in order to determine a “Covid-19 Learning Index”.
— to www.standard.co.uk