Covid news – live: French third wave could be ‘worst yet’ and Whitty recalls ‘near misses’ in vaccine rollout

Coronavirus in numbers

France’s third wave could be its most devastating yet, new data suggests, after the country reported 50,659 new coronavirus cases on Thursday – against 59,038 on Wednesday and 45,641 reported on Thursday a week ago.

Some 5,109 people were also reported to be in intensive care units with Covid-19, up by 56 from a day earlier, according to the ministry of health figures.

French president Emmanuel Macron ordered France into its third national lockdown in a televised address on Wednesday, telling citizens schools would close for three weeks as he sought to push back a surge of infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

Elsewhere, England’s chief medical officer has spoken of “several really dangerous near-misses” on the first day of the rollout of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in the UK, which he says led to changes in procedures when jabs are given.

“Several really severe near-miss anaphylactic reactions” occurred “right on day one of our vaccination rollout,” Chris Whitty recalled. It led to a 15-minute monitoring period being introduced after each jab.

Speaking to an online Royal Society of Medicine event on Thursday, Prof Whitty predicted a “wide portfolio” of Covid vaccines could be available in two years but warned caution over the virus would be needed in the meantime due to the threat of new variants.

His comments come as the latest NHS England data reveals four in 10 people aged 80 and over have had their second doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

An estimated 40.8 per cent of people in this age group had received both doses of the vaccine as of 28 March. In some regions the proportion was higher, with 42 per cent fully protected in the northwest and 50.2 per cent in the northeast and Yorkshire.

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Countries with high vaccination rates to host British tourists first

Britons could be given the green light to visit the US, Maldives, Israel and Malta this summer, according to The Times, under government plans to prioritise travel to countries with the highest Covid vaccination rates.

It comes as Boris Johnson is set to announce a new traffic light scheme on Monday, which will rank foreign countries from red to amber to green depending on how far along they are in their inoculation programmes.

Travel to and from “red” countries, for instance, will be banned while people returning from amber countries will have to quarantine for up to 10 days. Anyone returning from green-listed destinations will be exempt from isolating.

At a meeting on Thursday night, ministers discussed the new scheme and laid out plans to warn the public that travel will be “severely suppressed” for at least another year, the newspaper states. They are reportedly expecting passenger levels under the plan to remain at one twentieth of 2019 levels for the rest of this year.

The report adds ministers will say Britain is unlikely to open for all inbound travel until 2022, with a government source telling the paper: “Holidays won’t be as we know them for the foreseeable future.”

A final decision on when international travel will resume in the UK has not yet been made.

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 23:27

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Vaccine passports to be tested at FA Cup final

Covid vaccine passports will be piloted at events across Britain in April and May, including the FA Cup final, according to reports in The Daily Telegraph.

This is despite widespread calls from both MPs – including Tory rebels – and hospitality industry figures to bin the proposals.

The Snooker World Championships will also take part in the pilot scheme.

Plans to safely open large events on a trial-and-error basis will be announced in the coming days which include suggestions to test Covid certificates upon entry.

People going to the events will be made to take a test before they can go in one after they leave to monitor possible spreading.

While events in April will require a negative test to gain entry, ministers hope others taking place in May will be able to trial the Covid passports – using a modified NHS app – which show if someone has had a jab, negative test or has antibodies.

The move is the latest signal that the government will press ahead with plans to roll out the documents, despite more than 70 MPs reportedly putting their names to a new statement condemning the idea.

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 23:08

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Covid warning from police amid fears new rules ‘almost impossible’ to enforce

Police chiefs have warned that enforcing new lockdown rules may be “almost impossible” ahead of a long Easter weekend which is likely to see people across the country meeting outdoors, despite an end to the recent sunny spring weather.

Parts of the UK saw temperatures reach 24C on Wednesday, only just short of the nation’s hottest ever March temperature of 25.6C, recorded in 1968. The long Easter weekend is expected to be cooler, with temperatures struggling to reach double digits by Sunday.

Andy Gregory and Vincent Wood report:

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 22:47

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Covid vaccine hesitancy among black people in UK halves

The number of black adults who say they are hesitant about having a coronavirus vaccine has roughly halved in a month, figures show, amid a major campaign of encouragement.

Positive sentiment generally towards vaccination has risen from 78 per cent in December to 94 per cent in March, the Office for National Statistics announced on Thursday.

Sir Lenny Henry previously wrote an open letter to encourage black Britons to take the vaccine, co-signed by stars such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and radio DJ Trevor Nelson.

My colleague Adam Forrest takes a closer look:

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 22:30

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Pubs ‘outraged’ by vaccine passport proposals

Pubs have reacted angrily to news that the government may decide to enforce limits, such as domestic vaccine passports, even after 21 June – when all social distancing measures are scheduled to be thrown out in England.

Hospitality industry representatives have written to Boris Johnson to express their outrage at new guidance over the start of outside-only trade, which will begin on 12 April.

One major concern is a change in rules from last year, which will now see every customer aged 16 or over required to provide contact details to staff rather than the original one person from each group.

They also voiced fears that ministers were set to recommend vaccine certificates, or proof of negative tests, to permit entry to pubs, cafes or restaurants. Mr Johnson signalled last week it could be left up to pub landlord to decide if they enforced such rules, and to perform the necessary checks on potential customers.

A statement from the groups UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping said: “It now seems the hospitality industry could be burdened with vaccine passports, over-complicated test and trace rules and an inability not able to take payments indoors at reopening – a triple whammy for hard-pressed publicans who have been forcibly closed for months.

“Pubs will already be trading at a loss when they reopen with all the existing restrictions and COVID-secure measures in place. Adding further disproportionate and discriminatory measures threatens the very survival of thousands of businesses.”

It comes after Sir Keir Starmer told the Daily Telegraph the passports were un-British and went against the “British instinct”.

You can read more on that here:

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 22:15

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Brussels riot police use water cannon to disperse crowd

Riot police in Belgium have used horses and water cannon to disperse crowds gathered in defiance of coronavirus rules, apparently in response to a fake festival created as an April Fools’ joke.

Footage posted to social media showed the scene quickly descend into chaos as police, armed with shields and batons, charged into crowds on horseback reportedly using tear gas and pepper spray to force people to leave.

My colleague Andy Gregory has more:

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 22:00

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Hancock and Harries visit UK Health Security Agency HQ

Health secretary Matt Hancock and the UK Health Security Agency’s chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, today visited the new government agency’s headquarters in Colindale, north London.

Earlier this evening, the Department of Health posted a video of the trip to its Twitter feed.

The agency was launched this week, and is charged with leading the UK’s work on preventing future pandemics and other external threats to health.

Dr Harries has been a regular at the No 10 Covid press briefings since the pandemic began – before the agency was launched, she served as England’s deputy chief medical officer from June 2019 to April 2021.

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 21:45

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France’s third Covid wave could be its worst yet, data suggests

France is still at least a week away from the peak of its third wave of the pandemic, which data suggests could be the most devastating yet.

The country reported 50,659 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, against 59,038 on Wednesday and 45,641 reported on Thursday a week ago, according to the country’s health ministry.

France could hit the peak of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in seven to 10 days with the new restrictive measures announced on Wednesday by president Emmanuel Macron, health minister Olivier Veran told France Inter radio.

Anthony Cuthbertson reports from Paris:

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 21:30

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Case surge in France ‘very sad,’ Johnson says as he warns it could spread to UK

Boris Johnson has described a surge in coronavirus cases in France, which has seen the country enter its third national lockdown, as “very, very sad”.

He also suggested the UK could be impacted within weeks.

Speaking on a campaign visit to Hartlepool on Thursday, ahead of next month’s by-election in the town, the PM recalled how previous Covid waves in Europe had soon travelled to the UK.

“What’s happening in France… and it is, you know, very, very sad because they’re facing it again,” he told employees at Hart Biologicals. “All the experience of the last year is that, when they get it in France and they get it bad, two or three weeks later it comes to us.”

Schools in France will be closed for at least three weeks and domestic travel will be banned for a month as part of the new restrictions. In a televised address on Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron said: “We must make an additional effort. No region is safe from this virus. Everyone should limit their contacts with other people.”

The measures are the latest taken by European leaders, amid a third wave of Covid cases spreading across the continent.

Sam Hancock1 April 2021 21:15

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Germany advises under-60s to avoid two AstraZeneca shots

Germany’s vaccine commission, known as STIKO, has recommended people under 60 who have had a first shot of AstraZeneca’s vaccine receive a different product for their second dose.

Earlier in the week, Germany said only people aged 60 and over should be given the AstraZeneca jab due to the rare risk of blood clots. It said it would make a separate recommendation later on younger people who had already received a first shot.

In an updated recommendation on its website, STIKO said there was no scientific evidence on the safety of a mixed series of vaccines.

“Until the appropriate data is available, STIKO recommends for people under 60 years old that instead of the second AstraZeneca dose, a dose of an mRNA-vaccine should be given 12 weeks after the first vaccine,” STIKO said.

MRNA vaccinations include those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Jane Dalton1 April 2021 20:56

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