Covid news – live: ‘New wave could easily take off again’ amid confusion over back-to-school testing
Gavin Williamson hints that school day could be extended
Schools in England are welcoming students back into classrooms today and care homes will begin permitting one regular visitor indoors, as part of the first step towards easing the coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson told The Telegraph although today marked “only a small relaxation of the rules”, the changes will bring “joy and relief” to families after months of “tough restrictions”.
Most primary schools will open for all pupils, but secondary schools are taking a more phased approach, with students taking regular Covid tests and wearing face masks in classrooms to reduce the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of care home residents in England will be able to receive regular indoor visits from a nominated loved one. Visitors will be tested beforehand, must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and will be allowed to hold hands, but not hug or kiss their loved ones.
Rules around meeting a person from another household outdoors will also be loosened this week, which means people can leave home to meet one other person for a coffee or picnic outside.
UK at level ‘which a new wave could easily take off from’, deputy chief medical officer says
The UK’s coronavirus statistics paint a “pleasing picture but one which still has some caution attached to it”.
Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, told the Downing Street briefing that the country “is back now about where it was in the end of September – so still quite a high level”.
She warned: “This is the level at which a new wave could easily take off again from and we need to persist with all those actions.”
Earlier, she had said: “It’s really important that we continue to practice social distancing, hands, face and space as the prime minister has said, and continue to observe all of our handwashing as well.”
PM praises parents and teachers as he welcomes return of children to classrooms
Boris Johnson praised parents and teachers as he welcomed the return of millions of children to the classroom in England under the first easing of coronavirus restrictions.
The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference that the return to schools marked a “big day and an emotional day” for millions of families across England.
He said: “We all know that the education of our children is so important that the greater risk now is keeping them out of school for a day longer.
“I want to thank all the teachers who have got their schools ready and who have been teaching throughout the period – whether that is remotely or in person. Your work has been astonishing.”
Mr Johnson also thanked parents who have been teaching their children at home and said: “We all know that the burden has disproportionately fallen on women – often holding down jobs and providing childcare at the same time.”
He said the government’s job was to ensure pupils not only catch up on lost learning but “take the biggest possible step forwards with a concerted national programme for educational recovery”.
Covid-19 hospital admissions down 90% for over-85s
Hospital admissions in England of Covid-19 patients aged 85 and over have fallen 90 per cent since the peak of the second wave, new data analysis shows.
The number of people being admitted into hospital has dropped from a peak of 863 admissions on 12 January to just 90 on 5 March.
This marks the first time daily admissions for this age group have been below 100 since 10 October.
The analysis, by the PA news agency, is based on the latest figures from NHS England and shows hospital admissions of patients aged 65 to 84 have also fallen sharply, dropping g91 per cent from 1,678 on 12 January to 159 on 5 March.
The overall number of hospital admissions in England stood at 487 on 5 March, the lowers figure since 472 on 5 October.
It comes after a Public Health England study published last week suggested a single dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine is more than 80 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation for people over 80, around three to four weeks after the jab.
A total of 19,812,818 Covid-19 jabs have been administered in England between 8 December and 7 March, according to provisional NHS England data.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the entire population of the country will be vaccinated with just the Pfizer vaccine to make it fair for all citizens to get the same vaccine.
Diverging from the earlier plan to approve four different vaccines, New Zealand will now have 10 million doses of Pfizer to inoculate its population of 5 million people with two doses each.
Ms Ardern said the decision was based on the “effectiveness of Pfizer.”
European Commission ‘surprised’ by travel ban extension in Belgium
The European Commission has said it was “surprised” after Belgian authorities decided to prolong a ban on all non-essential travel to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The commission previously warned six member states, including Belgium, that their Covid-related travel bans could undermine the principle of free movement within the bloc and the single market.
Christian Wigand, the commission spokesperson in charge of justice, equality and rule of law, said: “We have received answers to our letters to member states, from Germany, Belgium and Finland.
“As far as Belgium is concerned, we have been surprised to read in the press a new prolongation of the ban on travel on Friday, while it was not mentioned in the letter to the commission we received the day before.”
The ban was introduced at the end of January. It was first extended to 1 April and has been further extended to 18 April to cover the next school holidays.
Under the Schengen Code, member states can introduce border checks at their internal borders on grounds of serious threat to internal security.
However, the ban in Belgium goes well beyond the EU’s recommendations for a common approach to travel measures during the pandemic. The commission’s stance is that non-essential travel should only be discouraged.
Government ‘worse than useless’ over school Covid test confusion
Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting has criticised the government’s confused messaging about Covid testing in schools.
Quoting a tweet which cited an apparent error from children’s minister Vicky Ford about the correct protocol, the Labour MP wrote: “What hope is there for schools, parents and pupils when ministers in the DFE can’t get their basic facts right.
“Is there a single day or a single announcement or a single initiative that Gavin Williamson’s bungling team have managed to get through unscathed? Worse than useless.”
Aristotelia Peloni told reporters the timing of the decision to lift coronavirus restrictions depends on the data on the number of cases and hospital admissions.
Schools and shops are set to reopen at the end of March, with outdoor dining following in April and parts of the tourism sector in May.
Tourism accounts for about a fifth of Greece’s economic output and employs one in five people, but Greece was recently forced to extend a lockdown in the wider Athens region until 16 March due to a resurgence in infections.
Greece’s finance minister Christos Staikouras told a Greek radio station the government’s baseline scenario is to reopen parts of the economy on 22 March.
“Two weeks of lockdown accounted for public spending and lost taxes of 1.2 billion euros ($1.42 billion), including 520 million euros from retailers,” he said.
“We still have tough days ahead of us. But we running the last mile in this marathon race,” she said.
Boris Johnson contradicts education minister on Covid testing
Downing Street has contradicted an education minister by saying that children who test positive for coronavirus in a lateral flow test can be cleared to go to school if they later test negative in the more reliable PCR test.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson told reporters that a pupil can come out of self-isolation and return to school if the lab test comes back negative, despite children’s minister Vicky Ford saying the opposite earlier today.
‘Inevitable’ children returning to school will cause Covid cases to rise, says government adviser
Children returning to schools this week will lead to an “inevitable” rise in Covid infection rates, a government scientific adviser has warned.
Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the impact on case numbers of classrooms opening up was a “worry” – but added that the vaccination rollout will allow a “vast majority of people who are at risk from severe disease” to be protected.
There have been no new deaths with Covid-19 reported in Wales on Monday, Public Health Wales has said.
According to the latest figures, there have been 164 new cases and the weekly incidence of coronavirus infections is now below 50 cases per 100,000 population in more than half of the local authorities.
Dr Giri Shankar, incident director for the Covid-19 espouse at PHW, said in a statement: “This does vary between local authority areas and therefore we remind the public that Level 4 restrictions are still in place.
“This weekend you should stay at home, work from home if you can, wear a face covering where required, wash your hands regularly and stay two metres from anyone you do not live with.
“We remind everyone that four people from two different households are now able to meet outdoors for socially distanced local exercise. However, please remember this is solely for the purpose of exercise and that individuals should remain at a social distance, and that this guidance doesn’t apply to private gardens.”
He added: “The Welsh Government has announced that the revised vaccine strategy will mean that every eligible adult in Wales will be offered a first dose by the end of July.
“In addition, adults with severe or profound learning disabilities, and those with any mental illness that causes severe functional impairment, will be invited for vaccination as part of the JCVI priority group six, and the Welsh Government has published guidance on identifying eligible individuals in these groups and how to support them to take up their vaccine offers.
“The Welsh Government also announced an expansion of workplace and community testing, with workplaces with more than 50 employees now eligible for support to regularly test their workforce, helping to reduce the spread of the virus and allowing them to operate safely. “
Students with positive result from rapid test should still self0isolate if second laboratory test is negative, minister suggests
Secondary school children who receive a positive result after taking a rapid Covid test will have to self-isolate even if a second follow-up laboratory test produces a negative result, a government minister has confirmed.
Vicky Ford, the children’s minister, told the Today programme that if a student tests positive for coronavirus, they “shouldn’t be in school”, and should complete their 10-day self-isolation period even if a PCR test yields a negative result afterwards.
“The first priority is to make sure we keep the Covid out of the classrooms, with these regular tests,” she stressed.
Our Political Correspondent Ashley Cowburn has more on this story:
Kate Ng8 March 2021 11:52
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