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.

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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.”

Samuel Osborne8 March 2021 16:19

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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”.

Samuel Osborne8 March 2021 16:14

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Watch live as Boris Johnson gives coronavirus briefing

You can follow Boris Johnson’s coronavirus briefing from Downing Street here:

Watch live as Boris Johnson gives coronavirus briefing

Samuel Osborne8 March 2021 16:06

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Boris Johnson is now holding a Downing Street press conference alongside Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England.

Samuel Osborne8 March 2021 16:03

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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.

Kate Ng8 March 2021 16:00

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In pictures: Happiness as care home indoor visits allowed again

From today, care home residents are permitted one nominated visitor indoors, who can hold their hands and visit them regularly to provide essential care and support.

Here are some of the scenes of happiness and joy experienced by those who can visit their loved ones again.

Sylvia Newsom and her daughter Kay Fossett, who haven’t seen each other since December, enjoy their first visit following the easing of rules at Gracewell of Sutton care home in South London

(PA)

Stroke survivor Stephen Hayes, 51, is visited on his birthday by his wife, Karon Hayes, after months of only visiting each other through a window

(PA)

Nicky Clough visits her mother Pam Harrison in her bedroom at Alexander House Care Home for the first time since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions begin to ease

(REUTERS)

Kate Ng8 March 2021 15:45

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All of New Zealand to get Pfizer jab

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.”

Kate Ng8 March 2021 15:30

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Mark Drakeford branded Boris Johnson ‘really, really awful’ over his Covid response

The first minister of Wales branded Boris Johnson “really, really awful”over his response to the more aggressive variant of Covid-19 being found in December.

Mark Drakeford said he felt a “sense of despair” and was “wringing” his hands after a crisis meeting with the prime minister, following France’s travel ban on crossing the Channel.

Our Deputy Political Editor Rob Merrick reports:

Kate Ng8 March 2021 15:10

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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.

Kate Ng8 March 2021 14:50

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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.”

Peter Stubley8 March 2021 14:28

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Traffic jams are back as schools return

Traffic congestion predictably increased in cities across England as schools and colleges reopened, suggesting that many children are avoiding public transport.

The level of congestion on London’s roads at 8am on Monday was 53 per cent, compared with 34 per cent at the same time last week, according to location technology firm TomTom.

Other cities suffering an increase in traffic jams include Birmingham (from 29 per cent to 33 per cent), Leicester (from 26 to 41), Liverpool (from 35 to 39) and Manchester (from 25 to 45).

Congestion levels represent the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions.

The figures also indicate that Monday’s hold-ups were worse than on September 2 last year, which was the first day back at school for many pupils after the first national coronavirus lockdown.

Peter Stubley8 March 2021 14:17

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School considers sanctions for pupils who do not wear a mask

A Liverpool secondary school has said it is considering sanctions for children who do not wear a face mask in the classroom.

Gateacre School began testing year 11 and sixth form pupils using lateral flow tests on Monday ahead of their return to lessons tomorrow.

The testing will continue for lower years until Thursday, when all pupils with a negative test result will return.

The school is instructing all children to wear face coverings, and headteacher Gareth Jones said there would be discussions with pupils and parents on how to enforce the rule.

He said: “We cannot exclude a child for not wearing a face mask, so we are looking at sanctions and will be discussing with both the parents and the children on how best to proceed.”

The Government has decided against making the use of face coverings mandatory due to pupil anxiety.

Peter Stubley8 March 2021 14:00

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Greece ‘to reopen to tourists from May’

Greece plans to welcome back tourists from May, a government spokeswoman has said.

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.

Peter Stubley8 March 2021 13:44

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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.

Our Political Editor Andrew Woodcock reported:

Kate Ng8 March 2021 13:31

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One new Covid death recorded in Scotland, 501 new infections

Scotland has recorded one death of a coronavirus patient and 501 new cases in the past 24 hours, deputy First Minister John Swinney has announced.

This takes the death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 7,422.

The daily test positivity rate is 5 per cent, up from 3.2 per cent on Sunday.

There are 654 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up 26 in 24 hours, and 59 are in intensive care, down two.

A total of 1,774,659 people have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Monday morning – an increase of 14,909 in a day – and 118,732 have received their second dose.

Kate Ng8 March 2021 13:30

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‘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.

Tom Batchelor reports:

Kate Ng8 March 2021 13:10

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No new Covid deaths reported in Wales

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. “

Kate Ng8 March 2021 12:45

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Syria president Bashar al-Assad and his wife test positive for Covid

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma have both tested positive for coronavirus, his office said in a statement.

Get the breaking news:

Kate Ng8 March 2021 12:27

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Boris Johnson to lead Downing Street coronavirus briefing

The prime minister will lead today’s Downing Street press conference on coronavirus, No10 has said.

Kate Ng8 March 2021 12:12

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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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