BRITAIN'S coronavirus alert level has been lowered from level five to four with the threat on the "receding".
NHS England's national medical director Stephen Powis and the four UK chief medical officers agreed on the change following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth II urged those wary of receiving the jab to "think about other people".
The 94-year-old monarch was vaccinated along with her husband Prince Philip in January, telling health officials leading the rollout in a video call that she now felt "protected".
Follow our coronavirus live blog below for the very latest news and updates on the pandemic...
HANCOCK TO LEAD 5PM BRIEFING
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will lead a press briefing at 5pm today and reveal those next in line for the Covid vaccine.
The Health Secretary will speak this afternoon to confirm ministers will back the scientists when deciding who gets the jabs after the over-50s.
It’s been reported that the government will continue prioritising people by age, with Brits in their 40s, followed by those in the 30s, and so on.
Read the full details here.
DOZEN COVID CASES FOUND ON US WARSHIP
A US Navy warship operating in the Middle East has a dozen cases of the novel coronavirus, while another warship in the region is investigating whether some of its members are also infected.
The USS San Diego which has the confirmed cases is at port in Bahrain. It sails with about 600 sailors and Marines aboard.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, which carries some 380 sailors, is expected to pull into port for further testing. The port was not disclosed.
"Once we became aware of possible Covid-19 aboard USS San Diego (LPD 22) and USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), we took immediate actions to identify, isolate, test & treat affected Sailors & Marines aboard the two ships", the U.S. 5th Fleet said in a statement posted on Twitter.
LOCAL PARIS GOVT OPPOSED TO WEEKEND LOCKDOWNS
The Paris local government is opposed to any weekend lockdowns that could be imposed on the capital to curb the Covid-19 virus, Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
Gregoire added he hoped any new restrictions for Paris could result in curbing the spread of the virus and result in "some form of return to normal" life in spring.
The French government said earlier it would examine the idea of a three-week lockdown for Paris.
QUEEN NOT INTERFERING IN POLITICS - BUCKLAND
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has rejected suggestions that the Queen was interfering in politics by encouraging people to have a coronavirus vaccination.
He told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "As is so often the case in our history, the Queen can, just with a few words, encapsulate the mood of the nation.
"I think we can trust the Queen to get it right. An issue like the vaccine and indeed the Covid pandemic goes beyond politics.
"Messages of unity are very much part of what the Queen is all about. She has got it right for nearly 70 years. She continues not to put a foot wrong."
CORONAVIRUS HAS MADE UK LOOK DYSFUNCTIONAL, SAYS GORDON BROWN
The coronavirus crisis has made the UK look "dysfunctional" at times due to a lack of co-operation between administrations, Gordon Brown has said.
In an article on devolution for the Scottish Fabians think tank, the former prime minister also said Boris Johnson risks becoming the "biggest recruiting sergeant for nationalism" due to his position on devolution.
Mr Brown authored part of a report for the Scottish Fabians which was released on Friday ahead of the results of the Scottish Labour leadership election.
The report says the Labour Party, in Scotland and across the UK, must find a way to articulate the purpose of the United Kingdom.
In a section of the report titled "state of the nation", Mr Brown accuses Mr Johnson of undermining devolution with the post-Brexit Internal Market Act.
INDIA TO SUSPEND COVID VACCINATIONS THIS WEEKEND
India will halt coronavirus vaccinations this weekend to upgrade software used to coordinate its campaign, the health ministry said on Friday, preparing to expand the programme after infections surged in some states.
With the world's highest tally of infections after the United States, India began its vaccination drive on Jan. 16, covering nearly 11.5 million health and front-line workers, against a target of 300 million by August.
"The countrywide vaccination exercise is being exponentially expanded," the ministry said in a statement, adding that a new version of its Co-Win digital platform was being rolled out at the weekend.
Co-Win, wrapped into a government mobile telephone app, is being widely used to fix vaccination appointments, allow health authorities to monitor supplies and download proof of immunisation.
PRISONERS NOT GIVEN PRIORITY FOR VACCINE
The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has said prisoners will not be given priority for the Covid vaccine but refused to rule out vaccinating them en masse.
"Prisoners will not be getting priority. At the moment they are vaccinated in accordance with the current guidelines, in accordance with what is happening in the community," he told LBC.
"What is clear is that the need for speed is everything here. I will be supporting anything that gives us speed and maximises the impact that it has.
"Prisons are a closed environment, like care homes. I have got to think about the welfare of staff. I am particularly anxious to make sure that prison staff get the vaccine.
"I very much hope the JCVI will reinforce that message and allow ministers to make that informed decision as soon as possible."
MORE FROM SEMPLE
"There is really good data coming out ... that shows that children are half as likely to acquire the virus to a third as likely to acquire the virus.
"When it comes to transmitting, they are probably half as likely to transmit it as adults.
"That risk actually gets smaller as you go into younger age groups.
"So I am not a great fan of young children wearing face masks."
He said he agrees that young children will find it difficult to wear the masks properly.
OPENING WINDOWS MORE EFFECTIVE THAN MASKS FOR PRIMARY SCHOOL KIDS - GOVT ADVISOR
Keeping windows open and improving ventilation in schools is much more effective at reducing coronavirus transmission than asking young children to wear face masks, a Government scientific adviser has said.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he is "not a fan" of asking young children to wear masks, and there are better strategies for managing the virus.
It came after some schools, including Selsdon Primary School in Croydon, south London, said pupils must wear face coverings at all times, except during sports lessons or when eating or drinking.
A statement from the school said: "This decision was solely based on keeping our staff, pupils and their families safe in the current situation."
But Prof Semple, speaking in a personal capacity, said: "Primary school children are the lowest risk both to themselves and to society."
MINISTER WELCOMES QUEEN'S COVID INTERVENTION
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has welcomed the intervention of the Queen encouraging people to get the Covid jab.
Buckland told LBC: "I think anything the Queen says has immense power.
"She was implying that it was not only good for our own health but that it was also an altruistic act, and that in doing so we all collectively enhance the safety of others.
"The message of encouragement, information, support for people who have never had a vaccine before is hugely important.
"I think the Queen again in her usual way has helped reinforce that important message."
BRIT JAILED AND FINED OVER BREAKING COVID RESTRICTIONS
A Brit has been sentenced to two weeks in jail and fined 1,000 Singapore dollars ($753) on Friday for breaking a coronavirus quarantine order in Singapore.
Nigel Skea is the first Briton to be jailed for flouting coronavirus rules in the city-state. A handful had their work passes revoked and paid fines.
Skea left his room at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on three occasions last September, according to charge sheets. He wasn't wearing a mask.
On one of the occasions, he climbed an emergency stairwell and entered a room that his Singaporean fiancee had booked. They spent nine hours together.
Skea, who pleaded guilty to two charges of flouting the rules, arrived at the State Courts on Friday with Agatha Maghesh Eyamalai, whom he has since married.
Eyamalai pleaded guilty to one charge of aiding Skea. She was sentenced to a week in jail.
FRANCE UNABLE TO AVOID NEW LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS
France will not be able to avoid new lockdown measures given the increase in Covid-19 cases, the head of a Paris hospital emergencies unit told BFM TV on Friday.
"I do not understand what we are waiting for," said Philippe Juvin, adding the hospital situation was "very tense" in the Paris region.
The French government will study a proposition for Paris to undergo a three-week lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, said government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
"Clearly, this will be studied," Attal told France Inter radio on Friday, although he added he had some doubts over whether or not such a short lockdown would have an effect.
The Paris deputy mayor had said on Thursday that Paris would submit a three-week lockdown plan to the government. French Prime Minister Jean Castex had earlier said France would impose measures including weekend lockdowns in Paris and 19 other regions from the start of March if COVID-19 trends worsened.
COMMUTERS can expect fewer trains after the pandemic but they will be more reliable, the boss of Network Rail has said.
Chair Sir Peter Hendy said commuting would be at a “permanently lower level” — possibly up to 40 per cent less.
He told the National Rail Recovery Conference people “prefer reliability to journey time”.
RICH pensioners are being targeted with a "stealth tax" in the Budget to try and repair Britain’s post-pandemic finances.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly drawing up plans to freeze the lifetime allowance people can have in their pension pot at just over £1million.
Those who go over face a 25 per cent tax on any extra savings which rises to 55 per cent if they draw a lump sum.
THE first guests forced to stay in quarantine hotels raced out of their rooms just after midnight as soon as their 10-day isolation periods ended.
Frustrated travellers, who arrived on the first day of the mandatory scheme, could have waited until the morning but decided to leave at midnight to avoid spending any more time in the hotel one described as “a prison”.
From last Monday, UK and Irish nationals returning to England from countries deemed at high risk for Covid-19 have had to self-isolate in some specific hotels, paying £1,750 per person for their stay.
RIGHT AS REIGN
The Queen last night urged Brits to get their jabs and said: “It didn’t hurt at all.”
The 94-year-old monarch, given her injection seven weeks ago and wearing a brooch in tribute to ill husband Philip, told a video call that Covid was a “plague”.
She said of those refusing to be jabbed: “They ought to think about other people rather than themselves.”
In a chat to chiefs overseeing the rollout, she said of her injection seven weeks ago: “It was very quick, and I’ve had lots of letters from people who’ve been surprised by how easy it was to get the vaccine.”
Chuckling on screen, she said it “didn’t hurt at all” and gave her a huge feeling of protection.
Covid fines have surged as police crack down on people ignoring lockdown rules.
Cops issued 26,277 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) between January 17 and February 14.
It was the biggest 28-day rise in the number of fines dished out since restrictions were introduced last March.
The figure represents 38 per cent of the 68,952 FPNs issued since March — and comes as police adopt a tougher approach.
Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said frontline officers had moved more quickly to enforcement as numbers of infections rose across the country.
Many millenials will only get the Covid jab if vaccine passports are brought in for gigs and festivals, a new poll reveals.
A quarter of Brits aged 18 to 34 say they will not get the vaccine.
But out of these refuseniks, 38 per cent said they would change their mind if they had to show a vaccine certificate to go partying.
The findings, by Forefront Market Research, pile pressure on No10 to sign off on the certificates in time for the great unlocking this summer.
Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, chief executive of UK Music, said: “The reopening relies on the vaccination programme continuing to go well – so it’s in all our interests for the vaccine rollout to be as successful as possible.
“Vaccine certification could help boost consumer confidence and may even offer an incentive for younger people to get vaccinated.
“If businesses or event organisers want to introduce them, they should be allowed to do so.”
Hackers have broken into biochemical systems at a Covid-19 research laboratory at Oxford University.
The university has confirmed that its Division of Structural Biology, known as Strubi, has been hit by a cyber attack.
GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is set to assist Oxford University in the investigation.
Screenshots of the cyber attack seen by Forbes reportedly show interfaces that can control the pressure gauges on lab equipment and prepare biochemical samples.
According to time stamps on the monitors, the breach happened on February 13 and 14.
BRAZIL FACING MUTATED VIRUS THAT IS THREE TIMES MORE CONTAGIOUS SAYS HEALTH MINISTER
Brazil is facing a new stage of the coronavirus pandemic with mutated variants of the virus that are three times more contagious, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said on Thursday, as the country hit a quarter of a million deaths.
Pazuello said the government has distributed between 13 million and 14 million vaccine doses and plans to have inoculated half of the country's 210 million population by midyear.
Brazil is negotiating to buy all the vaccines it can, and Congress is looking at legislation to allow the government to buy shots from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen subsidiary.
The UK's Covid alert level has today been downgraded - in a hopeful indicator that pressure on the NHS is lifting.
All four chief medical officers made the promising decision to pull the country down from its highest ever alert level, five, to a four.
There are now 16,803 patients being treated on wards for the virus, less than half the 39,247 peak five weeks earlier.
The drop means Covid is still in general circulation with transmission risk still high, but there is no longer a “material risk” of the NHS being overwhelmed.
He said the seven-day moving average of cases over the week to Wednesday was 737, down from 816 in the previous week.
The daily number of new cases reported on Thursday was 613.
He said there is also progress in terms of Covid patients in hospitals.
"Even though the number of deaths reported here per days sadly remains high, the seven-day moving average is about half what it was four weeks ago," he said.
"So we're seeing continued improvement in all indicators."
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said Ireland has gone from being among the worst in the world six, seven weeks ago in relation to the virus, to now being in the top 10 in Europe.
He urged the public to "continue doing what you're doing" in terms of following public health advice.
"It's boring, people want me to be able to say do this and that'll be the panacea, but I'm afraid the boring truth is that if people can continue what they are doing we will get there, we are going on the right track," he said.
EARLY EVIDENCE DETECTED OF 'PROTECTIVE IMPACT' OF COVID VACCINE
Strong early evidence has been seen in Ireland of a protective impact from the coronavirus vaccine.
As of February 22, 359,616 doses of the coronavirus vaccine - 226,291 first doses and 133,325 second doses - had been administered.
Professor Philip Nolan said "significant progress" is being made in the pandemic.
And "very hearteningly" he said "we are beginning to see strong early evidence of a protective impact of vaccination" in the cohorts who are receiving the jab.