United Kingdom

Covid England: Boris Johnson refuses to rule out lockdown to SUMMER

Boris Johnson today refused to rule out the brutal lockdown lasting until the summer amid claims he is willing to keep curbs longer to ensure it is the last national squeeze.

The PM insisted it is 'too early to say' whether the restrictions will stay in place for months longer - despite cases falling by more than a fifth on last week and hopes rising that the most vulnerable groups will be vaccinated by mid-February, with a record 366,919 jabs administered in 24 hours.

Mr Johnson also delivered a stark message that the new coronavirus strain is 'much more contagious', repeating his plea for people to stay at home and obey the rules. 

The intervention came as scientists delivered a grim warning that even mass vaccinations will not be enough to stop the disease spreading, suggesting that measures will need to remain longer.

There are claims from the PM's circle that he is ready to risk the wrath of Tory MPs - who are clamouring for confirmation of an easing starting March 8 - by persisting with the curbs.

The UK recorded another 37,892 infections today, but that was down more than a fifth on last Thursday. 

There were another 1,290 deaths but that was up just 3.4 per cent on the same day last week, suggesting that the rate might be slowing. 

In other major moves in the coronavirus crisis:

On a visit to see flooding in Greater Manchester today, Boris Johnson warned it was 'too early to say' whether lockdown will need to stay until the summer

Pictured, the impact on R rate for various vaccination scenarios, herd immunity is only achieved if R is kept below 1. The green line shows the Pfizer vaccine, and the  blue line shows the effectiveness of Oxford's vaccine according to the 70.4% effectiveness claimed in data sent to MHRA. The red line shows data from phase 3 clinical trials for two standards dose jabs of the Oxford jab against both symptomatic and asymptomatic infection

UK 'won't get herd immunity even if every Briton is vaccinated' 

The UK won't achieve herd immunity with the current coronavirus vaccines even if every single Briton is injected, a study claimed today.

It came as Boris Johnson refused to rule out keeping the lockdown in place until the summer and SAGE scientists warned draconian restrictions will be needed until May.

Analysis from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that the efficacy of current vaccines, combined with the emergence of more infectious variants of the virus, meant keeping the R below one without lockdown restrictions could become impossible.

UEA researchers say that even if every man, woman and child in the UK gets both doses of the Oxford jab it would only bring the R — the average number of people each patient infects — down to 1.3. But, because this vaccine is approved for over-18s only, the R would remain at about two when curbs are lifted completely.

The study found Pfizer's jab – which is more effective at blocking coronavirus than the Oxford one – is capable of bringing the R below one and achieving herd immunity but it would require inoculating teenagers. Currently the jab is only approved for over-16s. Researchers warned it would 'likely be impossible' to hit the 82 per cent target needed because 'people will refuse the vaccine'.

Scientists have always known eradicating Covid was an impossible task and the goal of the vaccine programme is not to prevent all transmission from occurring. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is immune to an infectious disease, stopping it from spreading.

One source told the FT: 'Boris wants this to be the last lockdown, even if it has to go on longer. 

'There has to be a sense of finality to these measures so he appears to be on side with the scientists.' 

On a visit to see flooding in Greater Manchester today, Mr Johnson was asked whether lockdown could stay until the summer.

'I think it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions,' he said.

'We'll look then (February 15) at how we're doing but I think what we're seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we're seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas – there's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.

'It's not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great.'

He said it is 'absolutely crucial' to obey the current restrictions 'in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead'.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.

'It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.'

The spokesman added: 'It is our intention and our hope that this will be the last national lockdown.' 

While lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs continue to press for guarantees on an early easing, other senior figures want to make the rules even tougher.  

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said quarantine hotels should also be introduced for international arrivals to combat 'massively more dangerous' new strains.

He said that all mixing between households should be ended, and higher grade masks should be mandated.  

The senior Conservative MP joined Labour on Friday in calling for the Government to increase border protections over fears vaccines may be less effective on novel variants.

Ministers are considering forcing new arrivals to the UK to complete their isolation periods in hotels but it is understood no decision to approve the proposal has been made.

Mr Hunt, the chairman of the Health Select Committee, told the Commons: 'If we're going to bring down the horrific death rates that we're now seeing, should we not be securing our borders with quarantine hotels, ending household mixing outside bubbles and following Germany in mandating FFP2 masks in shops and on public transport to give better protection to wearers?'

Record 366,919 vaccine doses in one day 

A one-day record of 366,919 Covid vaccine doses were administered across the UK yesterday, putting the Government on track to hit its target of 13.9million people by the middle of February.

Medics in Cumbria and the North East of England have handed out 10 times more Covid vaccines than those in Shropshire, NHS data reveals today.

The most detailed breakdown of local vaccination rates released so far has laid bare the postcode lottery showing 10 per cent of the population in Gloucestershire have had a jab already, compared to just 3.6 per cent of East Londoners.

Herefordshire and Worcestershire had also managed to immunise one in 10 of their residents by January 17, the figures show.

Coverage appears to be higher in more rural areas and lower in cities, with the lowest vaccination rates in London and the East Midlands.

Rural areas tend to have higher average age of their residents and more elderly people, which may give them access to more vaccine doses to distribute.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said that Britain has successfully given more than 5million Covid vaccine doses to 4.6million people.

The programme has sped up after a brief slowdown over the weekend, and is now reaching more than 300,000 people per day as it hurtles towards the target of immunising the country's 13.9million most vulnerable people by February 15.  

Boris Johnson has warned that achieving this target will be 'very hard' but it has emerged today that, officially, the Government is only aiming to 'offer' the jabs to that number of people and it won't declare failure if they aren't all delivered on time. 

Government sources admit not everyone will take up the invitation, with polls indicating that a fifth of the population might refuse.

However, MPs warned that 'under-delivering' and then claiming to have achieved the goal 'won't wash'.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had been advised that the current guidelines on protective equipment were 'right and appropriate' and said 'very significant measures' were in place for international travel. 

Taking a Downing Street briefing tonight, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that individuals attending house parties will be fined a minimum of £800 from next week.

She told the No10 press conference: 'Next week we will be introducing a new £800 fine for those attending house parties, which will double for each repeat offence to a maximum level of £6,400.

'These fines will apply to those who attend illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in homes.

'The science is clear: such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health. 

'Not only to those in attendance but to our wonderful police officers who attend these events to shut them down.'

A one-day record of 366,919 Covid vaccine doses were administered across the UK yesterday.

But fears of a postcode lottery have been fueled as NHS figures showed medics in Cumbria and the North East of England have handed out 10 times more Covid vaccines than those in Shropshire.

The most detailed breakdown of local vaccination rates released so far has laid bare the postcode lottery showing 10 per cent of the population in Gloucestershire have had a jab already, compared to just 3.6 per cent of East Londoners.

Herefordshire and Worcestershire had also managed to immunise one in 10 of their residents by January 17, the figures show.

Coverage appears to be higher in more rural areas and lower in cities, with the lowest vaccination rates in London and the East Midlands.

Rural areas tend to have higher average age of their residents and more elderly people, which may give them access to more vaccine doses to distribute.

It comes as Mr Hancock today said that Britain has successfully given more than 5million Covid vaccine doses to 4.6million people.

The programme has sped up after a brief slowdown over the weekend, and is now reaching more than 300,000 people per day as it hurtles towards the target of immunising the country's 13.9million most vulnerable people by February 15.  

Mr Johnson has warned that achieving this target will be 'very hard' but it has emerged that officially the Government is only aiming to 'offer' the jabs to that number of people and it won't declare failure if they aren't all delivered on time. 

Government sources admit not everyone will take up the invitation, with polls indicating that a fifth of the population might refuse.

In echoes of when the Department of Health posted out thousands of swab tests so it could claim it had done 100,000 in a day, the technicality raises the prospect that the target could be technically hit well before 13.9million doses have been administered – although it's still possible the jabs will actually be given.

However, MPs warned that 'under-delivering' and then claiming to have achieved the goal 'won't wash'.

Meanwhile, a study has warned the UK will not achieve herd immunity with the current wave of coronavirus vaccines even if every single Briton is injected. 

Pictured, the Al Abbas Mosque in Birmingham, which is being used as a covid vaccination centre. The research from Professor Paul hunter and Professor Alastair Grant looked at the impact of coronavirus spread following a vaccination drive and when all non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as social distancing and mask wearing, have been lifted

A mosque in Birmingham has today begun offering coronavirus vaccinations, amid fears take up is too low among BAME groups

Lifting lockdown completely before spring could lead to up to 6,000 daily Covid deaths, depending on how good the vaccines are at stopping transmission, something scientists won't know for months when more studies are completed. But the SAGE scientists who did the modelling stressed these were imperfect models based on lots of variables and should not be interpreted as predictions

They claimed an extremely gradual approach that keeps some lockdown measures in place until later this year or even 2022 was the best way to keep deaths low and hospitals protected

Analysis from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found the highly-virulent B.1.1.7 strain which evolved in Kent in September has made it impossible to ever achieve herd immunity with the current effectiveness of vaccines. Pictuured, Basil Henry, 84, is one of the first people to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the opening of the first Pharmacy2U Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Odeon Cinema in Aylesbury

Probe into malware on laptops for vulnerable schoolchildren 

An investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling are infected with malware.

According to an online forum, teachers from a school in Bradford noticed the issue and believe it contacts Russian servers.

'Upon unboxing and preparing them it was discovered that a number of the laptops are infected with a self-propagating network worm (Gamarue.I),' the forum message says.

Gamarue.I, identified by Microsoft in 2012, is a worm capable of downloading files onto a PC.

According to the tech firm, it can be installed when a spam email attachment is opened and can also copy itself to any USB flash drives connected to the computer.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it is looking into the problem as a matter of urgency but does not think it is widespread.

'We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices,' a spokesman said.

Analysis from the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that the efficacy of current vaccines, combined with the emergence of new more infectious strains of the virus, meant keeping the R below one when restrictions are eventually lifted will be impossible. 

UEA researchers say that even if every man, woman and child in the UK gets the Oxford jab it would only bring the R - the average number of people each patient infects - down to 1.3. But, because this vaccine is approved for over-18s only, the R would remain at about two when curbs are lifted. 

The study found Pfizer's jab – which is more effective at blocking Covid than the Oxford one – is capable of bringing the R below one and achieving herd immunity but it would require inoculating young teenagers. Currently the jab is only approved for over-16s. 

Scientists have always known that eradicating Covid was an impossible tasks and the goal of the vaccine programme is not to prevent all transmission from occurring.

 The scheme is aimed at preventing the most vulnerable from dying or falling sick and piling pressure on the NHS. It's hoped that once all vulnerable groups are immunised, the disease will become more manageable and lockdown can be lifted. 

But scientists on the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned today the strict shutdown will need to remain in place until at least May because of the current pace of the vaccine rollout.  Boris Johnson has promised to consider easing restrictions gradually in mid-February once the 14million most vulnerable Brits have been given their first dose of the jabs.

But SAGE scientists who have modelled the rollout say easing restrictions next month has the 'potential' to cause a bigger epidemic than the one now because the single dose will only provide weak protection.

 They warned today that with huge community transmission and an NHS on the brink of being overwhelmed, loosening lockdown even slightly next month would lead to an 'unsustainable' situation.

Hunt demands TOUGHER curbs with 'quarantine hotels' and better masks 

Jeremy Hunt said quarantine hotels should also be introduced for international arrivals to combat 'massively more dangerous' new strains.

He said that all mixing between households should be ended, and higher grade masks should be mandated.  

The senior Conservative MP joined Labour on Friday in calling for the Government to increase border protections over fears vaccines may be less effective on novel variants.

Ministers are considering forcing new arrivals to the UK to complete their isolation periods in hotels but it is understood no decision to approve the proposal has been made.

Mr Hunt, the chairman of the Health Select Committee, told the Commons: 'If we're going to bring down the horrific death rates that we're now seeing, should we not be securing our borders with quarantine hotels, ending household mixing outside bubbles and following Germany in mandating FFP2 masks in shops and on public transport to give better protection to wearers?'

Professor Matt Keeling, an epidemiologist from the University of Warwick, said: 'I certainly don't want individuals going to bars and restaurants on the 16th [of February]. 

'If we've given people their first dose by February 15, that's not going to give that much protection.' He warned the most 'optimistic' outcome would be for 'some' restrictions to be lifted in May. 

Dr Marc Baguelin, an infectious disease expert at Imperial College London who was also involved in the modelling, claimed that easing lockdown before then would cause a spike 'that is really bad'. 

In a sign that all the UK nations are bracing for a long haul, Northern Ireland's coronavirus lockdown restrictions are being extended to March 5.

Stormont health minister Robin Swann proposed the step to help drive down case numbers.

Ministerial colleagues at the Executive in Belfast agreed the move and there are suggestions the curbs could ultimately continue until Easter.

An extended lockdown closing non-essential retailers, keeping schools shut to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began after Christmas.

Family gatherings are prohibited and police enforcement has been stepped up.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: 'The Executive today has reviewed the current restrictions and agreed that they remain an appropriate and necessary response to the serious and imminent threat posed by Covid-19.

'Following a detailed outline from health highlighting continuing pressures on hospitals and intensive care units and the emergence of highly-transmissible variants the Executive has agreed that the restrictions will be extended for four weeks until March 5 2021.'

The rocketing tally of new case numbers have began to ease off.

Struggling hospitals are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.

NI lockdown is extended to March 5 

Northern Ireland's coronavirus lockdown restrictions are being extended to March 5.

An squeeze closing non-essential retailers, keeping schools shut to most pupils and encouraging employees to work from home began after Christmas.

Family gatherings are prohibited and police enforcement has been stepped up.

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said: 'The Executive today has reviewed the current restrictions and agreed that they remain an appropriate and necessary response to the serious and imminent threat posed by Covid-19.

'Following a detailed outline from health highlighting continuing pressures on hospitals and intensive care units and the emergence of highly-transmissible variants the Executive has agreed that the restrictions will be extended for four weeks until March 5 2021.'

The rocketing tally of new case numbers have began to ease off.

Struggling hospitals are expected to face even greater pressures by this weekend due to the lag between infection and serious illness developing.

A further 21 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland have died.

Another 732 new cases of the virus have been detected, according to the Department of Health on Thursday.

There are 806 Covid-positive patients in hospitals, with 70 in intensive care.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said it was a difficult decision to prolong the curbs, which will be reviewed next month.

'It has been a long and hard road for all.

'There is no doubt that there are better days ahead but we need to keep working together right now to save lives and protect the health service.'

As the crisis rages on a number of fronts, an investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling are infected with malware.

According to an online forum, teachers from a school in Bradford noticed the issue and believe it contacts Russian servers.

'Upon unboxing and preparing them it was discovered that a number of the laptops are infected with a self-propagating network worm (Gamarue.I),' the forum message says.

Gamarue.I, identified by Microsoft in 2012, is a worm capable of downloading files onto a PC.

According to the tech firm, it can be installed when a spam email attachment is opened and can also copy itself to any USB flash drives connected to the computer.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it is looking into the problem as a matter of urgency but does not think it is widespread.

'We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices,' a spokesman said.

A cinema in Aylesbury has also started handing out jabs to the most vulnerable, as Britain races to meet its target of 14million first doses by mid-February 

Pharmacists pictured at the Al Abbas mosque in Birmingham, which is being used as a vaccination hub to turbo charge the rollout

Tony Blair calls for 600,000 people to be vaccinated EVERY DAY 

Tony Blair has called for 600,000 vaccinations to be carried out each day to enable almost all Covid restrictions to be lifted by mid-May, four months earlier than currently planned.

The former prime minister said an accelerated rollout, as vaccine production is stepped up, could see the country move back to Tier Three restrictions in late February and Tier One as soon as early April. 

Most remaining restrictions could be lifted as soon as around 70 per cent of adults have been vaccinated – mid-May under Mr Blair's plans.

The accelerated rollout could also save 3,000 extra lives and around £50billion in lost economic activity, says a report by the Tony Blair Institute. 

The intervention comes amid growing concern that Britain's vaccine roll-out is slowing down and that the pledge to vaccinate the most vulnerable by mid-February is under threat.

The report by the Tony Blair Institute said that with rates of manufacture set to grow rapidly in coming weeks, new modelling shows just how much there is to gain if the UK can be ready for accelerated rollout.

It lays out plans for an accelerated rollout plan which would grow to average 600,000 vaccines per day in March.

The plans include working with manufacturers to speed up production as well as opening more vaccine centres.

In the foreword, Mr Blair said: 'The UK government is ramping up vaccination, and this is excellent news. There is acceptance that the only constraint should be the supply of vaccines.

Football news:

Cavani has returned to training and is likely to play against Crystal Palace
Fabio Capello, Juventus played Rugby against the Port. Only Ronaldo and Chiesa can make a difference in this squad
Neymar: I posted how I was recovering from my injury, and I didn't get any messages saying, Wow, what a professional. No
Ole Gunnar Solscher: The work of the judges is very difficult and without additional pressure. We have to make their decisions
Joan Laporta: I'm sure Messi won't stay at Barca if I don't win the election. He gives the club 30% of revenue
Trent had idolized Gerrard since he was a kid, and he was in a fairy tale: he got Steven's care and the captain's armband. The story of a great relationship
Hazard's recovery from the injury is delayed. He probably won't play against Atletico on March 7