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Boris Johnson faces growing pressure from Tory MPs to set out an exit strategy from lockdown based on vaccine rollout forecasts and using March 8 as the target date to start easing the restrictions. Conservatives in the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group (CRG) highlighted scientific suggestions that the most vulnerable Britons will achieve a significant level of immunity from the virus three weeks after receiving their first dose of the jab. Since the Government has pledged to vaccinate the 14 million most vulnerable Britons by February 15, ministers should prepare to ease the rules three weeks later on March 8, the MPs said. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, reiterated this week that the mortality rate is expected to fall by 88 per cent once the most vulnerable cohort, which includes all adults over 70 and the clinically extremely vulnerable, has received an initial dose of the vaccine by the middle of next month.
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The return to schools could be phased, the deputy chief medical officer has said, with children in some parts of the country going back sooner than their peers elsewhere. Dr Jenny Harries said not all schools will be able to open after the February half-term because Covid infection rates still needed to be "observed and reviewed" over the coming weeks. Dr Harries said that while it remains the "ambition" that schools open next month, the country has recently seen very high infection rates. The deputy chief medical officer was speaking to MPs at an education select committee hearing on the science behind school closures. Asked whether there will be a phased return to schools, she said it was "likely" that there will be "some sort of regional separation of interventions" following the national lockdown. Hinting that schools in London may open earlier than those elsewhere, she suggested there are "some glimmers of hope" that transmission rates in the capital are falling, adding that this pattern "may move across the country". Earlier this month, Boris Johnson announced that all primary and secondary schools must close until the February half-term at the earliest.
Israel’s coronavirus czar has warned that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers less protection than expected, as he blamed the country’s surge in Covid cases partly on the new British variant. Nachman Ash said many Israelis had caught Covid in between their first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, suggesting that the first jab is “less effective than we thought,” according to Army Radio. His remarks underline the importance of receiving a second vaccine dose, which according to recent studies is more than 90 per cent effective in protecting against coronavirus. Israel has already given the first of two jabs to nearly 30 per cent of the population and on Tuesday announced it would extend eligibility to those aged 40 and over. But Mr Ash is said to have warned at a cabinet meeting that a new strain of Covid originating in Britain was hampering efforts to tackle the pandemic, as it was responsible for nearly 40 per cent of new cases. It comes after two studies by Israeli healthcare providers found that the first dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by between 30 and 60 per cent. And according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a survey by the health ministry found that around six per cent of 189,000 citizens who had received the first jab tested positive for Covid within two weeks. It also stated that 69 people from the sample had tested positive for coronavirus after receiving their second dose of the vaccine. Another study of a hundred people in Israel found that 98 per cent were protected from the disease once the second dose was administered. That research, carried out by the Sheba Medical Center, also said that a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine significantly refused the risk of spreading the virus to others. In Britain, there is a gap of up to 12 weeks between receiving the first and second dose, whereas the WHO recommends the second dose of Pfizer is administered within 21-28 days. Israeli health experts have stressed that it is too early to draw any concrete conclusions from the data.
Frustrated GPs are being forced to cancel patients' Covid vaccination appointments thanks to lack of supply despite hundreds of thousands of doses lying unused, Nicola Sturgeon has been warned. Declaring the roll-out was going to plan, the First Minister said around 100,000 people per week were now being vaccinated in Scotland and all over-80s would be reached by the start of February. Between 15 and 20 per cent of Scots aged over 80 have been vaccinated so far, compared to more than half in England, but Ms Sturgeon said care homes had nearly been completed and the roll-out would now accelerate. But she was forced to deny her government is failing to distribute the vaccine to GPs quickly enough after it emerged only 284,582 doses out of Scotland's allocation of 717,000 had been administered. Challenged repeatedly to explain why GPs were running out when more than 400,000 doses were unused, she hit out at the UK Government for leaking the figure and accused it of having a "hissy fit" over her administration publishing confidential supply statistics last week. However, Dr Andrew Buist, who chairs the British Medical Association's Scottish GP committee, said family doctors were frustrated by the "bumpy" supply and they were being kept in the dark over why they had not received shipments. He said: "The workforce is there and that's why it's so incredibly frustrating when the patients want the vaccine, we're very keen to give it to our patients but we just don't have the vaccine in our fridge." Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said GPs in his Fife constituency had been forced to cancel vaccination appointments because they had not been provided with the necessary supply.
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US President-elect Joe Biden plans to quickly extend travel restrictions barring travel by most people who have recently been in the UK and much of Europe and Brazil soon after President Donald Trump lifted those requirements effective from Jan. 26. Mr Trump signed an order Monday lifting the restrictions he imposed early last year in response to the pandemic after winning support from coronavirus task force members and public health officials. Soon after Mr Trump's order was made public, Biden spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted "on the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26." She added: "With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel." Until Mr Biden acts, Mr Trump's order ends restrictions the same day that new Covid-19 test requirements take effect for all international visitors. Mr Trump is due to leave office on Wednesday. Last week, the head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention signed an order requiring nearly all air travellers to present a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery from Covid-19 to enter the United States starting on Jan. 26. The restrictions Mr Trump rescinded have barred nearly all non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of the Schengen area in Europe that allow travel across open borders. The US restrictions barring most visitors from Europe have been in place since mid-March when Mr Trump signed proclamations imposing them, while the Brazilian entry ban was imposed in May. Ms Psaki added that "in fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19." Joe Biden inauguration news: live updates on Trump's last day in office The Biden transition did not immediately respond to a request to comment on if it planned to expand the countries covered. Mr Biden, once in office, has the legal authority to reimpose the restrictions. Airlines had hoped the new testing requirements would clear the way for the administration to lift the restrictions that reduced travel from some European countries by 95% or more. They had pressed senior White House officials about the issue in recent days. Many administration officials for months argued the restrictions no longer made sense given most countries were not subject to the entry bans. Others have argued the United States should not drop entry bans since many European countries still block most U.S. citizens.
Two Spirit Airlines agents were reported injured in a bag dispute at Detroit Metro Airport on January 17.The airline told local media that three passengers attacked its agents as Flight 646 from Detroit to Atlanta was boarding on Sunday evening.The scuffle broke out after a dispute between staff and the passengers about the size of their carry-on bags.Spirit Airlines told local media two passengers had been arrested and a third had been cited. Credit: @kaymiami1 via Storyful
A media enquiry by Sky News has led to questions over what Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon knew of bullying concerns surrounding the office of her predecessor Alex Salmond.