Coronavirus latest news: Prepare for vaccine protests at school gates, health officials tell teachers

·29-min read

Headteachers have been put on notice for vaccine protests at the school gates after ministers confirmed children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a first jab from next week.

New guidance from the UK Health Security Agency says schools should call in the police to help manage any disorder from angry parents and campaigners.

Health officials at the agency say they are aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with "misinformation" about the vaccine programme and it knows of schools seeking advice ahead of expected protests.

Three million youngsters across the UK will be eligible for the new under-16s jab rollout, and the programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.

Teachers are told in the guidance to get in touch with the School Age Immunisation Service team at the "first opportunity" to understand "what security planning they have in place".

They should “not engage directly" with misinformation campaigns about the vaccine, but should "acknowledge receipt of concerns" and "refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue" if needed.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:42 PM

What could trigger the Covid 'nuclear option' this autumn?

After the Government announced that “Plan B” is now on the cards, attention has turned to what might trigger the nuclear option of further restrictions.

Looking at the advice given to ministers last week from scientists gives some hint as to what to expect.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group issued a consensus statement calling for a “basket of measures” which would keep the epidemic flat and set out a number of “warning signs”.

While increasing cases are a factor, the experts said they would also be looking at positivity levels of testing, to see whether prevalence was increasing. Currently, England positivity rates for PCR testing are at about eight per cent and have been largely static since the end of July.

05:32 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

In Bangkok, Thailand, vegetable gardens are seen on the roofs of vehicles of a taxi rental garage firm, whose cars are currently out of service due to the downturn in business as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - JACK TAYLOR/AFP via Getty Images
In Bangkok, Thailand, vegetable gardens are seen on the roofs of vehicles of a taxi rental garage firm, whose cars are currently out of service due to the downturn in business as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - JACK TAYLOR/AFP via Getty Images
Medical workers wearing protective suits take swabs from primary school students at a nucleic acid testing site, following new cases of the coronavirus disease in Fuzhou, Fujian province, China - cnsphoto/via REUTERS
Medical workers wearing protective suits take swabs from primary school students at a nucleic acid testing site, following new cases of the coronavirus disease in Fuzhou, Fujian province, China - cnsphoto/via REUTERS
In Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines, ambulance workers speak to Covid patients entering an isolation facility - Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
In Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines, ambulance workers speak to Covid patients entering an isolation facility - Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

05:20 PM

Get vaccinated, Pope Francis urges

Pope Francis said on Wednesday he was puzzled why so many people, including some cardinals in Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, have refused to get inoculated against Covid-19.

"It is a bit strange because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines," he said aboard a plane returning from Slovakia, responding to a question from a reporter about the reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

"As children (we were vaccinated) for measles, polio. All the children were vaccinated and no one said anything," he said.

The Pope, who has been vaccinated against Covid, has often urged others to get inoculated for the common good.

On the plane, he said perhaps some people were afraid at first because there were various vaccines available and some turned out to be "little more than distilled water".

"Even in the College of Cardinals there are some vaccine negationists," he said. "But one of them, poor thing, has been hospitalised with the virus. These are the ironies of life."

04:48 PM

Care home workers can self-certify as exempt from vaccine

Care home staff in England will be able to temporarily "self-certify" that they are medically exempt from getting a coronavirus vaccine, it has emerged.

Pregnant care home workers will also be able to apply for a "time-limited exemption" from the Government's mandatory vaccination policy.

The Government has written to council bosses, directors of adult social services and care homes setting out who can apply for exemptions and how, just one day before the deadline for care staff to get their first doses.

It said employees and volunteers will be able to self-certify that they meet the medical exemption criteria on a temporary basis.

This will be in place for a "short period" before the new NHS Covid pass system is introduced, when workers will then need to apply for formal medical exemption.The self-certified exemptions will expire 12 weeks after the launch of the new system.

Those covered include people with a severe allergy to the vaccines, those who had adverse reactions to their first dose, people who are receiving end-of-life care and people with learning disabilities, autism or with a combination of impairments who find vaccination distressing because of their condition.

04:16 PM

White House plans 'new system' for international travel

Covid-19 vaccinations could be the key to unlocking the US border to foreign visitors, a White House adviser has said.

Jeff Zients, the country's coronavirus response coordinator, said the United States is working on a "new system for international travel," which could include new strong mitigation procedures like contact tracing, Reuters reports.

He told the US Travel and Tourism Advisory Board the Biden administration does not plan to immediately relax any travel restrictions due to concerns over rising cases of the Delta variant.

"We are exploring considering vaccination requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States," Zients said.

03:42 PM

Stop sending us threatening letters, headteachers warn anti-vaxxers

A headteachers' leader has called on pressure groups to stop sending letters "threatening" legal action if schools or colleges take part in a Covid-19 vaccination programme, and urged them against staging protests.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The guidance is absolutely clear that schools are not responsible for mediating between parents and children who may disagree about whether or not to consent. This is the role of registered nurses in the School Age Immunisation Service.

"We are very concerned about the possibility of protests being held outside schools, and we are pleased to see that the guidance references this and provides advice about how to respond to this threat.

"Frankly, however, it is a sorry state of affairs if any individuals or groups think it is helpful in any way to stage a protest outside a school over a vaccine programme which is designed to help reduce educational disruption and which seems to us to be in the best interests of children and young people.

"We implore people not to stage such protests."

Children aged 12 to 15 will be offered a Covid jab in schools from next week.

03:26 PM

Latest UK daily Covid figures

The Government said a further 201 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 134,647.

As of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 30,597 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

Government data up to September 14 shows that of the 92,650,551 Covid jabs given in the UK, 48,480,178 were first doses, a rise of 21,478 on the previous day.

Some 44,170,373 were second doses, an increase of 61,627.

03:11 PM

Communist Cuba rolls out vaccines for toddlers

Cuba on Thursday is set to seek World Health Organization approval of three Covid-19 vaccines, as it begins administering shots en masse to toddlers to fight a delta variant surge.

Rolando Perez Rodriguez, director of research and development at BioCubaFarma, made the announcement during a discussion broadcast by state media on Tuesday evening on a vaccination campaign that aims to immunise more than 90 per cent of the population by November.

The Communist-run Caribbean island is vaccinating its population at one of the fastest rates in the world with local drugs Abdala, Soberana-2 and Soberana Plus, the efficacy of which has been doubted by critics.

Cuba is the only country in the Caribbean to have developed its own vaccine against the virus. More than 65 per cent have had at least one shot and 37 per cent have had three shots.

The vaccination campaign includes children as young as two with toddlers across the country scheduled to get the first of two shots starting on Thursday,

02:46 PM

Biden to meet Disney chief in 'rallying cry' for vaccine mandates

US president Joe Biden will meet on Wednesday with business leaders as he pushes companies to require workers to be vaccinated amid a surge in Covid-19 infections among those without a dose.

Participants in the meeting include the chief executives of Walt Disney Co, Microsoft Corp and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc, the White House said.

Mr Biden last week announced vaccine mandates for nearly all federal employees, federal contractors, and larger companies as the number of US infections continued to rise, hospital beds in some parts of the country filled up and mask requirements returned.

Some Republican-led states are defying recommendations from health officials, citing economic or freedom of choice arguments.

The White House hopes Wednesday's meeting will serve "as a rallying cry for more businesses across the country to step up and institute similar measures," an official said.

02:36 PM

Watch: MPs jeer Sajid Javid as he suggests compulsory mask wearing could return

02:25 PM

Stamp out abuse of public-facing workers, says MP

Verbal or physical abuse of public-facing workers carrying out their duties should be made a specific offence, a Labour MP has suggested, after the problem worsened during the pandemic.

Olivia Blake warned of "rising levels" of abuse directed at people who work with the public, adding: "Covid has made this growing problem even worse, but it would be a mistake to think that this is the cause."

The MP for Sheffield Hallam said she had heard from cabin crew workers who suffered "rising levels of abuse as they try to enforce social distancing protocols on planes", journalists facing "increasing harassment, abuse and even assault by far-right groups", and NHS workers being accosted by anti-vaxxers.

She also spoke about bar and restaurant workers "facing violence and intimidation from customers" and transport workers being "spat at, threatened and physically assaulted".

She proposed a new law in the Commons to crack down on such behaviour.

01:51 PM

Gavin Williamson gone after Covid outcry

Gavin Williamson has become the first casualty of Boris Johnson's Cabinet reshuffle this afternoon, departing his post as Education Secretary.

Mr Williamson's performance in the education brief had left him vulnerable after widespread criticism over his handling of his departmental responsibilities during the Covid-19 crisis.

He was one of the ministers deemed most at risk of being told to return to the backbenches, particularly due to the exams fiasco during the pandemic.

Other frontbenchers are also at risk in the first Cabinet shake-up since the pandemic began.

01:37 PM

Schools urged to prepare for vaccine protests

Headteachers who believe protests could be held outside their school over participation in the Covid vaccination programme should contact police to help manage the situation, guidance suggests.

The UK Health Security Agency said it is aware some schools have been receiving campaign letters and emails with "misinformation" about the vaccine programme, after ministers confirmed children aged 12 to 15 will be able to get a first jab from next week.

Three million youngsters across the UK will be eligible, and the programme is expected to be delivered primarily within schools.

In new guidance, the agency said it knows of schools seeking advice on how to handle protests, and suggests they get in touch with the School Age Immunisation Service team at the "first opportunity" to understand "what security planning they have in place".

Teachers have also been advised "not to engage directly" with misinformation campaigns about the vaccine, but should "acknowledge receipt of concerns" and "refer to the latest scientific guidance on the issue" if needed.

01:03 PM

We must learn to live with hospitalisations, Sage adviser warns

The UK needs to learn how to lie with Covid hospitalisations, a Sage adviser has warned.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that hospitalisations would be the trigger for the winter plan B, and the potential reintroduction of coronavirus restrictions.

But living in a society to stop hospitals from getting too full has been criticised, including by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Professor Andrew Hayward told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: "We are in this for the long-term, so Covid isn't going to just go away, no matter how much we vaccinate Covid will continue to transmit every winter so we need to come to a point where society can function and live with the virus and that does mean we have to live with hospitalisations that relate to it."

12:44 PM

Italy to make Covid 'Green Pass' mandatory for workers

Italy is to make a Covid-19 "Green Pass" mandatory for public and private sector workers, a minister said on Wednesday, becoming the first European country to do so as it tries to accelerate vaccination rates and stamp out infections.

The pass, a digital or paper certificate showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus, was originally conceived to ease travel among EU states.

But Italy was among a group of countries that also made it an internal requirement for people to access venues such as museums, gyms and indoor dining in restaurants.

Mariastella Gelmini, the regional affairs minister, said on state radio that a cabinet meeting on Thursday would be "an important moment" in extending the obligatory use of the document.

Italy has also gradually extended use of the pass in the workplace, despite frictions in government, and says it is ready to extend it to the private sector.

12:16 PM

Why are we still testing asymptomatic children?

Over to Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons this lunchtime, Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, raised his pet bug-bear - testing of asymptomatic children.

He asks Boris Johnson if he agrees it should end.

The Prime Minister said this view was "one of a number in the scientific community" but it is one route that will help keep schools open.

Here's a recap of Mr Harper asking a similar question on Tuesday:

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12:13 PM

Covid restrictions: How much has really changed compared to autumn 2020?

11:19 AM

Most developed African countries hit hardest

Countries in Africa rated as being better prepared for a pandemic were the worst hit by Covid-19, a study has suggested.

Nations in the World Health Organisation's Africa Region assessed as having more resilient health systems and the least vulnerable to infectious disease had higher mortality rates and higher levels of restrictions imposed, the findings indicated.

Predictors of higher death rates included large urban populations, stronger pre-pandemic international travel links, and a higher prevalence of HIV among the 42 nations evaluated.

The research, led by the University of Edinburgh and the WHO African Region body, offers "compelling results which challenge accepted views of epidemic preparedness and resilience in Africa", study authors say.

Findings show South Africa had the highest mortality rate during the first wave between May and August last year, at 33.3 deaths recorded per 100,000 people.

Cape Verde and Eswatini, commonly known as Swaziland, had the next highest rates at 17.5 and 8.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively. Uganda recorded the lowest mortality rate at 0.26 deaths recorded per 100,000, in the first wave.

11:04 AM

WHO criticises UK's booster vaccine rollout again

Giving healthy adults in rich nations booster coronavirus jabs and vaccinating children should not occur when there are millions of at-risk adults yet to receive a first dose, experts said.

On Tuesday, UK health leaders announced a booster programme would begin imminently for 30 million adults over 50 and health and care workers.

But Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation special envoy for Covid-19, became the latest figure from the UN body to criticise the plan to give third vaccines to millions and first jabs to children aged 12 and over.

He told Sky News: "I actually think that we should be using the scarce amounts of vaccine in the world today to make sure that everybody at risk, wherever they are, is protected - and you're at risk if you're a health worker, you're at risk if you've got diabetes or heart disease or immune suppression.

"So why don't we just get this vaccine to where it's needed?"

10:45 AM

Recap: Spectre of winter lockdown returns

Boris Johnson on Tuesday night put the public on alert that a new wave of Covid-19 restrictions – possibly even including a lockdown – could be reintroduced this autumn.

Unveiling the Government's winter Covid plan, the Prime Minister warned that the situation this year was in some respects "more challenging" than last year as his scientific advisers said the next few weeks would represent a "pivot point" in the pandemic which may need "early" interventions.

In a downbeat press conference, Prof Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer, showed graphs demonstrating that the numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths was higher this year than at the same point in September 2020.

However, crucially, ministers and experts are confident that the high levels of vaccination should stop the number of people being hospitalised escalating quickly in the coming weeks.

Their central plan still centres on vaccines protecting the country from the economic and social turmoil of another lockdown.

10:34 AM

Let people work from home, Government scientist says

People should be allowed to continue to work from home rather than being forced back into offices, a scientist advising the Government has said.

Prof Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which feeds into Sage, said the number of contacts people had per week had risen to the highest number for a year.

"When you look more closely, what you find is nearly all of that is due to people mixing at work - a 63 per cent increase - and virtually none to do with meeting in the home and with socialising," he said.

"So the problem isn't that people are choosing to party all the time, the problem is people are given no choice because they are required to go back to work.

"So again, the problem doesn't lie in public psychology, it lies in policy which forces people to do particular things. That's why it would make sense for people to work at home if they can, and if they want to, to avoid presenteeism, forcing people to go in."

10:21 AM

Chris Whitty’s war of words with Nicki Minaj

Professor Chris Whitty has said anti-vaxxers who “peddle untruths” about the safety of coronavirus jabs “should be ashamed” of themselves, as he urged the public to receive a vaccine this winter.

England’s Chief Medical Officer told a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday that despite people holding “strange beliefs” about vaccines being unsafe, it was a “basic principle of medical ethics” that people be allowed to choose whether to accept one.

However, he said those who prevent others from receiving the vaccine “should be ashamed” of themselves.

09:51 AM

WHO presses for global approach to vaccinations ahead of UK booster programme

Global health leaders have urged the UK and other wealthy nations to adopt a worldwide approach to tackling coronavirus as they raised concerns about new and emerging variants.

Giving healthy adults in rich nations booster jabs and vaccinating children should not occur when there are millions of at-risk adults yet to receive a first dose, experts said.

On Tuesday, UK health leaders announced a booster programme would begin imminently for 30 million adults over 50 and health and care workers.

But Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy for Covid-19, criticised the plan to give third vaccines to millions and first jabs to children aged 12 and over.

He told Sky News: "I actually think that we should be using the scarce amounts of vaccine in the world today to make sure that everybody at risk, wherever they are, is protected - and you're at risk if you're a health worker, you're at risk if you've got diabetes or heart disease or immune suppression.

"So why don't we just get this vaccine to where it's needed?

09:25 AM

MPs do not need to wear masks in Commons, insists Health Secretary

Tory MPs do not need to wear masks in the Commons because they are not "strangers", the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid said the Government's advice was that people should consider wearing face coverings when they were gathered in a crowded space with people they did not normally mix with.

He said a photograph of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, showing ministers around the table with their faces uncovered, was consistent with that advice.

"What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with," he told Sky News.

Asked about Conservative MPs who were not wearing masks when he made his statement in the Commons, he said: "They are not strangers. Conservative backbenchers, whether they are in Parliament, in the chamber itself or other meeting rooms - you have to take measures that are appropriate for the prevalence of Covid at the time."

08:24 AM

Biggest fall in weekly worldwide cases in more than two months

Last week saw the biggest fall in the number of Covid worldwide for more than two months, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, writes Anne Gulland.

In the seven days up to September 12 there were nearly four million cases of the virus globally - compared to more than 4.4 million the previous week. This is a drop of nearly 14 per cent.

Every region of the world has seen a fall in the number of cases, with the WHO regions of the Americas, South East Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean seeing the biggest declines.

However, the UK had the second largest number of cases worldwide in the week up to 12 September. The UK reported just over 256,000 cases, second only to the United States which reported just over one million new cases. However, there has been a fall in the number of new cases in the UK in recent days.

The WHO figures show there has also been a drop in the number of deaths globally - there were just over 62,000 deaths in the last seven days compared to 68,000 reported the previous week. South East Asia - where the virus has been surging in countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam - saw the biggest fall with a 20 per cent drop in the number of deaths.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been more than 224 million cases of Covid and 4.6 million deaths.

08:13 AM

'There won't be any single trigger', insists Health Secretary

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government is monitoring the pressures on the NHS on a daily basis.

He said they are keeping a "close watch" in case their Covid winter Plan B needs to be activated.

"There won't be any single trigger. There are a number of measures we are going to keep under close watch with our friends in the NHS," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"That of course includes hospitalisations, it includes the pressure on A&E, on the ambulance services, staffing levels.

"We are going to take all of those into account. On a daily basis we are working on those, reviewing that with the NHS."

He added: "If the situation - and it is an 'if' - gets out of control, if for example there was a new vaccine-escape variant which no-one can predict, whether it happens or not, we will of course have to act and take new measures."

08:06 AM

Spi-M member: Hospitalisations versus vaccine protection will dictate further measures

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said reintroducing measures "quickly", if needed, will mean restrictions do not need to be in place for a prolonged period.

"The situation we're in at the moment of course is a very different position from where we were last year - of course we have the vaccines, which we have very high levels of protection across the population, but we have much higher prevalence, many more cases in the population and a lot more people in hospital than we did this time last year.

"So it's really how those two trade off against each other as we move into the autumn that will really dictate the rate at which any of these measures might be introduced."

He added: "At the point that there is a concern, it's really important that any measures are introduced rapidly so that if that's the case, we catch this rise in infections as it occurs and any measures that are introduced hopefully don't need to be in for as long a period of time in total."

"I don't think there's a suggestion at all that we are situation that we need to be mandating lockdown just that if we start to observe trends where hospital admission start to rise in a concerning way, then it's better to introduce some measures earlier so that we don't end up in a situation that we were last year."

On modelling, he added: "When we're trying to advise the Government regarding what they might expect to see in the winter it's really important to have best and worst-case scenarios presented so that the Government can prepare accordingly, but it's also important to remember that when these worst-case scenarios are reported, they are indeed worst-case scenarios and they're not necessarily an expectation.

07:53 AM

People in public eye should not spread vaccine 'untruths', warns Javid

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned people in the public eye not to spread "untruths" about the Covid vaccines.

"Anyone, whether you are a pop celebrity, a footballer or a politician, you should be very careful about your language," he told BBC Breakfast.

"Certainly when it comes to something as lifesaving as vaccines - in this country there are 112,000 fewer deaths because of our, we estimate, because of our vaccine programme - they should be really careful about what they say and not spread untruths."

07:30 AM

Charity disappointed that shileding programme has ended

A charity has voiced its disappointment at the shielding programme - for some of the people most vulnerable to coronavirus - ending.

People with weakened immune systems should not be left behind as society learns to live with Covid, the Anthony Nolan charity said.

The blood cancer charity's chief executive said the organisation is "extremely disappointed" that the programme has been brought to an end with "no clear plans to provide support for immunocompromised patients".

The charity called for the appointment of a government lead for people in this category, whose immune systems might not have as good a response to vaccines.

07:22 AM

'Speed is of the essence', says WHO

Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organisation special envoy for the global Covid-19 response agreed that the Government needed to be prepared to move very quickly from Plan A to Plan B in its Covid-19 winter plan.

He told Sky News: "Speed is of the essence. We've been through this before and we know, as a result of past experience, that acting quickly and acting quite robustly is the way you get on top of this virus, then life can go on.

"Whereas if you're a bit slower, then it can build up and become very heavy and hospitals fill up, and then you have to take all sorts of emergency action.

"So I really like what the UK is doing. I think this emphasis on people learning to live with the virus is also the right one."

He added: "I just hope there won't be a need for lots more restrictions because as humanity, we need to be able to learn to live with this virus and to hold it away and stop it from wrecking our lives."

07:16 AM

Mask wearing becoming political, warns WHO envoy

The World Health Organisation's special envoy Dr David Nabarro said: "In some countries the actual act of wearing a mask or accepting some restrictions that Covid requires is some sort of political activity you do if you belong to one party.

"And if you do it you belong to one party, and if you don't you belong to another.

"I want to be very clear, this virus has no political affiliations at all.

"The facts are the same, whatever party you vote for."

07:14 AM

ICYMI | Catch up with Boris Johnson's Downing Street briefing

06:37 AM

Health Secretary defends Covid winter plan

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has defended that Government's Covid winter plan after scientists warned of a potential new wave of hospital admissions.

Scientists advising the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned the burden on the NHS could rise "very quickly" as people returned to their offices after working from home.

But speaking on Sky News, Mr Javid said there were no "risk-free" options.

"It is right that experts are looking at what is happening and come up with their best guess of where things might go based on certain assumptions," he said.

"Back when we made the Step 4 decision there were also experts saying that case rates are going to surge to 200,000, hospitalisations are going to go to 2,000 to 3,000 a day - don't do it.

"We have to listen to them but eventually make what we think is the right decision. There is no risk-free decision but I think what we have announced in terms of this plan, is well thought through.

"It is the act of a responsible Government to set out this is our plan, this is how we are going to protect the gains, but just in case things are not quite as we want them to be we have got to have another plan and get that ready too."

06:06 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Sep 15.

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04:51 AM

Sydney curfew to end for vaccinated

A curfew imposed on more than two million people in the 12 Sydney suburbs hardest hit by the spread of the delta variant will end on Wednesday night, authorities said, stopping short of easing more lockdown restrictions.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned it would be against the law for unvaccinated people to attend any public venues once the state hits 70pc, when the fully vaccinated are promised more freedom.

"It's black and white. If you're not vaccinated, you can't go to a restaurant, you can't go to a cafe," she said, urging the unvaccinated to get their shots soon.

New South Wales, the epicentre of Australia's delta outbreak, reported a slight rise in new infections to 1,259, the majority in Sydney, from 1,127 on Tuesday, and 12 deaths.

04:42 AM

Broadway's big names are back in New York

Broadway's biggest musicals roared back to life on Tuesday, banishing the eerie silence of the past 18 months in New York's pandemic-hit theatre district with screams, tears and standing ovations.

Emotions were giddy as the curtain rose again on top musicals Hamilton, The Lion King and Wicked before packed audiences welcoming back live theatre after the coronavirus shutdown.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda received a standing ovation when he appeared on stage before the start of his Tony Award-winning hip-hop show about America's founding fathers.

Lin-Manuel Miranda welcomes back his audience - Craig Ruttle/AP
Lin-Manuel Miranda welcomes back his audience - Craig Ruttle/AP

"I don't ever want to take live theatre for granted ever again, do you? It's so sacred," said Miranda, tearing up with emotion. "I'm so grateful to you and I hope you go see as many shows as you can and keep supporting our industry."

A few blocks away, Kristin Chenoweth made a surprise appearance before the start of Wicked, in which she originated the role of Glinda about 20 years ago. Composer Steven Schwartz joined a prolonged curtain call.

Actress Kristin Chenoweth gives the curtain speech on the stage of Wicked -  Craig Ruttle/AP
Actress Kristin Chenoweth gives the curtain speech on the stage of Wicked - Craig Ruttle/AP

"There’s no place like home," said Chenoweth, to wild cheers and audible weeping. "I wanted to be here to welcome New York and all of the theatregoers back to what is my favourite show."

Julie Taymor, director of The Lion King, opened the show by telling the audience: "As Rafiki says, it is time."

The Lion King cast in their first show back after the pandemic shutdown - AP/Charles Sykes
The Lion King cast in their first show back after the pandemic shutdown - AP/Charles Sykes

The long-running musical Chicago also re-opened to long applause after every song.

Broadway was one of the first institutions to close when the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020 and is the last to re-open in the United States.

03:05 AM

Today's top stories

  • Boris Johnson on Tuesday night put the public on alert that a new wave of Covid-19 restrictions – possibly even including a lockdown – could be reintroduced this autumn.

  • Analysis: There is no work from home order from the Prime Minister, but nor is he enthusiastically urging Britain’s army of office workers to return to their desks.

  • Winter is coming, and with it the bleak prospect of a return to enforced mask wearing, working from home and vaccine passports.

  • Sajid Javid faced jeers in the Commons on Tuesday as he announced contingency plans to introduce vaccine passports this winter if coronavirus surges.

  • The Government has a Plan A - which will be used if the pandemic continues not to threaten the capacity of the NHS. But there will also be a Plan B, to be held in reserve in case the pandemic resurges.

  • Sajid Javid has signalled the end of PCR tests for fully jabbed holidaymakers as travel chiefs called for all tests for people arriving from low-risk countries to be scrapped.

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