Coronavirus latest news: Benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, European regulator says

Jordan Kelly-Linden
·51-min read
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

The EU medicine regulator has said that the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks of Covid but has said that "unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects".

A review by the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) safety committee concluded that the vaccination as a whole is "extremely important" in the fight against Covid-19.

"Covid-19 is a very serious disease with high hospitalisation and death rates and everyday Covid is still causing thousands of deaths across the EU.

"This vaccine has proven to be highly effective - it prevents severe disease and hospitalisation, and it is saving lives," Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA told the press briefing on Wednesday.

In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) agreed that there were still huge benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 and serious disease.

However, due to a very small number of blood clots in younger people, those under the age of 30 in the UK will be offered Pfizer or Moderna instead.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:56 PM

Today's main developments

That's all from me today. Thanks for sticking with us. Here's a recap of the day's key events

  • Healthy young people aged 18 to 29 should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, the UK's health regulator announced today.

  • Investigations into the risk of blood clots from the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab are still on-going but the MHRA ruled that the benefits of the vaccine continues to outweigh any risks for most people.

  • Meanwhile, a review by the European Medicines Agency's safety committee also concluded that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of Covid but said that "unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects" of the jab.

  • Official figures show that there were a further 2,763 lab-confirmed cases in the UK on Wednesday. The UK has now reported a total of 4,367,291 infections since the pandemic began.

  • A further 45 people have also died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 - bringing the UK total to 126,927.

  • Covid cases have dropped below the level of 50 per 100,000 in more than three quarters of areas in the UK, according to a new analysis for the seven days up to April 2.

  • Meanwhile one in 10 adults in the UK have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

  • It comes as 24 year-old Elle Taylor, an unpaid carer from Llanelli in Wales, became the first person in the UK to receive the Moderna jab

  • India reported a record 115,736 new Covid cases - a 13-fold increase in just over two months. Some states have reported a shortage of vaccines and vaccination centres have been forced to turn people away.

  • Morocco will keep its nightly curfew in place during the holy month of Ramadan - this is the time when people usually gather after breaking their fast at sunset.

  • And finally, Beijing's financial district is colour coding its office buildings to indicate how many employees have been vaccinated. Green signs show that more than 80 per cent of employees have had a jab.

05:48 PM

Italy queues up workplaces to host vaccination programmes

Italy's government, the country's main unions and employer associations said on Wednesday they had signed a agreement to organise the administration of vaccines in workplaces, as Rome steps up its vaccination plan.

Companies are eager to resume full activity in Italy, one of the European countries worst-hit by Covid-19.

Under the agreement, companies or groups of companies can submit their plans for voluntary employee vaccinations to local health authorities and make premises and internal medical staff available to do so.

Alternatively, companies will also be allowed to sign agreements with private medical service suppliers to have their employees vaccinated.

While health authorities will still provide the vaccines - once doses are available - needles, syringes and specific training for staff, employers will bear the costs of setting up and managing the vaccinations.

Italy has said it aims to vaccinate at least 80 per cent of its population by the end of September, following criticism about the slow rollout of its campaign.

05:29 PM

UK variant of Covid-19 is now most common strain in United States

The highly contagious variant of Covid-19 first discovered in the United Kingdom has become the most common strain of the virus in the United States as cases continue to climb, a top U.S. health official said on Wednesday.

The strain, known as B.1.1.7, was identified in Britain last fall and has since been detected in 52 jurisdictions in the United States, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing.

U.S. public health officials have urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible in part to prevent new variants of the novel coronavirus from spreading.

The United States has also detected cases of a variant first discovered in South Africa that is thought to be resistant to some Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. That strain has been found in 36 U.S. jurisdictions, according to federal data last updated on Tuesday.

The United States is administering about 3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses per day on average over the past week, up 8% over the previous seven-day average, Walensky said.

05:20 PM

Why Covid passports are such a difficult dilemma for Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made it clear that so-called "Covid passports" will eventually be part of our daily life in some capacity.

However, the Prime Minister is facing a "real dilemma" when it comes to implementing a Covid certification scheme, according to The Telegraph's deputy political editor Lucy Fisher.

The idea of forcing the British public to carry ID cards, or some other form of bio-identification has gathered opposition from across the House of Commons.

Boris Johnson himself would otherwise be "naturally aligned" with the Conservative backbenchers who now oppose the scheme.

But having seen the models and pessimistic predictions for a third wave hitting the UK, the Prime Minister will be balancing this "anti-libertarian" measure with the wider interests of public health.

Lucy Fisher explains the dilemma now facing the Prime Minister. Watch below

05:00 PM

'Nowhere as worrisome for Covid-19 infections as South America'

South America is the most worrying region for Covid-19 infections, as cases mount in nearly every country, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

"Nowhere are infections as worrisome as in South America", PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said during PAHO's weekly press conference.

Intensive care units are nearing capacity in Peru and Ecuador and in parts of Bolivia and Colombia cases have doubled in the last week, Etienne said, adding the southern cone is also experiencing acceleration in cases.

Copy of Coronavirus Brazil Spotlight Chart - DEATHS default
Copy of Coronavirus Brazil Spotlight Chart - DEATHS default

04:46 PM

AZ vaccine changes will not change lockdown road map: PM

Boris Johnson said the changes in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine would not force a change in the road map out of lockdown.

He told reporters in Cornwall: "I'm massively grateful to the MHRA and the JCVI, they've done a fantastic job for our country throughout the pandemic, and they continue to do so.

"And of course, we will be following their guidance completely.

"These vaccines are safe, they've saved many thousands of lives and people should come forward to get their jabs and we'll make sure that they get the right jabs.

"And of course, I don't see any reason at this stage at all to think we need to deviate from the road map. And we're also very secure about our supply."

04:40 PM

UK records 45 new coronavirus deaths

The Government said a further 45 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 126,927.

Separate figures published by the UK's statistics agencies show there have been 150,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Wednesday, there had been a further 2,763 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

It brings the total to 4,367,291.

04:28 PM

Some Indian states warn of vaccine shortage as Covid-19 cases peak

India reported a record 115,736 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a 13-fold increase in just over two months, raising pressure on the government to expand its vaccination campaign.

Some states, including hardest-hit Maharashtra and Odisha, have complained of a scarcity of vaccines during a second wave that has forced some centres to turn away people.

Only those aged over 45 are now being immunised in India, the world's biggest vaccine maker, which started its campaign with health and other frontline workers in mid-January.

"Vaccination centres have to close early due to a shortage of supplies," Maharashtra's health minister, Rajesh Tope, told reporters.

Stocks would run out in three days after the daily injection of over 450,000 doses, he said.

Odisha said it had closed nearly half of its immunisation sites due to the shortfall, with supplies left only for two more days.

India's health minister said the complaints, mostly from states not ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, were attempts to cover up their failures and spread panic.

"Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis, and state governments are being apprised regularly about it," Harsh Vardhan said in a statement. "Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless."

04:17 PM

How Bhutan managed to vaccinate more than half its citizens in a single week

Bhutan, one of the world’s least developed countries, best known in the west for measuring progress via its unique Gross Domestic Happiness index rather than purely through economic output, is an unlikely global vaccination outlier.

By Tuesday, almost 469,664 out of its total population of 735,553 had received a single dose of vaccine - 85 per cent of its citizens, with children excluded.

The country's small population size is no doubt a major advantage over many other countries. But its rapid vaccination success can also be attributed to so much more.

Joe Wallen explains

04:06 PM

Scientists call for new probe into Covid-19 origins - with or without China

A joint China-World Health Organization (WHO) study into Covid-19 has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began, and more rigorous investigations are required - with or without Beijing's involvement, a group of international scientists and researchers said on Wednesday.

The joint study, released last week, said the likeliest transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, involved bats and other wildlife in China and southeast Asia. It all but ruled out the possibility it had leaked from a laboratory.

In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the study was tainted by politics.

"Their starting point was, let's have as much compromise as is required to get some minimal cooperation from China," said Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who drafted the letter.

The letter said the study's conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples "remain inaccessible".

Metzl said the world might have to "revert to Plan B" and conduct an investigation "in the most systematic way possible" without China's involvement.

03:54 PM

One in 10 UK adults have received both doses of vaccine

One in 10 adults in Britain have now received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

He tweeted: "I want to thank the whole team involved - the NHS, armed forces, councils, scientists, volunteers, pharmacists & the British public. This is a mammoth team effort."

03:40 PM

PM thanks experts for work on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

Boris Johnson thanked the experts for their work on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and for explaining "the potential for extremely rare side effects".

The Prime Minister said: "As the regulators have said, this vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives - and the vast majority of people should continue to take it when offered.

"We will follow today's updated advice, which should allow people of all ages to continue to have full confidence in vaccines, helping us save lives and cautiously return towards normality."

03:39 PM

Under-30s to be offered alternative to AstraZeneca vaccine after 79 blood clot cases

03:33 PM

MHRA and EMA ruling confirms safety of AZ vaccine, says Hancock

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He added: "Many thanks to the excellent regulators & my clinical advisors for their work, their clarity & their total transparency. This is the excellence of UK institutions in action: clear, transparent, communication of advice based on the best quality science."

03:27 PM

What we learned: EU edition

And here is your recap of what the EU medicine regulator (EMA) said:

  • The European drug regulator said it had received reports of 169 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) following a Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as of April 4, compared to the 34 million doses of the shot administered in the European Economic Area.

  • The EMA said it had issued more studies into the possible effects of the jab but stressed that the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh the risks of Covid.

  • Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA's safety committee, said side-effects were not unexpected as vaccines were rolled out on a large scale.

  • While EMA executive director Emer Cooke said the risk of dying from Covid was "much greater" than the risk of mortality from rare side effects.

03:16 PM

What have we learned: UK edition

Here is a recap of the issues covered by the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency today:

  • According to data from the UK drug regulator, MHRA, there have been 79 cases of the very rare blood clots out of the 20million doses of the AstraZeneca given up to March 31st. Some 19 of these people died, three of whom were under 30.

  • The MHRA said there was a “strong possibility” that these clots were linked to the vaccine but more scientific evidence is needed to establish a strong link.

  • The JCVI is now recommending that those aged 18 to 29 and with no underlying health conditions should be offered an alternative vaccine to the Oxford-Astra Zeneca jab.

  • Those who have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should continue to get their second dose - unless they suffer a clotting episode.

  • And the information given to people about the vaccine should be updated to reflect the new knowledge about side effects.

  • Professor Johnathan Van Tam said the change in recommended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine might result in delays and longer journeys to receive the jab.

  • Prof Van Tam also stressed that the blood clotting events are a “vanishingly rare” side effect and that the risk-benefit ratio of the AstraZeneca was “favourable for the vast majority of people” but was more finely balanced for younger people - hence the recommendation that younger people should receive a different vaccine."

03:10 PM

Oral contraceptive provides good risk-benefit analysis in AZ debate, says EMA

Dr Peter Arlett, head of data analytics at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said that oral contraceptives gave a "benchmark" of another medicine given to a healthy population that has rare side effects.

"So, perhaps, an example that you might like to reflect on would be the use of the combined oral contraceptive, the combined hormonal contraceptive, and blood clots that occur with contraceptives," he told a Brussels briefing.

"These are given to women who are normally otherwise healthy, although obviously in a big population some of those women will have other risk factors and other conditions.

"And if we treat 10,000 women with a combined hormonal contraceptive for a year, we will see four excess blood clots in that year.

"So that just gives a benchmark of another medicine given to a healthy population which causes a side effect which occurs rarely but that we need to take into consideration."

03:03 PM

EMA to review other vaccines following AZ ruling

Dr Peter Arlett, head of the EMA’s data analytics and methods task force, said that the EU body was examining whether other vaccines using similar technology as the AstraZeneca vaccine posed any risk.

He added that there had been three cases of venous thromboembolism blood clots involving the Johnson & Johnson jab.

"However the numbers are extremely small compared to the compared to 5 million patients that have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine worldwide," he told the briefing.

"This is however, under close scrutiny the [committee] is looking at it carefully, and I think it would be fair to say there’s intensive monitoring of this issue across the vaccines."

02:55 PM

Effect of AZ ruling on the UK's vaccine rollout 'zero or negligible,' says Prof Van Tam

Professor Wei Shen, chair of the UK's JCVI, says the committee has concluded that adults aged 18-29 who do not have a health condition that would put them at a higher risk of suffering from Covid should receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine where possible.

However, while the changes to clinical advice may result in small delays and longer journeys to receive the jab, Prof Jonathan Van Tam added that it should not have a huge impact on the UK's vaccination programme as a whole.

"I am assured that actually because of our supply situation in relation to alternative vaccines, the effect on the timing of our overall programme should be zero or negligible," he said.

He told a press conference: "The NHS has a message that we will get the right vaccine to you in the right time according to the new JCVI advice.

"There might be a small delay sometimes, there might be a slightly greater distance that some people might be asked to travel.

"But the NHS is all over this and understands the challenge of making the advice from JCVI truly operational in a smooth way."

02:49 PM

Hard to find common factors leading to rare events with current limited data: EMA

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that it had "good and extensive information" on the reported cases of blood clots but the number is "very limited", when asked why specific risk factors had not been identified.

Dr Sabine Straus, head of the EMA's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (Prac), said: "I think that the cases that we have evaluated, the 62 together with the expert group, those cases provided quite good and extensive information.

"But nevertheless, the number is very limited. On the one hand, that's of course very good and fortunate that the number of cases is limited. At the same time, that also makes it very difficult to find common factors.

"And on the other hand, what we also know is a lot of cases that are spontaneously reported, they are not as complete as we would like to have them in order to further analyse them.

"So I would like to repeat again, my kind request for people who suspect that they might have a side effect, please report it, and report it as extensively, and as complete, as possible."

02:47 PM

People with a history of blood clots should speak to a doctor before the jab: MHRA

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Committee of Human Medicines (which advises the UK government on the safety of medicines), said pregnant women and people with a history of blood clots should speak to their doctor to see if the benefits of having an AstraZeneca jab outweighs the risks.

Anyone who experiences blood clots and low levels of platelets after their first dose should not have a second dose, he said.

It is not possible to judge how frequently blood clots happened after a second dose of the vaccine because not enough people have had two jabs, he said.

Sir Munir points out that blood clots in the lungs and legs is comparatively common in people who have Covid-19.

Around seven per cent will get a clot in the lungs and 11 per cent will get a clot in their leg, he says.

The evidence shows that the "link is getting firmer" but "extensive scientific work" will be needed to decide conclusively that there is a causal link.

02:46 PM

Get medical advice if you have these symptoms after an AZ jab, says MHRA chief

Back to the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency briefing, Dr June Raine says the balance of risk is in favour for older people.

The MHRA will be offering guidance to healthcare workers to help reduce the chance of people getting blood clots.

People who have the following symptoms after four days or more should speak to a doctor:

  • Severe headache

  • Blurred vision

  • Chest pain

  • Leg swelling

  • Shortness of breath

  • Persistent abdominal pain

  • Unusual bruising

"I would like to reiterate that this is extremely rare," she said.

02:37 PM

Rare events demonstrate challenges of large-scale vaccination programmes: EMA

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the blood-clot cases "clearly demonstrates" the challenges of a large-scale vaccination programme.

Executive director Emer Cooke told a Brussels press briefing: "It's important that both vaccinated people, and healthcare professionals, are aware of the signs and symptoms of these unusual blood clotting disorders, so that they can be spotted quickly to minimise any possible risks.

"We will continue to monitor the scientific evidence available on both effectiveness and safety of all the authorised Covid-19 vaccines, and we will issue further recommendations if necessary on the grounds of science and robust evidence.

"This case clearly demonstrates one of the challenges posed by large-scale vaccination campaigns.

"When millions of people receive these vaccines, very rare events can occur that were not identified during the clinical trials.

"The role of pharmacovigilance, the monitoring of the side effects, is to help us to rapidly detect and analyse these risks, and their impact on the benefit risk profile of the vaccine."

02:31 PM

Four in a million chance of getting a blood clot, says MHRA chief exec

The risk of the rare side effect of blood clots "remains extremely small", Dr June Raine, chief executive of the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has said.

Only 79 people have presented with a blood clot, and 19 people have died. Of these, 51 people were women and 28 were men, she told a press conference on Wednesday.

The risk is therefore about 4 in one million, she added.

02:20 PM

AstraZeneca 'extremely important' in fight against Covid-19: EMA

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reiterated that the AstraZeneca vaccine had been "proven to be highly effective" and that vaccination as a whole is "extremely important" in the fight against Covid-19.

Executive director Emer Cooke told the press briefing: "First of all, I want to start by stating that our safety committee, the Pharmacovigilance and Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) of the European Medicines Agency, has confirmed that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 overall outweigh the risks of side effects.

"Covid-19 is a very serious disease with high hospitalisation and death rates and everyday Covid is still causing thousands of deaths across the EU.

"This vaccine has proven to be highly effective - it prevents severe disease and hospitalisation, and it is saving lives.

"Vaccination is extremely important in helping us in the fight against Covid-19 and we need to use the vaccines we have to protect us from the devastating effects.

"The PRAC, after a very in-depth analysis, has concluded that the reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine."

02:19 PM

Under-30s in UK to be offered alternative to AstraZeneca

The benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh any risks for most people, the UK medicines watchdog has said, as European regulators ruled that unusual blood clots were "very rare side effects" of the jab.

A review by the European Medicines Agency's safety committee concluded on Wednesday that "unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects" of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there were still huge benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid-19 and serious disease.

However, due to a very small number of blood clots in younger people, those under the age of 30 will be offered Pfizer or Moderna instead.

02:05 PM

EMA says blood clots should be listed as rare AstraZeneca side effect

The European Medicines Agency said Wednesday that blood clots should be listed as a "very rare" side effect of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine but that the jab's benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

"EMA's safety committee has concluded today that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects" of the shot, the Amsterdam-based EU drug regulator said in a statement.

The EMA's safety committee, which was assessing the vaccine, has requested for more studies and changes to the current ones to get more information.

01:51 PM

Coming up: MHRA briefing on the AstraZeneca vaccine at 3pm

We'll bring you updates here or you can follow along live with our politics blog.

01:34 PM

What to expect from this afternoon's press conference

The UK and EU medicines regulators will issue important and simultaneous updates on the AstraZeneca vaccine at 3pm today regarding the issue of rare blood clots, writes Paul Nuki, our Global Health Security editor.

The EMA and MHRA were until very recently part of the same body so one would hope they are cooperating and have come to the same conclusions. Key findings and messages to look out for include:

Has it been established whether there is a causal link between the vaccine and the clots or is it still just an association? Which way is the expert consensus leaning?

At what rate are the clots occurring and can they say with any confidence how that data varies across different age groups? If they can, how does it compare to the Covid risk for those groups? We need to be able to compare risks and benefits.

What are the implications for vaccine policy? As the advice stands now, both the EMA and MHRA recommend the AZ vaccine continue to be used for all age groups but several countries in Europe and North America have limited the jab to older cohorts.

Here it is possible the advice from the two regulators may diverge, reflecting the availability of alternative vaccines in different geographies. The forward mix of vaccines in the UK is split broadly 70 percent AZ, 30 percent Pfizer and others. That is not the same everywhere.

Hopefully, in a little over an hour, we will have greater clarity. But don’t expect all the answers. These things are hugely complex and will take many months to completely bottom out.

01:18 PM

England records 42 new Covid deaths

A further 42 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 86,476, NHS England said on Wednesday.

Patients were aged between 33 and 98 and all except two (aged 33 and 55) had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths occurred between October 20 and April 6.

There were 17 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

12:48 PM

Morocco will keep coronavirus night curfew during Ramadan

Morocco will keep its nightly curfew in place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when people gather after breaking their fast at sunset, the government said on Wednesday, underlining resolve to counter new variants of the coronavirus.

The decision to keep the 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew will hurt restaurants, shops and markets that make most of their money in the evenings, especially during Ramadan, which this year will begin on April 13 and run through May 12. Moroccan law prohibts public eating by day during the fasting period.

Morocco will also maintain until June financial aid for workers in some of sectors hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic including tourism.

The North African kingdom has confirmed almost half a million cases of Covid-19 and registered nearly 9,000 deaths from the global respiratory pandemic.

However, it has rolled out a vaccination campaign more rapidly than its neighbours, inoculating 4.38 million people with AstraZeneca and Sinopharm shots to date.

12:35 PM

Picnics on Buckingham Palace lawns given green light

The Buckingham Palace gardens will reopen this summer and visitors will be able to picnic on the sweeping lawn for the first time, reports Victoria Ward.

The 39-acre gardens (pictured below), closed last year due to the pandemic, will open from July to September, allowing visitors to freely roam the grounds of Her Majesty’s official London residence.

The garden at Buckingham Palace in summer - John Campbell
The garden at Buckingham Palace in summer - John Campbell

They will have the unique opportunity to guide themselves along a route taking in the 156-metre herbaceous border, plane trees planted by and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and views of the island and its beehives across the 3.5-acre lake.

The visits will be in contrast to the traditional summer tours, which have always been led by a guide.

Read the full story here.

12:21 PM

Cases below 50 per 100,000 people in more than three-quarters of UK

Covid-19 case rates have dropped below the symbolic level of 50 cases per 100,000 people in more than three-quarters of all local areas in the UK, new analysis shows.

It is a sharp improvement from one month ago, when about four in 10 areas were reporting rates under 50 per 100,000. Two months ago, just five out of 380 local areas had rates below 50 per 100,000.

The steep fall suggests the lockdowns in place across the country, combined with the continuing rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, are continuing to play a key role in reducing the number of new reported cases of coronavirus.

The analysis, which has been compiled by the PA news agency, shows that for the seven days to April 2, a total of 297 out of the 380 local authority areas in the UK, or 78 percent, recorded Covid-19 case rates below 50 per 100,000 people.

In England these ranged from 49.7 in Scarborough, to just 2.9 in Torridge in Devon.

12:15 PM

Medicines regulator to hold briefing on AstraZeneca vaccine concerns later today

The UK's medicines regulator will hold a joint briefing with the Government's vaccines advisory committee at 3pm today to discuss concerns over the AstraZeneca jab and its reported link to blood clots.

The briefing will feature Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the Committee of Human Medicines (which advises the government on the safety of medicines) and Prof Wei Shen, chair of the JCVI.

11:46 AM

Italy's buffalo horn shaman becomes symbol of lockdown protests

An Italian businessman who dressed up in buffalo horns and face paint similar to that worn by the Trump supporter who stormed the US Capitol has become a symbol of protests against Italy’s lockdown restrictions, our Rome correspondent Nick Squires reports.

His face painted with the red, green and white of the Italian flag and wearing a fur hat with buffalo horns, Ermes Ferrari, 51, took part in a demonstration outside parliament in Rome in which protesters called for an immediate end to Italy’s grinding Covid-19 lockdown.

“If it means being listened to, I would have dressed up as a zebra,” he told Corriere della Sera newspaper on Wednesday. “We can no longer go on like this, I just want to work.”

The protesters, many of them restaurant owners and small business owners, said they have been financially ruined by Italy’s on-again, off-again lockdowns.

Mr Ferrari dressed up to look like Jake Angeli, one of the Right-wing activists who stormed Congress on January in the dying days of the Trump presidency. He said he was not an extremist but did so to attract attention and raise awareness of the financial pain that he and many Italians are going through as a result of the pandemic.

He owns a pizzeria in the northern city of Modena and has defied Covid restrictions by keeping it open since January.

Nick Squires has more on this story here.

Ermes Ferrari took part in a protest outside the Italian parliament against lockdown restrictions - FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP
Ermes Ferrari took part in a protest outside the Italian parliament against lockdown restrictions - FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

11:31 AM

EU says AstraZeneca vaccine supply is global problem, not EU-Australia issue

The European Commission said on Wednesday that delivery shortfalls of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine were a global issue, not something to be addressed only in talks between the EU and Australia.

The comment followed Australia's request to the EU to send AstraZeneca doses. Canberra has said the EU has blocked shipments, whereas the EU says AstraZeneca had not requested new authorisations for exports to Australia.

"We're not the only region in the world producing AstraZeneca vaccines, and therefore this is a global issue. It is definitely not simply a bilateral issue between one country and the European Union," a spokesman for the EU Commission told a news conference when asked about Australia's request.

The spokesman said the EU was also facing huge shortfalls of AstraZeneca vaccine deliveries.

11:18 AM

China colour codes buildings to show scale of vaccinated workforce

China's capital is colour coding buildings to show what proportion of workers have been vaccinated, Ben Farmer reports.

The scheme in Beijing's financial district is aimed at accelerating the city's vaccine rollout. The financial district is leading the campaign to ‘green code’ its buildings, putting up green circular signs that indicate more than 80 per cent of those working inside have been given jabs.

Yellow notices indicate somewhere between 40 per cent and 80 per cent have been given vaccines and red badges indicate the figure is at less than 40 per cent.

China is aiming to vaccinate two-fifths of its total population by the end of June and officials are coming under intense pressure to hit the target.

Tens of millions of workers at state-owned enterprises, party members, and college students are required to get immunized unless they provide a medical reason, while the government is offering incentives including small gifts and free rides to vaccination appointments to encourage the shots.

11:04 AM

Telegraph experts answer your questions about the Moderna vaccine

Do you have any questions about the Moderna vaccine, or any of the other vaccines currently in use in the UK? Leave your questions below for them to be answered by our experts

Vaccine questions embed/form
Vaccine questions embed/form

10:40 AM

Moderna says Europe-bound Covid-19 vaccine deliveries are on track

Deliveries of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine are on track to meet the number of doses it promised to the European Union, a spokesperson for the U.S.-based drugmaker said on Wednesday, following a report of delays in Germany.

"Moderna is committed to meeting all quarterly contractual delivery agreements with the European Commission and individual Member States," the spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

"April deliveries are on track to meet the dose ranges previously communicated to governments."

A German language publication of Business Insider had reported that the delivery of up to 878,400 doses of Moderna's vaccine due from April 26 to May 2 might not take place, citing unidentified sources within the German health ministry.

In response to questions about any interruptions, Moderna said that it "does not cancel delivery shipments, but can at times provide updates (on) delivery guidance based on the trajectory of manufacturing and batch release".

The German health ministry said that Moderna had not communicated any changes to its delivery plan.

Moderna declined to release specifics about the monthly dose range bound for Europe, though it previously has confirmed 2021 deliveries would include 160 million doses for the EU and 17 million doses for Britain.

Worldwide, it has committed to producing at least 700 million doses this year.

10:10 AM

Russia warns could block Zoom if it prohibits government use

Russia on Wednesday warned Zoom that it could be completely blocked in the country after local media reported that it had restricted access to government agencies and state-owned companies.

The US company has emerged as the global leader in video-conferencing applications, becoming ubiquitous as companies and schools moved online after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Russian media reported Wednesday that Zoom had banned its distributors from selling to government agencies and companies in Russia and a number of post-Soviet countries known as the Commonwealth of Independent States over concerns of new US sanctions against Moscow.

Alexander Bashkin, a member of Russia's upper house of parliament, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow could be forced to respond.

"Russia is not a supporter of sanctions, but if Zoom takes such a decision with respect to government agencies and state-owned companies, then it is possible to block this service in our country as a reciprocal, symmetrical measure," the Federation Council lawmaker was cited as saying.

Russia has previously blocked Western online platforms such as LinkedIn, and in March began slowing down the speeds of Twitter's services in the country in an attempt to force the US social media giant to remove what it says is "illegal content".

09:56 AM

'Not worries one little bit', says expert on AstraZeneca

Professor Calum Semple has said he is "not worried one little bit" about headlines around the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Speaking in a personal capacity, the Sage scientist told LBC radio: "I'll take myself, I'm 53, my risk of death from Covid is about one in 13,000, for me it's a no-brainer, I need to have the vaccine."

He later added: "This vaccine is safe. What do I mean by safe? You can look right, look left, look right again cross a road, it's safe to cross because you don't see any cars (but) you can trip, you can stumble.

"Nothing is risk-free, but is the vaccine safe? I would say yes."

09:48 AM

Vaccine rollout should continue, says expert

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, told Sky News the vaccination programme should continue until more is known on blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

He said people in their "20s, 30s, 40s and 50s" are at risk of severe Covid "and there is an argument for vaccination to continue in those individuals because the rate of this blood clot disorder is extremely low, although slightly elevated against background levels".

He said vaccinating children was done to "cut down transmission in the community in the main" and therefore the decision to stop the study on them until more was known was "good practice".

Asked if he would take the jab, he said: "I think that's on balance at the moment - there's still transmission of Covid, and there is a risk to all of us of being infected, particularly as the economy is being opened up and society's opening up, we are at risk of getting severe infection.

"So I would certainly be going forward for that vaccine in the current situation."

09:37 AM

Brazil's Covid disaster, in pictures

Mobile Emergency Care Service (SAMU) worker Elias Anjo checks on a Covid-19 patient in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil - Felipe Dana/AP
Mobile Emergency Care Service (SAMU) worker Elias Anjo checks on a Covid-19 patient in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil - Felipe Dana/AP
People wait to board a train at Luz station, amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
People wait to board a train at Luz station, amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Sao Paulo, Brazil - Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
Workers of the Emergency Medical Care Service (SAMU) help people with Covid-19 in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil - Felipe Iruata/Shutterstock
Workers of the Emergency Medical Care Service (SAMU) help people with Covid-19 in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil - Felipe Iruata/Shutterstock

09:32 AM

Thousands dead and a country in turmoil: Brazil’s countdown to Covid catastrophe

The calamity currently unfolding in Brazil is off the charts. In March alone, 66,570 people died of Covid-19, while daily fatalities in the vast country currently account for about a quarter of the global total, writes Sarah Newey.

A highly contagious variant, P1, is now rampant and there are few measures in place to contain its spread, pushing health systems to the brink of collapse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly a political crisis is also brewing. The heads of all three branches of the military resigned this week leaving president Jair Bolsonaro - dubbed the Trump of the Tropics - exposed.

There are growing calls for his impeachment and a Bidenesque overhaul of the country’s coronavirus response.

Read the full story here.

09:31 AM

Jeremy Hunt: 'Urgency over MHRA AstraZeneca investigations'

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said there is "urgency" over the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) concluding its investigations into a potential association between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare form of blood clot.

Mr Hunt, chairman of the Health Select Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there is urgency; I think the one thing you can't say about the MHRA is that they act slowly - they have been very, very fast and fleet of foot throughout this pandemic.

"But I think people do understand that this is a new virus, these are new vaccines, there is no medicine that is 100% safe, and that's why you have to look at these very difficult balances of risk."

On vaccine passports, Mr Hunt: "In normal times, if you were being asked to show your health record or Covid status before going into a pub, it would be absolutely abhorrent.

"But this is a pandemic.

"It may not be necessary to do any of that if the vaccine programme is as successful as we hope, if cases fall to low enough levels.

"But if the only way to socialise in public places safely is to ask people to demonstrate they're not likely to be a risk to others, then I think people are quite sensible and quite pragmatic about this sort of thing."

09:25 AM

EU AstraZeneca briefing today at 3pm

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will hold a 3pm briefing on Wednesday on the AstraZeneca vaccine relating to cases of thromboembolic events.

Speakers will include EMA executive director Emer Cooke and EMA safety committee chairwoman Dr Sabine Straus.

08:36 AM

Moderna vaccine in the UK: What we know about Britain's third jab

The Moderna coronavirus vaccine is the third jab to be rolled out in the UK.

It will be administered to people in Wales from Wednesday.

It follows the rollout of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, which began in December and January respectively.

Here's what we know about the Moderna vaccine.

08:35 AM

'If it [blood clot] happens, it happens and I am in the right care'

Elle Taylor said she had not heard of the Moderna vaccine until she was told she was receiving it.

"It was great, the nurses were lovely and it didn't hurt," she said.

Miss Taylor said she was aware of concerns about patients receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine developing blood clots.

"I had heard but it doesn't concern me too much, and I guess if it happens, it happens and I am in the right care if I need it, and I feel happy that I've tried the new one."

Asked how she felt to be a trailblazer for millions of other people, the 24-year-old unpaid carer said: "I feel thrilled and really happy and honoured, and I just hope it goes well for everybody."

08:29 AM

First jab is an unpaid carer for her grandmother

Elle Taylor, who works at a further education college in Llanelli, received the Moderna jab from staff nurse Laura French at West Wales General Hospital's outpatients department.

Elle Taylor, 24, an unpaid carer from Ammanford, receives an injection of the Moderna vaccine  - Jacob King/PA
Elle Taylor, 24, an unpaid carer from Ammanford, receives an injection of the Moderna vaccine - Jacob King/PA

Speaking after receiving the vaccine, the 24-year-old said: "I'm very excited and very happy.

"I'm an unpaid carer for my grandmother so it is very important to me that I get it, so I can care for her properly and safely.

"My grandmother has had her first dose and she is going for her second dose on Saturday."

Miss Taylor said she only found out on Tuesday evening that she was to be the first Briton to receive the Moderna jab in the UK.

08:26 AM

Brazil records 4,000 deaths in a day as experts warn it could derail global efforts

Brazil registered more than 4,000 Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours for the first time Tuesday, as experts have warned it threatens the global effort to control the pandemic.

The country's health system is buckling under the strain of the latest virus wave and President Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of ignoring scientific advice on face masks, isolation and lockdown.

Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neurology at Duke University and the former coordinator of the pandemic response team for north east of the country said: "Brazil now is not only the epicentre of the pandemic worldwide, it is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic on the planet.

"If Brazil is not under control, the planet is not going to be under control. It's not going to be safe because we're brewing new variants every week and these variants - some of them - are more transmissible and may be more lethal.

"And they are going to make it into neighbouring countries and will eventually go around the world."

08:10 AM

March saw cases surge in conflict and crisis-affected countries, IRC warns

Conflict and crisis-affected countries have seen a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths over the last month, according to analysis from the International Rescue Committee, reports Sarah Newey.

Syria, for example, saw average daily cases rise by 529 per cent between early and late March, while infections are up by 379 per cent in Yemen, 322 per cent in Kenya, 289 per cent in Ethiopia and 91 per cent in Venezuela.

While highly infectious variants have contributed to this rise, the IRC also warns that a "fog of war" - namely ongoing conflict and insecurity - has created an inability to establish the full picture, as testing remains patchy and already weakened health systems are overwhelmed. In Yemen and Syria, for instance, more than half of health facilities have closed following years of brutal war, which has crippled the ability of those clinics that are still open to provide basic services.

But there are growing concerns that, while wealthy countries race ahead with vaccination campaigns, much of the world will be left behind.

“As new Covid-19 variants emerge globally and imperil current vaccination plans, crisis-affected countries are yet again the world’s most vulnerable," said David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC.

"With health systems decimated and disrupted by war, growing hunger and vaccines barely visible on the horizon, millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk."

08:08 AM

Moderna rollout in England 'in next few days'

Asked when the Moderna vaccine will be rolled out in England, small business minister Paul Scully told Sky News: "In the next few days."

And he said the vaccination programme is still on target to cover all adults in England by the end of July.

Asked about so-called vaccine passports, Mr Scully said: "The work that's being done at the moment is concentrating on ticketed big events and those types of things because they are tougher to get back to a semblance of normal, rather than the high streets with non-essential retail and hospitality, including pubs."

07:42 AM

Moderna could be reserved for younger people

Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was vital to keep the vaccination programme going in order to release lockdown restrictions.

Asked if different vaccines could end up being reserved for certain groups as more vaccines come on stream, owing to fears over blood clots in younger people, he told BBC Breakfast: "That's certainly possible. We are seeing another vaccine coming in (Moderna), and further vaccines are approaching licensure, and I know that the UK has made contracts for quite a wide range of different vaccines.

"As time goes forward we will have much more flexibility about who can be offered what. On the other hand, we do need to keep the programme going if the plan to open things up and allow things to get back to normal is to proceed without another wave of the pandemic coming through.

"So it's quite a tricky balancing act here, getting the balance right, getting vaccines coming through... getting the risk-benefit right for people coming forward."

He urged people being offered the vaccine at the moment to take it, saying the "risk-benefit is very strongly in favour of receiving the vaccine".

He said people could expect more information from regulators within 24 hours.

07:23 AM

AstraZeneca concerned taken 'very seriously, says JCVI

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said concerns over the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab are being taken "very seriously" and "very thoroughly" investigated.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What stands out about them is that we see thrombosis, including thrombosis in the cerebral veins, all the time, but we don't normally see them in association with a low platelet count - which is a small blood cell which is involved in blood clotting - and so that makes them stand out and makes us think that this is something a little bit different and out of the norm."

Mr Finn said this meant they wanted to understand why this was being caused and whether it is linked to the vaccine.

Told there had been 30 cases of this kind of blood clot and seven deaths amid more than 18 million people receiving the jab, Mr Finn said it "could potentially" affect the rollout of the vaccine.

He said: "Those figures quoted were up until March 24 and I think we'll hear shortly what's happened subsequent to that in terms of numbers of cases, but we can expect there will have been more in the interim."

Mr Finn highlighted that the risk of Covid-19 is greater for older people and therefore it likely favours them receiving the vaccine, adding: "What we urgently need to understand, if this is a causal thing, is whether that risk-benefit ratio stands up when you get down to younger ages."

07:21 AM

Blood clots could be linked to Covid, not vaccine

Professor Sir Kent Woods told LBC radio: "Covid itself - the infection itself - is known to be associated with a substantial increased risk of blood clots of various kinds.

"At a time when the population has got lots of Covid going around, it's very difficult to know what the actual background rate of these clotting events is without the vaccine.

"We can say I think, that if there is a connection, it's a very, very rare one and this is why I am not concerned about the fact that relatives of mine have had the AstraZeneca vaccine in their 40s."

07:17 AM

Liverpool club scraps trial event amid vaccine passport confusion

A comedy club has pulled out of a trial to test how venues can operate safely after it said the Government failed to clarify whether it would involve Covid-19 vaccine passports.

The Hot Water Comedy Club in Liverpool said it was subjected to a "hate campaign" online after reports suggested it was working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to trial Covid-status certification.

Club co-owner Binty Blair said he has tried to contact DCMS to clarify whether Covid-19 vaccine passports will be trialled in the pilot event, but to no avail. The club has subsequently cancelled its event - which was due to be the first to be trialled - on April 16 at the M&S Bank Arena Auditorium, which would have had an audience of 300 people.

"The reason for us backing out is the Government wasn't clear about the Covid passports," Mr Blair told PA. "The problem is we don't know what we signed up for."

06:48 AM

Getting jab safer than not being vaccinated, says minister

A Government minister has said that getting the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is safer than not being vaccinated.

Small business minister Paul Scully told Times Radio: "The regulator does not regulate drugs that it believes are unsafe.

"There's absolutely every evidence that you are safer taking the vaccine, you are more likely to survive, to live, to stay well.

"And this is the route out of our pandemic.

"So my message is, when you're invited to do so, as I did, and I've had my first jab, please do go and get that."

06:47 AM

Former MHRA chief has 'no reservations' about AstraZeneca

The former chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said he has "no reservations" about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Professor Sir Kent Woods told LBC radio: "The risks of Covid are much higher.

"The reason it is so difficult to be certain whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship, even in younger people, between the vaccine and these thrombotic events, these clotting events, is that there are such clotting events occurring in the background anyway."

He added: "It's not an unknown event."

06:27 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Apr 7.

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04:56 AM

Wales to get Moderna vaccine today

The first doses of the Moderna vaccine will be administered in the UK today as a minister insisted the UK will have enough jabs to offer all adults their first dose by July.

The first doses will be administered at West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen, the Welsh Government said. Five thousand doses of the vaccine were sent to vaccination centres in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area on Wednesday, it added.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said the jabs will be deployed widely "around the third week of April" with "more volume" expected by May.

He told BBC Breakfast that more Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca doses will also arrive and the Janssen vaccine is "coming through as well".

"So I am confident that we will be able to meet our target of mid-April offering the vaccine to all over-50s and then at the end of July offering the vaccine to all adults," he said.

Read more: First shots of Moderna vaccine set to be administered in Wales

03:37 AM

Brazil tops 4,000 Covid deaths for first time

Brazil reported a 24-hour tally of Covid-19 deaths exceeding 4,000 for the first time on Tuesday, becoming the third nation to go above that daily threshold.

Many governors, mayors and judges are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed health system in several parts of the country.

Brazil's health ministry said 4,195 deaths were counted in the previous 24 hours, with the nation's pandemic toll quickly approaching 340,000, the second highest in the world. Only the US and Peru have had daily death tolls higher than 4,000.

Sao Paulo state, Brazil's most populous with 46 million residents, registered almost 1,400 deaths in the latest count. Health officials said the figure was partly due to the Easter holiday, which delayed the count.

Read more: Brazil’s countdown to Covid catastrophe

Aerial view showing a coffin being buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil - AFP
Aerial view showing a coffin being buried at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil - AFP

02:07 AM

Australia asks EU to release AstraZeneca doses

Australia said on Wednesday it will ask the EU to release more than 3 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine, testing the bloc's claim it is not blocking shipments, as the country struggles to vaccinate its population.

Brussels on Tuesday denied blocking vaccine shipments to Australia, which has fallen dramatically behind in its scheduled vaccination programme. The EU said it was not responsible for AstraZeneca's failure to uphold commitments to other countries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was asked by the EU to withdraw export permit applications and letters requesting supplies have gone unanswered.

Morrison said if the EU was now indicating its willingness to release shipments, he would again ask for the 3.1 million doses to be released. The 3.1 million doses were scheduled to arrive in Australia by the end of March.

"We obviously want those millions of doses," Morrison told reporters in the capital Canberra. "Given statements made overnight, that apparently there is no obstruction to that and then I would hope that could be readily addressed."

Scott Morrison said he would ask the European Union to release more than 3 million doses of AstraZeneca PLC's COVID-19 vaccine - AP
Scott Morrison said he would ask the European Union to release more than 3 million doses of AstraZeneca PLC's COVID-19 vaccine - AP

Morrison on Wednesday insisted he was not criticising the EU, but senior members of his government continued to blame the EU for blocking vaccines.

"They’re not giving approval is effectively the same as blocking," Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

01:37 AM

US rules out Covid passports

The White House on Tuesday ruled out imposing any form of a coronavirus vaccine passport in the United States, but said private businesses were free to explore the idea.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters: "The government is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential."

Vaccine passports, showing that someone has been inoculated against Covid-19, are seen by Boris Johnson as a potentially powerful tool in safely reopening Britain to mass gatherings and travel, but the move is opposed by a number of Tory MPs and the Labour Party.

Read more: SNP open to voting for Covid passports in England

01:16 AM

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