What happened today
Good evening. Here is a round-up of today's major coronavirus developments:
Priti Patel and Matt Hancock have refused to rule out tougher border controls in order to protect the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine.
Fines of £800 will be slapped on people caught at house parties as part of tougher measures to crack down on illegal gatherings during the pandemic, Ms Patel announced.
Schools could open before Easter, Gavin Williamson has suggested, saying he will give a two-week warning to headteachers.
Opening pubs before May could cause a third wave of Covid cases, scientists have warned.
Rapid-turnaround Covid tests that could hasten an easing of restrictions are able to catch nine out of 10 infectious cases, the first major study has found.
Vaccination of vulnerable pensioners differs tenfold between different parts of the country as part of a postcode lottery revealed by new official figures.
Thousands of vials of the Oxford / Astrazeneca vaccine were saved during an “urgent” mission by council staff following flooding at an industrial estate in Wales.
Today's coronavirus news in pictures
Lockdown could last until summer, suggests Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has declined to say whether the national lockdown will be over by summer, as he warned the new Covid variant was spreading "very fast indeed".
On a visit to North West England, where Storm Christoph has caused flooding, Mr Johnson was asked whether restrictions would be eased by the summer.
His answer raised yet more questions about the length of the lockdown, with the Prime Minister's official spokesman also refusing to rule out a lockdown that extends to the summer.
It comes as scientists warn that opening pubs before May could cause a third wave of Covid cases.
Coronavirus vaccines saved after emergency operation launched at manufacturing site hit by floodwater
Thousands of vials of the Oxford / Astrazeneca vaccine were saved during an “urgent” mission by council staff following flooding at an industrial estate in Wales, writes Jamie Johnson.
Heavy rain caused by Storm Christoph led to standing water surrounding buildings at Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Wrexham, and a call for help was put out on Wednesday evening.
The Telegraph can reveal that other sites where the vaccine is manufactured are near areas which have flood warnings, and government sources said there were "concerns around vaccine deployment".
The leader of Wrexham County Borough said that authorities worked "through the night" to ensure that the site was not overwhelmed by flood water, using a team of six staff, a number of sandbags and two water pumps.
University terms could be pushed back to October
The university term could be pushed back to October and A-level results day moved to July under Government plans for a radical shake-up of the admissions system.
Under a “post-qualification application” model, students would only apply to university after receiving their A-level grades meaning that admissions tutors would no longer need to rely on predicted grades when making offers.
Results day would need to be moved from mid-August to the end of July and the autumn term at universities would start “no earlier than the first week of October” to allow enough time for students to make their applications over the summer holidays.
This is one of two options being proposed by the Department for Education (DfE) in a consultation document published today.
The other option – called the “post-qualification offers” system – would see students apply to university prior to results day but only receive their offers after finding out their A-level grades.
Camilla Turner has the full story here.
Priti Patel: Vaccine queue jumpers 'morally reprehensible'
People jumping the queue for the coronavirus vaccine are "morally reprehensible", the Home Secretary says.
She adds that all measures remain "under review", and it the vaccine roll-out is currently there "for the most vulnerable people so we can protect them and protect the wider community as well".
Some Asian and black communities have 'longstanding concerns' over vaccine, says Dr Dwarkha
Dr Dwarkha says that in some Asian and black communities there are "longstanding concerns that go back generations" because of vaccine experiments in the early parts of the last century.
"I am convinced as a doctor having looked at all of the research this is a safe and effective vaccine. Things that have happened historically in the past have not happened now, we have good research evidence.
"We are here and we will be tireless in working with communities, faith leaders, community leaders and colleagues in local government to answer any questions that anybody has to encourage people to come forward and take up their appointment."
No comment from Home Secretary on hotel quarantine reports
Asked about reports forced hotel quarantine for arrivals into the UK is under consideration, Priti Patel says she has "already been clear about the very strong and stringent measures that have been put in place".
Ms Patel notes carriers are fined for non-compliance, especially in relation to passenger locator forms.
Coivd rule breaches 'shocking and very disturbing', says Home Secretary
Priti Patel says that while the majority of the public are following the rules, she hears "shocking and very disturbing examples of egregious breaches".
"The majority of the British public who are complying with the rules want that reassurance that people are being fined. These breaches are costing lives. It is right we are doing everything at the border and get the needle into people's arms and that is absolutely our focus."
Martin Hewitt says he has "never blamed the public and the vast majority of people are trying their level best to follow the rules".
Priti Patel: Border measures to safeguard 'world-leading' vaccine system
Priti Patel is asked by Sky News whether people should be asked summer holidays at this time.
"First of all it is far too early in terms of speculating around restrictions and should people be booking a holiday," Ms Patel says.
"Think about the numbers we have spoken about already. We have thousands of people still in hospital, we are in a lockdown, the public should be staying at home.
"People should not be travelling unless it is absolutely critical and essential. But we have this incredible, world-leading vaccine roll-out programme. You know very clearly what the measures are at the borders. The fine on the PLF has been increased. We have stringent measures for a very good reason."
Dr Dwarkha adds that NHS staff are currently working with two or three patients per staff member.
"Breaking the rules is like switching on a light in the middle of a blackout in the Blitz... it puts your whole street and the whole of your community at risk," he says.
Priti Patel supports 'every single precautionary measure' around travel quarantine
Asked about the recent increase in border controls, Priti Patel says it's "too early even to speak about other measures" but "the advice is clearly to stay at home".
"When it comes to borders and travel, it's right that the Government does everything we can right now to protect the roll-out of this vaccine. The public needs to show proof of a negative test, we have quarantine, we've taken action at the border when new strains have appeared, such as the South African strain and the Denmark virus.
"It's right that we take every single precautionary measure so we can safeguard the delivery of this vaccine."
Priti Patel: 'All the measures are in place' for school safety
Priti Patel is asked by a member of the public why the definition of key workers has been broadened with pressure on school places.
"It is right to say that within schools and school settings all the measures are in place with regards to pupils and teachers being in school. There's a great deal of work that's taken place across all settings," the Home Secretary says.
Dr Dwarkha adds that he is "really grateful" to all key workers for the efforts they are making.
'If you're called for the vaccine, come forward', says NHS chief
Dr Vin Dwarkha, medical director of NHS England London, says: "If you're called for the vaccine, come forward. It could save your life."
Dr Dwarkha says that reports of people jumping the queue for the vaccine are "horrendous".
"We do have hope with an increasing number of people still vaccinated. But we must remain vigilant. Stay home, follow the guidance and help us save lives."
'Unless you have a valid reason, stay at home'
Martin Hewitt says that officers have kept communities safe and prevented the spread of the virus since the start of the pandemic.
"My message is really clear. Wear a face covering on public transport and in shops unless you are exempt. Self-isolate if you are required to do so. And unless you have a valid reason - or really importantly if you need to flee a harm such as domestic abuse - stay at home."
250 fixed penalty notices of £10,000 have been issued since August
Martin Hewitt says that 250 fixed penalty notices of £10,000 have been issued by forces in England to people who have organised large gatherings since August
"I make no apologised for those fines," he says, insisting house parties are "putting lives at risk".
He says that last week in Brick Lane in London, there were more than 40 people "cramped indoors" and three police officers were injured by partygoers.
He also cites a house party in Hertfordshire of more than 150 people, which was broken up by police, while in Bournemouth an officer policing an anti-lockdown protest has since been hospitalised with coronavirus.
Personal decisions remain 'critical' amid 'most dangerous' point of pandemic
Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, welcomes today's announcement of the new £800 fines.
He says house parties are "dangerous, irresponsible and totally unacceptable, and I hope the likelihood of an increased fine acts as a disincentive to those who are thinking of attending such events".
Mr Hewitt says that personal decisions remain "critical" and the UK is still at the most dangerous stage of the pandemic.
"Every person lost is someone's family member. Gatherings where people are in close contact with each other, in confined spaces, will allow the virus to spread. And anyone who organises one will be given a fixed penalty notice and so will those who choose to attend. This is about saving lives. They're demonstrating no regard for the safety of others or even themselves."
Priti Patel confirms new £800 house party fines
Priti Patel says there is a small minority "who refuse to do the right thing".
"If you don't follow these rules, the police will enforce them. Police officers are now moving more quickly in handing out breaches and they have my absolute backing in doing so."
Ms Patel confirms there will be a new £800 fine for those attending house parties, which will double to a maximum level of £6,400 for repeat offences.
"These fines will apply to those who attend illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in homes. The science is clear, such irresponsible clear poses a clear threat to public health - not only to those in attendance, but our wonderful police officers who attend these events to shut them down.
"We will not stand by while a small minority of people put others at risk."
Priti Patel: 'Crucial' to stay home and follow Government rules
"We are not out of the woods yet. This virus is severe and remains a deadly threat," says Ms Patel.
"It is absolutely crucial that you stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives."
She says that hospital occupancy is up by 4.8 per cent week-on-week, and that 94,580 people have now died.
"Every death is a tragedy and these numbers demonstrate that this country remains in the grip of a pandemic. By staying at home you are helping to keep those you care about safe."
Priti Patel: Covid vaccine best chance of beating virus
Priti Patel is joined by Dr Vin Dwarkha, medical director of NHS England London, and Martin Hewitt, chief of the National Police Chief Council.
Ms Patel says that almost five million people have now been vaccinated as part of the roll-out.
"I want to take this moment and opportunity to counter some of the disinformation about the vaccine, especially any messages targeted at an ethnic minority background," she says.
"This vaccine is safe for us all. It is safe for you and your family. It is our best chance of beating this virus. So I urge everyone across our wonderfully diverse country when the time comes to keep everyone safe."
Covid briefing: Priti Patel to lead today's press conference
In a moment Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will lead the coronavirus update from Downing Street.
Follow for live text updates, and watch live at the top of this blog.
Government advert claims those exercising are 'highly likely' to have coronavirus
The Government is under pressure to pull a new coronavirus advert which claims that those jogging, walking their dog or working out in parks are “highly likely” to have the disease.
The 30-second radio ad, which also warns “people will die” if individuals “bend the rules”, was condemned by MPs and public health experts for spreading “false information”, while the Advertising Standards Authority was assessing complaints received about it and a similar one about shopping at supermarkets.
Schools could open before Easter, says Gavin Williamson
Schools could open before Easter, Gavin Williamson has suggested, saying he will give a two-week warning to headteachers, Camilla Turner reports.
The Education Secretary said he "would certainly hope" that children would be back in the classroom by early April, adding that he wants this to happen at the "earliest possible opportunity".
It is the first time Mr Williamson has hinted at a possible timeline for the reopening of schools, and comes after Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, suggested schools in some parts of the country will reopen sooner than those in others.
Primary and secondary schools were ordered to close at the start of the month to all but the children of key workers and the most vulnerable youngsters. Announcing the latest national lockdown on January 4, Boris Johnson said schools would need to remain shut until the February half-term at the earliest.
Mr Williamson said today that a key factor in determining when schools could reopen would be whether pressures on the NHS had eased sufficiently.
UK coronavirus deaths rise by 1,290
1,290 deaths have been recorded by the Department of Health today.
This takes the UK's overall coronavirus death toll to 94,580.
A further 37,892 Britons had tested positive as at 9am, the Department of Health confirmed. Cases recorded in the UK since the start of the pandemic now total 3.54 million.
Meat-free diets are lockdown casualty as shoppers opt for bacon, sausages and burgers
Britain may be in the midst of what its organisers are calling the biggest ever Veganuary, but new figures have shown that meat-free diets were a casualty of last year’s lockdowns, writes Sam Meadows.
Data on supermarket sales from retail analysts Mintel showed that people were less likely to cut bacon, burgers and sausages from their diet in 2020, with sales rising by 18 per cent, 26 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
Further polling by the firm suggested that the so-called “flexitarian” movement, where people limit their meat intake rather than cutting it out completely, has suffered a setback, with the proportion of people reporting they had cut down falling from 51 per cent to 41 per cent.
Edward Bergen, a food and drink analyst at Mintel, said that shoppers had been seeking comfort foods during a stressful year, but that the increase may also have been driven by the weather in the summer.
Schools find Russia-linked viruses on laptops given out by Government
Schools around the UK have found that laptops provided by the Government arrived with a virus on them that connected to servers in Russia, raising concerns that hackers could steal data on vulnerable students.
Employees of a Bradford school that received laptops from the Government to help vulnerable students study at home said in an online forum that they contained malware installed by hackers.
The Department for Education (DfE) confirmed the incident and said it was “aware of an issue with a small number of devices”.
“We are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible,” a spokesman said. "DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue. We believe this is not widespread.”
James Cook and Hannah Boland have the story.
Look out for each other, Emmanuel Macron urges students
President Emmanuel Macron has encouraged students to look out for one another amid the mental health emergency which has taken hold at campuses across France amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
Speaking at the Paris Saclay University, Mr Macron heard concerns about students feeling isolated, their employment prospects, and the nationwide 6pm-6am curfew.
"You need to take care of each other," he said.
"We will have a second semester that will have the virus and a lot of constraints," added Macron.
Macron said he would look to ensure universities provide daily meals priced at a euro a day.
Vaccine latest: Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty meet Israeli health officials
Patrick Vallance, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, says he has had a "very helpful discussion" with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and staff from Israel's Ministry of Health.
The meeting took place to "share information and lessons on the science behind the UK and Israel's Covid-19 vaccination programmes", Mr Vallance said.
A study from Israel this week suggested the efficacy of the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 33 per cent.
Israel's coronavirus tsar Nachman Ash said many Israelis had caught Covid in between their first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
However Matt Hancock told MPs that the findings of the study "actually support the data that we have been basing our decision on to move to a 12-week dosing schedule".
Travellers may have to pay for two weeks in hotel quarantine
Hotel groups have begun talks with Government officials over using their facilities as quarantine centres, as it emerged that ministers have discussed tighter border controls that could extend to barring foreign travellers.
Whitehall sources confirmed that “early discussions” had been held over adopting an Australian-style border system, following reports over the weekend that people could be forced to pay to stay in a hotel for two weeks while observing a self-isolation period.
Ministers are increasingly concerned that as the vaccine programme progresses and so-called “herd immunity” increases, the virus will come under greater pressure to evolve and mutate.
'It will breed resentment': Travellers weigh in on the prospect of a vaccine passport
With the UK’s third lockdown potentially in place until Easter, many are wistfully thinking of when they’ll be allowed out again – and when a holiday abroad could be on the cards. The concept of vaccine passports has become the apex of questions about international travel, writes Emma Cooke.
For those who are not a fan of the idea, the outlook doesn’t look good – a growing roster of countries are making proof of Covid immunity a condition of entry, including Israel and the Seychelles.
Others such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal are lobbying for them. The EU will debate vaccine certificates for travel within the bloc today, and holiday firm Saga has confirmed that customers will need to prove they have been inoculated.
Most noteworthy is that airlines are also considering making proof of vaccination a condition of being able to fly – similar to passengers being barred from boarding unless they can show a negative test.
Only a quarter of working-class children doing five hours of schoolwork a day in lockdown
Just a quarter of working class children are doing five hours of schoolwork a day during lockdown, a study by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust has found.
According to the research, only 59 per cent of youngsters from low-income households have access to a laptop or device for online learning compared to 87 per cent of those from wealthy families.
A YouGov poll of 877 parents, commissioned by the Sutton Trust, found that 26 per cent of youngsters from disadvantaged households are completing five hours of schoolwork a day compared to 40 per cent of their middle-class peers.
The research, published on Thursday, is the first indication of how much learning children are doing during the latest lockdown. It reveals that during the past academic year parents were so concerned about their children's lost learning that one in 10 turned to private tutors.
Camilla Turner has the full story.
Boris Johnson refuses to rule out lockdown until summer
Boris Johnson has declined to say whether the national lockdown will be over by summer, as he warned the new Covid variant was spreading "very fast indeed".
On a visit to North West England, where Storm Christoph has caused flooding, Mr Johnson was asked whether restrictions would be eased by the summer.
"I think it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions," he said.
Rapid Covid tests found to catch nine out of ten infectious cases, major study finds
Rapid-turnaround Covid tests that could hasten an easing of restrictions are able to catch nine out of ten infectious cases, the first major study has found.
Contradicting weeks of scepticism, the research by Oxford University and Public Health England (PHE) strongly suggests that 30-minute “lateral flow” tests could be a viable means of reopening schools and workplaces.
It follows a bitter row within the scientific community after some academics alleged the technology had missed 60 per cent of positive cases during the Liverpool pilot, where the kits were introduced for mass community use.
They accused ministers of “misleading” the public about lateral flow’s ability to make workplaces safe.
This week the Government reportedly put on hold plans to roll out the kits in schools when they reopen over accuracy concerns.
Henry Bodkin has the story.
Ministers consider further border controls
Matt Hancock told the House of Commons this morning that the Government is "vigilant" to variants of the virus and keeping all travel options under consideration.
"We brought in very significant measures last week to close the travel corridors and we remain vigilant to what we need to do to guard against new variants coming in from abroad," he said.
"The new variants do change this question, because it's not just about ensuring we don't get extra cases coming in from abroad. If a country has a lower case rate than us, there's no more risk than people staying here in this country.
"It's about making sure that new variants that might not be dealt with as effectively by the vaccine don't arrive, and stopping them from coming. So that is something which of course we keep under very close review."
EU considers travel ban to stem spread of new highly-infectious Covid variants
EU countries could introduce travel bans under plans being considered on Thursday to combat the spread of new strains of the Covid-19 virus, James Crisp and Charles Hymas report.
The European council will meet on Thursday evening to discuss proposals put forward by German leader Angela Merkel that would allow countries to introduce bans on all forms of transport even for citizens from EU countries as well those from outside the EU including the UK.
The German chancellor wants the EU to take a coordinated response to the threat posed by the emergence of new, highly infectious Covid variants - one of which emerged in the UK as well as Brazil and South Africa.
On Wednesday night the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte announced flights and ferries from the United Kingdom, will be banned from Saturday with the same restrictions imposed on South Africa and South American countries.
Under the German proposals, the EU would bar all passengers from outside the EU including Britons unless they had a negative Covid test result taken less than 48 hours before departure.
Vaccine passports could become 'unavoidable', says health travel expert
Vaccine passports for holidaymakers will soon be ‘unavoidable’ as more countries make Covid immunity a condition of entry, a leading travel health expert has claimed.
Dr Richard Dawood, a specialist in travel medicine at the Fleet Street Clinic in London, also suggested that tight border controls will remain in place while countries feel ‘insecure’ about the risks posed by the virus.
“Regardless of how any of us feel about the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ for travel, they will ultimately be unavoidable,” said Dr Dawood.
“Once countries begin insisting on proof of Covid immunity from arriving travellers [as the Seychelles has done], there will be little option but to embrace the challenge.
South African minister dies of coronavirus complications
Jackson Mthembu, South Africa's Minister in the Presidency, has died today after complications relating to coronavirus.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the National African Congress, confirmed the news and described Mr Mthembu as an "exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy".
"He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss," he said.
It is with deep sorrow and shock that we announce that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu passed away earlier today from COVID-related complications.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss.
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 #StaySafe (@CyrilRamaphosa) January 21, 2021
Keep pubs and restaurants closed until May or Covid will surge, warn scientists
Opening pubs before May could cause a third wave of Covid cases, scientists have warned.
Researchers from Imperial College London and the Universities of Edinburgh and Warwick said that there could be a surge of cases if restrictions are lifted too soon.
Even after everyone over the age of 50 is offered the jab, cases of Covid could go up again, if restrictions like closures of shops, restaurants and pubs end too soon, they said.
Their modeling suggests it would not be safe to relax restrictions fully until 80 per cent of the whole population has been vaccinated.
Our health editor Laura Donnelly has all the details.
Israel vaccine data 'actually support' 12-week jab gap, says Hancock
Matt Hancock has said data from an Israeli study on the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine "actually support the data that we have been basing our decision on to move to a 12-week dosing schedule".
Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, highlighted a study from Israel which suggested the efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 33 per cent.
However the Health Secretary insisted that having "looked into the data... the data actually support our decision to move to a 12-week dosing schedule.
""The Government chief scientific adviser was asked about this in the media yesterday and explained clearly why we were able to make that decision because around 89 per cent efficacy comes between days 14 and days 21 after the first dose."
Glastonbury 2021 cancelled, organisers confirm
Glastonbury Festival will not take place this year amid the ongoing pandemic, its organisers have confirmed.
In a statement, Michael and Emily Eavis said:
With great regret, we must announce that this year’s Glastonbury festival will not take place, and that this will be another enforced fallow year for us.
In spite of our efforts to move heaven and earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the festival happen this year.We are so sorry to let you all down.
We are very confident we can deliver something really special for us all in 2022!
Jonathan Van-Tam's mother receives vaccine
Elizabeth Van-Tam, the 79-year-old mother of deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, has received the coronavirus vaccine at the the Jenner Health Centre in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire.
Mr Van-Tam said last November that he would encourage his own mother to get vaccinated as he sought to reassure Britons about the efficacy of the jabs.
"The 'mum test' is really important here," he said. "I've already said to her 'mum, make sure when you're called you're ready, be ready to take this up, this is really important for you because of your age'."
“I was really happy to get my COVID-19 vaccine. While I’ve had lots of reminders from Jonathan, I needed no encouragement when I received my phone call," Mrs Van-Tam said.
“The jab didn’t hurt at all and the NHS staff were excellent. I would encourage everyone to take up the offer when it comes.”
Covid vaccines priority should go to prisons, say advisers
Prisons should be prioritised for Covid vaccinations because they are breeding grounds for the virus and spread it into communities, Government advisers have warned ministers.
The advisers on deaths in custody said scientific evidence from 28 studies showed prisons presented a "high risk of rapid transmission" of Covid both within them and into the wider community.
In letters to ministers, Juliet Lyon, who chairs the Government's independent panel on deaths in custody, said overcrowded, poorly ventilated and unhygienic jails were "significantly high-risk" breeding grounds for the virus.
"Such issues create significant challenges in managing the spread of the virus and mitigating the risk of dangerous subsequent transmission to the community," Ms Lyon wrote in a letter to Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister.
"We ask you and your colleagues to urgently consider prison staff and prisoners among priority groups for Covid-19 vaccines to protect against infection and prevent further spread of the disease within establishments and out into the community."
Charles Hymas has the full story.
Biden becomes president: Covid vaccine scheme to receive support of US
Leading American infectious disease scientist Dr Anthony Fauci has confirmed that the United States will share its vaccine with poorer countries, in one of the first major acts of President Joe Biden's administration.
The US will join COVAX, the 92-nation collaboration which seeks to deploy the vaccines around the world.
"The intent of the United States [is] to join COVAX and support the ACT-Accelerator to enhance multilateral efforts for Covid-19 vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic distribution, equitable access, and research and development," Dr Fauci said.
He also confirmed that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organisation, to which Biden's predecessor Donald Trump halted funding to.
Mr Trump had planned to withdraw the US from the World Health Organisation in 2021.
End of lockdown: Why it may be time to have a difficult conversation about acceptable levels of risk
Britain could be facing a long, slow slog to herd immunity, with Sir Patrick Vallance warning that at least 70 per cent coverage would be needed to stop transmission.
The figures suggest that if we carry on vaccinating at the current rate – about 1.8 million a week – we would not get there before June. But might there be a case for lifting restrictions earlier?
As our science editor Sarah Knapton writes, the important thing to realise is that this pandemic has a vastly different impact depending on age.
Healthy under-50s made up just 0.94 per cent of deaths in 2020 – fewer than 700 of the 72,178 deaths recorded by PHE in England.
Social distancing rage triggers surge of attacks on supermarket staff
The boss of Co-op Food has said supermarket staff are battling a surge of violence as customers vent their rage over a new crackdown on face coverings, reports Laura Onita.
Demands for staff to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing rules have created a major flashpoint for “abuse, threats and violence”, Jo Whitfield said, with thousands of incidents every week.
She added that supermarkets should not be expected to make customers cover up as this is officially the responsibility of the police.
There has been a 140pc surge in criminal activity at the Co-op over the past year, with more than 200,000 cases including those that are violent, non-violent or involve shoplifting.
It comes after supermarkets launched a massive operation to keep Britain fed which put their typically low-paid workers on the front line of the Covid crisis.
Brexit divisions 'have infected Covid reporting', says Sir Christopher Meyer
Former Chair of the Press Complaints Commission Sir Christopher Meyer has warned that Brexit allegiances and “the poison of anti-Boris sentiment” are influencing the media’s coverage of the pandemic.
Sir Christopher, who led the body for six years, told The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast that “the Brexit wars are still being fought and they infect everything, and they have infected, I think, Covid reporting.”
In an interview with our columnist Liam Halligan, the former British ambassador to the US said he’d noticed a “leaning towards alarmism”, because “it makes a great headline”.
Sir Christopher acknowledged that to provide successful coverage of the coronavirus crisis, reporters needed “some basic training as a statistician”.
One in 10 hospitals have no spare critical care beds
One in 10 major hospital trusts had no spare adult critical care beds last week, NHS England figures show.
Some 15 out of 140 acute trusts reported 100% occupancy of all "open" beds each day from January 11 to 17.
These included University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, one of the largest trusts in England, along with Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust and Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust, both in south-east England.
The figure is up slightly on 12 out of 140 acute trusts that reported 100% occupancy of beds each day from January 4 to 10.
Open-air 101 Dalmatians show called off
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre has confirmed it has abandoned plans to stage 101 Dalmatians this year.
The central London venue said it appears likely that coronavirus restrictions will be in place when rehearsals are scheduled to begin in March, and that social distancing will remain in force during the performance period.
The theatre said in a statement that it is impossible "both practically and financially" for them to proceed with the musical as planned.
The production, which has a large ensemble cast, according to the theatre, was scheduled to run from May 15 to June 20.
Artistic director Timothy Sheader said: "Although we will be contacting all ticketholders to provide them with a full refund, we are exploring all options with our co-producers, writers and creative team, and very much hope to be able to announce new plans for the production in due course."
UK in 'one of toughest periods of pandemic', says Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons the country is "in the midst of one of the toughest periods of this pandemic".
Responding to an urgent question, he said: "Yesterday saw 1,820 deaths, which is the highest toll since the crisis began.
"As we endure these dark days and the restrictions we must all follow to save lives, we know that we have a way out, which is our vaccination programme and thanks to the hard work of so many people we now have an immense infrastructure in place that day by day is protecting the most vulnerable and giving hope to us all.
"I'm glad to report to the House we now have given over five million doses of vaccine across the UK to 4.6 million people, making good progress towards our goal of offering everyone priority groups 1 to 4 their first dose by February 15."
Thousands of patients waiting an hour in an ambulance
More than 3,000 patients waited longer than an hour to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff at hospitals in England last week - down from more than 5,000 in the previous week, new figures show.
A total of 3,333 delays of over 60 minutes were recorded across all acute trusts in the seven days to January 17, according to figures published by NHS England.
This compares with 5,513 in the seven days to January 10, which was the highest weekly figure so far this winter.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust reported the highest number for an individual trust (237 delays of more than 60 minutes), followed by University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust (158) and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (156).
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.
Tracker: Week-by-week vaccine rollout
Africa's COVID-19 death rate now higher than global rate
Africa's coronavirus case fatality rate stands at 2.5%, higher than the global level of 2.2%, a trend that is alarming experts, the head of the continent's disease control body said on Thursday, reports India McTaggart.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head John Nkengasong told reporters that earlier in the pandemic, Africa's death rate had been below the global average.
"The case fatality rate is beginning to be very worrying and concerning for all of us," he said.
The number of African nations with a death rate higher than the current global average is growing, he added.
There are 21 countries on the continent with a death rate of above 3%, including Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.
Over the past week, cases decreased by nearly 7% compared to the previous week while deaths increased 10%, according to Africa CDC data.
Africa has recorded 3.3 million coronavirus infections and 81,000 deaths as of Thursday, it says.
The continent reported 207,000 new cases in the past week, with South Africa alone reporting 100,000 of those new cases, Nkengasong said.
Fire at Oxford vaccine factory
A fire has broken out at the Serological Institute of India, which is making both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and local Covshield vaccines, reports Ben Farmer.
We'll bring you more as soon as we have it, but early local reports say vaccine production is not affected.
On the frontline, in pictures
Almost 9m borrow money because of Covid
Nearly nine million people had to borrow more money because of the coronavirus pandemic by December 2020, new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.
The data, published on Thursday, also showed the proportion of people borrowing £1,000 or more had increased from 35% to 45% since June 2020.
The ONS said the "labour market shocks" associated with the pandemic had been felt more by young people and the lowest paid, with those aged under 30 and those with household incomes under £10,000 were around 35% and 60% respectively more likely to be furloughed than the general population.
Of those who have not been able to work - either because of being on furlough or for another reason - more than half (52%) of people in the top income quintile continued to be paid in full, compared to 28% of those in the lowest.
Current lockdown measures may not be enough if people don’t stop mixing with others
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, said experts working on the college's React study are looking at whether current lockdown measures are enough to tackle the more transmissible variant of Covid-19, writes India McTaggart.
Professor Riley said there is "overwhelming" evidence that restricting social contact brings infection numbers down.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said both people's behaviour and the transmissibility of the virus are contributing to the patterns of rising infections.
He added that he is "extremely concerned" about high infection rates in community transmissions, and that the number of people being treated in hospital is "astronomically high".
He warned that infections could continue to rise if people's behaviour in the current national lockdown in England stays the same.
Asked what he would say to lockdown naysayers, he said: "People changing their physical mixing directly affects the way that the virus transmits.
"And the observed decline in infections (in the first lockdown) that was linked to that change in behaviour is, in my view, scientific evidence that the behaviour and the transmission it is linked to is absolutely overwhelming."
Schools need help with reopening
The Children's Commissioner for England said she is pleased that the Government has adopted a "last to close, first to open" approach to schools, but said they need help with reopening, reports India McTaggart.
Anne Longfield told Sky News: "Schools don't just open by themselves magically when infection rates get to a certain level.
"We need to make sure schools have all the measures in place to make sure they are safe to reopen and my hope is that certainly primary schools will be able to open after half-term when we believe the risks to children ... and adults are much lower."
Ms Longfield added that she wants politicians to "take poverty out of that too difficult box" and commit to plans to "turn around the life chances for much of the population".
Williamson: Hopes schools will reopen before Easter
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he hopes schools in England can fully reopen before Easter.
"I would certainly hope that that would be certainly before Easter," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"Any decision to open schools to all children is based on the best health advice and the best scientific advice.
"The reason that we were placed in the position to close schools to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children was down to the mounting pressure on the NHS."
Is Education Secretary up to the task?
Asked about his own personal ability as Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson said it was more important to talk about new Government initiatives to help those in need.
"I know journalists love to talk about ourselves an awful lot but I was actually rather hoping to talk about the 50% of youngsters who don't go to university ... a new programme that we're launching to help address the skills gap," he said.
Would you sack Williamson?
Speaking on Times Radio, he added: "This is about millions of youngsters, making sure they get the right skills in order to be able to move into work, making sure they're not taking courses that are not leading them into a job.
"We want to make sure that a person of any age can access really high quality training.
"It may be fascinating to talk about politicians but I think it's more important to talk about the actual millions of people whose lives that we believe that we can change."
Parents will get 'good notice' when schools open
Gavin Williamson said that the Government would give parents and teachers "good notice" of when schools would reopen in order to give them time to prepare.
"We had to close schools, it was a national decision ... to relieve pressure on the NHS and reduce movement, but we do want to see all schools open," the Education Secretary told Times Radio.
"My enthusiasm to see them open will ensure that if we can get schools open at the earliest moment, then that is what we'll be doing.
"We'll give teachers and parents time to prepare ... and give them good notice of it. But we want to see school children back.
"We'd aim to give teachers, pupils and parents two weeks' notice so they're able to get ready and we'll always be looking for how we can get schools open for all at the earliest possible moment."
Hopes daily testing at secondary schools will continue
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he hopes the daily testing of pupils and staff in secondary schools for coronavirus will be able to resume.
The programme was "paused" on Wednesday on the advice of Public Health England over concerns about the new variant of the virus.
Mr Williamson told BBC Breakfast: "With the emergence of a new variant what we have been asked to do by Public Health England is that they wanted to look at more detail as to how that was working with the new variant.
"We very much hope that we will be able to restart that programme that worked so well."
Tory MP calls for schools to reopen, citing Telegraph story
Robert Halfon has been reading our Education Editor Camilla Turner's work this morning.
As happened in the last lockdown 👉 as @camillahmturner @Telegraph report on @suttontrust study show 👉 children from disadvantaged backgrounds are learning the least. The best way to solve this is to get our schools open and children learning again 👇 pic.twitter.com/6B7lYaPPPe
— Robert Halfon MP -Working Hard for Harlow- (@halfon4harlowMP) January 21, 2021
Middle-class children 'spend more time learning' in lockdown than poorer peers
Children from middle-class families are spending more time each day learning during this lockdown compared with their poorer peers, a survey suggests.
Schools are better prepared in delivering remote learning this time round, the report by the Sutton Trust suggests, with 23 per cent of primary school pupils doing more than five hours of learning a day, up from 11 per cent in late March.
But socio-economic gaps still remain as 35 per cent of the poorest households report that their children still do not have access to sufficient devices for online learning, compared to 11 per cent of high income households.
Two in five children in middle-class families are spending more than five hours a day on schoolwork, compared to 26 per cent of those in working-class households.
Schools 'clear' on 'absolute minimum' on remote education
Mr Williamson added that he had "made it clear to schools" what was the "absolute minimum" on remote education and had shared the details with parents.
"We're making sure there's that ultimate safety net because there are youngsters that may have a laptop but actually due to the area they live in, due to poor internet connection, aren't able to access the level of services or aren't in a situation where they are able to have that type of access."
Laptops and tablets being sent to disadvantaged pupils
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that a further 1.3 million electronic devices would be distributed to help with remote learning as schools stayed shut.
He told Times Radio that provision of laptops, tablets and routers were "the ultimate safety net" for disadvantaged pupils.
"In terms of laptop and tablet provision, there's already an existing stock within the school system of 2.9 million laptops and tablets," he said.
"We're obviously topping that up, another 750,000 have already been dispatched over the last couple of weeks (and) another 50,000 this week.
"We're going to be taking that up to 1.3 million."
Welsh government asked to reopen sport facilities
Labour Member of the Senedd John Griffiths has urged the Welsh government to reopen sports facilities in Wales.
🚴 Today I have written to the Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething and the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism Dafydd Elis-Thomas about the reopening of sport facilities and children's sport in Wales. You can see my letter below ⬇ pic.twitter.com/WP8YFvNVIL
— John Griffiths MS (@JGriffithsLab) January 19, 2021
I want schools to reopen as soon as possible, says Williamson
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said he wants schools in England to reopen at "the earliest possible opportunity".
Mr Williamson said one of the "key criteria" for reopening schools would be whether the pressure on the NHS was lifting.
He brushed off calls by the opposition to resign following a series of policy U-turns.
"My real focus is making sure that children get back into school at the earliest possible opportunity," he told Sky News.
"Schools were the last to close and schools will very much be the first to reopen."
Schools to get two weeks notice before they reopen
Schools will get two weeks notice before they reopen, Gavin Williamson has said, as he appeared to suggest a delay to mid-February plans.
The Education Secretary, who is under fire for constant U-turns and last minute decisions, told Sky News: "We have been wanting to give people as much notice as possible."
Asked if that meant an announcement would be forthcoming next week, to be in time for the end of February half-term, he hinted this would not be the case.
"One key criteria is as to whether the pressures on the NHS have started to lift," he said, adding it was "a decision very much in the national interest".
He added: "Schools were last to close and will be very much first to open"
Today's front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Thursday, Jan 21.
Watch: Arnie gets vaccine
Dubai suspends non-essential surgery as infections surge
Dubai has suspended non-essential surgery for a month and live entertainment in hotels and restaurants until further notice as coronavirus infections surge.
Dubai's health regulator said in a circular published on its website on Wednesday that the decision, which takes effect on Thursday and could be extended, was aimed at ensuring the preparedness of health facilities to manage Covid-19 cases.
Similarly, Dubai's tourism department issued a circular, seen by Reuters, suspending entertainment in hotels and restaurants after recording an increase in violations.
The daily number of infections in the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, crossed the 3,000 threshold on Jan 12 and has continued to climb, hitting 3,506 on Wednesday.
Emergency application submitted for use of vaccine in Philippines
India's Bharat Biotech submitted on Thursday an application for the emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines, Food and Drug Administration chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said.
Bharat Biotech, which has developed COVAXIN with the Indian Council of Medical Research, is the fourth vaccine maker to apply for emergency use in the Philippines.
Panasonic developing special containers for Pfizer vaccine
Japanese electronics maker Panasonic Corp. says it is using its refrigerator technology to develop special boxes for storing the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which must be kept at ultracold temperatures.
The company said Thursday that samples will be ready in March, with a product to follow a month or two later.
The box will use dry ice to maintain the temperature at the minus-70 degrees Celsius required for the Pfizer's vaccine. It does not need to plug in.
Cases in China rise despite new restrictions
China reported a rise in new cases despite a flurry of recent measures to contain the latest outbreak in the northeast, with Heilongjiang province recording its biggest daily increase in new patients to date.
Tens of millions of residents in Hebei province surrounding Beijing, the northeastern Jilin province and Heilongjiang have been put into lockdown in recent weeks amid what is the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.
Authorities are asking people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays in February as part of the efforts to prevent another debilitating outbreak.
A total of 144 new cases were reported on Jan 20, the National Health Commission said on Thursday, matching the total reported on Jan 14 and marking the highest number of daily infections since March 1.
Call for travel 'bubble' after Australia records no cases for fourth day
Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country's most populous state to call for a special travel "bubble" with Pacific island nations.
New South Wales has reined in an outbreak in mid-December that prompted a strict lockdown in Sydney's Northern Beaches, while broader social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing were imposed for the rest of the city.
Signalling those restrictions were set to be eased next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the federal government should consider establishing a travel arrangement with the Pacific.
"There is no reason why we shouldn't aim to travel to New Zealand or some of the Pacific Islands well within the next 12 months," Ms Berejiklian said.
Hong Kong reportedly set to approve Pfizer vaccine
Hong Kong is set to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine before the end of the week, with a warehouse in the financial centre being selected to store the vials, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee is set to approve use of the vaccine this week, clearing the way for the first round of one million inoculations after Lunar New Year, the report added, citing a government source.
Lockdown having 'little impact' on Covid rates, researcher warn
A third pandemic lockdown appears to be having little impact on rates of Covid-19 in England, researchers warned on Thursday, with prevalence of the disease "very high" and "no evidence of decline" in the first 10 days of renewed restrictions.
Until rates of Covid-19 are reduced substantially, health services "will remain under extreme pressure" and the number of deaths will continue to rise rapidly, researchers leading Imperial College London's REACT-1 prevalence study said.
"The number of Covid-19 in-patients (in hospital) is extremely high at the moment, and we can't expect that to drop unless we can achieve lower levels of prevalence," said Steven Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics who co-led the work.
"The fact that (prevalence) is not going down has potentially serious consequences."
Today's top stories
Hotel groups have begun talks with Government officials over using their facilities as quarantine centres, as it emerged on Wednesday that ministers have discussed tighter border controls that could extend to barring foreign travellers
Britain could be facing a long, slow slog to herd immunity, with Sir Patrick Vallance warning that at least 70 per cent coverage would be needed to stop transmission
Oxford scientists are preparing to rapidly produce new versions of their vaccine to combat emerging Covid-19 variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil
Supermarket workers are battling a surge of violence as customers vent their rage over a new crackdown on face coverings, the boss of Co-op Food has said
The government is being urged to minimise the lockdown damage on children’s health by drawing up early guidance for the return of extracurricular school sport and accelerate a recovery fund for community sport
Prisons should be prioritised for Covid vaccinations because they are breeding grounds for the virus and spread it into communities, Government advisers have warned ministers
Joe Biden used his first executive order as President of the United States to mandate face masks on all federal property as the US on Wednesday recorded a total number of deaths higher than the nation's military fatalities in the Second World War