Coronavirus latest news: More than 20 million Britons now fully vaccinated

·44-min read

More than 20 million Britons have now been fully vaccinated after almost 400,000 further jabs were administered on Saturday.

A total of 20,103,658 people in the UK have now had both coronavirus vaccine doses, including 391,246 who received their second dose yesterday.

A further 16,469,696 people have received only their first dose of a vaccine, taking the total number of doses administered to 56,677,012.

It comes as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government had a "high degree of confidence" that those who had been vaccinated would be protected against the Indian variant, which is thought to be more transmissible.

"That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously, but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease," the health secretary told Sky.

"We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.""

​Follow the latest updates below.

04:11 PM

Pfizer and Moderna jabs may help guard against next coronavirus pandemic

Pfizer and Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines point the way to conquering the next coronavirus pandemic and may already offer some basic protection against killers such as MERS or other as yet undiscovered threats, according to new US research.

In experiments described by leading scientists as "exciting", researchers at Duke University tested mRNA vaccines that were very similar to the approved jabs on monkeys.

They found that the vaccines induced antibodies that not only protected against Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, but could also guard against other viruses from the same family.

"These results demonstrate current mRNA vaccines may provide some protection from future zoonotic betacoronavirus [coronaviruses crossing from animal to human] outbreaks, and provide a platform for further development of pan-betacoronavirus vaccines," the paper, published this week in Nature, concludes.

Jennifer Rigby has the full story.

03:53 PM

Why the expat retirement dream could be gone forever

Dreams of retiring to sunnier climes have been dashed for many following Britain’s exit from the European Union. Bureaucratic complications, combined with the pandemic, have forced retirees to reconsider their plans, amid worries about losing state pension rights and access to healthcare, writes Jessica Beard.

Wannabe expats have been tripped up by continued uncertainty. The Government confirmed in January that anyone moving to the EU or Switzerland after Brexit would carry on receiving their British state pension as normal and would also get subsequent increases. However, it has since made changes to the way the pension is calculated. This will result in lower weekly payments for some.

All expats who relocate to the European Union and have previously lived in Australia, Canada or New Zealand will be affected and could have their state pensions dramatically slashed.

Many British pensioners living abroad have returned in recent years, in part due to the pandemic. Official figures show there were more retired expatriates coming home than moving to the EU in 2020.

There were 1,900 fewer retirees from Britain living in EU countries at the start of this year, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

03:40 PM

British doctors join India's Covid battle with virtual appointments

Good news has been scarce in India of late. But, on Friday morning, Professor Parag Singhal, a consultant endocrinologist, let out a long sigh of relief.

A 57-year-old woman admitted to a Covid-19 care centre at the Centre Point Hotel in the western city of Nagpur was being discharged after a week-long battle against Covid-19.

But Prof Singhal, who recommended placing the patient on oxygen and prescribed her steroids, doesn’t work in India. He dons scrubs over 4,500 miles away in the Somerset seaside town of Weston-super-Mare.

Family of Vijay Raju, who died due to coronavirus, mourn at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village CREDIT: Samuel Rajkumar/Reuters  - Samuel Rajkumar/Reuters
Family of Vijay Raju, who died due to coronavirus, mourn at a crematorium ground in Giddenahalli village CREDIT: Samuel Rajkumar/Reuters - Samuel Rajkumar/Reuters

Over the previous month, he has woken one hour early to provide daily Zoom teleconsultations to 20 Covid-19 positive patients in India before his usual shift at Weston General Hospital. If he can, he takes on more appointments during his lunch hour.

“My motto is very simple, even if we manage to save one life we have done something and we have contributed,” said Prof Singhal, who moved to the United Kingdom from India in 1994.

Joe Wallen, in Mumbai, has this report.

03:22 PM

At least 38 per cent of adults now fully vaccinated

This afternoon's figures which show more than 20 million people have received both vaccine doses mean that more than 38 per cent of adults in the UK are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while more than 69 per cent have received at least one dose.

A further 1,926 people have tested positive for coronavirus, according to today's Department for Health data. It is estimated that 23.8 per 100,000 people currently have the virus.

A further four deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the virus have also been recorded.

03:06 PM

More than 20 million Britons now fully vaccinated

More than 20 million Britons have now been fully vaccinated, Department of Health data show.

02:57 PM

Indian district officials accused of undercounting Covid deaths

Officials in the Indian state of Gujarat have been accused of undercounting deaths of Covid patients, and that the true toll is many times higher than statistics show, Samaan Lateef reports from New Delhi.

The number of death certificates issued in the Indian state of Gujarat is nearly 25 times higher than official figures suggest, according to an opposition politician, while hundreds of shallow mass graves have been discovered in the country.

Gujarat state is accused of undercounting the Covid-19 death toll by more than 61,000 since March 1.

Opposition Congress legislator in Gujarat, Naushad Solanki told Daily Telegraph that he sees long queues of dead bodies at funeral sites while official data released shows a “negligible” rise in deaths.

Mr Solanki obtained official data of both Covid and non-Covid deaths from the local bodies in the Surendranagar district where he found major discrepancies in the fatality figures.

“The data I have obtained reveals the official Covid fatality in Gujarat is 25 times lesser than the actual data. The undercounting of deaths is happening across India on a similar pattern,” he claimed.

In Surendranagar district, in April 2020, there were 784 deaths and last month the total deaths in the district stood at a high 3,140. In May 2020, 756 deaths were reported from the district whereas only till May 8, 2021, that figure stood at 1,739.

02:38 PM

AstraZeneca battles to retain its talismanic leader

Executives at AstraZeneca knew it would be a close call.

For weeks, there had been rumblings of shareholder frustration over chief executive Pascal Soriot’s pay package.

By the time the annual general meeting began, three of the UK’s most influential investor advisory groups had urged votes against the pay proposals and a shareholder revolt appeared all but inevitable.

As it turned out, AstraZeneca was dealt a bloody blow. Almost 40 per cent of its investors - including leading names Aviva Investors and Standard Life Aberdeen - voted against the proposal to hike the maximum share awards that Soriot could receive as well as his maximum annual bonus.

Internally, there is frustration that Soriot’s pay has now come into the firing line   - Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Internally, there is frustration that Soriot’s pay has now come into the firing line - Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

“Let’s face it, it could have been much worse for them,” says Ketan Patel, from shareholder EdenTree Investment Management, who was among those who voted against the policy. “It wasn’t a knockout”.

But Patel says it was far from the sweeping support the company would have been hoping for. “It was very much a punch in the nose.”

02:21 PM

Getting workers back to the office set to divide the City

The office canteen typically has more of a reputation for cheap meals and functional furniture than glamour and intrigue, Lucy Burton writes. But after a rainy spring when indoor mixing was banned, dining halls are proving an irresistible draw for City bankers.

Rarely has a work café been described as “buzzy”, but that’s how an executive at one Canary Wharf-based lender says he feels as more and more people return to their old lives.

The Square Mile and Canary Wharf, parts of London that rely on banker footfall, are coming back to life. Despite Boris Johnson’s warning on Friday that the final stage of easing may have to be delayed, major businesses are pushing on with their plans.

Bosses want to get staff back to their desks, but lawyers say forcing them back to the 'old normal' may lead to legal action   - Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Bosses want to get staff back to their desks, but lawyers say forcing them back to the 'old normal' may lead to legal action - Eddie Keogh/Reuters

The Prime Minister last week signalled that work from home guidance will end on June 21, insisting that city centres will bounce back “remarkably quickly”. But exactly how to bring workers back after Covid restrictions end is dividing the City.

Read the full story here.

02:05 PM

Almost 560,000 vaccines given out in England yesterday

There were 559,726 vaccine doses given out in England yesterday, which breaks down into 205,962 first doses and 353,764 second doses.

Full vaccination data will be reported later today, along with the latest nationwide death and caseload figures.

02:01 PM

'Global Britain will have to learn to live with Covid variant scares'

The disaster movie that is Covid has thrown up a late plot twist to place in jeopardy what we had been led to believe would be a smooth and “irreversible” march out of lockdown and distancing measures, writes Patrick O'Flynn.

He argues that, to many on the anti-lockdown wing of public opinion the advent of fears about B1.617.2, the so-called Indian variant, was eminently predictable. Indeed, it was so predictable that they actually predicted it.

Just as we were on course to complete the later stages of the great phased reopening, a new variant would be identified that would delay everything, said the massed ranks of Covid sceptics. To which many pro-lockdowners would retort that just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean the virus isn’t out to get you.

After months of enforced al fresco dining, indoor hospitality will reopen tomorrow - Peter Summers/Getty Images
After months of enforced al fresco dining, indoor hospitality will reopen tomorrow - Peter Summers/Getty Images

The good news, Patrick notes, is that tomorrow’s relaxation is going ahead. “Hail, hail the 17th of May, indoor dining starts today”, as some of us will be tempted to remark in the morning.

The final stage of the reopening plan – the lapsing of remaining restrictions on June 21, including the reopening of nightclubs – is, however, in genuine doubt.

Patrick O'Flynn: The only way to cope with Covid is to adapt our response

01:40 PM

Hug outside and minimise indoor contact, warns Matt Hancock

People should try to hug outside and minimise indoor contact, the Health Secretary has urged, on the eve of Monday’s lifting of restrictions.

The Health Secretary advised people to be "careful" when hugging as he said he would "probably" hug his parents outside when the curbs on contact eased on Monday.

He was backed by Professor Sir Mark Walport, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who said people should socialise outside as far as possible, maintain social distancing and "hug cautiously" - as he warned the country faced a "perilous" moment with the emergence of the Indian variant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock visits Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street
Health Secretary Matt Hancock visits Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

Under the easing of the restrictions on Monday, people will be able to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants.

Physical contact between households will be permitted for the first time in more than a year, while limited audiences will be permitted in theatres, cinemas, music venues and stadiums.

Our Home Affairs Editor Charles Hymas has more here.

01:25 PM

Thousands cleared from Barcelona beaches and city centre

Thousands of people were cleared from the city centre and beaches of Barcelona today during the first full weekend of revelry after the end of coronavirus restrictions.

Many of those who were moved on took part in mass drinking sessions known as "botellones", Spanish police said, in light of the end of a six-month state of emergency.

At an event in Madrid, José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes, the culture minister, said that young people should continue to obey rules around social distancing.

"I know what it means to have lived with lots of restrictions and that need to go out, but I ask you to do it carefully, to enjoy yourself, but to be very careful and to continue to respect security measures," he said.

In Catalonia, there is a four-person limit for bars and restaurants, while there is a hospitality curfew of 11pm.

01:05 PM

Shoppers to spend fifth of Covid savings in post-lockdown economic boost

Shoppers are preparing to spend £40bn of lockdown savings in a huge boost for Britain’s post-Covid recovery, research has found, writes Tom Rees.

The economy is set to be turbocharged by richer households that have built up the largest piles of cash during lockdown and are set to spend more than previously thought as ­confidence “rockets”, according to the Bank of America.

The Wall Street bank has issued major upgrades to its UK growth ­forecast after discovering an unexpectedly high willingness among consumers to spend savings when lockdown rules ease further from tomorrow.

Its live sentiment tracker suggests ­consumer confidence has hit its highest level since late 2019 with unemployment fears easing.

Mr Wood said GDP could return to pre-virus levels by the end of the year as growth hits 7.4pc, up from his previous forecast of 5.9pc. While the Bank of England currently assumes a tenth of savings will be spent, Bank of America’s survey points to an even bigger boost at a fifth – potentially a £40bn boost to the economy.

Read the full story here.

12:55 PM

Covid lockdown roadmap: the rules that are changing from tomorrow

Boris Johnson announced on Friday that the easing of lockdown restrictions would continue in spite of a spike in Indian variant cases.

As England enters step three as of tomorrow (May 17), pubs and restaurants will be able to open indoors, and groups of six people or two households will be able to mix indoors.

The Prime Minister confirmed that clusters of the variant were evident in Bolton, Blackburn and Darwen, regions which have invited all adults aged 18 and over to receive the vaccine from tomorrow in a bid to curb the spread.

Though Covid cases and hospitalisations have continued to fall across the UK, the Indian variant poses a concern as it has spread three times faster than other imported strains. Public Health England figures show that the strain is now dominant in several Covid-19 hotspots in the North West of England.

The government will accelerate provision of second doses to over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, Mr Johnson confirmed.

Ben Riley-Smith has all the details on the new rules.

12:45 PM

Increasing confidence that the UK's vaccines work against the Indian variant, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock said the Indian variant is "relatively widespread" but is still in low numbers in most of the country.

The Health Secretary warned that the variant, that originated in India, can "spread like wildfire" among those who are unvaccinated.

He told Andrew Marr that there is initial evidence from laboratories that the UK's range of vaccines are effective in protecting against the variant.

12:28 PM

'Who I'll be hugging first': Celebrities and politicians reveal their first squeeze ahead of Covid lockdown easing

With hugging between friends and loved ones allowed once again from May 17, The Telegraph has asked some of the UK's best loved celebrities and public figures who they plan to hug.

Actress Joanna Lumley said: "I shall be hugging literally everyone I can get my hands on. I shall snatch babies from their mothers, and lean over zimmer frames: I shall hug girls at the till, the picture framer, and lads playing footie in the park. Much later obviously I shall be hugging police personnel as I am charged at the station."

Lindsay Hoyle alongside his pet parrot Boris - Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Lindsay Hoyle alongside his pet parrot Boris - Neil Hall/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “I will hug my wife Catherine on Monday.

"Later I will be at a House of Commons Commission meeting on Monday with Jacob Rees-Mogg but I won’t hug him as he hates hugs. My parrot Boris hates hugs too.”

Christopher Hope, Maighna Nanu, Max Stephens and Poppie Platt have more.

12:11 PM

Vaccines will extend to over-35s within a week

Matt Hancock has said that over-35s will be able to book their coronavirus vaccines in the coming week.

"This coming week we're going to be opening up vaccination to the 35s-and-over across the country because this isn't just about accelerating the vaccination programme in Bolton," he said.

"It's about going as fast as we possibly can nationwide."

It comes as ministers aim to administer one million jabs a day in order to ensure that the vaccine continues to have the advantage in what Mr Hancock and Boris Johnson have labelled a race between the vaccine and the virus.

12:04 PM

Hancock says it remains 'appropriate' to continue lifting lockdown

Mr Hancock said there was a “high degree of confidence” people who have had the jab are less likely to be at risk of serious illness or death, Tony Diver reports.

“It is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there's a cluster,” he told Sky News.

"That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease.

"We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome."

Mr Hancock said that despite concerns over the new variant, it was still “appropriate” to continue with the Government’s roadmap for reopening the country but officials must be “careful” and “vigilant”.

Read the full story here.

11:49 AM

Covid patients evacuated from Philippines hospital fire

Dozens of coronavirus patients were among those evacuated in the early hours of this morning in the Philippines after a fire at one of the country's largest hospitals.

The fire at Philippines General Hospital in Manila took five hours to put out, as vice-president Leni Robredo made an appeal on social media for "big, industrial fans".

Patients of Philippine General Hospital are evacuated after a fire broke out at the facility - Eloisa Lopez/Reuters
Patients of Philippine General Hospital are evacuated after a fire broke out at the facility - Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

The cause of the fire is currently unknown, and no casualties were reported at the Government-run hospital.

To date, the Philippines has confirmed more than 1.1 million infections and around 19,000 deaths.

11:32 AM

How three days of inaction let the Indian variant take hold in Britain

In the end it may come down to what happened during three crucial days in April.

As cases of the highly transmissible new Indian variant of Covid begin to rise in parts of Britain, questions are being raised as to how it was allowed into the country in the first place.

Alarming reports of the spread of a new highly infectious variant of Covid on the Indian subcontinent first emerged early last month.

Members of the public queue at a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton - Oli Scarff/AFP
Members of the public queue at a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton - Oli Scarff/AFP

The Government acted by adding Pakistan and Bangladesh – India’s direct neighbours – to its "red list" on April 2, barring foreign travellers and forcing 10-day hotel quarantines on returning UK citizens.

The decision led to concerns among epidemiologists, who questioned why India was not included.

Health officials had started to detect an increase in the arrival of Covid cases from India. Public Health England (PHE) data now shows that of the 3,345 people arriving from India between March 25 and April 7, 4.8 per cent tested positive, compared to 0.1 per cent of people in England.

Patrick Sawer and Lizzie Roberts have more.

11:15 AM

Why pubs and restaurants will need more taxpayer support if June 21 delayed

The emergence of the so-called Indian variant in the UK is of concern to us all, not least those of us in hospitality who are just starting to re-emerge from a year of despair, writes Kate Nicholls.

Fortunately, so far, there does not seem to be any evidence that it is causing a surge in hospitalisations or deaths: the vaccines seem to be doing their job and there is no evidence to suggest the Government should waver from its stated intent of removing all restrictions on June 21.

The hospitality sector is at one with the Prime Minister in prioritising public health objectives, as demonstrated by the colossal investment we have made to make our venues Covid-secure. But the Government must be conscious that anything other than a full removal of restrictions on 21st June leaves our sector trading at a loss. With social distancing, enforced table service, face coverings, capacity caps on weddings and the like, we have dramatically reduced capacity and suppressed demand.

11:00 AM

'Covid variant anxiety must not derail Britain’s stonking recovery'

Just as we were beginning to think it was safe to go back in the water, along comes the Covid B.1.617.2 strain to put renewed fear of god into our ever more risk averse politicians and decision makers. The Prime Minister says he is anxious about it; as are many of his advisers, writes Jeremy Warner.

So let’s hope that the Government is not about to lose its nerve once more, and, with the Indian variant showing early signs of getting a foothold, slow the pace of reopening the economy, or even act to reverse the whole back to normality process by reimposing the system of regional lockdowns we had last autumn.

Number 10 insists it has no such plans; but we have heard that tune from Boris Johnson before. This is a Prime Minister who is not averse to turning on a sixpence, sometimes in the course of a single press conference.

Renewed restrictions in Singapore, including the closure of all indoor dining facilities, a shift back to home working, and a prohibition on leaving the house in groups of more than two people, show just how jittery governments remain - this after a “staggering” 24 new infections were recorded in a single day. Nothing short of complete eradication seems to be the name of the game in Singapore.

I’m assuming the Government could not sustain such a policy here in the UK. The continued restrictions on international travel are bad enough, though admittedly not entirely within the UK Government’s control. In any case, having been promised a further easing in restrictions from tomorrow, I doubt that citizens would tolerate their reimposition.

10:41 AM

Restrictions return to Singapore amid rise in cases

Singapore has reintroduced its tightest restrictions around gatherings since its lockdown last year, as 38 cases were confirmed - its highest total since September 2020.

Indoor dining has been banned and rules around working from home have returned in the city-state, while seven schools will switch to home learning. The restrictions are set to last until June 13, the health ministry has said.

It comes amid a slowdown in Singapore's vaccine deliveries which could last for the next two months, according to Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong.

Queues for takeaways have returned to Singapore after its ban on indoor dining - Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg
Queues for takeaways have returned to Singapore after its ban on indoor dining - Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg

She told residents in a Facebook post to avoid any social activity that needs "masks to be down... for the next three to six weeks, possibly nine weeks".

In Taiwan, meanwhile, officials have urged people to stay at home this weekend as a record of 206 infections were confirmed today.

10:25 AM

Matt Hancock: My part in Brooks Newmark PPE contract was 'absolutely appropriate'

Helping former Conservative minister Brooks Newmark to secure a multimillion-pound Covid-19 contract was "absolutely appropriate", Matt Hancock told the BBC this morning.

The offer resulted in 90 million protective goggles being provided to NHS workers, the Health Secretary said, after the Sunday Times reported that Mr Newmark first emailed Mr Hancock on May 27, 2020.

According to the broadsheet, Mr Hancock replied: "Thanks. Definitely one for the PPE team who are firing on all cylinders now", which was followed by a £178 million contract for protective goggles being awarded to the firm in question on June 1.

"Yes, it was absolutely appropriate for people to get in contact with anybody at the Department of Health when the country desperately needed PPE and I sent this contact straight on to the PPE team and they looked at it," he said.

Mr Newmark declined to comment to The Sunday Times, while Mr Hancock said for his part he "just pinged it on" and does not have "anything to do with" the awarding of contracts.

10:16 AM

Analysis: Why modellers are concerned about the Indian variant

Here’s the thing about a virus that rises and falls exponentially: the middle path is perilously narrow, notes Paul Nuki.

Make the right call and you’ll be skiing down a steep sunny slope, your friends in the bar below cheering every turn. But step the other way and you’ll tumble down an icy escarpment of granite shards and boulders just as fast.

The assessment published by Sage on Friday as regards the Indian variant will have come as cold comfort to the Prime Minister, hence his evident caution at the podium in Downing Street after reading it.

 Boris Johnson leaves after giving an update on the coronavirus pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the new Downing Street Briefing Room in central London  - Matt Dunham/AFP
Boris Johnson leaves after giving an update on the coronavirus pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the new Downing Street Briefing Room in central London - Matt Dunham/AFP

It told him he was standing atop a precipice but not which way he should turn. The data he really needs remains obscured by a thick and disorienting fog.

Mr Johnson’s position is made all the more difficult by the politics and psychology of it all. Huge progress has been made battling back the virus over recent months, so there is all the more to lose.

On the other hand, there’s the vaccine, our avalanche airbag – not to mention the country’s now awesome testing capacity and its ability to track and trace.

10:00 AM

Where are the UK's cases of the Indian variant - and how worrying is it?

A new surge of coronavirus infections have caused devastation in India, triggered largely by a contagious new variant, Paul Nuki, Jennifer Rigby and Sarah Newey report.

As it spreads, concerns are mounting about the ramifications for the rest of the world – including the UK.

Cases of the so-called “Indian variant”, or B.1.617.2, have more than doubled for the second week in a row in Britain – with 1,313 cases confirmed as of Thursday. This has raised questions over whether the spread of the variant will delay the final stage of unlocking next month.

Here is the lowdown on everything we know about the variant.

09:45 AM

UK to make final lockdown easing decision on June 14, says Matt Hancock

Britain will make a decision on June 14 about whether or not to go ahead with the final phase of its easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, health secretary Matt Hancock has disclosed.

"We've said at each step we will look at the four tests we have. The fourth of those four tests is whether a new variant knocks us off course," he told Sky.

"We will of course assessing that and... we'll make a final decision for the easing of step four - which is the biggest step of the roadmap - we'll make that decision on June 14."

09:30 AM

'Science will liberate us from fear, if we allow it'

At last, I feel I can congratulate the Prime Minister on his handling of the pandemic as we face this new variant, writes Steve Baker.

Boris Johnson reassured the public on Friday that “we should trust in our vaccines” and that “so far we have no evidence to suggest our vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation”.

The data show that vaccines continue to break the link from cases to hospitalisations and deaths.

The Prime Minister is right to focus the public’s mind on this and it would, of course, be irrational to impose restrictions when this is what the data tell us. We were told the roadmap was cautious precisely so it would be irreversible.

He was also right to point out that “there is no evidence of increased cases translating into unmanageable pressures on the NHS”. That is why the Government is right to open up while accelerating the vaccination programme.

09:18 AM

Ministers aim for one million vaccinations a day to save summer

The Government wants to vaccinate as many as one million people a day as part of a drive to beat the Indian variant of Covid-19 and save the British summer, The Telegraph can disclose.

As a first step, ministers have told MPs they “safely” expect to increase daily doses from 500,000 to 800,000 within a fortnight, by drawing on a stockpile of 3.2 million doses.

Government insiders hope this daily run-rate could be further increased, with the possibility of reaching a peak of around one million during some days over the summer.

More than three million vaccinations have now been given in Scotland as of this week - Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
More than three million vaccinations have now been given in Scotland as of this week - Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

A further boost to the vaccination push could come this week when MHRA, the medicines regulator, is expected to give the green light for Johnson & Johnson’s single dose Janssen vaccine.

Last night there were fears that the Government's decision to bring forward second doses for over-50s could impact younger people, with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warning they might have to wait "a while longer".

Christopher Hope and Lizzie Roberts have the full story.

09:03 AM

Indian variant likely to become dominant, says Matt Hancock

Doing the rounds of this morning's political programmes, Matt Hancock told the Andrew Marr Show that the UK is successfully keeping the virus down, but the Indian variant "does appear [to] transmit more easily" from person to person.

Out of 18 people in hospital with coronavirus in Bolton, "the majority of them haven’t had the jab", Mr Hancock said. One "very old" patient in Bolton had received both vaccinations, while five had received one dose.

Matt Hancock has defended the UK's border system amid the continued spread of the Indian variant - Hollie Adams/Getty Images
Matt Hancock has defended the UK's border system amid the continued spread of the Indian variant - Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Ahead of tomorrow's reopening, Mr Hancock said: “It’s still safer to eat outdoors rather than indoors, when the weather allows. When people have had both jabs that is pretty safe, but you shouldn’t still spend a lot of time in close proximity. We all know what we can do and take personal responsibility.

“That strategy of vaccination as a main defence remains on track because of the increasing evidence that this vaccine works against this so-called Indian variant.”

Mr Hancock admitted the Indian variant is "likely to become the dominant variant here", but defended India not being added to the red list with Bangladesh and Pakistan on April 9, arguing that the variant "was not even a variant under investigation".

He said although India's case rate per 100,000 people was higher than either Bangladesh or Pakistan on April 9, this could be explained by "far higher" amounts of testing.

08:44 AM

International travel: Government should 'slow down' reopening, Yvette Cooper urges

The Government must "slow down" its plans to resume international travel, the home affairs select committee chairman Yvette Cooper has said, amid concerns that hundreds of cases of the Indian variant were imported during a three-week period.

"It's the Government which is ultimately in charge of this," Ms Cooper told the BBC. "Look at what they've done with the Indian variant - this was not inevitable. They should have put India on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and as Bangladesh.

"Since then we've had this three-week period in which thousands of people have returned from India, and that probably includes hundreds of the new Indian variant cases.

"I don't get why they're going ahead with lifting some of the international travel restrictions tomorrow. I think that they should be being much cautious about that."

International travel should fully resume when there are safeguards against new variants, Ms Cooper said, but the quarantine and surveillance measures should be "much stronger".

08:27 AM

Difficult to be definite about Indian variant, says JCVI adviser

Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that it is "difficult to be very definite" about the risks posed by the Indian variant.

"The one piece of good news is that we’ve seen consistently good protection against severe disease," he told Sky.

"I think we are all cautiously optimistic that this will continue to be the case with this version of the virus. What we’re less sure about is how the vaccines will impact on milder disease and in particular transmission.

"People should feel reasonably confident that if they’re fully vaccinated their risks of serious illness will be much reduced, also against this version of the virus. Vaccines are a really useful tool to prevent waves of infection but they’re not terribly good at preventing them while they’re in full swing."

Children are "very much not the priority" in the wake of vaccinations being rolled out to children in America, Mr Finn said, while Britons receiving their second dose after eight weeks rather than 12 will have "marginally" less protection.

08:06 AM

'Clearly grounds for concern' amid 'perilous' unlocking, says former chief adviser

There are "clearly grounds for concern" and substantial uncertainty around the Indian variant amid a "perilous moment" for England, former chief scientific adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport has said.

Sir Mark will personally stick to outdoor socialising "as far as possible", he told Sophy Ridge.

"It's going to be extremely important to keep an eye on the numbers in the next few weeks, and you're always playing catch-up in terms of looking at the numbers.

"Case numbers are nationally low, but we know that in Bolton [numbers] are much higher. So we've really got to keep an eye on the numbers - so test, trace and isolate is really important."

Complete normality "is going to take a while to return", Sir Mark added. "As far as possible socialise outside, maintain social distancing, if you're going to hug, hug cautiously. Tight clinches should be avoided!"

07:59 AM

Matt Hancock: 'We should all be cautious' as reopening takes place

"We should all be cautious, we all know the risks," Matt Hancock said about tomorrow's relaxation of swathes of restrictions which include hugging, hospitality and indoor socialising.

"Outside is far safer than inside, we all have a personal responsibility. But we're able to move away from some of the stricter regulations, and personal responsibility is an important mantra here. Because people have been so responsible throughout this crisis and that's the approach we should take together."

He also insisted that it is "completely wrong" to suggest the Government was too late to put India on the red list.

Matt Hancock pictured arriving for his appearances on the Sophy Ridge and Andrew Marr programmes - Elliott Franks
Matt Hancock pictured arriving for his appearances on the Sophy Ridge and Andrew Marr programmes - Elliott Franks

"We have some of the strongest testing regime in the world and what matters is the positivity of people coming to the country," he said, arguing that India was put on the red list before the variant was designated as a variant of concern or investigation. "We take these decisions based on the evidence."

And asked about newspaper reports that Boris Johnson's Mustique holiday was worth double the amount that he had declared, Mr Hancock said there are "far more important things... and that's what voters concluded at the local elections. The Prime Minister's followed the rules, and what I do is concentrate on what's important."

07:53 AM

Hancock: Government 'will do what it takes to keep the public safe'

The Health Secretary was asked about Sage papers which claimed that with no action, the Indian variant "could lead to a very significant wave of infections, potentially larger than that seen in January".

If the variant is at least 50 per cent more transmissible, "we will have a problem", Mr Hancock said, "but it may be that the increase in transmissibility is much lower. In that case there will be almost no impact on our roadmap and the future number of cases.

"We just don't yet know. That's why it's appropriate that we continue down the roadmap, but people need to be cautious and careful. And anyway we're moving the balance more towards people taking personal responsibility and trying to get away from some of the more intrusive rules that we've had to have in place."

The Government will "do what it takes to keep the public safe", Mr Hancock added. He said the "strategy" remains one of taking an irreversible approach.

"The people who are in hospital in Bolton are eligible for the vaccine, but haven't yet had the vaccine. So if you are 38 years old or older, please come forward and have the jab - that is what will help you help the country. We'd love to take the [June 21] step, if it's safe to do so."

Mr Hancock "does not rule out" enhanced measures including surge testing in order to combat local outbreaks where deemed "necessary".

07:43 AM

Indian variant 'can spread like wildfire' among unvaccinated, says Health Secretary

Matt Hancock was asked by Sophy Ridge why there has been any talk of June 21's unlocking being "blown off course" by the Indian variant when the majority of the most vulnerable people are now fully vaccinated.

"Because this variant can spread even faster than the Kent variant, it means that if it gets out of hand we'll have a very, very large number of cases," Mr Hancock said.

"Even with the protection the vaccine gives you, it is not absolute. Ninety-seven per cent protection against dying from Covid is fantastic, but it isn't 100. So we do need to make sure we don't get that explosion in cases."

Mr Hancock said that the Government needs to be "cautious, careful and vigilant" in light of the fourth of its four tests. A final decision on step four will be made on June 14, he added.

"We always said we want this to be cautious, we really want this to be irreversible. New variants are one of the biggest risks to this opening - it can really spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups."

He said a "very small proportion" of those who have already been vaccinated will still end up in hospital and could die with the virus.

07:40 AM

Matt Hancock: 'High degree of confidence' vaccines work against Indian variant

Matt Hancock pointed to "new, very early data" from Oxford University which he says gives the Government a "high degree of confidence" that the vaccines are effective against the Indian variant.

"It is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there’s a cluster," he said. "And that means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with this pandemic, and of opening up carefully and cautiously.

"But we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease. The metaphor the Prime Minister used is the right one. We’re in a race between the vaccination programme and the virus and the new variant has given the virus some extra legs in that week.”

Mr Hancock insisted that he has a "high degree of confidence" that the vaccine will "overcome" the spread of the new variant, and pointed to data that showed the majority of patients in hospital in Bolton have been eligible for a coronavirus vaccine but have not had one.

"The main message I’ve got for everyone this morning is get vaccinated. If you’re 38 or over, please come forward and get the jab."

07:38 AM

Indian variant 'dominant' in Blackburn and Bolton, says Matt Hancock

The Indian variant is “becoming the dominant strain" of coronavirus in areas such as Bolton and Blackburn, the Health Secretary has said.

Speaking to the Sophy Ridge Show, Matt Hancock said that there are just over 1,300 confirmed cases of the variant in the UK.

@One of the advantages we now have compared to the past - compared to December when we saw the Kent variant coming up - is that we have the vaccination programme," he said.

"We also have this incredible testing and surveillance programme. So we can see these cases even though the numbers are really quite small at the moment."

"Specific action" will be taken in areas with high caseloads of the variant, Mr Hancock said, but tomorrow's "cautious step forward" as England moves into step three of its roadmap out of lockdown will be unaffected.

06:54 AM

British yachtsman rescued and placed in Sydney quarantine

A British yachtsman has been placed in mandatory coronavirus quarantine in a hotel in downtown Sydney after being rescued from his sinking craft in rough waters, Australian police said on Sunday.

Australian media said the 40-year-old was sailing to Sydney from Tahiti.

Police in New South Wales said they launched a 26-hour rescue effort from midnight on Friday, after receiving reports of a 50-foot (15m) Beneteau yacht taking on water about 95 nautical miles off the coast of Newcastle.

"In rough seas, the vessel and sole occupant, a 40-year-old United Kingdom national, were towed to Newcastle Harbour," they said in a statement.

Police escorted the man to mandatory quarantine after border processing formalities, they added, but did not disclose his name.

Australia closed its borders to non-nationals and non-residents in March 2020 and has allowed only limited international arrivals, mainly citizens returning from abroad.

All overseas arrivals must complete a two-week hotel quarantine, managed by state governments.

06:47 AM

No need for panic buying, supplies 'like a mountain'

A man reaches for instant noodles from a near-empty shelf as customers rush to buy groceries in Taipei - ANN WANG/REUTERS
A man reaches for instant noodles from a near-empty shelf as customers rush to buy groceries in Taipei - ANN WANG/REUTERS

Taiwan has appealed to people to avoid panic buying of items such as instant noodles and toilet paper as new curbs on gatherings and movement took effect to rein in the spread of Covid-19 during a spike in domestic infections.

Taiwan raised its coronavirus alert level in the capital, Taipei, and the surrounding city on Saturday, imposing two weeks of restrictions that will shut many venues and limit gatherings.

While total infections since the pandemic began remain low at 1,475, the recent community transmissions have alarmed a population that had become accustomed to life staying close to normal.

In messages late on Saturday, the president, premier and economy ministry took to Facebook to say there was no need to hoard or rush to the shops, after people scrambled to stock up on basic goods, mainly instant noodles and toilet paper.

Supermarket chain Carrefour said it was limiting purchases of items such as masks and instant noodles in its Taiwan stores, asking people to buy only what they need.

The economy ministry showed pictures of warehouses piled to the ceiling with boxes of instant noodles, saying supplies were "like a mountain" with plenty of toilet paper and canned food to go around.

05:45 AM

Lack of cemetery space for Peru's dead

After Joel Bautista died of a heart attack last month in Peru, his family tried to find a grave at four cemeteries. After four days, they resorted to digging a hole in his garden.

The same plight is shared by other families across Peru. After struggling to control the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year, the country now faces a parallel crisis: a lack of cemetery space.

The problem affects everyone, not just relatives of Covid victims, and some families have acted on their own - digging clandestine graves in areas surrounding some of the capital city of Lima's 65 cemeteries.

The desperate lack of options comes as the country endures its deadliest period of the pandemic. More than 64,300 people who tested positive have died in Peru, according to the Health Ministry.

But a vital records agency estimates that the true figure is more than 174,900, counting those whose possible infection was not confirmed by a test.

Victor Coba takes measurements of the tombs he's building for his family at San Lazaro cemetery on the outskirts of Lima, Peru - Martin Mejia/AP
Victor Coba takes measurements of the tombs he's building for his family at San Lazaro cemetery on the outskirts of Lima, Peru - Martin Mejia/AP

Retired merchant Victor Coba took matters into his own hands, building graves for himself, his wife and four other relatives in a narrow space in a cemetery at the foot of a treeless hill in the north of Lima.

Mr Coba, 72, carried bricks, sand and cement to the site where, with help from a friend, he began constructing his "eternal home".

05:05 AM

Covid numbers from around the world

  • India's tally of coronavirus infections reached nearly 24.7 million on Sunday, boosted by 311,170 new cases over the past 24 hours, while deaths rose by 4,077. The nation's tally stands at 24.68 million with the death toll at 270,284.

  • The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,500 to 3,593,434, data showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 71 to 86,096.

  • China reported 18 new cases on Saturday, up from 14 cases a day earlier. Four of the new cases were local infections, all in China's north-eastern Liaoning province. The rest originated overseas. The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China now stands at 90,847, while the death toll is 4,636.

  • Brazil recorded 67,009 additional cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,087 deaths from Covid. Brazil has registered nearly 15.6 million cases since the pandemic began, and the official death toll now stands at 434,715.

04:20 AM

Holidaymakers preparing to head overseas

Thousands of holidaymakers are preparing to head overseas when the ban on foreign leisure travel is lifted in England and Wales on Monday.

Travel firms have reported a surge in demand for trips to Portugal, after the Government put the country on its green list for travel.

That means returning travellers will not need to self-isolate on their return, and are only required to take one post-arrival test.

EasyJet has added 105,000 extra seats to its flights serving green-tier destinations, while Tui will use aircraft which normally operate long-haul routes to accommodate the surge of people booked to fly to Portugal.

Only a dozen countries and territories are on the green list but most are either remote islands or do not currently allow UK tourists to enter.

The Government is advising people not to make non-essential trips to locations on its amber list, which covers popular destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Greece.

But this guidance is expected to be ignored by some holidaymakers.

03:52 AM

India: 'Bodies have been recovered from rivers'

A tractor carrying logs for cremation drives past shallow graves covered with saffron clothes of suspected Covid vicitims near a cremation ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Shringverpur village - SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP
A tractor carrying logs for cremation drives past shallow graves covered with saffron clothes of suspected Covid vicitims near a cremation ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Shringverpur village - SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP

Bodies of Covid victims have been found dumped in some Indian rivers, a government official said in a letter seen by Reuters, the first official acknowledgement of an alarming practice it said may stem from poverty and fear of the disease in villages.

Images of corpses drifting down the Ganges river, which Hindus consider holy, have shocked a nation reeling under the world's worst surge in infections.

Bodies of suspected coronavirus victims are seen partially buried in the sand near a cremation ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Rautapur Ganga Ghat, in Unnao - SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP
Bodies of suspected coronavirus victims are seen partially buried in the sand near a cremation ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Rautapur Ganga Ghat, in Unnao - SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP

Although media have linked the recent increase in the numbers of such bodies to the pandemic, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, has until now not publicly revealed the cause of the deaths.

"The administration has information that bodies of those who have succumbed to Covid-19 or any other disease are being thrown into rivers instead of being disposed of as per proper rituals," a senior state official, Manoj Kumar Singh, said in a May 14 letter to district heads that was reviewed by Reuters.

"As a result, bodies have been recovered from rivers in many places."

Mr Singh confirmed the letter to Reuters but said autopsies on four to five bodies in the state's disrict of Ghazipur had not revealed virus infection.

"The bodies are decomposed, so I am not sure in this state it can be found out about corona positive," he said in a text message.

03:12 AM

'Join the tens of millions who have already been jabbed'

  • A total of 36,320,867 people in the UK have had their first vaccine dose up to May 16.

  • Nearly 19.7 million have received their second dose.

  • More than two thirds of people aged 50 and above have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

  • More than three quarters of people aged between 40 and 49 have had first doses just a fortnight after they were first offered a jab in the rollout.

  • About 30 million people have had a first dose in England - two thirds of the total adult population.

  • NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: "Getting the vaccine is the single most important step we can take to protect ourselves, our families and our communities against Covid 19, so when you're called forward, book your appointment and join the tens of millions who have already been jabbed."

03:03 AM

More than 600,000 jab spots booked in two days

Hundreds of thousands of vaccine appointments were booked in the 48 hours after the programme opened to people aged in their late 30s.

More than 611,860 appointments for first and second doses were made in the period after 38- and 39-year-olds became eligible to arrange their jabs from Thursday.

NHS England said younger people in their thirties are expected to be invited over the next few days and weeks.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "delighted" that people in the new age range had made appointments so quickly, as he urged others to do the same when their turn comes.

Following the announcement on Friday that second-dose appointments would be brought forward from 12 to eight weeks for people aged 50 and above, NHS England advised that no-one needs to contact the health service.

People due to get their second dose in the next 10 days, up to and including May 24, should attend their appointment as planned.

Others will be contacted by the NHS to let them know when they can rebook.

12:42 AM

Today's top stories

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting