Analysis: Queen shows personal commitment in a time of crisis
Coronavirus cases are rising in parts of the UK showing that "this battle is not won," Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said.
Prof Van-Tam, speaking at a Downing St briefing, said some parts of England were "burning quite hot" with new cases, including in the Midlands and, increasingly, the west coast of England.
"This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact that I'm afraid this battle at the moment is not won."
Prof Van-Tam said there were some worrying signs that people who had received a vaccine were breaking lockdown rules.
"This is all going very well but there are some worry signs that people are relaxing and taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time.
"Do not wreck this now, it is too early to relax, we are so close."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the rate of cases in England was down to one in 145 people but the decline was "slowing".
Follow the latest updates below.
Global News in Brief
Here's an overview of today's global Covid stories:
Nigeria is expecting its first four million doses of vaccines from the global Covax vaccine programme to arrive next week, said the WHO.
Angela Merkel refuses Oxford jab amid calls to 'lead by example'.
Efforts to tackle malaria need to remain on a "worst-case scenario" footing this year, according to the World Health Organization, as Covid-19 continues to threaten services.
India has suspended its Covid-19 vaccination for the next two days to fix glitches in an app calling people in for a jab, amid fears of a raging second wave of the pandemic in the country.
Austria is in talks with Russia over the delivery and joint production of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
The WHO warns that the suppressed flu season is likely to rebound once Covid restrictions are lifted.
Pfizer plans to begin testing its Covid-19 vaccine in children as young as five, the company's chairman has said.
Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa received 504,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses from Covax.
Former PM receives first jab
Theresa May has received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
The former prime minister, 64, described the jab as "effective and painless".
Mrs May thanked the NHS for their "heroic efforts" during the pandemic, urging others to follow suit by getting the vaccine.
Hancock: There is a 'huge amount of support being put in place' to help NHS staff recover
Matt Hancock was asked what support he would give for NHS staff "other than asking the public to clap" in light of 3.5 million sick days taken in England due to mental ill health between March and October last year.
He said: "There's a huge amount of support being put in place to ensure that staff, especially those who've had a really tough time in this second wave of the pandemic...to ensure that NHS staff get the R and R that they need.
"Of course employment in the NHS is down to the individual trust, and there's a huge amount of work going on to make sure people get the support to deal with traumatic experiences they may have had.
"I've seen the pressures that NHS staff are under...when you are dealing with people and the death rate is so high that has a significant psychological impact so we are putting in place that support to make sure people on the front line in what can be traumatic situations get the professional support they need, as well as the HR support they need."
Easing of lockdown in Scotland will not be sped up, says Scottish Health Secretary
Covid-19 prevalence in Scotland is still too high to consider speeding up the easing of lockdown, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said, despite Scotland recording a coronavirus test positivity rate below the marker set by the World Health Organization for the pandemic to be “under control” for the fourth day in a row.
Scotland recorded a positivity rate of 3.3 per cent on Friday - the third day in a row it has been below 4 per cent and the fourth day below 5 per cent, which is the WHO marker.
The number of people being treated in hospital also fell to its lowest number since October 21, but Ms Freeman warned that the data does not mean Scotland can move quicker than planned out of lockdown.
In Nicola Sturgeon’s controversial road map out of lockdown announced on Tuesday, the “stay at home” order will not be lifted until April 5 at the earliest.
Austria agrees to hold talks with Russia over Sputnik V delivery and production
The Russian president and Austrian chancellor agreed in a phone call on Friday to hold talks over the delivery and joint production of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Our Foreign Staff report.
"The issues of countering the spread of the coronavirus infection were discussed in detail, including the possibility of supplying the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Austria, as well as establishing its joint production," the Kremlin said in a statement.
The phone call, which the Kremlin said was initiated by Austria, came as the European Union faces criticism for a sluggish mass vaccination rollout after it was plagued by supply problems.
Several of the bloc's member states, including Germany and Spain, have said that they would be interested in Russia's vaccine if it gets approval from European regulatory bodies, while Hungary has registered the jab on its own.
Brussels however has been wary of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine - named after the Soviet-era satellite - concerned that Moscow would use it as a soft power tool.
Russia approved its vaccine last August ahead of large-scale clinical trials, sparking concerns over the fast-track procedure.
But leading medical journal The Lancet this month published results showing the jab to be safe and over 90 percent effective.
Daily Covid hospital admissions drop to lowest level since October
The number of hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in England was 874 on February 24, according to the latest figures from NHS England.
This is the lowest daily total since October 19 when 861 patients with Covid-19 were admitted to hospital and a drop of 79 percent from the peak of 4,134 reported on January 12.
It is also a 29 percent week-on-week drop from the 1,233 patients with coronavirus admitted on February 17.
All seven regions in England have recorded a week-on-week drop in daily Covid-19 admissions.
Suppressed flu season likely to rebound, says WHO
The same measures that have stopped SARS-CoV-2 have also suppressed the spread of flu this year but the world should remain on high alert, the World Health Organization's Mike Ryan has warned.
"There's a lot of potential energy left in the influenza virus, especially as normal and natural immunity wanes," Dr Ryan said. "At some point, there will be a rebound in influenza so it's exceptionally important that we continue to work on that."
"While we're procuring vaccines for Covid-19, we also governments need to continue to plan for the influenza season, and remain vigilant," he said.
It comes just days after Russian authorities alerted the WHO to a possible human infection of avian influenza H5N8. If confirmed it would be the first time H5N8 has infected people.
The virus is still being sequenced, but Dr Ryan stressed that the influenza vaccination remains the best tool for prevention and the WHO is expected to release its recommendation on the composition of flu vaccines for use in the northern hemisphere between 2021-2022.
Jordan Kelly-Linden reports.
Nigeria expects first 4 million vaccine doses from Covax next week
Nigeria is expecting its first 4 million doses of vaccines from the global Covax vaccine programme for poor and middle-income countries to arrive next week, the head of the World Health Organization mission in Nigeria said on Friday.
Nigeria was expecting 14 million doses in total, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO representative in Nigeria, said.
Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, said the situation in Nigeria was so far much better than had been widely predicted early in the outbreak.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 200 million people, has reported fewer than 1,900 Covid-19 deaths so far, and WHO officials at the briefing praised its response.
"The whole world expected the continent of Africa, and Nigeria with our social and economic realities, to basically fall apart," Ihekweazu told the briefing.
"Getting the vaccine into Nigeria will serve the continent well, will serve the world well," he said.
Jordan Kelly-Linden reports.
India pauses vaccinations for next two days following app glitches
India has suspended its Covid-19 vaccination for the next two days to fix glitches in an app calling people in for a jab, amid fears of a raging second wave of the pandemic in the country.
The suspension is another blow to India’s sluggish vaccination campaign, which is falling behind a target to reach 300 million people by July.
On Friday, just 24,650 healthcare and frontline workers were vaccinated.
Police Federation Chairman calls vaccine prioritisation "deep and damaging betrayal"
The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales has called the decision not to prioritise officers in the next phase of the coronavirus vaccination programme a "deep and damaging betrayal" which "will not be forgotten".
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation should continue down the age ranges rather than by occupation, with people in their 40s invited for a vaccinenext once all the over-50s and most vulnerable have had their jabs.
John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, said: "There's real palpable anger from all levels within policing about how we have been completely disregarded and ignored in this phase.
"My colleagues have been on the frontline since the first national lockdown last March, risking infection and even death to keep the public safe."
Prof Van-Tam's 'sobering slides' show a rise in cases in some parts of UK
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England's deputy chief medical officer, presented what he called "quite sobering" slides at a Downing Street press conference showing a rise in coronavirus cases in some parts of the country.
He said the slides showed that there "were quite a few areas of the UK that are burning quite hot", including in the Midlands and spreading up to the west coast of England.
"Although it is generally good news, I'm afraid it is better news in some places than it is in others and this is not a battle that we have won yet," Prof Van-Tam said.
"In some parts of the UK, case rates are changing, albeit slowly, in the wrong direction.
"This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact that I'm afraid this battle at the moment is not won."
Health Secretary urges the public to "stick at" following restrictions
During his press conference, Matt Hancock told the public to "stick at" following the lockdown restrictions and other social distancing measures as he warned of a "stark picture" of coronavirus rates.
The Health Secretary told the Downing Street press conference the number of cases in England is down to one in 145 people but the rate of decline is "slowing".
He said the rate of hospital admissions and deaths are still "far too high", and one in five local authorities has seen a rise in case rates in the last week.
"This stark picture shows that this isn't over yet, the stay at home rules are still in place for a reason," he said.
"This is on all of us to keep this under control, this is still a deadly virus. We will get through this but we have to stick at it."
Challenge in vaccine rollout is 'equally' faced across UK
Vaccination programme has been "equal and fair" UK-wide, says Matt Hancock.
He thanks volunteers and NHS staff in the North East who have worked so hard to vaccinate people, in response to a question that the number of vaccinations have dipped there.
"We're going to have a bumper March," says the Health Secretary.
"These challenges (of vaccine supply) are faced equally across the whole of the UK."
'Strong recommendation for primary school children not to wear masks'
Asked about masks for primary school children, Dr Susan Hopkins says the consensus view is "very strongly to not advise school children at primary school age to face this for two reasons".
They have difficulties wearing the masks and keeping them on.
It's really important for school children of this age to be able to see facial expressions in order to develop their communication skills.
Dr Hopkins finishes by saying that schools have already delivered on a lot of measures to reduce the risk of transmission and therefore the "strong recommendation" is for primary school children not to wear masks.
Matt Hancock admits there might be 'some areas' where vaccine passports needed
Matt Hancock: "We know that there will be some areas where certification is going to be needed.
"For instance, if a government of another country says that you need to show that you've had a Covid vaccine.
"Obviously we then want to be able to help enable people to be able to show that certificate."
He says to wait for Michael Gove's review on the use of vaccine passports.
Hancock says teachers couldn't be prioritised for vaccine
Asked about vaccine priority for teachers, Hancock says: "We looked at the prioritisation according to different jobs.
"But the overall view that we came to was that the right and moral thing to do was to make sure that we save the most lives."
Hancock says the data show that "thankfully, teachers are no more likely to catch Covid than any other member of the population that goes to work."
Hancock admits it would have been "complicated" to come up with a vaccination scheme going by occupation.
Prof Van-Tam adds that restaurants and catering have the highest death rates for Covid as an occupation, whereas for teachers, the figures for male teachers, for example, is 18.4 per 100,000 compared to an average of 31.4.
He says: "So if our objective is to save lives and reduce hospitalisations, we would have to start in a logical place."
Jabbing by occupation would be "very difficult because of the multiplicity of occupations coming forward," he says.
Prof Van-Tam adds the "big win" for the vaccination programme is in "speed" - "it's more important to be in the queue...but be reassured that the queue is moving really fast."
Jonathan Van-Tam: 'This battle is not won'
Matt Hancock hands over to Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who offers us "sobering" figures of UK case rates, which he says have increased in the last seven days.
"I'm afriad...in some parts of the UK case rates are changing, albeit slowly, but in the wrong direction," Prof Van-Tam warns.
He says: "I'm afraid this battle at the moment is not won."
"There are still quite a few areas of the UK, that are burning fire hot.
"There is a long way to go," says Prof Van-Tam.
To those asking him whether they can break the rules after having the vaccine he says, "no, we are not yet collectively as a country in the right place. All of the rules still apply to all of us.
"Please don't be tempted. This is all going very well but there are some worry signs that people are relaxing and taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time.
"Do not wreck this now, it is too early to relax, we are so close".
Hancock explains vaccine prioritisation: 'moral duty is to put saving lives first'
Matt Hancock continues: "19 million people are now starting to get the protection from this jab".
Today's data from ONS shows 94 percent of adults have either received the jab or intend to do so.
Hancock describes this figure as "staggering".
He gives a shout out to a GP who is personally calling patients to encourage them to take up jabs.
"The fightback against this disease rests with every single one of us."
Vaccination programme has focused on giving to those with clinical need and in top nine priority groups by 15 of April.
JCVI have set out best order based on "how we can save the most lives and prevent the most hospitalisations".
Age-based approach will save the most lives, according to the JCVI assessment.
Those 40-49 years old will be group 10.
Hancock says: "This is the fastest and simplest way to rollout the jab. Our moral duty is to put saving lives first.
So I can confirm that we will follow this clinical advice."
"I'm sure that we all agree that the best approach is the one that saves the most lives, so that's what we're going to do together."
Matt Hancock kicks off briefing with latest encouraging data on Covid
The Health Secretary kicks off this evening's press conference updating the public on the latest coronavirus data, adding "we are moving in the right direction."
The number of cases is now down to one in every 145 people and that the rate of decline is continuing but the pace of it is slowing.
The rate of hospital admissions shows a fall of 40 percent over the past fortnight but
Number of deaths have more than halved in the last fortnight, but still "far too high".
Link of hospitalisations and deaths is now breaking "thanks to the vaccination programme".
Matt Hancock Downing Street press conference coming up
At 5pm Matt Hancock will lead this evening’s coronavirus press conference.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam and Public Health England's Susan Hopkins will appear alongside the Health Secretary.
Watch live at the top of this blog, and follow live text updates.
Police Cheif chairman 'disappointed' officers have not been prioritised
National Police Chiefs' Council chairman Martin Hewitt said he was "disappointed" officers have not been prioritised for vaccinations.
"We are disappointed that frontline police officers and staff have not been prioritised in the next stage of the vaccine rollout," he said.
"Those on the frontline interact with members of the public on a daily basis and due to the nature of our work, social distancing is not always possible, and many have been subject to disgraceful assaults involving coughing and spitting. This increases the risk of transmission to officers as well as to the public.
"We have always supported the decision to prioritise the most vulnerable in the vaccine rollout but asked that frontline officers and staff should then be considered as a priority group.
"We accept that the JCVI has concluded that the best way of protecting those who potentially have higher risk of exposure to the virus, like police officers, is for them to receive vaccines in line with their age-group, however, we remain disappointed for our officers and staff.
New coronavirus figures reported for Friday
The Government said a further 345 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, bringing the UK total to 122,415.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 8,523 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.
Ticketmaster sees 'colossal' rise in traffic after roadmap announcement
Ticketmaster has seen a "colossal" 600 percent rise in traffic to its website this week, following the announcement of a road map out of lockdown.
The ticket sales company said Boris Johnson's announcement on Monday prompted "a week unlike any we've experienced in a typical February", with some two million potential buyers visiting its site.
Browsing and purchasing was up across the board - with all genres, from music to comedy, seeing increased traffic.
Ticketmaster also saw 500,000 visits to its festival finder guide, nine times the number of visits compared to this time last year.
Creamfields in Cheshire, Boomtown near Winchester and Field Day in London are among the events which sold out their 2021 editions this week, following a boost in demand.
Andrew Parsons, managing director of Ticketmaster's UK wing, said: "The pent-up demand to get back to live events is undeniable - fans are ready to make up for lost time and it's just brilliant to see."
More on Blair's calls to introduce 'framework' for vaccine passports
Mr Blair predicted a wild west would develop if government did not lead on introducing a "framework", saying ministers would "find it grows like topsy with no control over it at all" and people "demanding" a way of proving they had been jabbed or swabbed.
Boris Johnson announced this week that Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is heading up a review into "Covid status certificates" as the Prime Minister acknowledged the "deep and complex issues" surrounding the concept.
Senior officials have frequently appeared to dismiss the idea of introducing vaccine passports in the UK, with the Government's vaccines tsar Nadhim Zahawi labelling them "discriminatory".
But, speaking at an event with the Institute for Government on Friday, Mr Blair, whose institute has regularly called for so-called immunity passports to be rolled out, said people would need reassurances before returning to crowded environments.
He added: "I look at it from the point of view of the individual, who is also going to want to have something, on their mobile for example, which allows them to definitively say, 'Here it is'.
"Because whether we like it or not, if you are interacting with the outside world, other people will be demanding it.
"And international travel is I think just one very obvious aspect of that."
Boris Johsnon says commuting will happen again after the pandemic
In a video message for a rail conference the Prime Minister said:
"I know that some people may imagine that all conferences from now on are going to be like this, held over Zoom, Teams or what have you and that we've got to prepare for a new age in which people don’t move around, do things remotely, they don’t commute anymore.
"Well I want you to know, I don’t believe it. Not for a moment.
"Because in a few short months if all goes according to plan we in the UK are going to be reopening our economy and then, believe me, the British population will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is we’re doing."
Tony Blair says vaccine passports would provide the public with 'confidence'
Former prime minister Tony Blair said society was unlikely to return to normal without the "confidence" provided to the public by a domestic vaccine passport scheme.
Mr Blair said: "I think you are going to find that venues where large numbers of people are going to congregate close to each other, people will want to have some rules around it and I think other people will feel more comfortable if they know there has been at least some requirement, even if it isn't someone's been vaccinated, that they have at least been tested before they go.
"Otherwise I think it is hard to see how people have the confidence to go back to life as normal.
"Life as normal is not just about Government saying, 'We allow you to do this'. It is also about people feeling safe to do it - that's the balance."
The ex-Labour Party leader said for those exempt from vaccines for medical reasons or those who were anti-vaccines could use proof of a negative test to ensure their freedoms were intact via the scheme.
But he added: "I hope there aren't too many people who as a matter of principle won't go and take the vaccine because really it isn't very sensible."
Man pleads not guilty to sending suspicious package to vaccine production site
A 53-year-old man has pleaded not guilty to sending a suspicious package to a coronavirus vaccine production site.
Anthony Collins entered his plea to the charge of dispatching an article by post with the intention of inducing the belief it was likely to explode or ignite during a hearing held at Maidstone Crown Court.
All staff had to be evacuated from the Wockhardt site in Wrexham, North Wales, on January 27 as the package was investigated.
Judge Stephen Thomas adjourned the case for trial to be held on August 31 with a pre-trial review on August 13, and remanded Mr Collins in custody until then.
Angela Merkel refuses Oxford jab amid calls to 'lead by example'
The Chancellor says AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for her age group as her country struggles with trust, Justin Huggler and James Crisp write.
Mrs Merkel dismissed suggestions she should ignore her government's guidelines and take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
There had been calls for Mrs Merkel to "lead by example" and be vaccinated on camera in order to dispel German public fears over the jab.
"I do not belong to the recommended age group for AstraZeneca," Mrs Merkel told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently only approved for under-65s in Germany, and Mrs Merkel is 66.
How Nigel Skea broke his strict hotel quarantine in Singapore
Skea, 52, arrived in September from London to visit Eyamalai and was ordered to undergo a mandatory, two-week quarantine at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel.
He texted Eyamalai, 39, details of where he was staying and she booked a separate room at the same hotel, 13 floors higher.
He then sneaked out of his room and walked up the emergency staircase to the 27th floor where Eyamalai, who was not under quarantine, opened the emergency exit door for him.
The pair spent the night together, but a security guard caught him the next morning as he tried to return to his own room.
He could not access his floor via the emergency staircase, so he had to walk down to the fourth floor, where he was spotted.
He was also not wearing a mask, another violation of virus rules.
Our Foreign Staff report.
British man jailed for two weeks after breaking hotel quarantine in Singapore
A British man was jailed for two weeks on Friday for violating Singapore's strict coronavirus rules by leaving his room at a luxury hotel while under quarantine to meet his fiancee, Our Foreign Staff report.
Nigel Skea was also fined Sg$1,000 (£540) for the breach, while Singaporean Agatha Maghesh Eyamalai - now his wife - was jailed for a week for helping him.
Passing sentence, judge Jasvender Kaur said the couple had been "overcome with emotions because they had not seen each other for a long time".
But she said disruptions to relationships were inevitable during the pandemic, and the court must send a "clear message" such violations could not be tolerated.
The couple, who were married in November, had pleaded guilty.
Two men to face trial over 'illegal rave'
Two men will face trial this summer for allegedly organising a rave in November in breach of coronavirus restrictions.
Robert Bagot and Henok Yefru, both 32, are accused of helping to organise the event on Childers Street in Deptford, south London, on November 22 last year.
Both Bagot, of Ilford, and Yefru, of Leyton, accept being present but deny organising the gathering.
They both denied a single count of holding or being involved in holding a rave-type gathering in England of more than 30 people indoors - an offence with a maximum fine of £10,000.
City of London Magistrates' Court heard that one of the issues in the case will be whether lending sound equipment to the rave would meet the definition of being organisers of the event.
Their trial was listed for a day-long hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court on July 19.
Bagot and Yefru's case was one of 63 cases of coronavirus legislation breaches listed at the court on Friday.
School leaders union responds to vaccine priority rollout
A school leaders' union has said ruling out an occupation-based rollout for the vaccination programme due to complexity is not "good enough".
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said: "I am amazed by the continuing dedication of school teams. The Government has let them down at every turn.
"The fact that it may have added some complexity to rollout is not a good enough reason not to prioritise the needs of committed professionals.
"A sick teacher is a teacher away from class, which will mean further disruption to pupils' education and could well mean that they may need to be educated from home again."
Covid-19 continues to threaten malaria care, says WHO chief
Efforts to tackle malaria need to remain on a “worst-case scenario” footing this year, according to the World Health Organization, as Covid-19 continues to threaten services.
Last year the pandemic probably led to an extra 40-50,000 malaria deaths, said the director of the WHO’s global malaria programme, Dr Pedro Alonso.
That is far from the most dire predictions of a doubling of the number of malaria deaths to almost 800,000 as the pandemic hit health services and prevention initiatives worldwide. But it is still not a success story, Dr Alonso said.
"The message we are trying to get across is that this is far from over. We cannot say we did great last year, it will be okay this year," he told the Telegraph.
"We have to really get ready again for the worst-case scenario, and be ready for the unexpected."
Downing Street defends decision not to prioritise key workers for vaccine rollout
Downing Street has defended the decision not to prioritise key workers such as police officers in the next phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout.
A No 10 spokesman said: "The JCVI have advised that even in the under 50s, age remains the biggest single factor determining mortality and hospitalisations, so it is therefore right that we accept their advice to continue to prioritise by age as this will protect the most people and have the biggest impact on reducing NHS pressures.
"They are also clear that giving priority to certain professions would not be as effective or as fast in reducing deaths and hospitalisations as protection of those at higher risk of serious disease.
"Prioritisation by age will also protect individuals working in jobs with potentially higher risk of exposure with the most vulnerable in those occupations vaccinated first."
Government dismisses Euro 2020 host as 'speculation'
Downing Street said suggestions that UEFA is considering holding the European Championships entirely in England following its successful vaccination drive were "speculation".
The competition was postponed last year amid the coronavirus pandemic but is due to begin on 11 June.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters: "This is just speculation.
"How the tournament will be hosted is a matter for UEFA.
"As they stated yesterday, they remain committed to the current format of the tournament.
"We are focused on the matches we are scheduled to host in the UK, including seven at Wembley and matches also being hosted at Hampden Park in Glasgow."
England player Maro Itoje fronts device donation drive to help school children catch up
Ahead of Wales v. England in the Six Nations on Saturday, England rugby player Maro Itoje has announced that he is fronting a device donation drive to help school children catch up on lost learning, continuing efforts to tackle the digital divide.
From today, the public can donate spare tablets to families facing financial difficulty by visiting Virgin Media’s website.
This follows new figures from the Department for Education that reveal some secondary schoolchildren have lost more than two months’ worth of learning, with losses among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds 50 percent higher.
Maro Itoje said: "Education is our social balancer. We must do everything we can to support children who haven’t been able to access their education during this pandemic and help them reintegrate back into the classroom environment with ease, providing them with the tools they need to catch up on lost learning.
"But just as important is the need to equip these children with vital digital skills to expand career prospects in the future."
UK's R number remains unchanged since last week
The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, across the UK is between 0.6 and 0.9, according to the latest Government figures.
This is unchanged since last week.
R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.
When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but when it is below 1, it means the epidemic is shrinking.
An R number between 0.6 and 0.9 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between six and nine other people.
The latest growth rate is between minus 6% and minus 2%, which means the number of new infections is shrinking by between 2% and 6% every day.
Coronavirus cases continue to fall across all four UK nations
New ONS figures reveal that coronavirus infection rates in all four UK nations fell in the week to 19 February.
Around one in 145 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between February 13 and 19, according to new estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This is down from about one in 115 people for the period February 6-12 and is the lowest figure since October 2-8, when the estimate also stood at one in 160 people.
Infections are also shown to be down in Wales - around one in 205 people are estimated to have had Covid between 13 and 19 February - down from the previous ONS estimate of one in 125.
In Northern Ireland, the ONS estimates around one in 195 people had Covid-19 between February 13 and 19, down from one in 105.
The estimate for Scotland is around one in 225 people, down from one in 180.
All figures are for people in private households, not care homes, hospitals or other institutions.
Additionally, the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus has decreased in all regions in England except Yorkshire and the Humber, the ONS said.
Pfizer to begin testing its vaccine in children as young as five
Pfizer plans to begin testing its Covid-19 vaccine in children as young as five, the company's chairman has said.
The American pharma giant has already finished enrolling volunteers aged 12 to 15 in an adolescent trial and is now looking at younger subjects.
The two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the first to be approved by the UK and is a major part of Britain's jab rollout.
"We are also planning to initiate pediatric studies from younger ages, from 5 all the way to 11, and I believe that we should have data about this population by the end of the year," Albert Bourla Bourla told NBC News.
A new trial was also announced earlier this month to test the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in children.
Researchers said they would monitor whether the jab produced a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
Ben Farmer reports.
Man leaves hotel quarantine and says he was made to feel like an 'animal'
A father-of-three has said he was made to feel like an "animal" while quarantining in a hotel.
Theo Paulse, 39, who lives in Torquay, Devon, stayed at the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel near Heathrow Airport after flying in from South Africa after a family visit.
After leaving on Friday, he said: "For the amount of money they charge, I felt more like a prisoner than actually a guest here.
"I had loads of altercations in the end with staff just not knowing how to treat people because the power went to their head.
"They didn't realise they were dealing with guests, they just kind of felt like they've got to treat you like some kind of animal and keep you in these rooms."
Mr Paulse added: "It was disheartening and my kids weren't happy when they were told dad's not bringing their Christmas presents from their grandmother."
PHE expert explains why certain groups might be hesitant to take up the vaccine
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said there were many reasons certain groups were hesitant about taking up the offer of a vaccine.
She told the press conference: "There are different communities that have different concerns and each different local area will have different profiles in terms of the communities they are finding most difficult to access.
"There are some communities where we have had historical issues with getting access to vaccination - traveller communities, for example.
"There will be some areas where they have heard misinformation about what's in the vaccine, for example whether it's acceptable for someone from a Muslim background, and we really need to correct those things.
"Then there's some communities, for example eastern European communities, who we know have just perhaps never had a vaccine in the UK. Some of their concerns are about who is giving them a vaccine, how do they get the vaccine, how do they register with the GP.
"So, there's a range of different factors and I think that's where the local intelligence is really important in trying to engage people with the right message for the right group."
Cote d’Ivoire becomes the second country to receive vaccines from COVAX
There was excitement as Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa received 504,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility this morning.
The Oxford AZ vaccines and other equipment were flown in by UNICEF as part of the effort to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines globally.
Cote d’Ivoire is the second country after Ghana to receive Covax vaccine and is expected to the first to start putting into arms on Monday.
Our Global Health Security Editor, Paul Nuki, was there to watch the plane arriving:
First people leave quarantine hotels after 10-night stay: 'It's horrible!'
Residents at Heathrow's Radisson Blu long to 'breathe the air again' after becoming the first victims of the Government's travel 'red list'.
At nine o’clock on Friday morning, Wagner and Elaine Araujo stepped outside for the second time in 10 days.
The couple have been in isolation since flying back from Brazil last Monday, when they were among the first returning UK residents to be required by law to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel.
JCVI supports localised approach to offering vaccines
The JCVI supports a localised approach to offering vaccines, even where that means deviating from the age-based plan, Prof Wei Shen Lim said.
Asked whether he supported local teams vaccinating prisons in one go in order to minimise vaccine waste and the need for return visits, the JCVI Covid-19 chair said: "We want to see local flexibility and, indeed, NHS England have told us that having local flexibility is helpful in the way they deploy, both for efficiency and to avoid vaccine wastage.
"I can't tell you what happens at particular local levels but, as a general principle, that is something we support."
PHE's Dr Mary Ramsay added it was important the right "balance" was struck, saying: "It comes back to this issue of speed and certainly we encourage the NHS to work with their local directors of public health.
Vaccine protects communities not just individuals, says PHE expert
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England (PHE), said people should remember that getting the vaccine will help their communities, not just them.
She said: "We are beginning to suspect that the vaccine may actually help to reduce infection rates as well, so I think it's important for those individuals to be seeing this not just as something to protect themselves but potentially something that might help protect their communities, their families and friends and their vulnerable elderly relatives.
"That's an important message to keep going as we get into the younger age ranges."
Matt Hancock to hold press conference today at 5pm
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will lead a Downing St press conference today at 5pm.
He will be joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam and Public Health England's Susan Hopkins.
JCVI chair expresses concern over vaccine uptake in some groups
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said he was concerned about groups of people not taking up the offer to be vaccinated.
He said: "We are certainly concerned about groups of people who are not taking up the offer of vaccination because vaccination is the way to be protected against severe Covid.
"So the JCVI has looked at the information on vaccination uptake and coverage, and we are in regular contact with the Department of Health as well as NHS England to ask them to keep close attention to these groups and do everything possible to increase uptake."
When asked about whether the priorities of the vaccination programme will continue to be reviewed, he added: "We will be reviewing the priorities all the way down, even as we are doing so now."
Opening windows better than masks in primary schools, says Sage scientist
A scientist involved advising the Government has said there is little point in primary school children wearing face masks.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4: "Primary school children are the lowest risk both to themselves and to society.
"There is really good data coming out ... that shows that children are half as likely to acquire the virus to a third as likely to acquire the virus.
"When it comes to transmitting they are probably half as likely to transmit it as adults. That risk actually gets smaller as you go into younger age groups. I am not a great fan of young children wearing face masks.
"If I had to invest in a single activity to improve the environment both for the children and the adults, I'd be looking at improving the ventilation, unsealing windows that have been painted shut and kept shut for energy-saving reasons.
"That would be a much more effective way to reduce transmission in schools."
Headteachers' union 'disappointed' about JCVI prioritisation
A headteachers' union has said it is "disappointed" the JCVI had decided against prioritising education staff for the next phase of the vaccine rollout.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The Government needs to make a policy decision on this matter having insisted that education is a national priority and having announced a 'big bang' return to the classroom in England.
"It must now back that up by providing a clear direction that education staff will be prioritised in the next phase of the programme.
"This is important not only in reassuring staff who it expects to work in busy and crowded environments, but also in terms of minimising disruption to education caused by staff absence as a result of Covid."
Particular occupations decided not to be prioritised
Professor Wei Shen Lim has said the JCVI had decided against prioritising particular occupations for the next phase of the vaccine rollout, despite many calling for teachers and police to receive it next.
He told an online briefing: "An occupation-based vaccine programme has never been tested before on a large scale in the UK. It is, in that sense, untested and untried.
"Trying to switch from an age-based programme to an occupation-based programme would be more complex and potentially introduce more delays to the programme.
"Speed is the critical factor here."
Age-based priority system would be simpler to administer, says JCVI chair
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chair for JCVI, said opting to keep with an age-based priority system for phase two of the vaccine programme meant it would be simpler to administer.
He told a Downing Street press briefing: "Operationally, we know that age is a very easy and simple way to structure a vaccine programme.
"When we consider occupational groups, there are occupations where the risk of exposure to the virus might be higher.
"If we look at who is at risk of severe disease, ie. being hospitalised or sadly dying from Covid-19, even within occupational groups, it is those people who are older who are more at risk compared to younger individuals.
"In the instance of phase two, it is the people who are aged 40-49 who are at higher risk compared to younger individuals."
Age remains the key factor that determines each person’s level of risk
A simple approach allows our Covid-19 vaccination programme to be delivered at speed, says Prof Anthony Harnden.
The simplicity of our priority framework has been one of the key reasons for the programme’s success.
Our strategy throughout has been to prioritise those who are more likely to have severe effects and die from Covid-19, to protect individuals and ease the burden on the NHS.
The evidence continues to show that the older you are, the greater your risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19.
The JCVI said evidence suggests an age-based approach is most effective
People will be contacted by their GP or the NHS to book an appointment for the vaccination.
Unlike the top nine groups, which were more or less split up in increments of five years, the new recommendations cover a whole age group - 40s, 30s, and then those aged 18 to 29.
Despite the calls for key workers, like teachers and the police, to be next on the list, the data does not suggest teachers are any more at risk of being infected than any other member of the population.
The JCVI said evidence suggests an age-based approach remains the most effective way of reducing death and hospitalisation from Covid-19.
For phase two, modelling studies also indicate the speed of vaccine deployment is the most important factor in maximising public health benefits against severe outcomes.
The committee said mass vaccination targeting occupational groups would be more complex to deliver and may slow down the vaccine programme, leaving some more vulnerable people at higher risk for longer.
The Government announces who is next in line for a Covid vaccine
The Government has set out who will be next to receive coronavirus vaccines once all the over-50s and most vulnerable have had their jabs.
Officials hope to have given a first dose to the top nine priority groups by mid-April, and to all adults by the end of July.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended prioritisation should continue down the age ranges, with people in their 40s invited next for a jab.
Who is next?
All those aged 40-49 years.
All those aged 30-39 years.
All those aged 18-29 years
Pensioners check out of quarantine hotel
An elderly couple among the first people to check into a quarantine hotel have said they were looking forward to walking around without being "escorted everywhere".
Ruth Conway, 84 and her husband Norman, 72, from Keynsham, near Bristol, stayed in the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel near Heathrow Airport after returning from a holiday in Portugal.
Leaving the hotel on Friday morning, Ms Conway said although the staff were "very good", she questioned if they were "joking" when asked if she had a positive experience.
She added: "You could come outside as much as you wanted, my husband's a smoker, so it's desperate for him.
"But it would have been nice to walk around a garden or something.
"That's what I can't wait for, to walk around my garden at home and to be able to get out of one room without having to be escorted everywhere."
Positive vaccine attitudes increase to 95pc
Positive attitudes towards the coronavirus vaccine have increased, with nearly 95% of adults saying they have either received the jab or would be likely to have it if offered, new data shows.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, published on Friday, show 94% of adults surveyed between February 17 and 21 reported they had now either received the vaccine or would be very or fairly likely to have it if offered.
This is up from 91% the previous week and has risen from early December 2020 when around eight in 10 (78%) adults indicated they would be likely to accept the vaccine if offered it.
Of the adults who said they would be unlikely to have the vaccine or had decided not to have it, the most common reasons were being worried about long-term impacts on their health (43%), being concerned about the side effects (37%) and waiting to see how well it worked (34%).
Covid around the world, in pictures
Museum visits are ‘safest’ indoor activity, German study shows
Given how long British children have been out of school, educational visits to the country’s museums and art galleries sound like a very good idea, writes Oliver Smith.
However, under the current lockdown exit strategy such institutions will remain closed until May 17 – five weeks longer than non-essential shops, pub gardens and restaurants with outdoor dining.
The lack of science behind this anomaly has been highlighted by a new study from the Berlin Institute of Technology, which shows that the risk of Covid-19 infection via aerosol particles is far lower in museums than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices, hairdressers, or on public transportation.
The study could see calls for an earlier reopening increase. Rebecca Salter, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts, told The Guardian this week: “It just makes no sense. On April 12 all the retail will open on Piccadilly and our gates will stay shut, I don’t get the logic of it frankly.
“If we do genuinely worry about the mental state of this nation having been locked away then I would like an explanation into why the Government feels retail therapy will make people feel better but ‘art’ therapy, coming to see pictures, can wait another five weeks.”
‘No sane reason’ why all campsites can’t reopen on Apr 12
The Government has been urged to rethink its roadmap and allow all UK campsites to reopen on Apr 12, reports Oliver Smith.
Interest in holidays under canvas is said to be high, with Campsites.co.uk reporting that visits to its website are up 250%. However, because of their shared toilet facilities, thousands of campsites across the country will not be able to reopen alongside other self-catering accommodation – and must instead wait until May 17.
Martin Smith, the founder of Campsites.co.uk, said: “Under the current roadmap, pubs and shops can open their toilet facilities for customers from April 12, but campsites must keep theirs closed until May 17.
“This matters, because it stops thousands of campsites opening for the early Bank Holiday weekend, depriving independent sites the chance to claw back some of the revenue they have lost from missing successive Easters and all of spring 2020.
“We want the Government to reconsider their decision and level the playing field for campsites. If toilets are OK for pubs and shops, there’s no sane reason they can’t be opened at campsites too.”
Royal Family tweet Queen's vaccine intervention
Here is the latest from the official Twitter account.
Minister rejects suggestions Queen is interfering in politics
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has rejected suggestions that the Queen was interfering in politics by encouraging people to have a coronavirus vaccination.
He told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "As is so often the case in our history, the Queen can, just with a few words, encapsulate the mood of the nation.
"I think we can trust the Queen to get it right. An issue like the vaccine and indeed the Covid pandemic goes beyond politics.
"Messages of unity are very much part of what the Queen is all about. She has got it right for nearly 70 years. She continues not to put a foot wrong."
Russians use hand-pushed trolley to escape North Korea
A group of Russian diplomats and family members used a hand-pushed rail trolley to leave North Korea this week, amid Pyongyang’s strict anti-coronavirus measures, which include blocking most forms of passenger transport across the border.
The group of eight, including a child as young as 3, travelled 32 hours by train and two hours by bus from Pyongyang just to reach the Russian border on Thursday, the post said.
The group then had to cross the border on foot, loading luggage and passengers onto to a trolley on the train tracks.
Israel jabs half of its population
Israel has administered at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to 50% of its 9.3 million population, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday, reports Anne Gulland.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians, who have been included in the vaccine campaign that began on Dec 19, as part of its population. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip are not part of the Israeli campaign.
Edelstein said 35% of Israel's population had received both doses of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, putting them on course to receive a so-called "Green Pass" with access to leisure sites that the country has been gradually reopening.
Prisoners may be vaccinated en masse
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has refused to rule out the prospect of prison inmates and staff being vaccinated en masse in the next phase of the rollout of the coronavirus jab.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is due to publish its recommendations on who should get the vaccine once the rollout to the first nine priority groups - including the over-50s - is complete.
While Mr Buckland said prisoners will not be prioritised over other groups, he also emphasised the need for speed and for protecting prison staff.
"Prisoners will not be getting priority. At the moment they are vaccinated in accordance with the current guidelines, in accordance with what is happening in the community," he told LBC.
"What is clear is that the need for speed is everything here. I will be supporting anything that gives us speed and maximises the impact that it has.
"Prisons are a closed environment, like care homes. I have got to think about the welfare of staff. I am particularly anxious to make sure that prison staff get the vaccine.
"I very much hope the JCVI will reinforce that message and allow ministers to make that informed decision as soon as possible."
Minister welcomes royal intervention
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has welcomed the intervention of the Queen encouraging people to get the coronavirus vaccine.
Mr Buckland told LBC: "I think anything the Queen says has immense power.
"She was implying that it was not only good for our own health but that it was also an altruistic act, and that in doing so we all collectively enhance the safety of others.
"The message of encouragement, information, support for people who have never had a vaccine before is hugely important.
"I think the Queen again in her usual way has helped reinforce that important message."
ICYMI: Queen says refusing vaccine is selfish
The Queen has said people who refuse the coronavirus vaccine "ought to think about other people rather than themselves", report Victoria Ward and Sarah Knapton.
In her first comments on the subject, Her Majesty said it was important that people were "protected" by the vaccine.
Speaking to the senior responsible officers overseeing the delivery of the vaccine across all four UK nations, she said that her own immunisation, administered at Windsor Castle in January, was “very quick,” adding: “It didn’t hurt at all.”
Watch the video below and read the full story here.
British Airways owner makes £6bn loss in 2020
British Airways owner IAG made a post-tax loss in 2020 of 6.9 billion euros (£6 billion) compared with a 1.7 billion euros (£1.48 billion) profit a year earlier.
Revenues collapsed 69% from 25.5 billion euros (£22.2 billion) to just 7.8 billion euros (£6.8 billion) in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
The number of passengers using its airlines remains significantly down on pre-pandemic levels and fell again during the traditional peak festive season.
The company, which also owns Aer Lingus and Iberia, said capacity for 2020 was just 33.5% of 2019 levels and only 26.6% in the final three months of the year.
In the three months to December, IAG also made an operating loss of 1.47 billion euros (£1.3 billion).
Pfizer to begin testing vaccine on children as young as five
Pfizer plans to begin testing its Covid-19 vaccine in children as young as 5, reports Ben Farmer.
Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said, with the resulting data available by the end of the year.
Night-time jabs planned for Muslims during Ramadan
A night time Ramadan vaccine drive is being planned by the Government as a new report found Pakistani and Bangladeshi people had the highest Covid-19 mortality rate during the UK’s second wave of cases.
The Telegraph understands No 10 and NHS England hope to counter a potential drop off in vaccine uptake by Muslims during the religious festival, which takes place from April 12 to May 12.
During Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, Muslims abstain from consuming food and drink from sunrise to sunset each day.
The majority of Islamic scholarly bodies and British Islamic Medical Association have said getting a Covid-19 vaccine while fasting would be permissible.
Today's front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Friday, Feb 26.
First travellers 'released from quarantine'
Some of the first people to check into quarantine hotels have been reportedly released early this morning.
From last Monday, UK and Irish nationals returning to England from a "red list" country deemed at high risk for Covid-19 have had to self-isolate in hotels for 11 nights.
Hotel "guests" have complained about the £1,750 fee for the stay, which is punishable by a fine of up to £10,000 or 10 years in prison if breached, according to the Government.
The rule applies to people returning to Scotland from any destination.
If travellers return a negative test on day two and day eight of their stay they are allowed to leave, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
Wagner Araujo, 43, and his wife Elaine, 40, from London, were among the first to leave the Radisson Blu hotel at London Heathrow Airport, according to MailOnline.
They emerged smiling and said after they had tucked into a meal of McDonald's chicken burgers and fries they would be heading straight home to hug their children, the website reported.
Merkel backs vaccination passports for summer
British holidaymakers have been offered some hope for a trip to the Continent this year after Mrs Merkel told the press conference that digital vaccination certificates would probably be available before the summer.
"Everyone agrees that we need a digital vaccination certificate," Mrs Merkel said, adding that the EU Commission would need around three months to create the technical basis for such documents.
However, she said that not enough people had been vaccinated for restrictions on non-essential travel to be lifted.
The EU has only vaccinated about six per cent of its population. Restrictions, which include a ban on non-essential travel from the UK, are expected to stay in place until the figure is closer to 70 per cent of adults.
Britain has vaccinated about 28 per cent of people.
Surge in lockdown fines
Police have blamed “lockdown fatigue” for a huge surge in coronavirus fines as one of the country’s most senior officers warned the public not to go “silly” when restrictions are finally eased.
Officers in England and Wales are now handing out more than 900 fixed penalty notices every day as a “hardcore” of people continue to flout the rules.
Figures published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) showed that a total of 68,952 fines had been issued since the start of the pandemic, but 26,277 of those came in the four weeks up to Feb 14.
The figures reveal a massive ramping up of police enforcement, even though the vaccine rollout is well underway and the restrictions are close to being eased.
Analysis: Queen helps the nation through another crisis
In the case of raising awareness of the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Queen appears on a personal mission, Camilla Tominey writes.
Before she and Prince Philip, 99, were vaccinated at Windsor Castle on January 9, the palace appeared reluctant to speculate at all on when they would be receiving the jab, fearing it would open the floodgates on future health enquiries. Yet having been briefed on the ‘anti-vaxx’ debate and vaccine hesitancy, particularly among the black, Asian and minority ethnic community, the Queen resolved that the Royal family should be at the forefront of raising awareness.
Read more: Queen champions the nation's vaccine efforts
Today's top stories
The Queen has said people who refuse the coronavirus vaccine "ought to think about other people rather than themselves". In her first comments on the subject, Her Majesty said it was important that people were "protected" by the vaccine
Angela Merkel dismissed suggestions she should ignore her government's guidelines and take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Police have blamed “lockdown fatigue” for a huge surge in coronavirus fines as one of the country’s most senior officers warned the public not to go “silly” when restrictions are finally eased
Commuters should get used to fewer trains after the pandemic but can expect better reliability, the chairman of Network Rail has indicated
Rishi Sunak will call for “honesty” about the need to eventually bring down wartime levels of spending in his Budget speech next week, as several Cabinet ministers – and David Cameron – warned him against tax rises
Just 36 postcode areas in England and Wales have escaped a death from coronavirus, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show