Boris Johnson has urged the public to use their "common sense" as he gave the green light for further relaxations of the lockdown rules in England.
People will be able to take a step closer to normality from next week as more indoor mixing and hugging loved ones will be permitted once again, the Prime Minister confirmed.
From May 17 onwards, up to six people, or those from two households, can meet indoors and groups of up to 30 people can meet outside.
Indoor dining has also been given the green light to resume along with indoor entertainment venues, including cinemas and museums.
The ban on overseas travel has also been lifted, allowing people to go on holidays to ‘green list’ countries.
School children will also no longer be required to wear facemasks in classrooms.
The Government’s “four tests” for easing restrictions have been met, Boris Johnson said, with infection rates at their lowest level since September and two-thirds of the population now vaccinated.
Follow the latest updates below.
What happened today?
Good evening. That's a wrap on today's live blog, and after another busy day of coronavirus developments here's a roundup:
Boris Johnson announced he will proceed with the return of indoor socialising and dining, some indoor mixing, overnight stays, hugging and a host of other freedoms from May 17, hailing a "very considerable step on the road back to normality"
The AstraZeneca vaccine lowers the risk of dying from a Covid infection by 80 per cent after just one dose, the first real-world data from Britain's rollout showed
In a similar shot of optimism, Government scientists on Sage concluded in their latest analysis that the easing of restrictions is "highly unlikely to put unsustainable pressure" on the NHS
The World Health Organisation marked the Indian variant as "of concern", days after the UK also took this step, but scientists said it is unlikely to slow the UK's exit from lockdown
Zero Covid deaths were recorded in the latest 24 hour period across all of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and four were logged in Wales
The UK's four chief medical officers lowered the Covid-19 alert level from four to three, indicating the virus is in "general circulation" but no longer rising, for the first time since September last year
The “horrific” impact of the third national lockdown was laid bare in a major new study which found that 84 per cent of schools have identified a decline in children’s physical fitness.
Coronavirus around the world, in pictures
Recap: Zero Covid deaths in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in latest figures
In case you missed it earlier, zero Covid deaths were recorded in the latest 24 hour period across all of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The most recent Government figures show four people died within 28 days of a positive test as of Monday - all of them in Wales.
Sage's latest verdict: easing of lockdown will not overwhelm the NHS
The easing of lockdown rules on May 17 will likely cause an increase in infections but not enough to overwhelm the NHS, Sage has said.
Modelling has shown that England's R number will probably rise above 1 - meaning the virus spreads - when lockdown measures are relaxed under stage three of the Government's road map, the Government scientists said.
But it is "highly unlikely to put unsustainable pressure" on the NHS, the group concluded at its latest meeting.
Sage said it remained "highly likely" there will be a further resurgence in hospital admissions and deaths "at some point", and that the full impact of easing restrictions will not be seen until mid-June at the earliest.
But that resurgence will be smaller if measures that reduce transmission, such as social distancing, are maintained beyond the end of the Government's road map on June 21.
Lethal black fungus emerges in Covid-19 patients across India
A black fungus with a mortality rate of 50 per cent is increasingly infecting recovered Covid-19 patients in India, with doctors forced to remove parts of the face of some sufferers to save lives.
Mucormycosis, caused by a mucor mould commonly found in soils and decaying vegetables, infects the sinuses, the brain, and the lungs of immuno-compromised people. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, mucormycosis was extremely rare, with just a few cases annually.
But, leading hospitals across India are now seeing multiple cases daily. If it is feared that the mucor will spread to the brain then invasive surgery is a last-ditch recourse, with Indian doctors being forced to remove the infected jaw bone, nose, and eyes of patients.
Joe Wallen, our India correspondent, has more detail on this story.
EU launches fresh legal challenge to AZ over jab deliveries
In other news, the European Union is launching a fresh legal case against AstraZeneca, which will allow the EU to seek possible financial penalties over delayed deliveries, reports Jack Parrock in Brussels.
This second case is directly linked to a first case filed against the Anglo-Swedish drug-maker in the same Brussels court on April 27 over the delay in delivery of doses within the EU contract.
“What we are now doing in our court case before the Brussels court, is to make sure that we can obtain the delivery of doses we are entitled to," said an EU spokesman.
The first case was launched by the EU as an emergency measure injunction in order to try to force AstraZeneca to fulfill its contractual obligations for dose deliveries. Brussels claims the company was supplying doses it was promised to the UK instead.
The new case will be on the merits of the issue, which an official familiar with the proceedings said was mostly procedural but would allow the EU to seek potential financial penalties.
AstraZeneca vaccine cuts Covid death risk by 80 per cent after one dose
The AstraZeneca vaccine lowers the risk of dying from a Covid infection by 80 per cent after just one dose, the first real-world data from Britain has shown.
Ahead of Monday's press conference where the next steps out of lockdown were confirmed, Public Health England (PHE) released data showing that the Oxford vaccine was working even better than first thought.
Our science editor Sarah Knapton has more on this promising data.
More from Boris Johnson on ditching masks in classrooms
Secondary school pupils in England will no longer be required to wear face masks in class from next week, the Government has confirmed.
Boris Johnson told this evening's Downing Street press conference: "We will no longer require face coverings in classrooms, or for students in communal areas, in secondary schools and colleges."
It is hoped the move - which has been taken amid declining infection rates - will improve interaction between teachers and students, and ensure the clearest possible communication to support learning.
But it puts him at odds with union leaders, five of whom wrote to ministers last week demanding masks stay in classrooms until at least June 21. The National Education Union accused the Prime Minister last week of ignoring scientific advice because "we are not out of the woods yet".
University students finally given the green light for campus return
All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching, the Government has confirmed.
Returning students will be expected to get tested for Covid-19 twice a week throughout the rest of the summer term. Most have been learning online for the past academic year, except for those on practical courses.
University vice-chancellors have sought a campus return for weeks and said the Government's delay on allowing students to return was "unfathomable".
The move has already been widely welcomed by students, but Jo Grady, general secretary of the academics' union UCU, said it would be "much safer" to delay in-person lessons until September.
Don't 'pass the social distancing buck' onto the public, MPs warn
Boris Johnson must not “outsource responsibility” to public on social distancing, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has warned.
“People around the country will no doubt be looking forward to the next of restrictions being lifted," said Layla Moran, a Lib Dem MP.
“But Boris Johnson must not pass the buck by outsourcing responsibility to the public on social distancing.
“The government should show leadership by publishing clear guidance on whether it is safe to hug relatives and friends, based on the latest scientific evidence. This should include details of the risks posed by new variants and long Covid, particularly to younger age groups who’ve not yet been vaccinated."
Some quarantine-free travel for Scotland from May 24
Scots will be able to travel to some countries overseas without having to quarantine on return, if proposals currently under consideration by the Scottish Government are confirmed.
It is believed the Scottish Government is currently considering operating a traffic light system similar to the one confirmed for England.
If Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirms adoption of the proposed system at her planned coronavirus briefing on Tuesday it is expected to come into force on May 24.
Under the system countries would be classified as green, amber and red and a review would take place every four weeks.
The Scottish Government said it would not comment on reports ahead of Tuesday's coronavirus briefing.
Pubs and hospitality bosses cautiously welcome indoor reopening from May 17
Pub and hospitality bosses have cautiously welcomed the indoor reopening of UK venues but warned that firms will continue to lose money until restrictions are completely eased.
It came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality firms will be able to open indoor areas from Monday May 17.
He said they will be able to reopen these areas in line with the original road map out of lockdown after case numbers continued to decline in recent weeks.
Groups of up to six people or two households will be able to wine and dine inside venues in the third road map phase, with restrictions set to be relaxed completely from June 21.
Here's what Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester's night-time economy adviser, has to say:
More visitors and 'greater freedoms' for England's care home residents
Care home residents in England will be able to have up to five named visitors, and will no longer have to self-isolate for 14 days after leaving the home to attend medical appointments.
The changes come into effect from next Monday, when the country enters the third stage of its road map for easing coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson said the number of visitors would increase from two to five per resident.
Guidance from the Cabinet Office says a maximum of two visitors can visit a resident at any one time.
And residents will be able to leave the care home for more trips without needing to isolate for 14 days on their return.
Mr Johnson told the Downing Street press conference: "We will increase the number of named visitors for those in care homes from two to five, and residents will have greater freedoms to leave their home without having to isolate on their return."
Theatres will lose money until social distancing is scrapped, warns charity
The reopening of theatres with social distancing and Covid protocols next week gives a "positive indication" that the industry can get back to normal soon, according to a leading arts charity.
However, Theatres Trust, which champions theatres in communities and supports community groups to save their local theatre, warned that it will still be impossible for many theatres to open their doors while there is a cap on capacity, and the theatres that do open with social distancing will be operating at a loss.
The Prime Minister has announced that cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls in England will be allowed to reopen from May 17 under step three on the road map out of lockdown, although there will be capacity limits on large events.
Jon Morgan, director of of Theatres Trust, said: "This is really good news, we've been keeping an eye on how the whole kind of road map was progressing.
"And even though this stage step three is not the most critical one for theatres, the fact that it is going ahead as planned, is a positive indication that we can have some hope that June 21, step four, the more crucial stage for us, may also go ahead.
Boris Johnson urges social distancing to continue until at least June 21
Boris Johnson has said people should continue to follow social distancing rules when not with family and friends.
He told a Downing Street news conference: "We only have to look at the very sad situation in other countries to see the lethal potential of this virus and we must continue to fight the spread of variants here in the UK.
"While we have no evidence yet to believe these variants are completely vaccine resistant, we must remain vigilant."
Whitty: All four lockdown easing tests met but Indian variant 'concerning'
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the four tests had been met which enabled the next stage of lockdown easing to proceed. He cautioned that it remains important to move forward "carefully and steadily".
Of the vaccine rollout, he said it is clear the process has been "very successful" and added that there is "very clear data from real-world settings" showing the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospital admissions and deaths.
Speaking about coronavirus variants, he said the variant first detected in India is "slightly concerning".
He said: "This is actually spreading from very small amounts but it is beginning to spread in certain parts of the country and we need to keep quite a close eye on this."
Boris Johnson evades questions on Scottish Independence question
Boris Johnson has avoided the question on when it would be appropriate to hold a second Scottish independence referendum now the pandemic is almost over.
But it is unlikely this thorny issue will go away as Nicola Sturgeon is determined the wheels will be put in motion sooner rather than later.
Chris Whitty unsure whether Indian variant will cause problems in autumn
The Prime Minister is asked about the rate of the Indian variant doubling in the last week.
Professor Whitty responded: "It has gone up very sharply, that's a reason to be very careful about it.
"With all the variants, things can come out of a blue sky, that happened with the Kent variant, that has happened to India.
"At this point in time, our view is that this is a highly transmissible variant, but it is less likely to be able to escape vaccination, but the data is less properly in there.
"We don't know whether this will cause significant problems in the autumn."
Patrick Vallance confident this the final lockdown
Boris Johnson is asked whether this will be England's last lockdown.
Patrick Vallance said that things are "pointing in the right direction" and vaccines are helping put things on a "smoother path".
Asked about the return of people to offices and city centres, the PM said he believes the "bustle" of city and town centres will come back, as he thinks people will want to see each other.
More details of rules post June 21 rules at the end of May
Boris Johnson is asked whether the guidance on working from home will change on 21 June.
The PM is also asked when he will start "shaking hands again".
But Mr Johnson was cautious in his response answering: "We're going to wait and give you more detail on exactly what we mean by end of social distancing later this month.
"I'm optimistic we will get much closer to normality, but people are going to want to exercise their own discretion and caution.
"You'll hear more about what the world will look like after 21 June by the end of this month."
Boris Johnson: No change for June 21 for lifting all social restrictions
Boris Johnson is asked whether the 21 June date - when all social restrictions are due to be lifted - could be moved forwards.
Mr Johnson is adamant that won't happen.
He said: "It's very important that we should proceed cautiously, but as I've said many times, hopefully irreversibly."
"The secret of the success so far is that we have been guided by the data and given time to see the effect of the roadmap on the data."
Boris Johnson confident one metre rule scrapped post June 21
The Prime Minister is asked who he is looking forward to hugging and whether socially distance will be scrapped post June 21 given earlier warnings from Sage.
Boris Johnson said: "I think whoever I hug will be done with caution and restraint, I am not going to act it out now."
He said "it is about basic common sense".
On social distancing, the PM said: "I look at the data very carefully it looks to me that we may be able to dispense with the one metre plus rule."
But this has not been decided yet he caveated, with more information to be released at the end of this month.
Case numbers of variants of concern 'relatively stable'
The Prime Minister is asked what proportion of recent daily infections are variants of concern aside from the Kent one.
Professor Whitty, pointing at the latest slide, said: "The proportions at the moment are less than five per cent, but that's changing the whole time.
"Most of them [variants of concern] are relatively stable.
"The one that is slightly concerning us is the one from India. That does appear to be increasing."
Vaccines are reducing hospital admissions and deaths
Risks of Covid-19 not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern
Distribution of cases in England since start of pandemic
Vaccines are reducing hospital admissions and deaths
A total of 35.5 million people in the UK have received a first dose
The Government's roadmap out of lockdown explained
Boris Johnson confirms new rules of indoor mixing and scrapping of facemasks in classrooms
Boris Johnson has confirmed that up to six people can meet indoors from next Monday onwards.
Groups of up to 30 people can now meet outside.
It comes as deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19 are at their lowest since last July.
The PM has also confirmed the following easing of restrictions from May 17
Hotels and B&bs can reopen.
Everyone can travel within Britain and stay overnight.
Face coverings will no longer be required in classrooms.
All remaining university students can return to in-person teaching where they are tested next week.
Care home residents can now have up to five named visitors.
Boris Johnson joined by Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance
Boris Johnson is holding a Downing Street news conference at 5pm.
He'll be joined by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance, and will be laying out how England will ease lockdown further next Monday.
You can follow all the latest updates here on our blog.
WHO marks Indian Variant 'as of concern'
The World Health Organisation has marked the Indian variant as "of concern", days after the UK also took this step.
The variant, B.220.127.116.11, is believed to be more transmissible and scientists believe it is one of the major drivers for the wave of coronavirus infections currently devastating India.
Marking it as a "variant of concern" means that there will be increased surveillance efforts at a global level to keep on track of the spread, WHO said. The variant has now spread to a number of other countries, including the UK.
Dr Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said evidence of the transmissibility of the variant was behind the decision.
But she added: "What this means for everybody at home is that any of the Sars-CoV-2 viruses circulating can infect you, and can spread, and so everything in that sense is of concern. So all of us at home, no matter where we live, no matter what viruses are circulating, we need to make sure that we take all the measures at hand to prevent ourselves from getting sick."
The latest UK cases, deaths and jab figures are in
A further four people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, Government data shows, bringing the UK total to 127,609.
As of 9am on Monday, a further 2,357 lab-confirmed cases in the UK had been recorded, bringing the total to 4,437,217.
The latest data up to May 9 shows that of the 53,328,845 jabs given in the UK so far, 35,472,295 were first doses - a rise of 100,626 on the previous day.
Some 17,856,550 were second doses, an increase of 187,171.
Hancock hails 'excellent' new PHE vaccine data
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has welcomed analysis showing two doses of the Pfizer vaccine can cut the risk of death and serious illness by an estimated 97 per cent and 93 per cent respectively.
Vaccine 'highly effective' against Covid death, new data shows
People who have a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine have approximately 80 per cent lower risk of death with Covid-19 compared with people who have not had been vaccinated, Public Health England (PHE) analysis shows.
Their data showed that Covid-19 cases who had been given a single dose of either the Pfizer or the AstraZeneca vaccines had similar levels of protection against mortality - at 44 per cent and 55 per cent respectively, compared with unvaccinated cases.
Protection against mortality from the Pfizer vaccine was even higher (around 69 per cent) for cases who had a second dose at least seven days before their positive test. Combined with other data, two doses of Pfizer equate to 97 per cent protection from death, PHE said.
PHE said a separate report shows that people aged over 80 who have two doses of the Pfizer vaccine have their risk of Covid hospital admission reduced by around 93 per cent.
"This analysis gives us even more reassurance that the vaccine is highly effective in protecting adults against death and hospitalisation from Covid-19," Dr Mary Ramsay, of PHE, said.
"It is vital to get both doses of your vaccine when you are offered it."
Global Covid wave 'to hold back Britain's recovery'
Britain’s economy will rebound more slowly this year than the Bank of England expects because of the Covid wave sweeping through India and much of the globe, analysists say.
Weaker worldwide growth will hold back the UK's open and trade-dependent economy, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) predicts.
Travel restrictions will prove painful and families will be more cautious about spending their lockdown savings or returning to their old financial habits, the economists warn.
So NIESR expects the economy to grow by 5.7 per cent this year and 4.5 per cent next year - firmly below the Bank of England’s much stronger forecasts - and the economy will only get back to its pre-Covid size next year.
Tim Wallace has more on this story.
More surge testing rolled out after South African variants
Surge testing is to be deployed in another part of London after a "small number" of South African variant cases were discovered.
Everyone aged 16 and over in North Kensington is urged to come forward for a PCR test, whether or not they have symptoms, council and NHS officials said.
The confirmed cases self-isolated as required and their contacts have been identified, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
There are "no links" with the South African variant cases found in Ruislip, south London, last week - which prompted more surge testing, along with Bolton.
What to expect from Boris Johnson's roadmap reveal today
In a little over an hour, Boris Johnson is set to announce that people in England can take a step closer to normality from next week.
More indoor mixing is on the cards and hugging loved ones will be permitted once again, as hospital admissions and new cases have dipped to the low levels seen last summer.
Ahead of the reveal, Max Stephens has run through what we can expect from May 17 onwards and what questions still need answering for June 21 'Freedom Day'.
Spain looks to reign in partygoers shouting 'freedom' as lockdown lifts
Spanish government ministers have admitted that it may be necessary to broaden the legal powers of local governments after the end of a nationwide state of emergency on Saturday led to wild partying across the country, James Badcock reports from Madrid.
Fernando Grande-Marlaska, the interior minister, said the government would be “flexible” in its approach to changing the laws to allow regional governments to introduce measures such as curfews and limits on gatherings to combat Covid-19.
But the Left-wing government of Pedro Sánchez has come under fire for failing to foresee the scenes that took place in cities across Spain when the state of emergency elapsed at midnight on Saturday.
In Madrid crowds of thousands swarmed on a balmy night to toast shouting "Freedom!" after more than six months under a curfew set at midnight and, most recently, at 11pm.
Groups of young people ditched face masks and social distancing and police officers made 450 interventions to disperse groups, according to Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida.
Indian variant unlikely to slow UK’s exit from lockdown
The Indian coronavirus variant is unlikely to slow down the UK’s release from lockdown because the less dangerous version is predominantly spreading in Britain, experts have said.
Prof Sharon Peacock, director of Cog-UK, the group in charge of monitoring variants, said that the UK was in a far better position to fight the mutated virus because of the vaccination programme and the current low level of virus.
At a briefing dealing with the Indian variant, Prof Peacock said there was currently no evidence that either version of the mutated virus is causing more severe disease.
Dozens of suspected Covid-19 corpses found on Ganges banks
As India's coronavirus crisis shows no sign of abating, dozens of bodies believed to be Covid-19 victims have washed up on the banks of the Ganges river.
The pandemic has been spreading fast into India's vast rural hinterland, overwhelming local health facilities as well as crematoriums and cemeteries.
Local official Ashok Kumar said that about 40 corpses washed up in Buxar district near the border between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of India's poorest states.
"We have directed concerned officials to dispose of all bodies, to either bury or cremate them," Mr Kumar told the AFP news agency. Some media reports said the number of corpses could be as high as 100.
Duchess wants to 'break the stigma' of mental health in pandemic
The Duchess of Cambridge has spoken about her wish to "break the stigma" around mental health as she spoke to a student about how the pandemic was affecting young people.
The Cambridges are marking Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday.
In a YouTube video, the Duchess met Niaz Maleknia, whose photograph of her student daughter Romy was selected for the final 100 pictures of the duchess' Hold Still project to document life during lockdown.
After Romy said she had struggled during the pandemic, the Duchess replied: "Absolutely, because everyone's experienced something together in a way, so there's no shame in talking about it.
"And that's what we've been really keen to do, is break that stigma and try to start conversations around mental health which is great to hear that people are being a lot more open about it."
The latest vaccination figures for England are in
A total of 44,683,075 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and May 9, according to the latest data.
This includes first and second doses, and is a rise of 233,651 on the previous day.
NHS England said 29,651,554 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 73,338 on the previous day, while 15,031,521 were a second dose, an increase of 160,313.
Here's how that breaks down by region between December 8 and May 9:
London: 5,539,730 total jabs - 3,745,073 first doses and 1,794,657 second doses
Midlands: 8,503,363 in total - 5,668,212 first and 2,835,151 second doses,
East of England: 5,336,417 in total - 3,549,294 first and 1,787,123 second doses
North East and Yorkshire: 7,094,935 total - 4,670,826 first and 2,424,109 second doses
North West: 5,747,235 total - 3,751,753 first and 1,995,482 second doses
South East: 7,291,428 total - 4,854,583 first and 2,436,845 second doses
South West: 4,930,740 total - 3,218,189 first and 1,712,551 second doses
UK in 'very good position' against coronavirus variants
The UK is in a "very good position" against coronavirus variants which are emerging across the world, a leading expert has said.
Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), said that based on current evidence there is nothing to suggest the Indian variant causes more severe disease than the Kent variant which is dominant in the UK.
Professor Peacock said: "Public Health England have said that they've put an assessment of moderate confidence of increased transmissibility based on the mutation profile and supported by the evidence that actually this does appear to compete with our current circulating variant, the Kent variant, and modelling on growth estimate suggesting that transmissibility is at least equal to B.1.1.7."
She added: "I think that, for me, looking at the overall landscape, I'm still very delighted that vaccines are working, that whatever is out there, vaccines are working, and disease rates are falling, so we're in a very good position. As scientists we just have to keep our eye on this so that we just maintain that trajectory."
Professor Peacock's comments come after PHE upgraded the Indian B.1.617.2 strain to a variant of concern last week.
'No evidence' that Pfizer jabs need adapting for variants
German firm BioNTech said Monday that the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer does not require any modifications at the moment to protect against variants of the virus.
"To date, there is no evidence that an adaptation of BioNTech's current Covid-19 vaccine against key identified emerging variants is necessary," the company said in a statement.
However, in preparations for a need at some point to make tweaks to its current vaccine, the company said it began tests in March on a "modified, variant-specific version" of its jabs.
"The aim of this study is to explore the regulatory pathway that BioNTech and Pfizer would pursue if SARS-CoV-2 were to change enough to require an updated vaccine," it said.
An assessment is ongoing on the impact of a possible third dose in boosting immunity and protecting against variants.
What's happened so far today?
Good afternoon and thanks for joining us here on the live blog. Let's get up to speed with coronavirus developments this lunchtime:
The UK's four chief medical officers have lowered the Covid alert level from 4 to 3 for the first time since September
Boris Johnson will announce the next easing of lockdown restrictions at 5PM, as Prof Sir John Bell, Oxford regius professor of medicine, says we're in a "very strong position" to "try and get back to normal"
Health minister Nadine Dorries said "I don't think you can cautiously cuddle", after she was pressed on what the term means ahead of hugging rules being loosened
The World Health Organization's special envoy for Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro stressed "we can't go on mothballing ourselves forever" but urged people to keep wearing face coverings and socially distance
German firm BioNTech said Monday that the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer does not require any modifications at the moment to protect against variants of the virus
Two thirds of Britons believe the UK should be sharing vaccines with poorer nations to halt the pandemic and reduce the risks of new strains emerging, new polling suggests.
'Seize this historic moment, Boris, and scrap social distancing'
The success of the vaccines allows the Prime Minister to return to his freedom-loving instincts, writes Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs.
As Parliament returns, with his personal authority enhanced, the Prime Minister faces a choice. With financial support schemes soon winding down, as they cannot go on forever, removing social distancing is crucial to the survival of many sectors of our economy such as hospitality, that simply cannot make any money and pay wages if it remains in place. There needs to be early confirmation that social distancing will be completely scrapped from June 21 so that businesses can plan to fully reopen and ensure that we are truly on the “one way road to freedom” that the Prime Minister promised.
Malaysia declares nationwide lockdown as Covid cases spike
Malaysia has become the latest South Asian nation to impose a fresh nationwide lockdown, as a surge of coronavirus cases and infectious variants threaten its health system.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said all inter-state and inter-district travel will be banned, along with social gatherings. Educational institutions will be shut but some economic sectors can stay open.
"Malaysia is facing a third wave of Covid-19 that could trigger a national crisis," Mr Muhyiddin said in a statement, adding that the lockdown would last until June 7.
The rise of infectious variants make the lockdown necessary, he said. Malaysia recorded 3,807 new cases on Monday, and has a total of 444,484 cases and 1,700 deaths.
Are we holding back on the Covid alert level?
Britain's Covid threat level is downgraded from 4 to 3 by England's chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and his opposite numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But Sarah Knapton, our science editor, feels they could have gone further...
Thousands dying at home in 'traumatic final days' without proper palliative care
Nearly 15,000 people are likely to have died painful and undignified deaths at home when hospitals were closed to them last year, experts have revealed.
A major new report warns of a palliative care crisis brought on by the pandemic, which has seen a huge shift in the number of people dying outside of hospital without the necessary support.
Cancer patients and those with severe heart disease are among those who have been left to manage their final days without expert care, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The organisation warns on Monday that the shortcomings are likely to become the “new normal” due to the NHS backlog built up since the start of the crisis.
More on this story from Henry Bodkin.
'Day of freedom' in Ireland as lockdown loosens
Irish premier Leo Varadkar has hailed a "day of freedom" as businesses across the country reopen and Ireland takes another step out of lockdown.
This week around 12,000 businesses will reopen their doors after months of pandemic restrictions, with up to 100,000 going back to work.
Mr Varadkar said the government will continue to support businesses where necessary, but that financial supports will be "phased out over time".
He said: "I think today is a day of freedom. People can travel freely anywhere on the island, we can meet our friends and family outdoors, indoors if you're vaccinated."
Breaking: UK lowers Covid alert level
The four UK chief medical officers have moved the Covid-19 alert level from level 4 to level 3 for the first time since September, meaning the "epidemic is in general circulation".
"Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK chief medical officers and NHS England national medical director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3," the statement said.
"Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and Covid hospital pressures have fallen consistently.
"However Covid is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally.
"It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it."
Poland shortens time between vaccine doses
Over to Poland now, where the gap between doses for Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca Covid-19 jabs will be shortened, a Polish government minister has announced.
The gap between doses for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be shortened to 35 days from 42 days, Michal Dworczyk told a news conference. The gap for AstraZeneca will be shortened from 84 days to 35 days.
Poland has seen more than 2,830,000 cases and 70,000 deaths linked to Covid since the pandemic began.
Exclusive: 'Horrific' impact of lockdown 3.0 on children revealed
The “horrific” impact of the third national lockdown has been laid bare in a major new study, Jeremy Wilson reports.
It found that 84 per cent of schools have identified a decline in children’s physical fitness and two thirds thought that pupils had gained excessive weight.
The survey was commissioned by the School’s Active Movement, and is the largest analysis of how the winter lockdown impacted young people.
It also records alarming drops in pupil resilience, activity levels, social interaction and fundamental movement skills.
Fake cheers, empty seats: welcome to the Covid-era Olympics
Robotic cheers, an empty stadium and the sound of pounding feet: this isn't dystopia, rather the Covid-era Tokyo Olympics, which Japan seems determined to hold as the virus surges.
An athletics test event with 400 competitors on Sunday brought home the reality of hosting an Olympics during the pandemic, with athletes competing in a muted atmosphere and excitement hard to muster.
Foot-strikes echoed around Tokyo's 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium during Sunday's track events, with recorded crowd noises reaching a crescendo as the runners approached the finish. It was one of a series of test events ahead of this summer's games.
A fanfare of music greeted the end of the race, before the runners quickly departed down the tunnel, leaving a smattering of media and officials in the otherwise empty stadium.
"It's weird running in a stadium with no fans," US sprinter Justin Gatlin said after winning the men's 100m. "It feels almost like a time trial or kind of like an intra-squad meet."
Should we stay or should we go now?
Britain is still facing more than a month of curbs on social freedoms, even though 50million vaccine doses have been administered and death rates are far lower than the five-year average.
So is this the right time to lift all restrictions? Our Science Editor Sarah Knapton weighs up the arguments for and against returning to normality now.
International coronavirus trial to restart with focus on immune responses
The World Health Organization's flagship Solidarity trial is set to test a new set of potential coronavirus treatments in dozens of countries, with the aim of tempering the raging immune responses that can worsen severe disease, writes Sarah Newey.
Three drugs that dampen inflammation, an approach that has already shown promise in people hospitalised with Covid-19 and in smaller clinical trials, will be tested in the randomised control trial.
When the WHO launched Solidarity in March 2020, the study was focused on antiviral drugs. By October, the trial had enrolled more than 11,000 participants hospitalised with Covid-19 in 30 countries.
But it also found that none of the four drugs that it tested (remdesivir, interferon, the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, and a combination of HIV drugs called lopinavir and ritonavir) saved lives or shortened hospital stays.
It is hoped that the new round of three drugs - infliximab, used to treat autoimmune diseases; a cancer drug called imatinib; and artesunate, an anti-malaria drug - may rein in immune responses that can contribute to severe forms of Covid-19.
Face masks could become a seasonal accessory, says Dr Fauci
America's leading infectious disease expert has suggested that face masks could become a seasonal accessory to help stem the spread of respiratory illnesses like flu during winter months, writes Sarah Newey.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the chief medical adviser to the White House pointed out that the public has grown accustomed to wearing masks and added that quantifiable data shows that its use has helped stem the spread of other viruses.
“We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against covid-19,” Dr Fauci said.
He added that it is “conceivable” that during seasonal periods where respiratory-borne viruses such as the flu are prevalent, people might decide in the next year or two to wear masks to diminish the possibility of either spreading or catching these diseases.
Two thirds of Britons believe UK must share vaccines with poorer countries now, poll suggests
Two thirds of Britons believe the UK should be sharing vaccines with poorer nations to halt the pandemic and reduce the risks of new strains emerging, new polling suggests, Sarah Newey reports.
According to a survey commissioned by the ONE Campaign, Save the Children, Wellcome Trust, and Global Citizen, 67 per cent of Britons agree that "it is important for the UK to share COVID-19 vaccines with other countries now, to prevent new strains emerging".
Meanwhile, 64 per cent agree that "the UK vaccination rollout could be jeopardised if a new, vaccine resistant variant develops elsewhere in the world", and three quarters say the pandemic will not be over until it has been quelled everywhere.
"The public gets that sharing doses now isn’t just generous, it’s in our own interests," said Romilly Greenhill, UK Director of ONE.
"The pandemic doesn’t end with a vaccine, it ends when everyone, in every country, gets the vaccine.
"The British public clearly support the Government going much further and faster in sharing doses with other countries. As host to G7 leaders in six weeks’ time, the UK has a major opportunity to galvanise a collective commitment to start sharing vaccines with Covax immediately."
It comes amid escalating conversations about how best to ensure vaccines are distributed across the globe. Last week the United States government said it supported the idea of waiving intellectual property rights for vaccines, a move advocates say would help bolster manufacturing.
But President Biden's administration came under fire from European leaders over the weekend - who said that America sharing it's stockpile of vaccines would have a bigger impact.
China to set up 'separation line' on Everest peak
China will set up a "separation line" on the peak of Mount Everest to avoid possible Covid-19 infections by climbers from virus-hit Nepal, state media reported, after dozens were taken ill from the summit's base camp.
While the virus first emerged in China in late 2019, it has largely been brought under control in the country through a series of strict lockdowns and border closures.
More than 30 sick climbers were evacuated from base camp on the Nepalese side of the world's highest peak in recent weeks as Nepal faces a deadly second wave, raising fears that the virus might ruin a bumper climbing season.
Mount Everest straddles the China-Nepal border, with the north slope belonging to China.
Tibetan authorities told reporters at a press conference they would take the "most stringent epidemic prevention measures" to avoid contact between climbers on the north and south slopes or at the top, reported the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday.
First recorded Vietnamese Covid death
A Vietnamese woman died from Covid-19 in Laos on Sunday, according to state-run media, marking the first death from the disease in the country.
Reclusive, landlocked Laos had appeared to escape the brunt of the pandemic in 2020, but a community outbreak uncovered last month has sent the number of cases soaring - from 49 in early April to 1,302 in less than a month.
Authorities confirmed Sunday that a 53-year-old Vietnamese woman had died from Covid-19, according to state-run news outlet Vientiane Times - the first fatality from the disease recorded in the country.
The woman worked at a karaoke club in the capital Vientiane and had underlying health issues - such as diabetes - which meant her condition deteriorated quickly, said the report.
The community outbreak in mid-April was traced to a Laotian national who came into contact with Thais, as well as to workers returning from neighbouring Thailand - which is currently undergoing its third wave.
Vientiane promptly went into a snap lockdown, barring residents from leaving their homes except for essentials and medical help, and travel was prohibited between the capital and other provinces.
Take next step responsibly, urges Spi-M member
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, said people should "act responsibly" when restrictions are lifted.
The member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group said more mixing, including hugging, is a good thing for people's mental wellbeing but warned that the pandemic is not yet over.
He told BBC Breakfast: "I think it's actually very important for our mental health and wellbeing that we can hug our loved ones, but to me the key message is, if and when this comes in, we need to remember that the pandemic hasn't gone away.
"We are still a few steps away from normality, so it's really great that we can hug our loved ones, but what we need to remember is we need to be a little bit careful. So, again, do it responsibly - if people have symptoms, if you have particularly vulnerable relatives, maybe do this with caution.
"We have really, really high levels of vaccination but of course vaccines are not 100% protective so we need to be a little bit careful.
"But I think it's a good step in the right direction and if we look at the figures ... the number of people getting infected, the number of people going into hospital are at really, really low levels, back to where we were in August, which is pretty much the lowest time at any point in the pandemic.
"So it's a good step but I think we need to do this a little bit cautiously."
Continue to wear face masks and social distance, WHO expert says
Dr David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, said he would urge people to maintain social distancing and keep using face masks.
He told Sky News: "On the one hand we've got a dangerous virus, on the other hand we must get on with life because it just can't go on with the restrictions that people have had up till now.
"Finding that middle path, how to live with this virus's constant threat, is key.
"If I were able to talk to everybody personally over the coming weeks, I would say: You must restart life and everybody wants you to do that, but please be really careful, maintain that physical distance of between one metre and two metres, especially indoors, and don't forget to wear your face masks because that really can give extra protection.
"It's these simple things, but all done together that will really make the difference as to whether or not future spikes are huge or future spikes are small and easily contained."
He added: "There is no security with this virus; it is constantly capable of changing, and as it changes it has the ability, we believe - and not demonstrated so far - but it could develop the ability to be able to evade the protection that's been given to us by these wonderful vaccines.
"But we deal with that when it comes and we deal with it by being on the alert, and by being able to pick up new clusters of disease very fast, and then to deal with them very fast."
'We can't go on mothballing ourselves forever', says WHO special envoy
One health expert said people "can't go on mothballing ourselves forever".
But Dr David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, told Sky News: "I'm pleased with the reality that people are being quite cautious, perhaps even a little bit afraid, of what this virus might bring.
"But I think, at the same time, we've got to get on with life, and we can't go on mothballing ourselves forever.
"So, finding a way to restart, despite this fear, is what I think we will have to do.
"We must maintain a very vigilant posture in the coming months because there will no doubt be variants appearing.
"But, at the same time, we have to get on with life so we have to just be on the lookout for new spikes of disease and deal with them when they come."
First Covid vaccine nurse proposes 'National Thank You Day'
The nurse who gave the first ever Covid-19 vaccination has proposed that a National Thank You Day should take place on July 4.
May Parsons, a matron at University Hospital Coventry, said: "Basically, I think we just do not say thank you enough."
On December 8 2020, she became the first person in the world to administer a coronavirus vaccination to a patient outside clinical trials.
She told BBC Breakfast: "I think it is important that we show appreciation to our colleagues who have turned up and stopped whatever they are doing just to help us.
"I think it is quite important and this is something I am passionate about as well."
'I don't think you can cautiously cuddle'
Health minister Nadine Dorries was asked what "cautious cuddling" means and, with a laugh, she told BBC Breakfast: "I don't think you can cautiously cuddle.
"The Prime Minister's going to make the announcement this afternoon. I urge everyone to listen to him. He's going to set out the next steps."
Ms Dorries told the programme: "We do have variants of concern on one hand, on the other hand we have the capacity to lateral flow twice test everybody in the UK, we have the capacity to surge test in localised areas where we see those variants of concern and where we know problems may be rising.
"We have that in our armoury now which we never had before, but we still need to be cautious. We're incredibly aware that everybody wants to get together, that people want to hug each other, that people want to entertain in their own homes."
Getting vaccines to the world 'tactically' important, says Oxford jab chief
Professor Sir John Bell told Good Morning Britain that it was "tactically" important to get vaccines to the rest of the world at a quicker pace.
Asked about whether new variants of the virus which causes Covid-19 could derail the progress made in the UK, the Oxford University Regius professor of medicine said: "Tactically the most important thing for us to do is to make sure that other bits of the world get vaccines faster - the state of global vaccination is pretty lamentable at the moment and I think we need to really push to help that happen much more effectively.
"Because, in the end, we're vulnerable, not because we haven't vaccinated our population, but if more variants come onshore from overseas - which they will naturally as people start to travel - we're potentially going to be in trouble and that's why we have a real interest in making sure everyone else is vaccinated.
"That plus the humanitarian importance of making sure that people don't die unnecessarily."
PM urged to scrap all social distancing from June 21
The Prime Minister is facing pressure from a group of lockdown-sceptic Conservative MPs who are calling on him to make new commitments on reopening.
Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs chairman Mark Harper wants Boris Johnson to pledge all social distancing measures will be lifted from June 21 - stage four of the reopening roadmap.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Harper states: “There needs to be early confirmation that social distancing will be completely scrapped from 21 June so that businesses can plan to fully reopen and ensure that we are truly on the 'one way road to freedom' that the Prime Minister promised.”
The reopening of England from Covid-19 lockdown has happened at the pace Mr Johnson originally set out when his roadmap was revealed in February.
Vaccine rollout puts UK in 'very strong position'
Professor Sir John Bell said that data from vaccination programmes from the UK, Israel and the US shows a "rather rapid fall-off" in cases of disease, hospital admissions and deaths after rising numbers of people were given their first dose of vaccine.
"There's some very interesting data that shows that even from a single dose of vaccine, when you move from where the US was a couple of weeks ago, which was about 43% of people having a single dose through where we were with 51% - we're now higher than that to Israel, which was 58%.
"You see a rather rapid fall-off in cases of disease, but also hospitalisations and deaths, and it's a really very striking fall in all those things.
"I do think that we're in a very strong position to go forward now with fewer restrictions and try and get back to normal."
No comment from minister on whether under-40s will have different rules
Health minister Nadine Dorries said hugs and physical contact are "massively important", telling Sky News: "I think it's what most people have missed, that intimate contact with family and friends, and entertaining, having people in your own house, meeting outdoors."
She did not comment on whether people under 40 would have to follow different rules, stating the Prime Minister will be holding a press conference later on Monday.
She told the broadcaster: "It does look as though the road map is on course, but we do so with caution, ensuring that the data is in place and looking forward to - and with excitement to - the fact that we will able to hug our family and friends soon.
"So, caution balanced with optimism, I think, is the way forward."
Getting back to normal could happen faster, suggest Oxford professor
Professor Sir John Bell said the nation was in a "very strong position" to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to "try and get back to normal".
Oxford University's regius professor of medicine told Good Morning Britain the prospect of people being able to hug their loved ones again was "great".
Asked about the next phase of the Government's road map - which will allow more mixing indoors - he said: "I think we'll still probably go steady but perhaps a bit faster, I'll be interested to see what the Government announces.
"I'm feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at the moment."
Hugging again 'looking extremely positive'
Health minister Nadine Dorries said that the data was "looking extremely positive" when asked if people in England will soon be allowed to hug again.
"Later on today, the Prime Minister will be setting out, in much more detail, the lifting of the restrictions and the next stage of the road map," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"But the data is looking extremely positive."
Today's front page
Here is your Daily Telegraph on Monday, May 10.
Mayor prepares to unveil Let's Do London
Sadiq Khan will commence his second term as Mayor of London by announcing the "biggest domestic tourism campaign the capital has ever seen".
He will unveil the Let's Do London campaign as an immediate priority.
The £7 million-plus programme - developed and funded in partnership with the city's hospitality, culture, and retail industries - is aimed at bringing in a wealth of domestic tourism to help London's economy get back on its feet as Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
The features will range from celebrations of London's world-class food offerings, to a variety of new public art installations - including a redesign of Transport for London's iconic Hockney Circus roundel in a special artwork from David Hockney.
In summer, the city's museums, galleries and cultural and grassroots music venues will have extended opening hours, while major creative festivals such as London Fashion Week will return to the capital in autumn.
Calls for nationwide lockdown in India
Calls are growing for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The health ministry reported 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths - off a little from recent peaks.
India's tally of infections now stands at 22.66 million, with 246,116 deaths.
As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India's actual figures could be far higher than reported.
The 1.47 million samples tested on Sunday for Covid were this month's lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
Hugs and indoor dining set to return
Hugs with family and friends and indoor socialising are expected to be allowed from next week as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces further easing of coronavirus restrictions in England.
The next stage of the roadmap out of lockdown is expected to go ahead as planned in a week's time, with ministers to hold a meeting this morning to agree on the next set of measures.
From May 17, most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.
Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggesting physical contact between friends and family will be allowed.
Indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes are expected to reopen.
Other measures include allowing up to 30 people to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals.
The Government said the latest data suggested that easing restrictions from May 17 is unlikely to risk a resurgence in infections.
Today's top stories
Boris Johnson will on Monday formally sign off the return of indoor socialising and dining from May 17, with new data expected to be released which underscores the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
Free lateral flow tests may not be approved for green list holidaymakers to use pre-departure amid concerns about their effectiveness.
The European Commission will not renew its order of AstraZeneca vaccines when it expires this summer, amid legal disputes over supply issues and a pivot towards the Pfizer jab.
Britain is still facing more than a month of curbs on social freedoms, even though 50 million vaccine doses have been administered and death rates are far lower than the five-year average. So is it now time to lift all restrictions?
The world’s fight against Covid-19 is under threat as countries push up export barriers amid fears that vaccine nationalism could haunt the global trade system for months to come.
Britons catching Covid-19 after being vaccinated get a far milder form of the disease, according to data from the King’s College symptoms tracker app.