Record daily deaths as Sir Patrick Vallance warns hospitals are like 'war zones'

Max Stephens
·83-min read

Watch: Vallance - some hospitals are like a war zone

A more infectious strain of the virus has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals with health workers and bed occupancy stretched to breaking point.  
A more infectious strain of the virus has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals with health workers and bed occupancy stretched to breaking point.
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Britain has suffered its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began with the virus claiming 1,820 lives and surpassing yesterday's record of 1,610.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a sombre response to the latest figures warning "there will be more to come".

It comes after the Government's chief scientific adviser said that several hospitals in the UK now resemble a "war zone" due to the influx of Covid-19 patients in the second wave of the virus.

A more infectious variant of the virus has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals with health workers and bed occupancy stretched to breaking point.

"When you go into a hospital, this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with," Sir Patrick Vallance told Sky News.

Latest figures reveal that the total number of people given their first doses in Great Britain stands at nearly 4.5 million.

However, Vallance cautioned that vaccines are not doing enough "heavy lifting" at the moment and case rates need to drop further before the Government can think of easing restrictions.

07:01 PM

Roundup of today's top stories

Here is your evening roundup of today's top stories:

06:45 PM

UK and French governments must work together to save Eurostar, says MP

The UK and French governments must make a joint commitment to support the struggling Eurostar, the chairman of the Transport Select Committee has said.

Tory MP Huw Merriman said the cross-Channel train operator plays a vital role in enabling low-carbon international travel.

Eurostar has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with a 95 per cent fall in passenger numbers.It is running just one daily train in each direction between London and Paris, and between London and Amsterdam via Brussels.

The firm, which operated more than 50 daily services before the pandemic, revealed in November it is "fighting for its survival".

Eurostar is 55% owned by French state rail company SNCF. The UK Government sold its stake to private firms for £757 million in 2015.

06:42 PM

UK records deadliest day of Covid-19 pandemic

The UK has recorded its deadliest day in the coronavirus pandemic, as the Government's chief scientific adviser warned parts of the NHS were like a "war zone".

Official figures showed that January 12 saw the highest number of deaths recorded on a single day - with 1,110 Covid-19 fatalities, eclipsing the previous peak of 1,073 on April 8, 2020.

A record 1,820 further deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 were reported as of Wednesday, although there is a time lag between a patient dying and appearing in the statistics.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the figures were "appalling" and warned "there will be more to come because what we're seeing is the result of the wave of the new variant that we saw just before Christmas on December 18, or thereabouts".

The grim statistics appeared as chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance gave a stark warning about the strain the pandemic was putting on hospitals.

06:34 PM

France reports 26,784 new Covid-19 cases -highest since November

The French health ministry reported 26,784 new confirmed Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, up from 23,608 on Tuesday and 23,852 last Wednesday.

Wednesday's tally was the highest since the 28,383 registered on November 18, during France's second lockdown in November.

Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart - Cases default

06:25 PM

Calls for police to be vaccinated sooner as officer hospitalised with Covid-19

An officer who has been hospitalised with Covid-19 after attending a protest highlights the need for police to receive priority vaccines, his force has said.

A Dorset Police officer present at an anti-lockdown rally in Bournemouth is being treated for a suspected blood clot on his lung after becoming unwell on Tuesday night.

Dorset Police Federation said they are supporting his family and the group's chair Anna Harvey said his hospitalisation is "a stark reminder of the extra risks our officers are facing", adding the Government are to blame for failing to prioritise police in the vaccine rollout.

"It saddens me to say that there is every chance this officer would not be in this position if police officers had been prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine," she said.

"Warm words about how brave police officers are from the Government are not enough. Police officers are being put at risk."

06:19 PM

Brazil health institute expects supplies for 11 million more CoronaVac doses by Feb 10

Brazilian public health institute Butantan expects supplies for 11 million additional doses of China's CoronaVac vaccine by Feb. 10, its director said on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.

Butantan's director, Dimas Covas, said about 5,400 litres of active ingredients, enough to fill and finish some 5.4 million doses, would arrive this month and the remaining supplies would arrive by February 10.

Coronavirus Brazil Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Brazil Spotlight Chart - Cases default

06:11 PM

'Absolutely crazy' to allow new virus variants into UK, says Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it "would absolutely crazy" to allow the new variants of the virus to enter the UK while the vaccine is being rolled out because of lax border controls.

From Downing Street he told the media: "The rules now are designed to stop people coming back into this country and bringing infection back into the country while we're getting the vaccination rolled out.

"I think it would absolutely crazy to be vaccinating our country as successfully as we are, and don't forget we're still doing more than any other country in Europe.

"It would be crazy to be doing that huge national effort while simultaneously allowing the virus or new variants of the virus to be reimported back into our country."

06:03 PM

London mayor took advantage of pandemic to introduce 'unlawful' road closures and cycle lanes, judge finds

The Mayor of London “took advantage of the pandemic” to “push through” more cycle lanes and road closures to make the capital car-free, the High Court has ruled.

In an embarrassing defeat for Sadiq Khan, two black cab drivers’ organisations have proven the mayor’s schemes to promote walking and cycling were “seriously flawed” and “not a rational response” to the issues created by Covid-19.

In her judgment, Mrs Justice Lang ordered Mr Khan and Transport for London (TfL) to “reconsider” and “substantially amend” its Streetspace policy and a ban on taxis on a bus-only road because “it was both unfair and irrational to introduce such extreme measures”.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) and United Trade Action Group (UTAG) launched the legal action after being banned from a section of the A10 in Bishopsgate, in the City of London, still open to buses.

Steve Bird has the full story here

05:56 PM

Latest coronavirus developments from around the world

  • The Netherlands proposed the first nationwide curfew since World War Two and a ban on flights from South Africa and Britain in its toughest moves yet to limit the spread of coronavirus.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls for an inquiry into the Government's handling of the pandemic as the country's death toll neared 100,000 and Sir Patrick Vallance warned some hospitals resembled war zones.

  • Italy is considering legal action against Pfizer after the U.S. drugmaker announced a further cut in coronavirus vaccine deliveries, the country's Covid-19 special commissioner said.

  • Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that herd immunity against Covid-19 in the country could be reached as early as the first half of this year, according to the RIA news agency.

05:47 PM

PM expects politicians to follow Covid rules amid Senedd drinking row

Prime Minister Boris Johnson expects politicians to go "above and beyond" in following the Covid-19 restrictions amid reports Senedd members had been seen drinking during a pub alcohol ban, his press secretary has said.

Former Welsh Government minister Alun Davies allegedly consumed alcohol with Welsh Conservatives leader Paul Davies, chief whip Darren Millar and the party's chief of staff Paul Smith in a Senedd tea room.

The incident happened on December 8, four days after a ban on the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol on licensed premises came into force, although off-licences were allowed to sell alcohol until 10pm.

All four men deny breaking Covid-19 rules and say they observed social distancing while meeting to discuss working together on a proposed bill, and consumed alcohol not bought from parliamentary premises.

The Prime Minister's press secretary Allegra Stratton said as far as she knew Mr Johnson had not spoken to Mr Davies.

05:42 PM

Comment: As parents’ stress levels rise, why it’s time to ease up on home schooling

With no end in sight for school closures, it’s time for parents to prioritise their children’s mental health over their academic achievement, writes Tanith Carey.

When schools first closed 10 months ago, few people could have anticipated the heartache that would follow when parents switched roles to becoming their children’s teachers (while also trying to work).

So the news this week that schools could remain closed until after Easter hasn’t just sent parents’ spirits sinking; it’s also sent their blood pressure rising.

This week, a study from Oxford University found levels of stress and anxiety among parents have continued to increase as the pandemic has worn on. The research, based on responses up until the end of December, cited rows and their children’s behaviour as some of the main reasons.

Indeed, as author of Taming the Tiger Parent, it’s clear that the real damage to our children is not whether they fall behind with fractions or long division, it is from the emotional pain a child feels when they feel like they are disappointing their parents.

And it is this fall-out, which educational psychologists have long recognised can be internalised by children as negative self-talk, which many believe will be more difficult to fix.

05:34 PM

Madrid begins mass testing young people for Covid-19

Health authorities in Madrid began mass testing hundreds of young people for Covid-19 at universities on Wednesday to detect asymptomatic carriers in one of the groups with the highest rates of transmission.

With the country in the grip of a third wave of infection, authorities called on young people to attend makeshift medical centres at nine university campuses to take a rapid antigen test.

Jesus Jimenez, 21, whose grandmother died of coronavirus in a nursing home, took a test at the Rey Juan Carlos University in Mostoles, a satellite town southwest of Madrid.

"Everything is looking dark. I'm afraid I'll find myself in the same situation as I was in the first and second waves," he said, after receiving a negative result.

University students In Madrid receive rapid Covid-19 Test ahead of return - Pablo Blasquez Dominguez
University students In Madrid receive rapid Covid-19 Test ahead of return - Pablo Blasquez Dominguez

05:24 PM

IT loophole lets public book vaccine appointments

Members of the public who are not yet eligible for a Covid-19 vaccination have been able to book appointments in state-run facilities to get the vaccine by using a loophole in the booking system, London's Evening Standard has reported.

Britain has vaccinated more than 4.6 million people against the disease so far, working through a strict priority list starting with the elderly, vulnerable and frontline workers.

However, people who do not fall into those categories have been able to book appointments at several vaccinations centres by using direct links to the booking system shared through private messaging and social media, the paper reported.

Their investigation found it was possible to book a vaccine appointment for the following day at the Westfield Vaccination Centre in east London, along with another appointment for the second dose.

The booking, which was subsequently cancelled by the newspaper, required only basic personal information to be provided, they said.

05:15 PM

'Put my name on it': Jose Mourinho throws weight behind Telegraph's 'Keep Kids Active in Lockdown' campaign

Jose Mourinho has added his name to the list of more than 100 sporting professionals and personalities to endorse the Telegraph’s ‘Keep Kids Active in Lockdown’ campaign, which also now includes England international Tyrone Mings.

Tottenham head coach Mourinho, one of the most famous football managers in the world, and Mings have joined the likes of Lord Coe, Sir Mo Farah, Denise Lewis and Sir Nick Faldo in urging the Government to rethink the ban on children’s sport during the latest coronavirus lockdownn.

Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard on Tuesday praised our campaign and, when asked if he would put his name to the list of signatories from the Telegraph to Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, urging the Government to exempt under-18s outdoor sport from the second national coronavirus lockdown, Mourinho was unequivocal in his support.

“Put my name on it, yes, put my name on it,” said Mourinho. “I don’t want to be involved in political discussions. I am nobody, I am no scientist, I am not an expert in anything. But I can feel lots of contradictions, lots of contradictions in decisions, not in England, around the world. Almost in every country, there are lots of contradictions.

Matt Law has the full story here

05:05 PM

Families of clinically vulnerable children face anxious wait for vaccine

The parents of a clinically vulnerable two-year-old shielding since the start of the coronavirus crisis have hailed the vaccine as the "light at the end of the tunnel" as they anxiously wait to be invited for the jab.

Obie Bee has a condition called VACTERL association, which refers to a collection of birth defects that can occur together, affecting his spine, digestive system, kidneys and heart.

The toddler's complex medical needs mean he is vulnerable to Covid-19 and the family-of-three, from Lincolnshire, began shielding in February last year.

Samantha Bee, 27, and her partner Daniel Bee, 36, fear contracting the virus and passing it on to their vulnerable son, as well as the potential of them both becoming ill and struggling to care for him.

"We've got family members but no one that could care for Obie full-time and meet all his needs," Mrs Bee told the PA news agency.

"While they can probably change a stoma bag if we were to be out of action for more than a few days, then they still need to meet all the rest of his care needs. "It'd be really difficult, really difficult, and then to try and keep him safe as well, it's tough."

04:58 PM

Biden to hit reset on nation's fight against Covid-19 after taking office

President Joe Biden will immediately reset the nation's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lead a country reeling from its worst public health crisis in more than a century.

As part of a first sweep of executive actions, Biden will order the following:

  • All federal employees must wear masks and make face coverings on federal property.

  • A new White House office will be established to coordinate the nation's response.

  • Halt the withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization, a process initiated by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

The orders signal that Biden aims to fulfill his campaign promise to make Covid-19 relief a top priority and will mark a sharp divergence from the Trump administration's pandemic response, which critics say was ineffectual, uncoordinated and at least partly responsible for the death of more than 400,000 Americans.

Follow all the latest updates on Joe Biden's inauguration here

04:50 PM

Military to help medical staff in Northern Ireland pandemic battle

Members of the military are to be brought in to help medical staff cope with the pandemic in Northern Ireland.

More than 100 medically trained technicians will provide nursing support to an NHS battling to avoid being overwhelmed by the deluge of Covid-19 cases.

It is envisaged they will work in badly stretched hospital wards.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: "Our hospitals are under immense pressure and an additional staffing complement will be very welcome on the frontline.

"This is a health decision and I am confident it will be supported on that basis."

04:46 PM

As little as 20 per cent of staff in some care homes have received Covid jab

As little as 20 per cent of staff in some care homes have received a coronavirus vaccine, the NHS national clinical director for older people has said.

Dr Adrian Hayter said those involved in the vaccination programme must do "better and more" to ensure care home staff get a jab as soon as possible.

While some care homes have seen 70-80 per cent of their staff vaccinated, which he called "fantastic", others have rates as low as 20 per cent.

Overall 45 per cent of care home staff have received a jab, he said.

Dr Hayter acknowledged there had been delays and that some care homes had found the process "difficult".

Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)
Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)

04:39 PM

Norway to share Covid-19 vaccine with poorer countries at same time as protecting its own citizens

Norway has become the first country in the world to explicitly commit to sharing Covid-19 vaccine doses with poorer countries at the same time as vaccinating its own citizens.

Dag-Inge Ulstein, Minister of International Development, said Norway would begin donating doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine to lower-income nations as soon as the jab gets approval from the European Medicines Agency.

He told the Telegraph: "Norway will contribute to the fight against the global pandemic through donation of vaccines as soon as relevant candidates are approved.

"The distribution will be started gradually and in parallel to the current vaccination of the Norwegian population. We cannot wait until every citizen in rich countries is vaccinated before we start vaccinating people in the low-income countries."

Jennifer Rigby and Sarah Newey have the full story here

04:26 PM

No 'significant easing' of restrictions in Wales expected, says health minister

People in Wales should not expect a "significant easing" of coronavirus rules despite rates of the virus falling across the country, health minister Vaughan Gething has said.

Mr Gething told a press conference in Cardiff on Wednesday that "real falls" were being seen in cases of Covid-19 across Wales, including north Wales.

Public Health Wales figures show the seven-day incidence rate across Wales has dropped to 285 cases per 100,000 people, while the percentage of people testing positive has reduced to 16.7 per cent

Wales coronavirus cases chart
Wales coronavirus cases chart

A further 1,283 cases of coronavirus and 44 deaths were reported on Wednesday, taking the total number of deaths in the country since the start of the pandemic to 4,346.

The Welsh Government formally reviews Covid-19 regulations - including school closures - every three weeks, with the next review due by January 29.

04:20 PM

Highest number of daily deaths since pandemic began

The Government said a further 1,820 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 - the highest number of UK deaths reported on a single day since the outbreak began.

Yesterday a further 1,610 people died from Covid-19, which was also a record high until today.

The death toll in England now stands at 93,290, with 8,523 people dying in the last seven days alone.

Government figures show that 1,110 Covid-19 deaths have now been recorded as taking place on January 12 2021 - the highest number of deaths to occur on a single day since the outbreak began.

Coronavirus excess deaths - by UK region
Coronavirus excess deaths - by UK region

04:12 PM

Herd immunity 'needs at least 70 per cent of population to be protected from Covid'

At least 70 per cent of the population would need to be protected from coronavirus for herd immunity to be achieved, Sir Patrick Vallance has said, raising fears that an early release from Covid restrictions is unlikely.

Government sources have said ministers are working towards an Easter easing of measures despite having initially suggested that they would be reviewed in mid-February if the target of vaccinating all over-70s is reached.

On Wednesday, Sir Patrick suggested it may take even longer to reach levels that would stop virus transmission, indicating that some 46 million people would need immunity either through vaccination or a prior infection.

The Government's chief scientific adviser said one in eight people in Britain has previously had the virus – around 8.2 million – meaning at least 37.8 million, and probably more, would require the jab because many of those vaccinated would have already had Covid and so would count twice.

Only the first four groups of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) priority list will be vaccinated by mid-February, amounting to around 15 million people – well below herd immunity levels.

Sarah Knapton and Gordon Rayner have the full story here

04:03 PM

UAE virus cases surge despite world-leading vaccine programme

Despite a world-leading vaccine programme, the United Arab Emirates is struggling to contain surging coronavirus infections, driven in part by reluctance to shut down its vital tourism sector.

The UAE announced on Tuesday it had administered a total of two million vaccine doses, including to over one percent of its population in the past week.

The country is now leading the world in the speed of its roll-out, according to Dr Said Al Dhaheri, spokesman for the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority.

With nearly 21 percent of the UAE’s population of 10 million having received a first jab, only Israel has vaccinated a higher proportion of its people.

Global vaccine rollout - top 10
Global vaccine rollout - top 10

But infection rates in the UAE have nearly tripled in the past month, with authorities reporting 3,506 new cases on Wednesday, the ninth day of record high infections. Six new deaths were reported, increasing the country’s toll to 762.

Campbell MacDiarmid has the full story here

03:54 PM

Pictured: Nine police officers fined for eating at cafe in breach of Covid rules

Nine police officers have each been fined £200 for breaking Covid lockdown restrictions after being caught eating inside a cafe whilst on duty.

The officers were photographed by a member of the public as they dined at The Chef House Kitchen in Greenwich, south east London on Saturday, Jan 9.

Police suspected to be dining inside The Chef House Kitchen Cafe, Greenwich - Brian Jennings/SWNS
Police suspected to be dining inside The Chef House Kitchen Cafe, Greenwich - Brian Jennings/SWNS

Pictures showed several officers sitting together at tables despite rules banning such gatherings and restaurants from allowing customers to sit in.

Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin said: "Police officers are tasked with enforcing the legislation that has been introduced to stop the spread of the virus and the public rightly expect that they will set an example through their own actions.

"It is disappointing that on this occasion, these officers have fallen short of that expectation. It is right that they will pay a financial penalty and that they will be asked to reflect on their choices."

03:48 PM

Man spent three months squatting in Chicago airport because Covid made him 'too scared' to fly

Aditya Singh, 36, spent three months hiding out before being arrested at the weekend. The Calfornian was reportedly squatting in the security zone of O’Hare International – wearing an staff ID badge that he had allegedly found, and surviving on food hand-outs from fellow travellers.

Singh arrived at the airport on a flight from Los Angeles on October 19, the Chicago Tribune reports. However, he never left.

Aditya Singh spent three months hiding in Chicago O'Hare International Airport 
Aditya Singh spent three months hiding in Chicago O'Hare International Airport

He was arrested on Saturday, after two United Airlines employees noticed that his identification was false – and then alerted the police. He appeared in court on Sunday, charged with misdemeanor theft and criminal trespass.

He had hidden in the airport because he was “scared to go home due to Covid,” said Assistant State’s Attorney, Kathleen Hagerty, who explained that Singh had received food from other passengers.

Hazel Plush has the full story here

03:42 PM

School workers should be priority for vaccine, says GMB

A union is calling for school support workers to be made a priority for a vaccine as they are more likely to be off sick because of coronavirus than teachers.

The GMB said official figures showed that 33,267 school support staff workers in England were absent just before Christmas for Covid-19-related reasons, including confirmed and suspected infections and those who were required to isolate due to exposure inside or outside school.

Support staff were at the highest occupational exposure to Covid-19 in schools, as their work includes administration of medicine, supporting children one-to-one, food and personal care, as well as close pupil contact whilst supporting learning.

An estimated 6.1 per cent of school support staff were absent on December 17 due to Covid-19, compared to 4.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders, while the difference was higher in special schools, the GMB said.

03:36 PM

Majority of zoos excluded from £100 million support fund, industry warns

Only a fraction of a £100 million fund to support zoos through the pandemic has been successfully claimed, the industry has warned.

The Environment Department (Defra) has announced a four-week extension to the deadline for applications of the zoo animals fund to February 26, but the sector warns some organisations face closing down in the next year.

The fund opened in August to support zoos and aquariums which need extra support in caring for animals following a drop of income caused by Covid-19 lockdowns.

But while the extension has been welcomed by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Biaza), it warned there were serious concerns zoos would be left with no support at the end of the financial year.

Only 28 zoos out of more than 300 licence holders in England have benefited from the fund, with just five per cent of the money handed out, according to the industry body.

03:30 PM

Man who drove 30 miles for takeaway and eight found in shed among Covid fines

A man who drove 30 miles for a takeaway and a group gathering in a garden shed are among hundred of people who have been issued fines by police enforcing coronavirus rules.

Forces across the UK have broken up parties and meet-ups and fined people for visiting beauty spots despite lockdown rules.

The Metropolitan Police said officers had issued more than 140 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) totalling £39,000 in two days in the Tower Hamlets and Hackney areas of London.

On January 15, officers were called to a property in Brick Lane, east London, and found more than 40 people having a party.

Three officers were injured and three arrests were made for possession of a class B substance, breach of coronavirus legislation and assault on an emergency worker.

03:21 PM

Israel to allow pregnant women to receive Covid vaccines

Israel has said it will allow pregnant women to receive coronavirus vaccines amid concerns that they are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract the disease, James Rothwell reports.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Israeli health ministry said it would add pregnant women to the list of priority patients as there was "no evidence of harm resulting from vaccination during the entire pregnancy."

"In pregnant women who become infected and fall ill with the coronavirus, there is a higher incidence of a severe onset of the disease, than in a similar age population," officials said.

In Britain, pregnant women are not routinely allowed to receive the jab, as it has not yet been tested on them. However, they can be given the jab if they are in a high risk group.

It came as two Isaeli healthcare providers said they would begin vaccinating all Isrealis under the age of 35, widening the criteria for the jab even further.

03:19 PM

Number of patients admitted to hospital for heart attack in steep decline, figures show

There has been a sharp decline in the number of people admitted to hospital with heart problems, in a repeat of what happened during the first lockdown, analysis of patient numbers has shown.

Research conducted by a team at the University of Leeds has shown that the numbers of cardiac patients began to fall in October, just as Covid-19 infections began to rise.

The data – which covers the beginning of October to November 17 – show that 41 per cent fewer people attended hospitals in England with heart failure and 34 per cent fewer with a heart attack compared to pre-pandemic levels.

This drop is similar to the decline observed during the first wave of the pandemic, the researchers said. And they believe this may have contributed to more than 2,000 excess deaths in England and Wales.

The research was published in a letter to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Anne Gulland has the full story here

03:14 PM

Bartender turned-vicar raises spirits with online lockdown singalongs

A bartender-turned-vicar has said his online "Pimm's and Hymns" singalong sessions have been "a real light in the darkness" during lockdown.

Father Lee Taylor, vicar at St Collen's Church in Llangollen, North Wales, invited his flock to join him for a Facebook live singalong when his pews fell silent due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Father Lee Taylor, 43, from Llangollen, in north Wales performing for his congregation before the pandemic - PA
Father Lee Taylor, 43, from Llangollen, in north Wales performing for his congregation before the pandemic - PA

The sessions, which launched in March 2020 and take place every Sunday, have attracted not just locals but songbirds from as far away as South Africa, Canada and Brazil.

"People started to share about it and the online audience just exploded," Mr Taylor, 43, told the PA news agency.

"I get phone calls, emails and letters from people all over the world, saying, 'You've lifted my spirits', and asking me to pray for their loved ones who are sick with the virus.

03:04 PM

Plans for daily testing of secondary school pupils and teachers put on hold

Plans for the daily testing of secondary school pupils and teachers instead of isolation are now on "pause", the Government has said.

A joint statement from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace said the balance between the risks and benefits of a daily testing programme in schools was now "unclear".

The decision comes after the new Covid variant was found to have higher rates of transmission and a higher secondary attack rate, increasing "the risk of transmission everywhere, including in school settings".

In December, ministers said secondary school pupils and teachers would be able to have daily lateral flow tests for a week if they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Camilla Turner has the full story here

02:44 PM

Helicopter transfers Covid-19 patient from 'stretched' Isle of Wight hospital

A coastguard helicopter has been used to transfer a Covid-19 patient from the Isle of Wight to relieve pressure on the local hospital's "stretched" intensive care unit.

A medical team from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) flew to St Mary's Hospital in Newport to meet the ventilated patient on Sunday, and transferred them to the search and rescue AW189 helicopter based at Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire.

The helicopter then flew the patient and medics to University Hospital Southampton.

It is understood that a second patient was later also transferred to the mainland but the HIOWAA was not involved

Stephen Parker, medical director of Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said last week that it could be forced to resort to contingency plans to use a military Chinook helicopter to evacuate patients from the island.

02:36 PM

US will rejoin WHO in one of first acts of Biden presidency

The United States will rejoin the World Health Organization in one of the first official acts of the Joe Biden presidency, an "incredibly important" move that halts the withdrawal process begun by Donald Trump administration.

Hours after being sworn in as the 46th President of the US, Mr Biden plans to sign a record 17 executive orders reversing decisions on immigration, the environment and the economy made by his predecessor.

Included in this list is an intention to cease the process of withdrawal from the WHO.

The move is no surprise - last summer Mr Biden pledged to rejoin the organisation on his first day as President as “Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health”.

But experts have said that following through on that promise is significant.

“[It sends] an incredibly important signal about multi-lateralism and the priority this administration is going to put on global health,” Professor Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University, told the Telegraph.

Sarah Newey has the full story here

02:31 PM

Police revoke seaside hotel license after being caught serving pints during lockdown

A seaside hotel has had its alcohol premises licence revoked after pictures were posted online of men drinking pints with the caption "What Lockdown?"

Lincolnshire Police initially received Facebook images of large groups gathered at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Skegness during the latest coronavirus lockdown.

The force attended the hotel on November 19 and CCTV showed it had been open and trading on November 13 and 14.

Police said the business was in contravention of the Government closure order which started at midnight on November 4.

The owner of the hotel, named by the force as Mr Sparks, described it as an "error of judgment" but police said CCTV showed attendees being handed "pint after pint" by management.

02:25 PM

Children's emergency department moved to make space for adult Covid-19 patients

The children's emergency department at one of the main hospitals in the south of England has been relocated to provide increased handover space for adult Covid-19 patients.

The move is being made at the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, Hampshire, after it recorded the second highest number of emergency patients in England waiting more than an hour to access the emergency department.

In the week to January 10, Portsmouth experienced 254 patients facing delays of more than 60 minutes, while a total of 5,513 people faced such waits across England.

A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.

The children's emergency department at Portsmouth has now been relocated to the children's assessment unit within the hospital's paediatric unit.

02:22 PM

Twin, 96, who died with Covid got vaccine letter two days after she passed

A 96-year-old identical twin who contracted coronavirus along with her sister shortly after Christmas has died in hospital, her family have announced.

Tipton twins Doris Hobday and Lilian Cox  - Roland Leon/Daily Mirror
Tipton twins Doris Hobday and Lilian Cox - Roland Leon/Daily Mirror

Relatives of Doris Hobday confirmed news of her death on Wednesday, just two days before she received her letter to be vaccinated.

The twins Doris and Lillian Cox from Tipton, West Midlands, were believed to be the oldest in the UK and made several appearances on national television during 2020.

A statement issued in early January said the twins were "both in shock" after testing positive despite being "inside for most of 2020, sticking to all the rules and being careful".

Gareth Davies has the full story here

02:18 PM

Italy considers legal action over Pfizer vaccine delivery delays

Italy is considering legal action against Pfizer Inc after the U.S. drugmaker announced a further cut in coronavirus vaccine deliveries, the country's COVID-19 special commissioner Domenico Arcuri said.

Pfizer told Italy last week that it was cutting its deliveries by 29 per cent.

On Tuesday, Pfizer said it was not in the position to make up the 29% shortfall next week and that it was planning a further "slight reduction" in deliveries, Arcuri said.

"As a result, we discussed what action to take to protect Italian citizens and their health in all civil and criminal venues," Arcuri said in a statement late on Tuesday.

"It was unanimously decided that these actions will be taken starting in the next few days."

Global vaccine rollout - Europe
Global vaccine rollout - Europe

02:12 PM

Surge in cases leave hospitals like 'war zones,' Vallance says

Some hospitals resemble a "war zone" due to the influx of coronavirus patients in the second wave of the disease, the Government's chief scientific adviser said on Wednesday.

A more infectious strain of the virus has exacerbated the crisis in hospitals with health workers stretched to breaking point

A record 1,610 deaths were recorded on Tuesday, although overall case numbers have started to fall.

"When you go into a hospital, this is very, very bad at the moment with enormous pressure and in some cases it looks like a war zone in terms of the things that people are having to deal with," chief scientist Patrick Vallance told Sky News.

02:04 PM

Rugby: England head coach Eddie Jones forced to self-isolate for 10 days

England’s preparations for the Guinness Six Nations have been thrown into disarray after head coach Eddie Jones was forced to isolate for 10 days following coach Matt Proudfoot’s positive Covid-19 test.

Jones and attack coach Simon Amor have both been identified as close contacts of Proudfoot, who is not displaying any symptoms. The tests were carried out as part of England’s testing regime.

Jones will announce a 28-man squad for the tournament on Friday with players meeting for the first time at St George’s Park the following Wednesday.

Subject to negative tests, Jones and Amor will be allowed to commence coaching on Thursday, before moving their base to The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, ahead of their first game against Scotland at Twickenham on February 6.

Daniel Schofield and Charles Richardson have the full story here

02:02 PM

Tennis: Djokovic hits back at criticism over Australian Open quarantine stance

World number one Novak Djokovic on Wednesday hit back at criticism of his letter to Australian Open chief Craig Tiley in which he suggested easing of quarantine restrictions, saying his good intentions were "misconstrued".

As many as 72 players are confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days and unable to train for between February 8th and 21st Australian Open after passengers on three charter flights carrying them to Melbourne tested positive for coronavirus.

Djokovic reportedly asked for reduced isolation periods and having players in hard quarantine moved to "private houses with tennis courts", drawing a backlash from Australians.

Tiley confirmed they were suggestions and not demands.

01:55 PM

UK to 'look carefully' at claims vaccine efficacy has dropped to 33 per cent with one dose in Israel

Britain will “look carefully” at claims that the Pfizer vaccine fails to protect as well as expected, Sir Patrick Vallance has said, following research into the first 200,000 people given the jab in Israel.

The first real-world data showed the first dose led to a 33 per cent reduction in cases of coronavirus between 14 and 21 days afterwards among people who were vaccinated.

But the figure is far lower than predicted by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI) which suggested a single dose would prevent 89 per cent of recipients from getting Covid-19 symptoms.

In a radio interview, Israel’s vaccine tsar Nachman Ash said a single dose appeared “less effective than we had thought,” and also lower than Pfizer had suggested, raising fears that only giving one dose will not be as protective as hoped.

Sarah Knapton has the full story here

01:50 PM

EU reports nearly 300,000 excess deaths in eight months of 2020

Around 297,500 more people died in the European Union between March and October last year compared with the same period in 2016 to 2019, according to EU data published on Wednesday.

March 2020 was when the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across most of Europe and October is the last month for which data for all 27 EU member states are available.

Statistics from Eurostat showed that across the bloc, excess mortality - the increase in total number of deaths, from any cause, compared to that of previous years - peaked during the early rise of Covid-19 in April 2020 at 24.9 per cent.

Summer lulls began at different times across the region, before numbers rose again in autumn, and still further in November in all member states with available data.

Poland led the excess mortality at 97.2 per cent in November, followed by Bulgaria and Slovenia with 94.5 per cent and 91.4 per cent respectively.

01:44 PM

Enforcement of face coverings ramped up on London Transport

Around 1,700 fines have been issued to passengers caught without a face covering on London's public transport network.

Transport for London (TfL), which released the figure, said a further 2,100 people were ejected from services, with 9,300 prevented from boarding.

Some 128,000 people were told they could not travel unless they put on a face covering.

It has been mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport in England since June 15, in a bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

TfL initially focused on encouraging compliance, but switched to an "enforcement phase" on July 4.

UK coronavirus cases showing impact of national lockdown
UK coronavirus cases showing impact of national lockdown

01:37 PM

Vaccines may be less effective against South African coronavirus variant

Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out in the UK and around the world may be less effective against a new variant of coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa, scientists have said.

In a new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers from South Africa also found that the SA variant, known as 501Y.V2, contains mutations that may be resistant to immunity from previous coronavirus infection.

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, who was not involved in the research, said: "This preprint suggests that individuals might be able to get infected with a variant of Sars-Cov-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) even if they have previously had Covid-19.

"It also shows we urgently need to find out if we could see infection with this variant post-vaccination."

It comes as the UK's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that coronavirus variants are a "real issue of concern".

01:34 PM

Prioritise over-40s in IVF care, say researchers

Fertility clinics should prioritise women over 40 as they work through the backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have said.

They should also prioritise couples with a known cause of infertility, experts at the University of Aberdeen added.

The delays in care could lead to a significant reduction the proportion of babies born to women over 40 as well as those with a known cause of infertility, who need treatments like IVF, they said.

A delay in starting IVF reduces success rates in all couples but the effects could be more pronounced in older groups, according to the new study in the journal Human Reproduction,

01:28 PM

Netherlands to impose nationwide curfew to curb infection rate

The Dutch government on Wednesday proposed imposing the first nationwide curfew since the Second World War and a ban on flights from South Africa, Britain and South America in a bid to limit the spread of new coronavirus mutations in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the proposals must first be approved by parliament, which is set to debate the measures this week.

The curfew would allow only people with pressing needs to leave their homes between 8:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. as of Friday night, Mr Rutte said. The flight ban will begin on Saturday.

The introduction of the first night curfew since that imposed by German occupiers during the Second World War is highly contentious, and several political parties have said they will never back it.

01:24 PM

Courts may stay open for longer to clear backlog of cases during pandemic

The Ministry of Justice is considering opening courts for longer to help clear the backlog of cases built up during the pandemic, a minister has said.

Responding to an urgent question, justice minister Chris Philp told the Commons that 20,000 remote hearings a week are now taking place in crown courts and magistrates' courts.

He said: "In the first lockdown, and as these measures have been put into place, backlogs have understandably developed. This has been the case across the world. But the fruits of our labours are now being seen."

Mr Philp added: "We will not rest, we are adding more courtrooms, further increasing remote hearings and examining options for longer operating hours."

01:20 PM

Welcome to Sandwich, the town where residents wonder when they'll ever get a Covid vaccine

In the Kent town of Sandwich, residents are wondering when they will ever get the Covid jab. Pledges that everyone should be within 10 miles of a vaccine centre ring hollow.

Janet Yapp, 85, sees herself as lucky because she is fit and healthy – but she is concerned about her older friends.

"I have two friends who are almost 90 and I worry about them," says Mrs Yapp, a grandmother who used to work for an art gallery in London.

Janet Yapp, 85, sees herself as lucky because she is fit and healthy – but is concerned about her older friends - Eddie Mulholland
Janet Yapp, 85, sees herself as lucky because she is fit and healthy – but is concerned about her older friends - Eddie Mulholland

It is now more than six weeks since the rest of the country began getting vaccines, after Britain became the first country in the world to give jabs made by Pfizer the green light.

But not in Sandwich – which, perhaps ironically, is home to one of Pfizer's manufacturing plants. It is in the heart of Kent, where the mutant strain of Covid which continues to fuel record deaths and hospitalisations was first detected.

Laura Donnelly and Cara McGoogan have the full story here

01:12 PM

Sweden registers 4,702 new cases and 206 deaths

Sweden, which has spurned a lockdown throughout the pandemic, registered 4,702 new cases on Wednesday, Health Agency statistics showed.

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 206 new deaths, taking the total to 10,797. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and weeks.

Sweden's death rate per capita is several times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours but lower than several European countries that opted for lockdowns

Cases, deaths and vaccinations, coronavirus world map
Cases, deaths and vaccinations, coronavirus world map

01:07 PM

France faces tough months ahead with ski lifts and restaurants set to stay closed

A more infectious coronavirus variant is expected to spread rapidly through France in the coming month, hospital chiefs said on Wednesday, raising fears of another lockdown as hopes faded that ski lifts and restaurants could reopen soon.

A government source told Reuters news agency that ski lifts would most likely remain closed until the end of the season. Tourists can visit French resorts but the lifts have not run since the beginning of the season.

The source also said restaurants, closed apart from limited takeaway services since the end of October, will probably not reopen as planned on February 1 with French media saying they would remain shut until early April.

Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at Paris' Saint Antoine hospital, and Martin Hirsch, director general of the Paris hospitals system, both warned of the extra pressures facing the French healthcare system over the next month.

"We know this variant spreads much more quickly and, above all, it is more infectious. So, yes, we think that it will change the dynamic of the pandemic in the weeks to come," Lacombe said.

01:00 PM

Israel includes pregnant women on Covid-19 vaccines priority list

Israel has included pregnant women among those getting priority access to Covid-19 vaccines, seeing no risk to them or their foetuses, a senior public health official said on Wednesday.

The decision followed the hospitalisation this week of several pregnant women with Covid-19 complications amid a surge in viral infections. At least one was put on a ventilator and her baby delivered by Caesarean section, Israeli media said.

An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to a woman at Clalit Health Services, - Jack Guez/AFP
An Israeli health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to a woman at Clalit Health Services, - Jack Guez/AFP

Israel launched a vaccination drive on December 19 with a focus on the elderly, those with risky medical conditions and some emergency workers.

More than a quarter of its citizens have now received the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, health officials say.

12:52 PM

Chinese media criticise Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine while praising home made ones

Chinese state media outlets have run a series of articles criticising Western Covid-19 vaccines in the past week, including Pfizer's, while touting China-made vaccines as safer and more accessible.

The reports have come as China's vaccines, which are being rolled out to countries including Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey, have faced criticism in the West for insufficient data disclosure.

The Global Times, a tabloid published by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, has published more than ten reports in the past week critical of vaccines and inoculation schemes in the West.

About half of them have referred to reported deaths of some highly frail patients in Norway after being inoculated with the Covid-19 vaccine developed Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.

In a January 15 editorial, the Global Times accused mainstream U.S. and British news outlets of "deliberately downplaying the deaths" and "using propaganda power to promote the Pfizer vaccine and smearing Chinese vaccines."

12:45 PM

Wales: 10,000 people vaccinated each day

More than 10,000 people are receiving their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Wales each day - equivalent to seven people being vaccinated every minute, health minister Vaughan Gething has said.

Mr Gething told a press conference in Cardiff that more than five per cent of Wales had now been vaccinated.

This week, the vaccination programme will move up another gear," Mr Gething said.

"Supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have increased markedly. We expect to receive almost double the amount of vaccine this week as we had in the first fortnight.

"This means more people over 80 and more people living and working in care homes will be vaccinated in GP practices and by community nurses staffing the 14 mobile units.

"We are vaccinating almost 1,000 care home residents every day."

12:41 PM

Taiwan cancels mass gatherings in run up to Lunar New Year

Taiwan has begun to cancel mass gatherings in the run up to Lunar New Year after the emergence of its first cluster of Covid-19 cases since last Spring.

Mask-wearing shoppers in Taipei, Taiwan ahead of the Chinese New Year - Reuters
Mask-wearing shoppers in Taipei, Taiwan ahead of the Chinese New Year - Reuters

On Wednesday a 10th infection was reported in an outbreak that began in a hospital in northern Taiwan after a doctor caught the virus while treating a patient who had arrived from the US.

Several relatives of medical staff at the hospital have since been confirmed positive, including the daughter of a nurse who was working in a busy fast food joint.

The cluster has put the island of 23 million on edge after remaining free of local infections since last April.

To date it has reported 954 cases, mainly travellers from abroad, and a number which many fear will rise during Lunar New Year despite strict quarantine measures imposed on all arrivals.

Public Health Wales said a total of 175,816 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 13,884 on the previous day's figure.

The agency said 370 second doses were also given, an increase of 105.

How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?
How many people in the UK have received their first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine?

12:27 PM

Birmingham hospitals to pilot 24-hour vaccination delivery for health workers

Three Birmingham hospitals are to start piloting delivery of 24-hour Covid-19 vaccinations for health and social care staff.

A University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust spokeswoman said: "We are looking at further options to provide all health and social care staff across Birmingham and Solihull the opportunity to be vaccinated at a time that suits them.

"From tonight we will be opening up a number of vaccination appointment slots specifically for our night staff, between 6pm and 8am.

These will be rolled out site by site at QEHB (Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham), Heartlands and Good Hope hospitals into the weekend.

Vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi previously said pilots of round-the-clock delivery would start "probably either in London or the Midlands."

He said the pilots would trial "different types of 24/7 delivery to make sure we learn from it and we get it right".

12:19 PM

First ever cannabis farm found in city quietened by pandemic

The City of London's first ever cannabis factory has been discovered close to the Bank of England as criminals take advantage of the Square Mile's quiet streets, police have said.

Some 826 plants were found in the basement of a commercial building in Throgmorton Street last week after reports of a strong smell of the Class B drug.

City of London police officers dismantled and destroyed the farm in a raid on Thursday, making two arrests. Pictures released on Wednesday show a set-up complete with lighting and ventilation systems.

The force said it is the first ever cannabis factory discovered in the City, where streets and offices are quiet as workers stay at home because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

12:11 PM

UK will have to look 'very carefully' at vaccine protection after first dose, says Vallance

The UK will have to look "very carefully" at the effectiveness of a single dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the UK's chief scientific adviser has said.

Sir Patrick Vallance's comments came after reports from Israel suggested the protection it provides may be much lower than shown in trials.

Responding to Israel's claims that efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 33 per cent, Sir Patrick said studies showed that from day 10 after vaccination to 21 days and beyond, it was "much more like 89%".

However, he added that "when you get into real-world practice things are seldom quite as good as clinical trials".

Sir Patrick told Sky News: "It probably won't be as high as that in practice, but I don't think it'll be as low as the figures you've just given."

12:04 PM

Scrap curfew and meal rules post-lockdown, hospitality chiefs demand

Ministers must "press the reset button" on restrictions when restaurants and pubs reopen to secure the future of the sector, industry chiefs have warned.

Bosses have urged the Prime Minister to scrap rules such as the curfew and substantial meal rule introduced under the Government’s tiers system to contain outbreaks in some of the worst-affected parts of the country.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said ministers must allow the sector to reopen like it was when the lockdown was lifted in July.

Pubs and restaurants were still forced to trade under social distancing restrictions, but the rules allowed up to six people from different households to be seated together, with no rules around opening hours and serving food alongside alcohol.

Hospitality firms were trading at about 70 per cent of their normal levels after the first lockdown, Ms Nicholls said, but this dropped to between 30 to 40 per cent for businesses in tier 2 and around 10 per cent for those in tier 3 areas.

Hannah Utley and Tim Wallace have the full story here

11:59 AM

China steps up Covid-19 vaccine drive ahead of Lunar New Year

China is stepping up its vaccinations as several countries including Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey begin mass vaccination programmes using its vaccines.

Inconsistent data disclosures have raised concern that Chinese vaccines are not subject to the same public scrutiny as U.S. and European ones.

China's domestic effort is intensifying amid a spate of new outbreaks and with a goal of vaccinating nine key groups before the travel-heavy Lunar New Year in February.

China has approved three vaccines for emergency use but only one for the general public. A fourth is only being used by the military.

People aged 60 and over will not get a shot until the safety is confirmed. The same goes for children. Chinese authorities said on Wednesday 15 million vaccine doses had been delivered, enough for just over one per cent of the population.

11:50 AM

96-year-old identical twin dies of Covid

A 96-year-old identical twin who contracted coronavirus along with her sister shortly after Christmas has died in hospital, her family have announced.

Relatives of Doris Hobday confirmed news of her death on Wednesday, two days after her sister Lilian Cox was well enough to be discharged from hospital and told her sibling had died.

The twins, from Tipton, West Midlands, were believed to be the oldest in the UK and made several appearances on national television during 2020.

Twins Doris Hobday (L) and Lil Cox (R) pictured on a visit to Asda in August 2020 on what was their first trip out of the house for six months - Roland Leon/Daily Mirror 
Twins Doris Hobday (L) and Lil Cox (R) pictured on a visit to Asda in August 2020 on what was their first trip out of the house for six months - Roland Leon/Daily Mirror

A statement issued in early January said the twins were "both in shock" after testing positive despite being "inside for most of 2020, sticking to all the rules and being careful

11:46 AM

Belgian monks offer home beer deliveries during pandemic

Belgian monks famous for the strict rules they observe in selling their celebrated beers are offering online home delivery for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic, James Crisp reports.

The reclusive brothers of the Saint-Sixtus Abbey in West Flanders only sell as much beer as they need to survive.

Drinkers wanting to taste the Westvleteren beers, which are among the most sought after in the world, had to ring at a certain time, provide a number plate and collect a maximum of two crates from the monastery at a prearranged time.

The monks will only sell the beer on the condition that the beers are for personal consumption and not for resale.

The sale of the Trappist beer is the monks only source of income and sales have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown.

11:42 AM

Government under pressure to pull advert claiming those exercising are 'highly likely' to have coronavirus

The Government is under pressure to pull a new coronavirus advert which claims that those jogging, walking their dog or working out in parks are “highly likely” to have the disease.

The 30-second radio ad, which also warns “people will die” if individuals “bend the rules”, was condemned by MPs and public health experts for spreading “false information”, while the Advertising Standards Authority was assessing complaints received about it and a similar one about shopping at supermarkets.

According to the most recent official data, one in 50 people in England were estimated to have Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, rising to one in 30 in London, which would mean individuals are unlikely – rather than highly likely – to have the disease.

Under ASA rules, adverts must be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”, and the regulator yesterday said it was “carefully” assessing complaints about the Government’s public health warnings “to establish whether there are any grounds for further action”.

Ben Rumsby has the full story here

11:39 AM

Russia files Sputnik V vaccine registration in Europe

Russia's sovereign wealth fund RDIF has filed for registration of Sputnik V in the European Union and expects it to be reviewed in February, the official account promoting the Covid-19 vaccine tweeted on Wednesday

The vaccine has already been approved in Argentina, Belarus, Serbia and other countries.

The Sputnik V and European Medical Agency (EMA) teams held a scientific review of the vaccine on Tuesday, the Sputnik V account said, adding the EMA will take a decision on the authorisation of the vaccine based on the review.

11:32 AM

China is using 'lavish' PPE contributions to quash concerns about Covid-19 origins

China is using "lavish" PPE contributions to try and quash concerns about the origins of Covid-19, the Defence Select Committee chief has warned.

The delay in allowing WHO inspectors into China has allowed space for a “ferocious internal propaganda campaign” suggesting the US military is to blame for planting the virus, say Tobias Ellwood and chemical and biological weapons-expert Hamish de Bretton Gordon.

Chinese handling of the crisis has been characterised by “denial, hesitation, cover up, refusal of outside help and punishment for all who dare speak out,” they told the Telegraph.

“Any international voices of concern have been quashed with lavish and sizable contributions of PPE and more recently vaccination programmes.”

China defended its handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, saying the hard lockdown on Wuhan weeks after the virus was detected had "reduced infections and deaths". Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the country would "strive to do better".

Dominic Nicholls has the full story here

11:21 AM

More women forced to close businesses in pandemic amid warnings they will be ‘left behind’

Women are more likely to have been forced to close their businesses by the pandemic in every region of the world, data suggests, as experts warned that they risk being left further behind unless action is taken.

Women were around six per cent more likely to have had to close their small businesses during the pandemic, reports from 26,000 businesses across 50 countries have shown.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 41 per cent of female-owned businesses closed versus 34 per cent of those owned by men, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is 40 per cent versus 29 per cent.

Women who are in employment also appear to be suffering more because in many countries the sectors they tend to work in are overexposed to the economic collapse caused by Covid-19, according to emerging data studied by experts at the Center for Global Development (CGD).

Megan O'Donnell, who will lead a new Covid-19 Gender and Development Initiative at the CGD focusing on low-and-middle income countries, said: “Before Covid-19 hit, women’s labour force participation, access to finance, pay, and advancement were all already unequal to men’s, and the pandemic and global recession are predicted to exacerbate these gaps.

Jennifer Rigby has the full story here

11:18 AM

What it's like to spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel

Quarantine hotels are all-too familiar in Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Since the early days of the pandemic, international arrivals have been holed up in these closely-guarded properties for up to 14 days at a time, compelled to see out their quarantine period in extreme isolation.

Travellers are confined to one hotel room or suite, often with no fresh air, limited entertainment, and little choice of sustenance. It’s claustrophobic, yes – but for many on essential journeys, there is simply no choice.

Travel writer Karen Edwards describes her own experience at the Hyatt Regency in Perth.

My partner and I were just grateful to be allocated a clean room with en suite bathroom – although there was no outside access or fresh air. Thankfully, floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of light and we had ample space for a king bed, TV and desk.

On some days, the lack of fresh air would bring on a stifling headache and I’d sleep during the day for some respite.

Room cleaning wasn’t an option, so spare towels and sheets were left on a chair for us to manage. Two assigned plates and mugs were to be used as needed – and we requested a small cup of washing-up liquid for the dishes, and laundry powder for our clothes. We cleaned both in the bath.

Read the full account here

11:08 AM

Priti Patel wanted UK borders shut in March

Home Secretary Priti Patel told Tory supporters that she argued for the UK border to be shut to international visitors in March when the pandemic first emerged.

The comments, said to have been made to the Conservative Friends of India group, are contrary to her public defence of the Government's decision not to enact a full arrivals shutdown.

In comments first reported by political website Guido Fawkes, Ms Patel said: "On 'should we have closed our borders earlier', the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March."

In mid-March, the UK abandoned asking people to quarantine for two weeks after arriving from areas with high infection rates, such as Hubei province in China and Italy.

The decision was in contrast to many other countries, such as New Zealand, which has been widely praised for getting the pandemic under control, partly through strict quarantine measures for arrivals.

10:58 AM

Pfizer vaccine study shows it is likely to protect against Britain’s new variant

The Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is likely to protect against the more infectious variant of the virus discovered in Britain, according to results of further lab tests released on Wednesday, India McTaggart reports.

The encouraging results from an analysis of blood of participants in trials are based on more extensive analysis than those released by the U.S. drugmaker last week.

Last week, Pfizer said a similar laboratory study showed the vaccine was effective against one key mutation, called N501Y, found in both of the highly transmissible new variants spreading in Britain and South Africa.

The latest study, posted on bioRxiv.org but not yet peer reviewed, was conducted on a synthetic virus with 10 mutations that are characteristic of the variant known as B117 identified in Britain.

Among the 11 authors of the study are Ugur Sahin and Oezlem Tuereci, co-founders of BioNTech.

The news provides further hope as record numbers of daily deaths from COVID-19 are reported in Britain, which is believed to be driven by the more transmissible variant.

It also means vaccine development would for now not have to start all over again

10:40 AM

PHE: 'pause' daily testing of secondary school pupils and teachers

Public Health England (PHE) said the daily testing of pupils and teachers in secondary schools should be "paused" as the balance between the risks and benefits is "unclear", writes India McTaggart.

The decision comes after the new variant has shown to have higher rates of transmission and a higher secondary attack rate, which "increases the risk of transmission everywhere, including in school settings".

A statement from PHE and NHS Test and Trace says: "In light of this changing situation, we now recommend that the rollout of daily contact testing within schools is paused, other than for schools involved in further evaluation.

"Schools should continue to test their staff regularly (twice-weekly where possible, in line with recommendations for other workforces that need to leave the home to work) and test pupils twice upon return to school, as has been the case since the start of January."

10:25 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: ‘waiting and watching simply doesn’t work’

When asked what could have been done differently to tackle the pandemic from the outset, Sir Patrick said: "We will have got some things right and some things wrong, reports India McTaggart.

"We've learned a lot as we've gone through this, and we know a lot more about the virus today than we did then, for sure.

"I think there is a very simple series of recommendations which I've been pushing continuously and I'll continue to do so, which is the lesson is: go earlier than you think you want to, go a bit harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to, in terms of applying the restrictions.

"I'm afraid that's a grim message but that is what the evidence says - you've got to go hard, early and broader if you're going to get on top of this. Waiting and watching simply doesn't work."

He said there were so many cases in the UK by March that restrictions such as quarantining people as they came into the country would not "have made any difference at that time".

10:07 AM

Hopes of easing lockdown soon fades

Asked if the lockdown would be kept in place if infection figures dropped, Sir Patrick said: "The advice at the moment is vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment, anywhere near it.

"This is about, I'm afraid, the restrictive measures which we're all living under and carrying on with those.

"The numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment, they need to come down quite a lot further - we need to make sure we stick with it.

"You go for a walk in the park or something, life looks normal; you go for a walk in a hospital, if you work in a hospital, you will see life not looking normal at all.

"This is a really difficult, dangerous situation we're in, and we need to get the numbers down, so I don't see a release of these measures as being a sensible thing to do in the short term."

10:02 AM

Sage scientist: now is ‘not the time to relax’ restrictions

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government's Sage scientific advisory panel, said it was "not the time to relax" restrictions and agreed some measures may be required next winter, reports India McTaggart.

Speaking in a personal capacity, prof Semple told Sky News: "I think this is a fair and honest representation of the state of where we are at present.

"One in eight to one in 10 people have had this illness and, although we have vaccinated the most very susceptible people, there are a large number of people - perhaps 80% to 90% of the population - (who) are still susceptible to getting severe disease that would cause hospitalisation and put them at risk of long Covid.

"I completely agree this is not the time to relax."

He warned there would be knock-on effects on other vital public services such as police and fire brigades if the NHS was not protected.

"It's not just the NHS we are talking about supporting here - levels of sickness within society as a whole, if left unchecked, would rise and cause greater problems in society."

09:50 AM

BAME extra risk is a tragedy, says Vallance

In a Q&A on Sky News, Sir Patrick also addressed why black, Asian and ethnic minority groups had not been made a priority group for the vaccine.

"I think there's a tragedy and the tragedy is relating to inequality, and it's also relating to black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, where we know there's an increased risk, for sure," he said.

"The prioritisation that the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has done has been based on the highest risk and the highest risk factor for this is age."

But he said there was a need for a "real campaign to make sure we reach those harder to reach groups", including people who may be hesitant to have a vaccine.

09:41 AM

Sir Patrick plays down Pfizer vaccine worries

On Israel's claims that efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be as low as 3%, Sir Patrick said studies showed that from day 10 after vaccination to 21 days and beyond, it was "much more like 89%", though he admitted "when you get into real-world practice things are seldom quite as good as clinical trials".

He added: "It probably won't be as high as that in practice, but I don't think it'll be as low as the figures you've just given."

09:31 AM

Zimbabwe's foreign minister dies after contracting coronavirus

Sibusiso Moyo, Zimbabwe's foreign minister, has died after contracting COVID-19, presidential spokesman George Charamba said on Wednesday.

Moyo was a former army general who rose to national fame when he announced the military coup that led to the removal of the late long-serving leader Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

He died at a local hospital early on Wednesday, Charamba said.

Zimbabwe has suffered a surge in COVID-19 infections, with more than half of the 28,675 total cases and 825 deaths being recorded since New Year's Day.

09:29 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance: Some restrictions next winter

"As (chief medical officer) Chris Whitty has said as well, I don't think that we can assume that there won't be anything needed next winter.

"Now, it's more likely to be making sure that we wear masks in certain places, making sure that we keep up with hand washing, making sure that we're sensible about the way in which we interact with people in indoor environments - that's the sort of thing that you might anticipate.

"But this virus has taken us by surprise time and time again and we just don't know.

"I'd be very surprised if we go on year on year with needing to do things more than that. But this coming winter, I think we need to wait and see how far we get on with the current reduction in numbers that needs to occur."

09:29 AM

Regular Covid jabs will be needed, says Vallance

On the need for annual vaccines and the potential for future lockdowns, Sir Patrick said regular Covid jabs would be needed.

He told Sky News: "I think it's quite likely that we are going to need regular vaccination, at least for a few years, and I think it's quite likely that those vaccines may need to change a bit as they do for flu every year. So I think that's quite likely that we're going to have to have some annual - maybe every two year - vaccination... but that will be planned in the way it's planned for flu as well.

"I think coming this winter, a lot will be better because the vaccination will have been rolled out across a very large proportions of society. And hopefully if we can really bring the numbers down now and with the test and trace and isolate system in a much better place, that will lead us into a much better position in the summer and then going into next winter.

09:16 AM

UK death toll is 'catastrophic', says Priti Patel

Home Secretary Priti Patel called the UK death toll "catastrophic" but argued that it could not have been known how deadly coronavirus would be when the outbreak struck last year.

She told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "When you look at the number of deaths, the number is absolutely catastrophic - appalling in every sense of the word.

"And that is partly because back in March, no one could speculate or even conceive how challenging, not just this pandemic, but

09:03 AM

Home Secretary warns of vaccine 'inconsistencies'

Priti Patel said the UK would see "inconsistencies" in vaccine supply due to changes at supply plants.

The Home Secretary told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I think it was inevitable that the likes of Pfizer, AZ (AstraZeneca) are reconfiguring their supply chains and their ability to process and manufacture the vaccine - demand is just enormous and beyond comprehension.

"I think it is fair to say that this will make it challenging in terms of having a streamlined approach to the delivery of the vaccine.

"There are going to be inconsistencies in terms of vaccine rollout and we are seeing that."

09:02 AM

Sir Patrick Vallance says UK will need coverage of '70 percent or more' for immunity

Watch the Chief Scientific Adviser here.

09:00 AM

Russian death toll reaches 67,000

On Wednesday Russia reported 21,152 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 2,452 in Moscow, pushing the national tally to 3,633,952.

Authorities said 597 people had died overnight, taking the official death toll to 67,220.

A person uses her mobile phone by a tribute to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Reflecting Pool at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery - Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

A person uses her mobile phone by a tribute to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Reflecting Pool at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery - Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
A person uses her mobile phone by a tribute to the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Reflecting Pool at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery - Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Novak Djokovic waves to fans from a hotel balcony in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open - Morgan Sette/AFP

Novak Djokovic waves to fans from a hotel balcony in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open - Morgan Sette/AFP
Novak Djokovic waves to fans from a hotel balcony in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open - Morgan Sette/AFP

Health professional Raimunda Nonata, 70, poses for a picture outside her house after been vaccinated - becoming the first Quilombola (traditional Afro-descendent community member) to get a jab in Cachoeira do Piria, Brazil - Tarso Sarraf/AFP

Health professional Raimunda Nonata, 70, poses for a picture outside her house after been vaccinated - becoming the first Quilombola (traditional Afro-descendent community member) to get a jab in Cachoeira do Piria, Brazil - Tarso Sarraf/AFP
Health professional Raimunda Nonata, 70, poses for a picture outside her house after been vaccinated - becoming the first Quilombola (traditional Afro-descendent community member) to get a jab in Cachoeira do Piria, Brazil - Tarso Sarraf/AFP

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK was still not "out of the woods" when it came to dealing with the second wave of Covid-19.

Asked about the UK's death toll creeping towards the 100,000 mark, the Cabinet minister told BBC Breakfast: "I would put it on the scale of tragedy that every single life lost, every single death, is a personal and human tragedy.

"All our lives have been touched and altered by coronavirus, which is why we are in the current situation of having a national lockdown.

"You've heard me say before that we have to absolutely focus on sticking with the coronavirus rules - staying at home, stopping the spread of this deadly, dreadful virus and disease.

"And also look at the pressures on our NHS ... this is deeply challenging and none of us can say, hand on heart, that we're out of the woods yet.

"We have a long way to go. The vaccine rollout is a positive step forward but we've obviously got to vaccinate a very significant number of the population, and that work is taking place."

08:27 AM

UK daily death toll will continue to rise, warn experts

Deaths from coronavirus will continue to rise for some days to come, scientists have warned after the UK recorded its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began.

The lag between people becoming infected and then being admitted to hospital means deaths will probably not start coming down until towards the end of the month.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, warned there could be further "record-breaking" days concerning the number of newly reported deaths.

"The lockdown is starting to show an effect on new cases per day," he said.

"However, a proportion of the cases from early January will be admitted to hospital approximately this week, and deaths from those cases will likely peak around the end of this month.

"Therefore, we will alas see several more 'record-breaking' days in terms of newly-reported deaths.

"Over the coming weeks, the combination of the lockdown and the impact of the vaccine rollout will start to translate into a reduction of severe Covid-19 cases."

His warning came after the UK recorded a further 1,610 deaths on Tuesday - the highest number reported on a single day since the outbreak began.

08:13 AM

'People will miss out', says Labour MP on self-isolation money

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said the problem with the Government allocating further fixed pots of cash for people to self-isolate was people will miss out on payments.

When asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether the Government providing a further £20 million for local authorities was not enough, he added: "The problem with the Government allocating another fixed pot of money is the same problem will recur.

"Some councils will run out because they get a lot of people who are applying to it and who are eligible.

"In other cases, councils will be eking it out so carefully that people will miss out and therefore will be punished."

07:54 AM

Pictured: The nine police officers inside the cafe

The officers, members of the South East Basic Command Unit, were investigated after images of them in uniform eating together were posted online earlier this month.

The group were spotted by a member of the public in the Greenwich cafe while their patrol vehicles were parked outside.

Police suspected to be dining inside The Chef House Kitchen Cafe, Greenwhich - Brian Jennings/SWNS
Police suspected to be dining inside The Chef House Kitchen Cafe, Greenwhich - Brian Jennings/SWNS

07:52 AM

Postcode lottery for people to get funding to self-isolate, says Labour MP

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said there was a postcode lottery for people to get funding to self-isolate.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was vital people self-isolate and were not punished for doing the right thing, adding: "What we are seeing is the Government set up a discretionary scheme, a discretionary fund of money, that councils can allocate to people who need to self-isolate but can't afford to.

"The problem is the Government established a fixed pot of money and, in some cases, councils have eked it out so much that many people applying for the funding haven't received it.

"In other cases councils have used up all the money because they have more people applying than were expected. So, we end up with a postcode lottery, if you live in one area you might get the funding, if you live in another area you might not."

07:38 AM

Priti Patel: This is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures

Home Secretary Priti Patel has said it is too early to discuss easing the coronavirus restrictions.

She told Sky News: "We are at a pivotal stage. Our vaccine rollout is under way but we have a long way to go with vaccination.

"We cannot talk about easing restrictions and measures until we are absolutely clear we have vaccinated priority groups."

Asked whether mid-February remained the target for lifting some measures, she said that remained the aim for targeting those in the top four priority groups but that it was "no time to speak about" relaxations when the NHS was under such current strain.

Ms Patel added: "Quite frankly, when I look at the incredible work that is taking place in the NHS right now, when we still see hospitalisation figures now standing at over 38,000 people, with the number of people still dying with coronavirus, with the number of hospital admissions increasing, this is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures and we're not going to do that publicly yet. We have a long way to go."

07:36 AM

Cost of living up due to clothing prices and travel costs

The rate of Consumer Price Index inflation rose to 0.6% in December from 0.3% in November, the Office for National Statistics said.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said: "Clothing prices put upward pressure on inflation in December, despite some evidence of continued discounting.

"Transport costs, including air, sea and coach fares, as well as petrol prices, rose as some travel restrictions eased during parts of the month.

"These were partially offset by falling food prices, most notably for vegetables and meat."

07:28 AM

Police officers fined for eating together in a cafe while on duty

Nine Metropolitan Police officers have been fined for breaching coronavirus regulations by eating together in a cafe while on duty, Scotland Yard said.

They were each issued fixed penalty notices for £200 following an investigation sparked by photos which emerged online showing uniformed officers from the south east basic command unit (BCU).

Chief Superintendent Rob Atkin, south east BCU commander, said: "Police officers are tasked with enforcing the legislation that has been introduced to stop the spread of the virus and the public rightly expect that they will set an example through their own actions.

"It is disappointing that, on this occasion, these officers have fallen short of that expectation. It is right that they will pay a financial penalty and that they will be asked to reflect on their choices."

07:21 AM

Today's front page

Here is your Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, Jan 20.

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06:33 AM

Beijing records more cases as citizens told to stay put

China's capital Beijing recorded another seven coronavirus cases on Wednesday amid a lingering outbreak in the country's north.

Another 46 were recorded in Jilin province, 16 in Heilongjiang on the border with Russia and 19 in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing.

China has now recorded a total of 88,557 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, with 4,635 deaths.

Authorities imposed a lockdown on five neighbourhoods in Beijing and people living there have been told to stay home under "strict closed control" measures, with all 1.6 million residents of the southern Daxing district banned from leaving the city.

China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by mid-February and is also releasing schools early and telling citizens to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush that begins in coming days.

05:24 AM

'UK strain' detected in 60 countries

The UK coronavirus strain has been detected in at least 60 countries, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday, 10 more than a week ago.

With the global death toll now well past two million, and new variants of the virus causing deep concern, countries across the world are grappling with how to slow infections until vaccines become widely available.

The South African strain, which like the UK one is believed to be more infectious, has now been reported in 23 countries and territories, the WHO also announced in its weekly update.

It added that the number of new deaths climbed to a record high of 93,000 over the previous seven days, with 4.7 million new cases reported over the same period.

Read more: New Covid strains - how dangerous are they and should I be worried?

05:12 AM

South Korea eyes additional vaccines for 20m people

South Korea may secure additional coronavirus vaccines for 20 million people from US drugmaker Novavax Inc, President Moon Jae-in said, according to a statement from the presidential office on Wednesday.

Novavax entered into a development and supply agreement for its vaccine with South Korea's SK bioscience Co last year, according to a statement in August.

Mr Moon visited SK bioscience's work site on Wednesday and said that the agreement between Novavax and SK bioscience "raised the possibility of securing vaccines for an additional 20 million people", the statement said.

That is in addition to the vaccines that the South Korean government has secured so far.

The country has secured 106 million doses to allow for coverage of 56 million people, more than the 52 million residents of the country, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) director Jeong Eun-kyeong said earlier this month.

A medical worker gestures at a makeshift clinic for coronavirus tests in front of Seoul Station - YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A medical worker gestures at a makeshift clinic for coronavirus tests in front of Seoul Station - YONHAP/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

04:15 AM

Oxygen theft in Mexico grows as death toll and cases climb

Thefts of oxygen mounted as Mexico reported its highest daily death toll since the coronavirus pandemic began, with 1,584 deaths confirmed on Tuesday. There was also a near-record one-day rise in new virus cases of 18,894.

The Mexican Social Security Institute reported that an armed man burst into a government hospital in northern Sonora state around noon on Tuesday and stole seven oxygen tanks.

The institute said the man pointed a gun at a hospital employee, demanded to know where the oxygen was kept, and took four empty cannisters and three full ones. Authorities in the city of Navajoa are looking for the man and and another suspect who drove off in a car carrying the tanks.

Also on Tuesday, police in the town of Tultepec, just north of Mexico City, chased down a small freight truck carrying 44 oxygen tanks, after the truck was reported stolen. Two suspects were detained at the scene.

People wait for their turn to fill oxygen tanks in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico - Francisco Guasco/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
People wait for their turn to fill oxygen tanks in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico - Francisco Guasco/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

03:23 AM

Taiwan cancels major events as cases rise

Taiwan has cancelled or postponed more large-scale events after a rare outbreak of domestically transmitted Covid-19 cases connected to a hospital, where the military has been sent to help with disinfection.

Taiwan, which has kept the pandemic well under control thanks to early and effective prevention methods, has been rattled by new domestic transmissions, first in December and now in a hospital in the northern city of Taoyuan.

Until December, the island had not reported any local transmissions since April; all reported cases during that time were imported, which account for the vast majority of Taiwan's 868 infections.

After the government's decision on Tuesday to call off main celebrations for the Taiwan Lantern Festival, an annual celebration to mark the Lunar New Year next month, more cities have followed suit, including Kaohsiung and Taipei.

Soldiers prepare to spray disinfectant at the Taoyuan General Hospital - Reuters
Soldiers prepare to spray disinfectant at the Taoyuan General Hospital - Reuters

03:07 AM

Japan's vaccination timeline for broader population 'undecided'

Japan's top government spokesman said on Wednesday that the timeline for vaccinating the broader population against the coronavirus would be decided and disclosed to the public after the approval of a vaccine.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato made the comment at a news conference in response to a question about media reports that the government was considering doing so as early as in May.

The government has so far said it would prioritise medical workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions in its vaccine programme expected to start by the end of February, but has not provided a timeline beyond that.

Read more: Free-for-all as councils offer Covid jabs to staff before elderly

02:58 AM

Olympics 'unlikely' to go ahead, says London 2012 official

The Tokyo Olympics look "unlikely" to go ahead as the pandemic continues to paralyse large parts of the world, a senior official from the London 2012 Games has said.

Keith Mills, who was deputy chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, said Tokyo officials should be making plans to cancel.

Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials remain adamant the 2020 Games, already postponed for a year, will go ahead in July and August despite the ongoing health crisis.

"Personally, sitting here, looking at the pandemic around the world, in South America, North America, Africa and Europe, it looks unlikely," Mills told the BBC. "If I were sitting in the shoes or the organisers, I would be making plans for a cancellation and I'm sure they do, but I think they will leave it absolutely the last minute in case the situation improves dramatically. But it is a tough call."

01:17 AM

Mice haunt Kazak player in Australian Open hotel quarantine

A mice infestation at one of the Australian Open's quarantine hotels continues to plague Kazak player Yulia Putintseva, who complained she could not sleep for the rodents scurrying around her room.

The world number 28 changed rooms earlier this week after complaining of mice but said on social media she had found another in her new room.

"It's actually a lot of them! Not even 1 in my room now," she wrote on Twitter, posting a video of a mouse jumping out from behind a closet.

"Different room same story - wanted to go to sleep but noooope."

She added that reception had told her the hotel was full and that they couldn't help her.

"Its a joke," she said.

Read more: Police patrol Australian Open Hotel Quarantine

12:48 AM

US death toll eclipses 400,000 as Trump prepares to leave office

As President Donald Trump entered the final year of his term last January, the US recorded its first confirmed case of Covid-19. Not to worry, Mr Trump insisted, his administration had the virus "totally under control".

Now, in his final hours in office, after a year of presidential denials of reality and responsibility, the pandemic's US death toll has eclipsed 400,000. And the loss of lives is accelerating.

"This is just one step on an ominous path of fatalities," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and one of many public health experts who contend the Mr Trump administration's handling of the crisis led to thousands of avoidable deaths.

"Everything about how it's been managed has been infused with incompetence and dishonesty, and we're paying a heavy price," he said.

The 400,000-death toll, reported on Tuesday by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa, Florida.

Read more: Trump's four years in the White House: the highlights (and lowlights)

12:42 AM

New ventilator may allow more patients to be treated outside of ICU

UK experts have designed a new type of ventilator that may allow more patients with severe Covid-19 to be treated outside of intensive care.

The researchers said that their device, known as exovent, is more comfortable for the patient, cheaper than those currently being used in intensive care units (ICU), and requires fewer staffing resources to manage it.

Exovent is a negative pressure ventilator - which means it works by lowering the pressure outside the body to allow lung tissue to expand and function in a way that resembles normal breathing.

It works differently from the conventional positive pressure ventilators which, instead, push air into the lungs.

Scientists behind exovent said that negative pressure devices are far less intrusive than either positive pressure ventilation, where a tube is inserted into the windpipe, or continuous positive airway pressure, where oxygen is delivered through a tightly-fitting face mask.

Patients do not need to be sedated and can take food and medication by mouth, as well as talk to loved ones on the phone when using exovent, they added.

12:31 AM

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