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Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the health secretary added that Covid-19 restrictions could be reintroduced if people failed to do their “bit”.
As part of the government’s bid to encourage the public to take individual responsibility, he advised people to have their booster shots, take regular lateral flow tests and socialise outdoors where possible. Otherwise, the UK “could lose” its progress against the virus, he said.
This comes as almost 50,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Wednesday, a day after the country saw its highest daily death toll since March.
Dismissing pleas from NHS leaders for the government to introduce mandatory face masks and other measures under “plan B”, Mr Javid said the pressure currently facing the NHS was not “unsustainable”.
However, Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, told reporters in Downing Street that it was “really important” for the vaccinated to wear masks, a position in line with “plan B”.
She added that the country was “kicking off the winter” with very high coronavirus case rates and that the daily death toll was “moving in the wrong direction”.
Daily infections could reach 100,000 a day, says Javid
UK ‘kicking off’ winter with very high case numbers, warns Harries
Government will not implement ‘plan B’, confirms Javid
Britain secures two Covid-19 antivirals
UK daily Covid cases surge to almost 50,000
NHS bosses urge implementation of ‘plan B’ amid soaring cases and deaths
NHS bosses urge implementation of ‘plan B’ amid soaring cases and deaths
Wednesday 20 October 2021 07:25 , Jon Sharman
The head of the NHS Confederation has urged ministers to implement their “plan B” for containing coronavirus this winter, amid spiking infections and deaths.
The BBC reported Matthew Taylor as saying: “The NHS is preparing for what could be the most challenging winter on record.
“It is time for the government to enact plan B of its strategy without delay because without pre-emptive action, we risk stumbling into a winter crisis.”
Whitehall “should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded”, he added.
Plan B involves the reintroduction of mandatory face masks and advice to work from home where possible, as well as the introduction of vaccine passports.
Plan A, currently in place, is for the vaccine rollout to reach most of the population and provide booster jabs where necessary.
On Wednesday morning, a cabinet minister ruled out a full winter lockdown, calling any discussion of the idea “unhelpful”.
Yesterday’s one-day death toll of 223 was the highest since March.
You can read more about that below:
Breaking: Government rules out return to lockdown this winter
Wednesday 20 October 2021 07:29 , Jon Sharman
Boris Johnson’s government is ruling out another Covid lockdown or “further restrictions” this winter, despite NHS leaders’ call for ministers to enforce “plan B” curbs.
Amid another surge in Covid cases, the NHS Confederation has urged ministers to implement the back-up strategy – including bringing back mandatory face coverings in public places and asking people to work from home.
But business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government was not interested in bringing back curbs. “We don’t want to go into lockdown or further restrictions,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.
Britain must address slow booster vaccine campaign and rollout of jabs to teens, Kwarteng admits
Wednesday 20 October 2021 07:49 , Jon Sharman
A cabinet minister has admitted the government “really needs to address” the slow pace of the Covid-19 booster vaccine campaign.
Kwasi Kwarteng insisted the rollout – a key plank of the government’s “plan A” to mitigate coronavirus this winter – was working, if slower than hoped.
He told Sky News the vaccine rollout had been “the most successful thing we've done” and urged eligible people to accept a third dose.
He said: “The critical thing, as my colleague the health secretary has said, is about hospitalisation and also deaths, and, thank God, those figures are much, much lower than they were, certainly, at the beginning of the year.”
He added the government was concerned about rising deaths, but said: “You'll remember at the beginning of the year we had hundreds, if not thousands, a day.
“Mercifully that hasn't happened and, as the health secretary said, it's something we're going to have to live with and I think we are managing the situation.”
Addressing the provision of jabs to children, he said: “I mean, it's easy to say that things aren't working when they've just started or we need to push them more dynamically, but it is working.”
Kwarteng insists government’s Covid response ‘worked'
Wednesday 20 October 2021 08:08 , Jon Sharman
The UK’s growing economy is proof the government’s Covid-19 response was successful, Kwasi Kwarteng has claimed.
Ruling out a return to lockdown this winter, the business secretary told Sky News in an interview: “Throughout this process, there've been people saying the lockdown was unnecessary, there have been other people saying we should continue the lockdown. We've really plotted a path between those two extremes.
“I think it's worked and that's why, one of the reasons, we've got the fastest-growing economy in the G7, it's 7.5 per cent this year, that's the prediction, which is faster than any other comparable country, certainly in the G7.
“There's a reason for that, and that's because we've managed to successfully roll out the vaccine and reopen the economy.”
Britain’s economy may be growing – at a modest rate – but a supply crisis and shortage of lorry drivers driven both by coronavirus and Brexit is holding it back.
Prices for everyday goods are rising and Britons have been warned to expect food shortages over winter.
The UK also has one of the world’s highest Covid-19 death tolls, despite Mr Kwarteng’s claim the government’s approach to the pandemic “worked”.
In addition, other ministers have admitted they would have responded differently in hindsight. Last week Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, apologised to the nation following the publication a damning report by MPs that detailed how the government failed to protect its citizens.
The failure to lock down early enough in March 2020 was one of the worst public health errors the country has seen, MPs concluded.
You can read that report here.
NHS ‘at the edge’ already, Confederation chief warns
Wednesday 20 October 2021 08:27 , Jon Sharman
Matthew Taylor, the head of the NHS Confederation, is doing the media rounds this morning following his “plan B” comments overnight.
He has warned that the health service is “on the edge” of being overwhelmed, even before winter has begun.
He told the BBC: “I talk to health leaders every day, and I have literally not spoken to any leader who doesn't say that their service is under intense pressure now. This is the middle of October. Things are only going to get worse.
“The health service is right at the edge ... If you push much further we will not be able to provide the level of service that people need to have.”
His comments come after The Independent revealed some patients were waiting two full days for a hospital bed after visiting A&E. And others have been forced to wait outside hospital for up to 13 hours in the ambulance that took them there.
Read more below:
Pandemic had ‘devastating and lasting’ impact on clinically vulnerable patients, finds report
Wednesday 20 October 2021 08:46 , Jon Sharman
The pandemic has had a “devastating and lasting impact” on the more than four million people who were identified as being clinically extremely vulnerable and asked to shield as the virus tore through communities across the UK, a report has found.
Researchers said that clinically extremely vulnerable people experienced a higher rate of deaths compared to the general population – and that the mental and physical health implications are still being felt today, writes Tom Batchelor.
The higher risk of complications from Covid was compounded by a reorganisation of NHS services in the early stages of the pandemic which led to significant unmet health needs and worsening mental health among this group, research by the Health Foundation’s Networked Data Lab found.
Delta sub-variant ‘unlikely to change picture dramatically'
Wednesday 20 October 2021 09:05 , Jon Sharman
The newly discovered Delta sub-variant of coronavirus that is growing in England is not likely to change the Covid-19 picture, Oxford Vaccine Group chief Andrew Pollard said on Wednesday.
The subvariant, designated as AY.4.2, is growing and accounted for about 6 per cent of all sequences generated, the UK Health Security Agency said last week, but it has not been labelled as “under investigation” or a “variant of concern”.
“Discovery of new variants is of course important to monitor, but it doesn't indicate that that new variant is going to be the next one to replace Delta,” Sir Andrew told the BBC.
“Indeed even if it does, Delta is incredibly good at transmitting in a vaccinated population and a new one may be a bit better but it's unlikely to change the picture dramatically from where we are today.”
This week The Independent revealed Oxford experts were trying to develop a new vaccine to target Delta.
In case you missed it, read more below:
Explained: What are the ‘plan B’ measures NHS chiefs are asking government to implement this winter?
Wednesday 20 October 2021 09:24 , Jon Sharman
NHS chiefs have called on the government to take urgent action to halt the spread of coronavirus to avoid a winter crisis, writes Holly Bancroft.
The NHS Confederation, a membership body of health care trusts and commissioning groups, said that ministers’ “plan B” strategy should be implemented.
But what is “plan B”? Read on...
Booster campaign going too slowly, Sage member warns
Wednesday 20 October 2021 09:43 , Jon Sharman
Andrew Hayward, a UCL epidemiologist and member of Sage, has said the UK must speed up its vaccine rollout.
He told Times Radio: “We are entirely reliant on the vaccination programme to reduce hospitalisations and deaths, and we know immunity from those vaccines, it has waned quite a lot over the course of five or six months, and there is evidence it is not from infection but also severe disease.
“It is important for people if they have been offered a vaccine to take that up.”
Prof Hayward also said the booster programme could take time to roll out, "by which time we could have had a major peak”.
He added: “We know from the NHS they are already experiencing great pressures on hospitals, and that is going to get worse as we go into winter.”
Prof Hayward said people who can easily work from home should do so, and everyone should practise social distancing. He added: “Wearing masks will make a difference, and we have, as a society, given up on that, which is a shame.
“There are tools we can use and, while some are an inconvenience, they aren't a drag on the economy.”
Russia posts new record figures
Wednesday 20 October 2021 09:53 , Jon Sharman
Russia has just reported a record 1,028 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours as well as 34,073 new infections.
It comes a day after Moscow's mayor announced four months of stay-home restrictions for unvaccinated over-60s in the capital, while the national government proposed a week-long workplace shutdown to cope with fast-rising cases.
The Kremlin has blamed the surge on Russia's slow vaccination campaign.
Covid cases rose 7 per cent in Europe last week, says WHO
Wednesday 20 October 2021 10:12 , Jon Sharman
New coronavirus infections rose 7 per cent across Europe last week,according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It was the only region in the world where cases increased.
In its weekly assessment of the pandemic released late on Tuesday, the UN body said there were about 2.7 million new Covid-19 cases and more than 46,000 deaths around the world last week, similar to the numbers reported the previous week. The UK, Russia and Turkey accounted for the most cases.
For the third consecutive week, coronavirus cases have jumped in Europe, with about 1.3 million new cases.
The biggest falls in infections were seen in Africa and the western Pacific, where cases fell by about 18 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively.
The number of deaths in Africa also declined by about one-quarter, despite the dire shortage of vaccines on the continent. Other regions including the Americas and the Middle East reported similar numbers to the previous week, the WHO said.
Additional reporting by AP
More bad news from European nations
Wednesday 20 October 2021 10:31 , Jon Sharman
Further to the previous two posts, more new case numbers are coming in from individual European countries. A new wave of coronavirus does appear to be gathering pace on the continent.
Poland reported more 5,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the first time since May on Wednesday.
The country of around 38 million people logged 5,559 new cases of the coronavirus and 75 deaths. Since the beginning of the pandemic Poland has reported 2,950,616 cases and 76,254 deaths.
Meanwhile, Slovakia reported 3,480 new Covid-19 cases, its highest daily tally since 9 March.
Slovakia has one of the lower vaccination rates in the European Union, with just over half the adult population fully inoculated in the country of 5.5 million. This has contributed to a faster rise in infections than in some neighbouring countries and cases have spiked since September.
Some 71 per cent of people found to be newly infected in Tuesday were not unvaccinated, the health ministry said. The number of patients in hospital rose above 1,000 for the first time since May, reaching 1,040 including 113 in intensive care.
And in the Czech Republic, 3,246 new cases were recorded in the latest figures, more than double the number a week ago and the highest since 20 April.
Additional reporting by agencies
Covid cases surge in southwest England after lab testing fiasco
Wednesday 20 October 2021 10:50 , Jon Sharman
Cases are surging in southwest England after tens of thousands of people with Covid were wrongly told they were negative, allowing infections to continue spreading unchecked within the region, writes Samuel Lovett.
An estimated 43,000 people across the country are thought to have received an incorrect false test result due to “technical issues” at a private laboratory in Wolverhampton, where operations have been suspended amid an ongoing investigation.
Authorities have since contacted the affected individuals, mostly in the South West, to advise them to take another test. The incorrect PCR results were handed out between 8 September and 12 October, the UK Health Security Agency said.
Ministers ‘burying heads in sand’ as cases rise, say Lib Dems
Wednesday 20 October 2021 11:09 , Jon Sharman
The Liberal Democrats have accused ministers of “burying their heads in the sand” amid rising Covid-19 infections and death.
The party also called for an emergency meeting of the Sage advisory body.
Munira Wilson, its health spokesperson, said in a statement: “Covid cases are surging and millions of vulnerable people are yet to receive their booster jabs, yet ministers are burying their heads in the sand.
“The government cannot simply ignore the scientific advice and act as though this pandemic is over.
“Boris Johnson must call an emergency meeting of Sage, resume weekly meetings and follow the expert advice provided on how to protect the NHS and keep schools open this winter.
“We cannot risk a fourth wave because the prime minister refuses to learn the lessons from the terrible mistakes throughout this pandemic.”
Brazil records 15,609 new Covid cases
Wednesday 20 October 2021 22:58 , Rory Sullivan
Brazil has recorded 15,609 new Covid-19 cases and 373 deaths, its health ministry has said.
This brings the country’s death toll to 604,228 and its overall number of cases to 21,680,488.
Only the US and India have seen worse coronavirus outbreaks.
Pandemic expected to lead to ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems in children, warn Irish campaigners
Wednesday 20 October 2021 11:28 , Jon Sharman
Irish campaigners fear the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a "tsunami" of mental health issues among children.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) said said that from October 2019 to September 2020, the it received more than 240,000 contacts from young people, while its one-to-one service worked with 458 children.
John Church, its chief executive, spoke of how anxious, unhappy and lonely they felt. He said: "There will be a tsunami of mental health issues.
"Everybody will encounter adverse childhood events and this is a significant event.
"The anxiety levels and tensions were through the roof – in the first week of the lockdown in March last year, there was a 30 per cent increase in calls to Childline.
"There was a lot about fear of getting the virus and loved ones and grandparents getting it.
"The mental health impact of Covid-19 featured heavily across these services."
Between the closure of schools in March 2020 and late June of last year, the Childline website experienced an increase in users of more than 100%.
Additional reporting by PA Media
Delta sub-variant: What we know as it ‘expands’ throughout England
Wednesday 20 October 2021 11:47 , Jon Sharman
An offshoot of the Delta coronavirus variant which appears to be more transmissible than its predecessor is beginning to spread throughout England, scientists have said.
Little is known about the AY.4.2 sub-variant, but data suggest it was responsible for almost 10 cent of new infections at the beginning of October. A briefing from the UK Health Security Agency said AY.4.2 is “expanding” and “on an increasing trajectory”.
Experts have speculated that it could be 10 to 15 per cent more transmissible than the original Delta variant, which has come to dominate across the world, writes Samuel Lovett.
Breaking: Sajid Javid to give Covid press conference today as cases surge
Wednesday 20 October 2021 12:06 , Jon Sharman
Sajid Javid is expected to hold the government’s first coronavirus press conference for several weeks at 5pm today, amid concerns over rising infection rates, writes Andrew Woodcock.
Scotland deaths rise to over 11,400
Wednesday 20 October 2021 12:29 , Jane Dalton
A total of 11,401 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, according to the National Records of Scotland.
The latest weekly data shows 139 fatalities that mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate were registered last week, an increase of eight on the previous week.
Of the latest deaths, 18 were people aged under 65, while 29 were aged 65-74 and 92 were 75 or older.
Glasgow City had 23 deaths, with 16 in Fife and 10 in North Lanarkshire.
Bolsonaro should face murder charge over handling of Covid-19, report advises
Wednesday 20 October 2021 12:37 , Jane Dalton
A draft report by MPs in Brazil has recommended that president Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on criminal charges for his handling of the pandemic that has led to the country suffering the second-highest Covid death toll in the world.
More than 600,000 people have died due to the coronavirus or related complications in Brazil. Maroosha Muzaffar reports:
Morocco bans flights to and from UK
Wednesday 20 October 2021 12:44 , Jane Dalton
Morocco has announced a ban on flights to and from the UK due to the pandemic, the country’s largest airline, Royal Air Maroc, says.
The suspension comes into force at 11.59pm on Wednesday.
Flights to and from Germany and the Netherlands will also be banned.
New York City employees given deadline to get jab
Wednesday 20 October 2021 13:08 , Jane Dalton
New York City employees will be required to get vaccinated against Covid by the end of next week or will be placed on unpaid leave, Mayor Bill de Blasio says.
City employees will receive $500 (£363) for receiving their first shot at a city-run vaccination site by next Friday. After that, employees will be required to have at least one dose of a vaccine and show proof of vaccination to their supervisor, de Blasio said.
“There is no greater privilege than serving the people of New York City, and that privilege comes with a responsibility to keep yourself and your community safe,” he said.
The number of cases of the virus is falling in the US, and 71 per cent of all 160,000 New York City workers have already received at least one vaccine dose, the mayor said.
No 10 rules out new lockdown and says no plan to trigger backup 'plan B’ restrictions
Wednesday 20 October 2021 13:30 , Jon Sharman
Ministers have no plans for a further Covid-19 lockdown in England, nor to activate the government’s winter Covid “Plan B”, Downing Street says.
The head of the NHS Confederation has urged ministers to implement their “plan B”, which includes bringing back mandatory face coverings in public places, social distancing and asking people to work from home.
A No 10 spokesman said: “We have set out our autumn and winter plan in terms of ‘plan A’ and ‘plan B’, and we continue to look at the latest scientific data.
“There isn’t any proposed plan for any further lockdowns. We are sticking to the autumn and winter plan we have set out.”
He said ministers would continue to monitor figures for the disease but that the numbers of hospital admissions and deaths were still “substantially lower” than earlier in the year.
“The important thing is the fact that our vaccination programme has has been successful in breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths,” the spokesman said.
“Our focus remains on ensuring we get boosters out to those who are eligible.”
Earlier, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the government did not want to bring back such curbs.
Covid press conference today: What time is the announcement?
Wednesday 20 October 2021 13:54 , Jon Sharman
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, is to hold a Covid briefing at Downing Street this afternoon as UK cases surge.
The press conference, the first to be held in more than a month, will take place at 5pm on Wednesday in the Downing Street press briefing room.
Mr Javid will discuss the use of new antiviral drugs to help treat Covid-19 but is also likely to be asked about the country’s worsening Covid cases figures, writes Tom Batchelor.
On Tuesday, the government said a further 223 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 - bringing the UK total to 138,852.
Mask-wearing indoors likely to be obligatory again, warns professor
Wednesday 20 October 2021 14:13 , Jon Sharman
A health scientist says legally-enforced mask-wearing indoors is looking increasingly likely.
And vaccination alone will not suffice to protect the NHS and prevent variants emerging as infections soar, he warned.
Prof Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology, at the University of Warwick, said: “We are at a tipping point with increased levels of infection against a backdrop of waning vaccine-induced immunity and the easing of all restrictions.
“We must do everything to encourage those eligible to get their booster jabs and to vaccinate healthy 12- to 15-year-olds.
“But we can’t rely on vaccination alone to protect us all over the winter and to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.
“With the rising number of hospitalisations, Plan B measures (home orders, vaccine passports, social distancing and legally-enforced mask-wearing indoors) are looking increasingly likely.”
Prof Young added: “Stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus will not only protect individuals from getting sick, but will also curb the generation of new virus variants that could be more infectiousness and more able to evade vaccine-induced immunity.”
Gates Foundation to speed up generic Covid pill
Wednesday 20 October 2021 14:23 , Jon Sharman
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says it will spend up to $120m (£87m) to kick-start development of generic versions of Merck & Co’s oral Covid-19 treatment to help ensure lower-income countries have equal access to the drug.
The aim is to reduce the gap between when wealthy countries have access to the antiviral medicine, molnupiravir, and when the rest of the world can benefit from it.
“To end this pandemic, we need to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live in the world, has access to life-saving health products,” Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said in a statement.
Scotland releases new figures
Wednesday 20 October 2021 14:42 , Jon Sharman
Scotland has recorded 26 coronavirus deaths and 2,768 cases in the past 24 hours, the latest Scottish government figures show.
It means the death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 8,980.
The daily test positivity rate was 7.1 per cent, down from 12.4 per cent the previous day.
There were 890 people in hospital on Tuesday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 21 on the previous day, with 51 in intensive care, up five.
So far 4,294,116 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and 3,883,886 have received a second dose.
Northern Ireland figures also released
Wednesday 20 October 2021 14:47 , Jon Sharman
Six further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have been reported in Northern Ireland.
The region's Department of Health has also reported another 1,423 cases of the virus.
On Wednesday morning there were 355 Covid-positive patients in hospital, of whom 33 were in intensive care. To date 2,593,676 vaccines have been administered.
Alejandro Mayorkas: Homeland Security secretary tests positive for Covid-19 days after attending event with Bidens
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:06 , Jon Sharman
Alejandro Mayorkas, the US secretary of homeland security, has tested positive for Covid-19, his department has announced.
Mr Mayorkas is fully vaccinated and experiencing only mild symptoms, writes Oliver O’Connell.
He was supposed to travel to Colombia with secretary of state Antony Blinken, but will instead isolate and work from home.
Most people in England would comply with mask mandate if re-introduced, claims expert
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:25 , Jon Sharman
Most people in England would comply with a government order to wear a face mask in certain situations if one was issued to curb coronavirus over winter, a behavioural expert has predicted.
Linda Bauld said the nation was "the outlier" in the UK when it came to Covid-19 safety measures, with many aspects included in the Westminster government's “plan B” already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Under the government’s current “plan A” strategy, people in England are advised to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings but it is not a legal requirement.
Professor Bauld, from the University of Edinburgh, said the main stumbling block was communication.
The behavioural scientist said it was "striking and very unfortunate" that most Conservative MPs sit in the House of Commons without masks, compared with those on the opposition benches who have generally been seen to wear face coverings.
She said: "Leaders need to lead by example and with these [coronavirus infection] numbers and the concerns we have, absolutely, I think politicians from all parties should be wearing a face covering when they're in the chamber, when they can't distance."
She said that, when something is not mandatory and is not adhered to by some, that attitude can filter out to others – including those who would normally stick to the guidance.
"It's social norms that drive these behaviours. When you mandate something, it's a big shift, it sends a message that it's expected and therefore you need to comply unless there's an exception."
Additional reporting by PA Media
The Independent Health Check newsletter: Sign up for weekly updates from Shaun Lintern
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:35 , Jon Sharman
Our health correspondent Shaun Lintern gives you the inside track on the latest news from the sector in his weekly newsletter, Health Check.
For more information, click here.
Everything we know about the US government’s plan to vaccinate children
Wednesday 20 October 2021 15:54 , Jon Sharman
Children aged between five and 11 will likely soon be eligible for Covid vaccines in the US, as the Biden administration plans to inoculate millions of children before the holiday season. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is still pending approval, but is expected to be available in early November.
The White House announced on Wednesday that, if approved for younger children, the vaccine will be available to around 28 million more children in the United States.
How to cope with anxiety over another ‘winter crisis’
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:04 , Jon Sharman
Last winter was tough going – and if the mere idea of facing it all again is filling you with dread, you’re not alone, writes Abi Jackson.
Just a glance at this week’s headlines feels daunting, with Covid cases rising and experts warning more action is needed to avoid another ‘winter crisis’.
Worried how you might cope this time around? Anxious about being anxious again? We hear you – so we tapped up some of our favourite psychologists and therapists for their expert insight, and advice that’s actually helpful.
Latest Covid figures
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:14 , Rory Sullivan
The UK has identified another 49,139 new Covid-19 cases and a further 179 deaths from the virus, the government has announced.
The latest totals come the day after the country saw its highest daily death toll (223) since 9 March.
As of Wednesday, 139,031 people have died from coronavirus in the UK since the start of the pandemic.
Half of fully-vaccinated people over 80 have had booster jab
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:25 , Jon Sharman
Half of people in England aged over 80 who have been fully vaccinated are likely to have received their Covid-19 booster jab, new figures suggest.
A total of 2.68 million people aged 80 and over in England have received two doses of vaccine, of which 1.34 million are now estimated to have had their booster dose – the equivalent of 50 per cent.
The figures, from NHS England, also show that nearly 35 per cent of double-jabbed people aged 75 to 79 are likely to have received a booster, along with nearly 18 per cent of those aged 70 to 74.
In total, 4.05 million booster doses are estimated to have been delivered in England.
Earlier today, Kwasi Kwarteng admitted the booster rollout had not progressed quickly enough and that ministers needed to do more. The same was true of the campaign to inoculate schoolchildren, he said – echoing what experts have said.
Additional reporting by PA Media
Singapore records highest daily Covid death toll
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:43 , Rory Sullivan
Singapore has confirmed 18 new deaths due to coronavirus, its highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic.
The city-state’s health ministry also announced a further 3,862 infections, following the relaxation of some restrictions.
In response to the rising number of Covid-19 cases, authorities have extended social curbs for another month.
Putin tells Russians to ‘be responsible’ and get vaccinated
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:55 , Rory Sullivan
Russian president Vladimir Putin has urged the country’s citizens to get vaccinated, after it reported a record number of daily coronavirus deaths.
The 1,028 fatalities announced on Wednesday brought Russia’s death toll to 226,353, the highest in Europe.
Speaking today, Mr Putin said: “There are only two ways to get over this period - to get sick or to receive a vaccine.
“It’s better to get the vaccine, why wait for the illness and its grave consequences? Please be responsible and take the necessary measures to protect yourself, your health and your close ones.”
The Russian leader added that he just “can’t understand” vaccine hesitancy.
Watch Javid press conference live
Wednesday 20 October 2021 16:57 , Rory Sullivan
Just a reminder that health secretary Sajid Javid will be leading the government’s coronavirus press conference from 5pm.
You can follow all the live updates here.
Daily infections could reach 100,000 a day, says Javid
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:16 , Rory Sullivan
The number of daily coronavirus infections could reach 100,000 a day, health secretary has said.
The remark came as almost 50,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday.
Sajid Javid said that just as the government expected, the NHS faced a tough winter ahead. “This pandemic is not over,” he said.
Britain secures two Covid-19 antivirals
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:20 , Rory Sullivan
Sajid Javid has confirmed that Britain has secured deals for two coronavirus antivirals, which are pending regulatory approval.
The drugs - developed by Merck and Pfizer- could be used to treat patients by the end of the year.
“We may soon have a new defence in our arsenal with two new antiviral drugs that we have secured,” the health minister said in an earlier statement.
Javid dismisses calls for plan B
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:27 , Rory Sullivan
The government has dismissed calls for the implementation of “plan B”, but has encouraged people to take steps to drive down the rate of infection.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Sajid Javid urged the public to get vaccinated.
The health secretary said that vaccination was the UK’s “primary form of defence”. But he advised people to take other proactive steps, including meeting others outdoors where possible and using lateral flow tests as part of one’s “weekly routine”.
UK ‘kicking off’ winter with very high case numbers, warns Harries
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:33 , Rory Sullivan
The UK is “kicking off the winter” with very high coronavirus case rates, the head of Test and Trace has said.
Jenny Harries warned that infection levels were “not far off where they were last winter”.
“Fortunately that is not currently working through into serious disease and deaths,” she added.
Dr Harries also said that the number daily deaths were “moving in the wrong direction”.
Javid urges people to ‘take more responsibility’
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:42 , Rory Sullivan
The health minister has asked the public “to take more responsibility”, while saying that the government would not make face coverings mandatory for the time being.
When asked by a member of the public whether the policy should be reintroduced, Sajid Javid said “we think it is the right decision to learn to live with this virus... it’s asking people to take more responsibility.”
He also said that the pressure facing the NHS was not unsustainable “at this point”.
“If at any point we find the pressures are unsustainable we won’t hesitate to act,” he added.
Health service ‘very, very busy’, says NHS England medical director
Wednesday 20 October 2021 17:53 , Rory Sullivan
The health service is “very, very busy indeed”, the national medical director of NHS England has said.
Professor Stephen Powis told the No 10 press conference said more than 6,000 Covid-19 patients were currently in hospital.
“And I anticipate that over the next week or two that number will increase because infection rates are increasing,” he added.
“It’s not just Covid of course, we have one eye to the flu season and we don’t know what’s going to happen with flu this year but there is a risk that we will get more flu back and it will be worse than previous years because we missed out on a season last year.”
Javid warns progress could be ‘lost’ if people don’t have vaccine boosters
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:00 , Rory Sullivan
The health secretary has said the UK “could lose” the progress it has made against the virus if people do not receive their vaccine boosters.
“We could lose it, we really could lose the progress,” Sajid Javid told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
‘Pandemic is not over’, warns Javid
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:03 , Rory Sullivan
Here’s Jane Dalton with a round-up of the comments made by Sajid Javid in this afternoon’s coronavirus press conference.
R rate ‘hovering’ between 0.9 and 1.1, says Harries
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:07 , Rory Sullivan
The UK’s virus’ reproduction rate - or R rate- is currently between 0.9 and 1.1, Dr Jenny Harries has said.
The chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency urged the public to help lower the infection rate, saying “quite small behavioural changes in all of us would bring that down”.
She added that “it’s really important” to wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Restrictions could return if ‘we don’t do our bit’, says health secretary
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:17 , Rory Sullivan
The health secretary has said that the country could face restrictions if people don’t do their “bit”.
Sajid Javid’s message comes as part of the government’s drive to encourage individual responsibility.
He said that people could do their “bit” by receiving their booster jabs, taking lateral flow tests more regularly or choosing to hold social gatherings outside.
“Am I saying if we don’t do our bit... We are more likely to face restrictions? Yes, I am saying that,” the minister said.
Javid encourages Tory MPs to wear masks
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:26 , Rory Sullivan
Health secretary Sajid Javid has implied that Tory MPs should wear masks.
In a question at the press conference, the FT’s Sebastian Payne pointed out that many of the health secretary’s peers were not wearing face coverings in the Commons this week, while the government was now encouraging the public to take the same precaution.
In response, the minister said: “I think that’s a very fair point.”
“We also have a role to play to set an example as private individuals as well, I think that’s a very fair point and I’m sure a lot of people will have heard you,” he said.
Labour criticises health secretary over ‘casual’ dismissal of threat facing NHS
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:32 , Rory Sullivan
The shadow health secretary has hit out at his counterpart Sajid Javid, claiming that government was “casual” in its dismissal of the threats facing the NHS.
After describing the pressures on the health service as “immense” , Jonathan Ashworth said: “I was frankly shocked at how casual the health secretary was in dismissing them.”
‘Vital’ Covid pills could be given to vulnerable people this winter
Wednesday 20 October 2021 18:54 , Rory Sullivan
Vulnerable people could benefit from antiviral drugs that cut the risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19, the government has said.
The antivirals, known as molnupiravir and PF-07321332/ritonavir, are to be provided by Merck and Pfizer respectively, and could be be rolled out to patients this winter.
In total, ministers have ordered 730,000 courses of the drugs.
Our science correspondent Samuel Lovett has all the details:
Government not doing enough to protect public this winter, warns Ashworth
Wednesday 20 October 2021 19:06 , Rory Sullivan
The shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said the government’s handling of a spike in Covid-19 cases “falls far short of protecting the public this winter”.
He added: “The so-called wall of defence against Covid is crumbling and today we needed a plan to rebuild it.
“Despite a shocking warning about daily cases, we had a complacent press conference from the health secretary that, while the announcement on antivirals is welcome, failed to put forward measures to get a grip of the faltering vaccination programme.”
Taoiseach says Ireland’s proximity to UK responsible for high Covid cases
Wednesday 20 October 2021 19:31 , Rory Sullivan
Public health experts believe Ireland’s close proximity to the UK is one reason for its high level of coronavirus infections, Micheal Martin has said.
Asked by Labour leader Alan Kelly why cases had increased so rapidly, the Taoiseach said another factor was the rise of indoor activity due to cold weather.
Mr Kelly went on to criticise Mr Martin over the government’s plans to reopen the hospitality sector, suggesting that a proper framework was not in place, including guidance around ventilation.
“It is unworkable and incomprehensible. The government should have consulted in advance,” Mr Kelly said of the plans.
Eligible people should book Covid booster jabs immediately, says Javid
Wednesday 20 October 2021 19:46 , Rory Sullivan
Eligible people can book Covid-19 booster jabs before they receive an invite from the NHS, the government has said.
The doses are available to those who had their second vaccine shot more than six months ago.
Speaking at coronavirus press conference earlier, Sajid Javid said: “If you haven’t been invited within a week of reaching that six month milestone then please get on to the national booking service and book online, or phone 119, not just to save lives but to keep your freedoms too.”
It is estimated that 4.05 million booster doses have been administered in England so far.
Voices: Covid Plan A isn’t working
Wednesday 20 October 2021 20:04 , Rory Sullivan
Winter is coming and coronavirus infection rates are soaring but the government isn’t doing anything about it, says our political sketch writerTom Peck.
Here’s his verdict of the health secretary’s coronavirus press conference a few hours ago:
“And so, out came the health secretary Sajid Javid. And what did he have to say? Well, nothing really. Keep doing your best. Keep on keeping on.”
Polands considers ‘drastic’ action amid Covid ‘explosion’
Wednesday 20 October 2021 20:23 , Rory Sullivan
Poland could take “drastic” measures to contain a recent “explosion” of coronavirus cases, its health minister has said.
“We have increases from week to week of 85 per cent and over 100 per cent,” Adam Niedzielski told reporters on Wednesday.
He added that daily infections could climb “well above” 5,000 towards the end of this month. Poland reported 5,559 new Covid-19 cases and 75 deaths on Wednesday.
In response to the spike in infections, Mr Niedzielski said stricter enforcement of mandatory mask wearing and social distancing could be introduced.
41 per cent of people in Caribbean and Latin American fully vaccinated
Wednesday 20 October 2021 20:45 , Rory Sullivan
Forty-one percent of people in the Caribbean and Latin America are now fully jabbed, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
In a news conference on Wednesday, Carissa Etienne, the director of PAHO, said that immunisation rates were not spread evenly across the region.
She urged countries to prioritise public health measures against the virus.
Health secretary encourages Tory MPs to wear masks in Commons
Wednesday 20 October 2021 21:01 , Rory Sullivan
At the end of this afternoon’s Covid-19 press conference, Sajid Javid urged Tory MPs to wear masks in parliament.
My colleague Tom Batchelor has more details:
Take up booster jabs to lower threat of future variants, says Javid
Wednesday 20 October 2021 21:25 , Rory Sullivan
Health secretary Sajid Javid has urged people to take up their booster jabs, warning of the dangers of potential future variants.
In his remarks earlier, he said the government was monitoring the AY4.2 variant, a descendant of the Delta variant.
“And while there’s no reason to believe at this point that AY4.2 poses a greater threat, the next variant, or the one after that, might do,” he added.
“So we need to be ready for what lies around the corner. This means our ongoing programme of booster jabs is so important, and this winter we’re prioritising those most in need.”
Hundreds of anti-vaxxers protest in Bulgaria
Wednesday 20 October 2021 21:51 , Rory Sullivan
Hundreds of anti-vaxxers took to the streets of Sofia on Wednesday to protest against the Bulgarian government’s rollout of a mandatory Covid health certificate.
In a move to tackle growing infection numbers, people will need to show their health passes to gain entry to indoor venues.
“The vaccination should be purely voluntary. Tomorrow many people would not be able to go to work,” one protester told Reuters.
WHO still assessing Russian Sputnik V vaccine
Wednesday 20 October 2021 22:18 , Rory Sullivan
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is still deciding whether to give the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine approval, according to an update on its website.
“As with other candidate vaccines, WHO continues to assess Sputnik V vaccines from different manufacturing sites and will publish decisions on their EUL (Emergency Use Listing) status when all the data are available and the review is concluded,” the WHO told Reuters.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which promotes the vaccine overseas, told CNN that he thinks the WHO will give the Sputnik V jab the green light in the next few months.
Vaccines 90 per cent effective in preventing death from Delta variant, study finds
Wednesday 20 October 2021 22:40 , Rory Sullivan
Double vaccination is around 90 per cent effective in preventing deaths from the Delta variant, research from Scotland has revealed.
After analysing data from 5.4 million people from April to September, researchers found that the Pfizer jab was 90 per cent effective and the AstraZeneca Jab was 91 per cent effective in stopping fatalities among those who contracted the disease.
No deaths were identified in those who received both Moderna doses in Scotland, according to the paper.
Professor Aziz Sheikh, who led the study at the University of Edinburgh, said “it is reassuring to see that vaccination offers such high protection from death very shortly after the second dose”.
He encouraged everyone to get jabbed, based on “the clear benefits it offers”.
Government ‘wilfully negligent’ not to implement ‘plan B’, says British Medical Association
Wednesday 20 October 2021 23:00 , Rory Sullivan
It is “wilfully negligent” of the government not to reintroduce some coronavirus measures, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul said ministers had promised to implement ‘plan B’ when the NHS was at risk of breaking point, adding that “we can categorically say that time is now”.
“It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings,” he said.
Brazil records 15,069 new Covid cases
Wednesday 20 October 2021 23:18 , Rory Sullivan
Brazil has recorded 15,609 new Covid infections and 373 deaths, its health ministry has said.
This brings the total death toll up to 604,228 and the overall number of cases during the pandemic to 21,680,488.
Only the US and India have seen worse Covid-19 outbreaks.
Government’s Covid approach ‘not holding things', says former chief scientific adviser
Wednesday 20 October 2021 23:37 , Rory Sullivan
The current coronavirus guidance is probably “not holding things”, a former chief scientific adviser has said.
Professor Sir Mark Walport told BBC Newsnight: “Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised. We’ve got a lot of cases at the moment.
“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be. The evidence is that the current measures are probably not holding things.”