Politics latest news: Don't stop vaccines crossing the borders, Boris Johnson tells EU

Cat Neilan
·49-min read

Boris Johnson has urged the EU not to put "restrictions on the vaccines or their ingredients across borders", as he warned: "the virus knows no borders".

Yesterday Brussels threatened to block EU vaccine exports to non-EU countries, after AstraZeneca revealed that it would not be able to fulfil its contractual obligations as originally hoped.

French MEP Veronique Trillet-Lenoir suggested AstraZeneca was giving EU supplies to other countries such as the UK and US who had agreed a higher price.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, today confirmed that the EU would press on with the export mechanism that would force companies to ask for permission before vaccines could leave the bloc.

Despite the row, Mr Johnson said he has "total confidence" in the UK's supply of vaccines.

Speaking from Downing Street, the Prime Minister added: "Obviously we expect and hope that our EU friends will honour all contracts...and we continue to work with friends and partners in the EU, and indeed around the world.

He added: "The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multilateral cooperation and one of the lessons we have to learn is the need to cooperate... I don't want to see restrictions on the vaccines or their ingredients across borders."

Follow the latest updates below.

05:42 PM

UK will work with EU to end 'vaccine protectionism', says Matt Hancock

The UK will work with the European Union to end “vaccine protectionism” and ensure no disruption to supply, Matt Hancock has said.

The Health Secretary told a virtual Chatham House event that vaccine nationalism "was not the right approach", following the EU's proposal to impose tight controls on the export of Covid-19 vaccines made in the bloc.

He said: "We oppose protectionism in all its forms and I think protectionism is unfortunate, especially so in the midst of a pandemic, when we are working so closely together with countries right around the world."

Stressing there should be no disruption to the UK’s vaccine supply, he added: "I am sure that we can work with the EU to ensure that whilst transparency is welcome, there are no blockers that are put in place."

He said: "Having spoken to the chief executives of both of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, I am confident of the supply of vaccine into the UK won't be disrupted.

"But I would urge all international partners in fact to be collaborative and working closely together."

05:36 PM

Don't block vaccines or ingredients from crossing borders, says Boris Johnson

The next question is about what the Government is doing to ensure this death toll never happens again.

He is also asked about the EU's protectionist stance on the vaccine again.

Boris Johnson says the UK is "in a radically different position" to where it was 12 months ago, as it has "huge quantities" of PPE and can make it domestically, the same is true of lateral flow tests and there is a "vast Test and Trace industry", which is doing "amazing work".

The UK also "out in front in terms of conducting genomic testing" of cases, so we know what types of coronavirus are circulating, treatments and the vaccine.

"None of that is any consolation for the terrible toll of life I am forced to announce today, but I can tell you things are very different now in the UK as a result of the pandemic," he adds.

On the EU, he says "the creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multilateral cooperation and one of the lessons we have to learn is the need to cooperate... I don't want to see restrictions on the vaccines or their ingredients across borders."

05:32 PM

Boris Johnson: We 'expect and hope our EU friends will honour' vaccine contract

The next question is about reopening schools - when, how and whether it will be a phased return.

Boris Johnson is also asked about the vaccine protectionism in the EU.

The Prime Minister says getting "primary school kids" back in the classroom is the top priority.

"Clearly if we are going to go back after half term... we will be giving advice well in advance of that, and give people some rough idea of when things will be," he adds.

That will depend on the vaccine rollout, but is likely to be "a national picture".

On the vaccine row, he says he has "total confidence in our supply", but adds that "we expect and hope our EU friends will honour all contracts".

The creation of the vaccine "has been a multilateral effort", he adds, saying Covid "knows no borders".

05:29 PM

NHS staff want 'respite from difficult year', says Sir Simon Stevens

The next question is whether the Prime Minister has called families, and whether NHS staff should get a payment.

Boris Johnson says "yes of course" he has spoken to families, and extends his condolences again.

He adds that they do "everything we can to support our wonderful NHS staff", saying the Government will continue to invest "record sums" in the service.

Sir Simon Stevens says NHS staff want "to be able to look forward to some sort of respite from an incredibly demanding and continuous year of pressure".

They also want to know that there will be something done about further staff resources, and "right now" that the new admissions drop.

05:27 PM

Prof Chris Whitty: New variant 'very substantially' changed the situation

Boris Johnson is challenged over whether his decisions have cost lives.

The Prime Minister repeats that he "did everything we could to minimise suffering and loss of life", and he is "deeply sorry for every life lost".

He says the Government will continue to do what it can to minimise life lost and he urges people to follow the guidance and stay at home.

Prof Chris Whitty says the new variant "has changed the situation we are in, very substantially". Society has been trying to function during a prolonged period, and the scientific advice is one component of the decisions being made.

"We were worried two weeks ago that the measures were not enough to hold the new variant... but the rates are just about holding," he says. It will be "much harder" to get it down however.

05:23 PM

Boris Johnson: UK death toll 'exhausts the thesaurus of misery'

The next question is about the death toll again, following Sir Patrick Vallance's comments last March that 20,000 deaths would be "a good outcome".

Boris Johnson says "you would exhaust the thesaurus of misery" in trying to describe the death toll. It is a tragic loss of life, he adds.

The country must work together - stay at home, and use the vaccines to defeat the virus - "and I am sure we will".

Asked about the delay between the two doses, Prof Chris Whitty says "the great majority" of protection comes from the first dose, and that means twice as many people get protection.

There is "no evidence" that protection wanes between three and 12 weeks for any of the three vaccines with approval, he adds. The "balance of risk" is in favour of the UK's decision.

05:19 PM

Boris Johnson: I take full responsibility for everything that has been done

Boris Johnson is then asked why the UK's death toll is now five-times what was predicted.

He says he is "deeply sorry for every life that has been lost, and as Prime Minister I take full responsibility for everything that has been done".

The Government did "everything we can" to minimise suffering and loss of life, he says. They will continue to do that.

Prof Chris Whitty says he had always been very careful not to make projections, but says we will "see unfortunately quite a lot more" deaths before the vaccines start to take effect.

He refuses to put a number on it, but urges everyone to "do their bit" by staying at home.

Sir Simon Stevens says there are "continuing improvements" in treatments, saying the hospital death rate has fallen from a third to a fifth, and that will get better over the next six to 18 months.

05:17 PM

Boris Johnson gives no clarity on schools reopening

The next question is about schools, which Boris Johnson says is down to cases again.

"We will want to reopen them, but we must do it in a way that is safe, and we must do it cautiously," he says.

He praises parents who are home-schooling their children, saying schools "are the best places" for children, and he understands the risk caused by "protracted lockdowns".

He lists the 1.3m laptops provided by the Government and "massive investment" in catch-up tutoring and so on.

"We will work around the clock as we come out of lockdown to ensure that kids who have suffered from a loss of learning... throughout the country get the attention, the tuition and support they need," he adds, pledging that exams will be "fair".

05:15 PM

Boris Johnson: Rates are still 'forbidingly high'

Boris Johnson turns to questions from the public, the first of which is long-term plans to allow safe international travel.

The Prime Minister says they will "look at where we have got to by February 15", when the vaccination target is due.

They will see "where we are" in terms of reducing the spread of infection, but the rate is "still pretty forbiddingly high".

However "at a certain stage, we will be wanting to get things open", he adds.

Over the next few days and weeks he will set out in more detail "as soon as we can, when and how we will get things open again".

05:13 PM

NHS boss: A year that no one wants to remember - but no one will forget

Sir Simon Stevens notes that it will be a year this Sunday since the first two patients with coronavirus were treated in hospital in Newcastle.

"It's a year in which over a quarter of a million severely ill coronavirus patients have been looked after in hospital," he adds.

He praises the work that the NHS has done in that time, but says it will be "a year that no one will want to remember - but a year that no one can forget".

05:12 PM

Chris Whitty: Daily death toll will come down 'relatively slowly'

Turning to the slides Chris Whitty says the numbers of cases has peaked at "an extremely high number" but says it is important we do not relax despite numbers coming down.

Cases
Cases

He then turns to hospitalisations, which are still "at a very high level throughout the country".

Hospitalisations
Hospitalisations

Finally he turns to deaths, which looks as if it has flattened out "at a very high level... an incredibly high number".

He says we must be "realistic" that the daily figure will come down "relatively slowly" over the next two or three weeks.

Deaths
Deaths

05:08 PM

Boris Johnson confirms 'grim statistic' - and one of 'sorrow'

Boris Johnson starts by confirming the number of UK deaths from Covid has passed 100,000 - a "grim statistic" but one of "sorrow", he says.

"I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one,"the Prime Minister says.

He promises that after the crisis has passed "we will come together to honour everyone we have lost" including those who worked on the frontline - not just health care workers, but shop staff, public transport drivers and many others.

We will "commemorate the small acts of kindness" he adds, including those who have volunteered and sacrificed their freedoms.

We will also "celebrate the genius" of the vaccine developers.

04:59 PM

UK rollout continues - but daily rate remains below target levels

While the scale of the UK's death toll is still being absorbed, the race against time continues with the vaccine rollout with more than 7.3m vaccinations given so far.

New data shows that across the four nations, a further 279,757 got their first Covid jab, taking that total to 6,853,327.

Some 472,446 were second doses, an increase of 1,968 on figures released the previous day.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 369,536.

Based on the latest figures, an average of 407,334 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government's target of 15 million first doses by February 15.

04:55 PM

'Sobering moment' says PHE boss as UK passes 100,000 Covid death toll

Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, said: "This is a sobering moment in the pandemic, these are not just numbers. Each death is a person who was someone's family member and friend.

"This virus has sadly taken millions of lives across the world but we have learnt a lot about this coronavirus over the past year. The best way to slow the spread is to follow the rules and right now that means staying at home.

"We should all be encouraged that hundreds of thousands of people are receiving a vaccine every day. However, there is still a way to go and these people might still be able to pass the virus on to others.

"That is why it is essential for all of us to work together by staying at home. This sacrifice will help slow the spread, protect the NHS and save lives."

04:50 PM

Grim new milestone as we pass 100,000 deaths: What's really happening in the UK?

Britain passed the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, almost a year to the day since the first recorded death.

Peter Attwood, an 84-year-old from Chatham, Kent, died in hospital on January 30 last year after falling ill with a cough and fever and is thought to be the first victim of Covid in the UK.

He is believed to have caught the virus in December 2019, showing that it was on our shores long before anyone knew. Now, nearly a year on, it has left a legacy of death, lockdowns and collateral damage in its wake.

But we know far more about it than we did last year.

This article offers a deep dive into what the latest data is telling us.

04:47 PM

100,000 death toll a 'national tragedy', says Sir Keir Starmer

It is a "national tragedy" that more than 100,000 people have died of Covid-19, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader said: "This is a national tragedy and a terrible reminder of all that we have lost as a country.

“We must never become numb to these numbers or treat them as just statistics. Every death is a loved one, a friend, a neighbour, a partner or a colleague. It is an empty chair at the dinner table.

“To all those that are mourning, we must promise to learn the lessons of what went wrong and build a more resilient country. That day will come and we will get there together.

“But for now we must remember those that we have lost and be vigilant in the national effort to stay at home, protect our NHS and vaccinate Britain.”

04:45 PM

Matt Hancock: Behind 100,000 Covid deaths are 'friends, families and neighbours'

Matt Hancock has issued a statement saying his thoughts are with "each and every person who has lost a loved one" after the UK's Covid death toll passes the grim 100,000 milestone.

"Behind these heart-breaking figures are friends, families and neighbours," the Health Secretary said.

“I know how hard the last year has been, but I also know how strong the British public’s determination is and how much we have all pulled together to get through this.

“We’re undertaking a huge national effort to vaccinate the most vulnerable people in our society, with over 6.5 million jabs across the UK to date, and thanks to the brilliance of our scientists and clinicians we know more today about this terrible new virus and how to beat it.

“The vaccine offers is the way out, but we cannot let up now and we sadly still face a tough period ahead. The virus is still spreading and we’re seeing over 3,500 people per day being admitted into hospital.

“The single most important thing we must all do now is stay at home to save lives and protect our NHS.”

04:38 PM

UK's Covid-19 death toll exceeds 100,000

The UK's Covid-19 death toll has exceeded 100,000, after another 1,631 deaths were reported today.

The figure - which now stands at 100,162 - far exceeds what experts had originally estimated.

Back in March, Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, said keeping the number of UK deaths below 20,000 would be a "good result" from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking today, Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey, said it was "a dark day for our country".

"Loss on this scale can seem almost too great to get our heads around but we must never forget that each of these people has left behind family, friends and neighbours. Thoughts and prayers are needed for all those left behind but alone that will not get us through this pandemic."

He added: "If the loss of 100,000 people in this country is not a good enough reason to hold a public inquiry now, then the Prime Minister needs to take a long hard look in the mirror."

04:35 PM

Suzanne Moore: Our children are paying the highest price in lockdown

Remember when David Cameron accidentally left one of his children in a pub? “How can you forget a child?” chorused his critics while the less than perfect parents among us merely smirked.

Suzanne Moore doesn’t find it so funny now though. With the ongoing emergency of a pandemic, an entire generation has been not so much left in the pub, as simply abandoned.

Schools will not open until who knows when; there will be no exams; university teaching is all online but the fees remain the same. Jobs? Hospitality, where many young people worked, has been wiped out.

Parents are in crisis because home schooling is a nightmare. Many are trying to work at the same time and most, not being trained teachers and all, hardly understand what their children should be learning.

Perhaps teachers are more than childminders after all? And perhaps childminders are themselves valuable. Who knew?

04:24 PM

Ireland extends lockdown to March 5

Ireland's coronavirus lockdown is to be extended by a number of weeks until March 5, premier Micheal Martin has said.

Last week the Northern Ireland Executive did likewise.

However so far the UK Government has resisted calls to give any clarity on what to expect from the mid-February review, with Boris Johnson yesterday sounding far more optimistic about the chances of easing restrictions than Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, was later on the same day.

04:21 PM

Quarantine hotels ready in '24 to 48 hours', says Best Western boss

We are still awaiting the outcome of the Covid-O committee this afternoon, where the quarantine hotels are expected to be signed off.

Given that Boris Johnson is chairing Downing Street, it's reasonable to assume he could announce the plan there.

Waiting in the wings is hotel chain Best Western, who has revealed that it could open its hotels as quarantine facilities within two days.

Chief executive Rob Paterson said: “We could turn this around within 24 to 48 hours for an open hotel, and a bit longer for an unopened hotel.”

“Through our project with the NHS supporting discharge patients, we’ve got the protocols and the whole infection control management side of things taken care of."

He added that it would be an “entirely contactless and quite a sterile experience” for guests.

04:10 PM

40-year-old Tory MP defends decision to take Covid vaccine

A Conservative MP has defended himself for having received a coronavirus vaccine, despite not being in one of the top priority groups.

Brendan Clarke-Smith, the 40-year-old MP for Bassetlaw, was given the jab on Friday after finishing a volunteering shift at Retford Hospital vaccination centre.

In a Facebook post, he said: "As a volunteer I was also asked to have a vaccine. Some have suggested that politicians should test them out first - although they are usually the same people who then say politicians get preferential treatment, so I suppose it’s difficult to win!"

Simon Greaves, the Labour leader of Bassetlaw District Council, criticised Mr Clarke-Smith, saying: ""The man was vaccinated despite thousands of local people on the government's priority list still waiting anxiously and patiently."

In a statement released on Tuesday, Mr Clarke-Smith stood by his decision.

"I have just started volunteering at a local vaccination centre in my constituency," he said. "At the end of a day of volunteering there were some left over vaccinations and rather than letting them go to waste they offered me a vaccination so I don't put people at risk while continuing to volunteer."

03:51 PM

Rishi Sunak defends 'working mums' comment

Rishi Sunak has defended himself from criticism suggesting he thought it was only women who were taking on the additional duties of home schooling.

Responding to a question in the Commons specifically about mothers who are working while dealing with childcare and home schooling responsibilities, the Chancellor said "mums everywhere" are owed a debt of thanks for "juggling childcare and work" during lockdown.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote on Twitter: "Erm @RishiSunak you know mums work too and don't just look after the kids and make meals... Happy to brief you on the inequality and sexism women face at work."

"The Chancellor seems to think that Dads have no role in childcare at all... So outdated, so out of touch with the realities of life for millions of families," she added.

BBC journalist Emma Barnett also questioned if he had "missed a parent group".

Mr Sunak tweeted a clip of the question and his answer, adding: "For clarity I was answering a question about mums."

03:39 PM

UK 'will not hesitate' to tighten borders, says Priti Patel

The Government "will not hesitate" to take further action and strengthen border restrictions to protect the UK from new Covid-19 variants, the Home Secretary has told MPs, ahead of an expected announcement on quarantine hotels.

Speaking in the Commons, Priti Patel insisted that the UK has had a "comprehensive strategy for public health measures at the border" since January 2020.

"To date, Border Force has checked an estimated 3.7 million passenger locater forms, issued over 2,300 fixed penalty notices and referred over 22,000 cases to the police," Ms Patel said.

She added that the UK has a "world-leading vaccination programme" and the Government will do "everything it can to protect the rollout from new strains of the virus".

Quarantine hotels are expected to be announced for travellers arriving from high-risk countries, including in South America, Portugal and South Africa later today.

03:29 PM

German Chancellor urges 'fair' distribution of Covid vaccines

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged a "fair" distribution of coronavirus vaccines across the world.

"Money is one thing, but the other thing in a time of scarcity is the availability of the vaccine. Here it's about a fair distribution, and not about a question of money," she told an online forum.

"Let's not kid ourselves, the question of who gets which vaccine in the world will of course leave new wounds and new memories because those who get such emergency help will remember that."

It comes as AstraZeneca vaccines meant for and paid for by the EU could have ended up in Britain, diplomatic sources in Brussels claimed today.

03:27 PM

Row over vaccines will not disrupt UK rollout, says No 10

The row between the European Union and AstraZeneca - in which Brussels has threatened to block vaccines made in the bloc from being exported - will not disrupt supplies to the UK, Downing Street has said.

Brussels last night imposed tighter controls on exports after becoming embroiled in a row with AstraZeneca, with the drugs company expected to deliver 50 million fewer doses to the EU than expected.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "AstraZeneca are committed to delivering two million doses a week to the UK and we are not expecting any changes to that.

"[Pfizer] supplies will be lower this month and next as it upgrades its factory but it will then increase production in March. Projection of volumes of delivery remain the same for that period."

Asked what the UK would do if there was a block placed on the Pfizer vaccine arriving from Belgium, the spokesman said: "I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. We continue to work closely with our suppliers and I've pointed to the fact that we're confident of our supplies."

03:16 PM

Mark Drakeford blames bad weather as Wales misses first vaccine target

The Welsh Government has missed its target to vaccinate 70 per cent of over-80s by the end of the weekend, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed.

Figures released on Tuesday show 96,830 of those aged over 80 in Wales have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, accounting for 52.8 per cent of that age group. Meanwhile 67.6 per cent of care home residents and 74.6 per cent of care home staff have received their first dose of the vaccine.

Mr Drakeford told the Senedd: "We know that a large number of people aged over 80 did not feel that it was safe for them to leave their homes in the snow and yesterday morning in very cold and icy conditions and weren't able to attend appointments at GP clinics or in mass vaccination centres.

"All of those people will have been offered another opportunity for vaccination by the end of Wednesday of this week, so we will very rapidly make up for that number.

"The figures of people being offered vaccination and able to take it up in Wales over the last week have been remarkable and that should give us all confidence that we will have offered vaccination to everyone in that group, in line with the ambition that we set out at the outset."

02:59 PM

Sherelle Jacobs: The Covid scandal that could sink the EU

The EU’s reaction to AstraZeneca's admission that it would not be able to supply the bloc with the Covid vaccines as planned has ranged from the perplexingly spiteful to the sublimely deceitful.

Not only has it threatened to block exports of the Belgian-made Pfizer jabs, potentially putting Britain’s vaccine rollout in jeopardy. Over the last 24 hours, medical misinformation that risks smearing the AstraZeneca vaccine has been pumped out of Berlin.

And so it seems we have stumbled into the hyper-surreal era of vaccine trade wars – as Brussels threatens to erect an iron curtain between itself and Britain on the global stage. In the end, though, is such behaviour not vintage Brussels?

But as Sherelle Jacobs argues, Brussels is in danger of overplaying its hand.

We have stumbled into the hyper-surreal era of vaccine trade wars  - Getty
We have stumbled into the hyper-surreal era of vaccine trade wars - Getty

02:45 PM

Information Commissioner does not use Facebook or WhatsApp, MPs hear

The UK's Information Commissioner does not use Facebook or WhatsApp, she told MPs today.

Elizabeth Denham told a DCMS sub-committee that she did not use Facebook "by choice" and used Signal - one of the apps which has seen a spike in new users since WhatsApp's privacy announcement - for her "personal communications".

WhatsApp recently announced it was introducing an updated privacy policy and detailed how it shares some data with parent company Facebook and demanded users agree to continue using the app - prompting to leave the service for rival apps.

"What's really interesting about the WhatsApp announcement in ongoing sharing with Facebook is how many users voted with their virtual feet and left the platform to take up membership with Telegram or Signal which are end-to-end encrypted," Ms Denham said.

"I think it's a bigger issue of trust. Users expect companies to maintain their trust and not to suddenly change the contract that they have with the users and I think it's an example of users being concerned about the trustworthiness and the sustainability of the promises that are made to users."

WhatsApp's announcement prompted many users to quit the platform  - AFP
WhatsApp's announcement prompted many users to quit the platform - AFP

02:41 PM

Tory Party's collection of ethnicity and religion data 'illegal', says Information Commissioner

The Conservative Party's collection of the personal data of 10 million voters around their ethnicity and religion was illegal, the Information Commissioner has told MPs.

Elizabeth Denham said the Conservatives had deleted the data following a recommendation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in a report last year.

She told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS): "Religion and ethnicity are both - like health information - special category data that requires a higher standard for a legal basis to collect.

"Ethnicity is not an acceptable collection of data, there isn't a legal basis that allows for the collection of that data."

She added: "It was illegal to collect the ethnicity data and that has been destroyed."

02:37 PM

Further 236177 vaccines given in England: NHS data

A further 236,177 vaccinations were given in England yesterday, official figures show.

That means a total of 6,405,554 Covid-19 vaccinations have taken place in England since the rollout started on December 8, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses.

Of this number, 5,962,544 were the first dose of the vaccine, a rise of 234,851 on the previous day's figures, while 443,010 were the second dose, an increase of 1,326.

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?

02:34 PM

EU invested 'significantly less' in vaccines than US and UK, says science analytics boss

The EU has invested "significantly less than both the US and the UK on the vaccine front", which might explain why the bloc is now struggling with supplies, the boss of a science information and analytics company has said.

Rasmus Bech Hansen, found and chief executive of life science intelligence company Airfinity, told Radio 4's World at One: “It does seem that the EU is paying less than other countries including the UK, it’s definitely paying less than the US.

"The Pfizer vaccine, we have some numbers saying the EU is paying $14 per dose, the US is paying $19, but then a country like Israel is paying $28, so significantly higher. There is a wide discrepancy in the pricing here and that could explain some of the patterns we’re seeing.”

The UK had also invested in vaccines earlier, he added, noting "speed is of the essence".

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

02:25 PM

Further 875 Covid deaths registered in English hospitals

A further 875 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 67,921, NHS England said on Tuesday.

Patients were aged between 33 and 101. All except 21, aged between 52 and 93, had known underlying health conditions.

The deaths were between December 17 and January 25, with the majority being on or after January 16.

There were 34 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

London was the worst-affected region, with 182 deaths registered, followed by the Midlands with 173 and the East of England, with 147.

There were 124 deaths registered in the South East, 109 in the North West, 98 in the North East & Yorkshire and 42 in the South West.

02:22 PM

Dominic Raab confirms controversial cut to overseas aid budget this year

The UK will be cutting its overseas aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GDP, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed.

The controversial move to reduce the commitment from 0.7 per cent was announced last autumn, prompting widespread criticism from Conservative MPs and the resignation of Baronness Lady Sugg.

Dominic Raab, who is due to appear before a Commons committee shortly, has published a written ministerial statement confirming the move.

In November the newly-merged FCDO department promised: "We will spend more than £10 billion next year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health."

Today, his statement reaffirms that, saying: "Based on current GNI forecasts will spend over £10bn of ODA in 2021."

02:11 PM

German AstraZeneca 'misinformation' could impede vaccine rollout, Sajid Javid suggests

The type of "misinformation" seen in a German newspaper yesterday could "impede" the progress of the global vaccination programme, a senior Conservative has said.

Yesterday German newspaper Handelsblatt claimed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine might only have an efficacy of about eight per cent among those over the age of 65 – far lower than the 70 per cent overall efficacy among adults reported by researchers last year.

This was roundly denied by the German health ministry, Downing Street and AstraZeneca itself. It is thought the figure relates to the proportion of over-65s who took part in the trial.

Sajid Javid said the row "shows why cool heads must prevail".

02:03 PM

Schools reopening announcement 'in next few days' says minister

An announcement about schools will be made "in the next few days", the schools standards minister has said.

Nick Gibb told MPs the decision about "when and how we can reopen" would be based on data such as hospitalisation rates and mortality, the rate of vaccination and the challenge of new variants.

"The Government recognises that head teachers, teachers, support staff, parents and carers need time to prepare for reopening and that's why (Education Secretary Gavin Williamson) made it clear last week that we will give two weeks' notice to schools, colleges and universities so that they can prepare for a return to face-to-face education.

"We want to give two weeks' notice so that parents can make arrangements for the care of their children and we will be making announcements in the next few days."

This morning Nadhim Zahawi dropped some pretty heavy hints that primary schools could reopen first (see 8:10am).

Nick Gibb, in less stressful times  - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Nick Gibb, in less stressful times - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

01:59 PM

Russian malware in Government-donated laptops 'dealt with', says minister

The Russian malware discovered on Government-provided laptops for students having to learn from home has been "dealt with", minister Nick Gibb has said.

Schools around the UK found that devices provided by the Government arrived with a virus on them which connected to servers in Russia, raising concerns that hackers could steal data on vulnerable students.

Asked about this during a Commons debate, the schools standards minister told MPs "this occurred on a very small number of devices.

"They have now been dealt with, the virus has been removed."

Mr Gibb also reiterated the Governments plan to give schools and colleges "two weeks' notice".

He said this was important "not just for schools but parents as well, who need to know precisely what childcare arrangements will be".

But he could not give a sense of when that would be.

01:52 PM

Boris Johnson to give press conference tonight

Boris Johnson will give another Downing Street press conference, Number 10 has confirmed.

The Prime Minister will be joined by England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England.

The trio will appear at 5pm.

Coming live to a screen near you - Reuters
Coming live to a screen near you - Reuters

01:50 PM

Rishi Sunak urges patience ahead of Budget update on Covid support

Rishi Sunak has insisted further economic support is coming in response to Covid-19, although he remained tight-lipped on the detail when challenged by MPs.

The Chancellor was challenged by several MPs, including some from the Conservative benches, to extend support to businesses and individuals - including the £20 weekly boost to Universal Credit.

He told MPs that "if it's reasonable" all options will be considered "in the round at Budget, where we will set out the next stage of our economic response to coronavirus."

Treasury select committee chairman Mel Stride warned of a "looming bloodbath" when a moratorium on commercial evictions comes to an end in March.

Mr Sunak replied: "The Housing Secretary [Robert Jenrick] is very engaged with this issue and he's worked with the industry to put in place various codes of practice to encourage good and constructive dialogue between landlords and tenants for a difficult situation, and I think there are promising signs that that is happening."

01:43 PM

Minister restates Government commitment to reopen schools first

A minister has restated the commitment to reopen schools as the priority at the start of the process for lifting lockdown restrictions.

Nick Gibb, the schools standards minister, told the Commons: "It is the Government's strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible.

"We will prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions.

"We are acutely aware of the damage to children's education and development, particularly to the most disadvantaged pupils by being away from school and of the increased burdens that are placed on parents.

"And that's why we allowed early years providers to remain open throughout this lockdown."

01:41 PM

Lobby latest: Ministers told to expect 'intense pressure' on hospitals for weeks to come

Ministers have been told to expect "intense pressure in hospital, and high death rates" to continue for some weeks yet, despite more than 6.5m people having received the Covid vaccine.

This morning Cabinet discussed the latest on Covid-19, with Boris Johnson "once again paying tribute to the British public for the sacrifices they continue to make in our fight against the virus", his official spokesman said.

"The Prime Minister highlighted that while we are now seeing signs of new case numbers reducing, we can anticipate that intense pressure in hospitals and high death rates will persist in coming weeks, underlining the importance of continuing to follow the rules," he added.

"The chief scientific adviser (Sir Patrick) set out that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine remains both safe and effective and that the trials showed similar immune responses in both younger and older adults."

Ealing Hospital has gone above ICU capacity - Heathcliff O'Malley
Ealing Hospital has gone above ICU capacity - Heathcliff O'Malley

01:36 PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson has not 'lost faith' in Gavin Williamson

Boris Johnson has not 'lost faith' in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to do his job, despite a minister being sent in his place to answer an urgent question.

Schools minister Nick Gibb is currently replying for the Government later in response to a UQ on its plan for the reopening of schools - despite Labour addressing the question to Mr Williamson.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman, asked if Mr Johnson had lost faith in Mr Williamson to do the job, said: "No. The Education Secretary continues to do a good job and continues to work closely with schools as we move through the pandemic...

"It remains that we want to see children back in school as fast as possible, but we must do that in a way that is consistent with keeping the infection rate down."

Gavin Williamson is under pressure over repeated failings at DfE - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Gavin Williamson is under pressure over repeated failings at DfE - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

01:34 PM

Lobby latest: Still no decision on quarantine hotels

The Government will keep coronavirus measures at the border under review, Downing Street has said, ahead of an expected announcement on quarantine hotels later on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We will continue to keep our measures at the border under review to ensure that we don't reimport cases of the (virus) as we continue to try and drive down case numbers."

The spokesman declined to give details of when the Covid Operations Committee would meet on Tuesday.

01:34 PM

Lobby latest: 'No data' to back up German newspaper claim about AstraZeneca

Downing Street has pushed back against claims in Germany that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was far less effective in older people.

Yesterday German newspaper Handelsblatt claimed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine might only have an efficacy of about eight per cent among those over the age of 65 – far lower than the 70 per cent overall efficacy among adults reported by researchers last year.

However this morning the German health ministry denied this, reiterating that it expects the European Medicines Agency to decide on Friday whether to approve the vaccine.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Oxford has come out and said there is no basis for that allegation and AstraZeneca said it was completely incorrect.

"I believe you will have seen the German health ministry have denied these reports and confirmed there is no data to substantiate this claim."

01:27 PM

Have your say: Is the EU right to react to AstraZeneca's supply shift?

A row has erupted after the EU threatened to block exports of the Belgian-made Pfizer vaccine in response to news that AstraZeneca will deliver 50 million fewer doses to the EU than it had expected.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, is not even approved yet in the EU, although the bloc did sign a deal in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more.

This morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, insisted that the potential blockade would not affect the UK's rollout - although he admitted that supply was still "tight".

He also urged against "vaccine nationalism", noting that the world must be protected - a sentiment that was echoed by French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir.

So is the EU right to threaten to withhold doses made in its bloc -or are politicians playing a dangerous game with public health? Have your say in the poll below.

12:33 PM

Hold off on booking your summer holiday, vaccine minister says

It's not the news we wanted to hear but Nadhim Zahawi has said people should not be booking summer holidays abroad.

He said it was “far too early” to even speculate about summer holidays with 37,000 people still in hospital being treated for Covid-19.

Asked whether his advice to people considering booking a summer holiday now was not to do so right now, he replied: “Absolutely.

“At the moment, we have reached base camp, if I can describe it as that, with the vaccine deployment programme, over six and a half million people now with the first dose..a long way to go.”

You can read the full write-up here

12:30 PM

Coronavirus likely to become 'more treatable' in next 6 months

It is "possible" that coronavirus will become a "much more treatable disease" over the next six to 18 months, Sir Simon adds.

He tells the Committee: "I think a lot of us in the health service are increasingly hopeful that the second half of the year and beyond we will also see more therapeutics and more treatments for coronavirus."

He added: "There are a number of others (treatments) in the pipeline and I think it is possible that over the course of the next six to 18 months coronavirus also becomes a much more treatable disease with antivirals and other therapies, which alongside the vaccination programme, holds out the hope of a return to a much more normal future."

12:11 PM

'Of course there is supply shortage', Sir Simon Stevens tells MPs

Sir Simon Stevens has told the committee that "of course there is a supply shortage" of coronavirus vaccines.

"If there were unlimited vaccines then you wouldn't see what the European Commission were saying yesterday, you wouldn't see Italy attempting to sue one of the manufacturers, you wouldn't see Germany in uproar as it is today," he said.

"Of course there's a supply shortage, and we've done very well in this country to get the supply we have available to us, the question is how do we use it to best effect."


For more of the Germany fall-out read this

11:44 AM

Inside No 10

Boris Johnson chairs the weekly cabinet meeting  - Pippa Fowles
Boris Johnson chairs the weekly cabinet meeting - Pippa Fowles

Boris Johnson chairs the weekly cabinet meeting. We'll find out from lobby later the ins and outs of what was discussed.

11:36 AM

NHS being stretched in 'extreme way', NHS boss warns

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, has described the current scenario with coronavirus as a "very serious position with all sorts of knock-on consequences, not only for patients and families with coronavirus but other services as well".

He told the Health and Social Care Committee: "Everybody is getting intensive care and ventilators who clinicians think would benefit, but let's not disguise the fact that this is obviously stretching the system in an extreme way."

Sir Simon added that across the NHS in England there are about 3,700 core critical care beds, with a further 2,170 surge beds and facilities, which are currently "occupied by patients who need critical care".

He added: "Said another way, more than 50% of critical care beds on top of the core capacity, and that is obviously requiring a flex in staffing levels and staff are working under incredible pressure to deliver those services."

11:25 AM

UK expertise to other nations 'laudable', says MP

Andrew Bridgen has said the New Variant Assessment Platform is "absolutely" the right course of action to be taking right now.

The North West Leicestershire MP tells The Telegraph: "Even when we are fully vaccinated in the UK, we're not safe until we have everyone vaccinated and suppress the virus and ensure mutations aren't coming along.

"On the plane you put your own mask on first and then we've got to help everyone else and we will be the first to do that."

11:01 AM

UK to offer genomics expertise to identify new variants of virus

The offer is being extended to countries who do not have the resources to do so.

The ‘New Variant Assessment Platform’ will help countries to identify changes in the virus, while providing an early warning of new mutations that could endanger the UK New commitment to improve Global Health Security comes as the UK holds G7 presidency this year.

The announcement comes as part of a speech Matt Hancock will deliver at Chatham House.

The platform will be led by Public Health England (PHE) working with NHS Test and Trace and academic partners as well as the World Health Organization’s SARS-CoV-2 Global Laboratory Working Group.

10:45 AM

'Early successes' need to be maintained in order to see schools open, says senior Tory MP

Sir Bernard Jenkin has called on the Government to "sustain" its early success of "placing large-scale speculative orders for vaccines", or risk the prospect of sending children back to schools being nothing but "wasted breath".

Writing for Conservative Home Sir Bernard said: "The last thing any government needs is to be a victim of its own success. Get it right, and the TBI modelling suggests we could have last year’s “September-style” restrictions by April."

10:07 AM

UsforThem

Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, has called on the Government to reopen schools after joining the UsforThem campaign.

It comes after The Telegraph revealed today six more Tory MPs joined the campaign group, which calls for schools to fully reopen or for ministers to quantify the harms and benefits of the schools shutdown, taking the total number of Conservatives opposing the prolonged closures to 17.

09:28 AM

Where's Gavin?

Labour Whips has taken to Twitter this morning to show their discontent towards the Education Secretary and an Urgent Question they are asking later.

The UQ asks Mr Williamson if he will make a statement on the Government's plan for the reopening of educational settings. They aren't impressed that he "isn't turning up":

08:59 AM

EU may take legal action against AstraZeneca, MEP claims

French MEP Veronique Trillet-Lenoir said the European Commission will consider legal action against AstraZeneca amid the row over vaccine supplies.

The European Commission has accused the pharmaceutical company, which worked with Oxford University on the development of the Covid-19 vaccine, of failing to give a valid explanation for not delivering doses to the bloc.

Ms Trillet-Lenoir told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "A contract is a commitment, it is based on public money, long negotiations with mutual agreements on prices and ability (to deliver).

"The Commission is right to say that, when trust is betrayed, we should take strong decisions.

"First of all, (it) is thinking about controlling exportation for products made in the EU.

"But the Parliament would agree, and will be alongside the Commission, if the decision is to take legal action."

08:58 AM

Have your say: Is the EU right to react to AstraZeneca's supply shift?

A row has erupted after the EU threatened to block exports of the Belgian-made Pfizer vaccine in response to news that AstraZeneca will deliver 50 million fewer doses to the EU than it had expected.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, is not even approved yet in the EU, although the bloc did sign a deal in August for 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more.

This morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, insisted that the potential blockade would not affect the UK's rollout - although he admitted that supply was still "tight".

He also urged against "vaccine nationalism", noting that the world must be protected - a sentiment that was echoed by French MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir.

So is the EU right to threaten to withhold doses made in its bloc -or are politicians playing a dangerous game with public health? Have your say in the poll below.

08:44 AM

DfE 'useless' and Boris Johnson not prioritising schools, claims Labour MP

Labour has questioned whether the Government is prioritising reopening schools following mixed messages from Boris Johnson and Downing Street yesterday, and slammed the Department for Education as "useless".

Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting told BBC Radio 4's Today that ministers were acting as though they were "passive bystanders when it comes to education and behaving as if everything is out of their control".

He added: "Of course the decision about a date has to be driven by the trajectory of the virus - we all understand that. But Government can and should be acting now.

"And bluntly, given the absolute state we've seen from the Department for Education over the best part of the year... it is entirely reasonable - indeed necessary - to ask the Government for a plan because if there is one thing we know from the Department for Education, it is that they are absolutely useless when it comes to planning and preparation and actively doing everything they can to get children learning."

08:38 AM

AstraZeneca withholding EU vaccines because they paid less, French MEP suggests

A French MEP has implied that AstraZeneca is witholding Covid vaccines because the EU negotiated "lower prices" than the UK.

Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, an oncologist and politician of La République En Marche, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she was "quite surprised and disappointed to see [AstraZeneca's] methods, which are unfair and unacceptable", noting that the European Commission "has been negotiating on behalf of 27 states, which made possible lower prices."

Asked if she thought the EU was missing out because the UK had paid more, she said "it could really be an explanation... other countries are paying a higher price. It is their choice, but it should not enter into the pharma's decisions."

However she defended the EU's approach, saying "many states could not even think of a vaccine if they could not rely on commission. It is good, it is safe, but it is happening in an ecosystem which is very competitive."

Ms Trillet-Lenoir stressed all countries should have "access to a minimum level of doses of the vaccine", adding: "I would be as concerned if the UK was in difficulties with AstraZeneca".

08:25 AM

New Zealand unlikely to open borders for 'much of this year', says Jacinda Arden

New Zealand has given us a glimpse of what could be in store for the rest of us, after Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said the country's were likely to remain closed for much of the year.

The emergence over the weekend of New Zealand's first case of community transmission in more than two months showed the danger Covid-19 still posed to a nation hailed for its response to the coronavirus, she said.

"Given the risks in the world around us and the uncertainty of the global rollout of a vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year," she told reporters.

New Zealand's borders have been effectively closed to all but returning citizens since last March, although they are exploring "travel bubbles" with Australia and Pacific island nations, which have also been largely successful at keeping out or containing the virus.

Jacinda Ardern said the government would not re-open its borders while the pandemic was still raging worldwide - Getty
Jacinda Ardern said the government would not re-open its borders while the pandemic was still raging worldwide - Getty

08:19 AM

'Too early' to think about foreign summer holidays, says minister

Another minister has said it is "too early" for people to think about summer holiday plans, amid growing concerns that foreign trips could be off the agenda for some time yet.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, told BBC Breakfast: "I would say it is too early to begin to speculate on summer holidays.

"I think the right thing to do now is to continue with our vaccination drive. I think on Saturday we got to half a million first dose jabs in a single day - we continue to make great progress."

He told Sky News: "At the moment we have reached Base Camp, if I could describe it as that - over 6.5 million people now with the first dose. There is a long way to go."

Read: The Government is threatening to consign holidays to history

08:13 AM

AstraZeneca must give Europe its 'fair share' of Covid vaccine, says German minister

German health minister Jens Spahn backed the EU's proposals to block exports of the Covid-19 vaccine, saying Europe should have its "fair share".

The EU has proposed setting up a register of vaccine exports amid frustration over delays in deliveries of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot and other supply problems.

"I can understand that there are production problems but then it must affect everyone in the same way," Spahn told ZDF television.

"This is not about Europe first but about Europe's fair share," he said, adding it therefore made sense to have export limits on vaccines.

Production problems "must affect everyone in the same way," Jens Spahn said - Bloomberg
Production problems "must affect everyone in the same way," Jens Spahn said - Bloomberg

08:10 AM

Primary schools likely to reopen before secondary schools, minister hints

Primary schools could reopen before secondary schools, a minister has hinted.

Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that infection rates were "much lower" in primary schools - noting secondary schools had five-time the rate - suggesting they could reopen first.

Asked if that was possible from the February half term, he said; "It will happen, it will happen as a priority, I can't give you a timeline but it is an absolute priority."

08:07 AM

Quarantine hotels to block new variants will be announced today, minister confirms

Ministers are expected to sign off plans for quarantine hotels today, in a bid to keep the new variants from spreading throughout the UK.

It is thought the hotels - where international arrivals must stay for 10 days - will be targeted at high-risk regions including South Africa, South America and Portugal initially.

The Health and Business Secretaries will be "heavily engaged" with industry to discuss support, the vaccines minister said this morning.

Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News: "There will be an announcement on this issue later on today, so I can only say to you that it is the right thing to do, because I am the vaccines minister, that as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.

"We acted on those very quickly and of course dealt with travel from those countries, and from Portugal and elsewhere, rapidly so it is important we continue to review our border policy and an announcement will be made when a decision has been taken."

07:54 AM

Boris Johnson fights to reopen schools before Easter

Boris Johnson is fighting to get schools open before Easter amid growing concerns over the damage being done to a generation of children by the third coronavirus lockdown.

Government sources said on Monday night that mid-March is now viewed by ministers as the target deadline by which to reopen schools.

Confirmation is expected this week that hopes of children returning to the classroom after the February half-term break will not be met. Labour will table an urgent question in the Commons on Tuesday to demand answers on the Government's plan.

It comes as a further six Tory MPs on Monday joined the campaign group UsforThem, which calls for schools to fully reopen or for ministers to quantify the harms and benefits of the schools shutdown, taking the total number of Conservatives opposing the prolonged closures to 17.