A new Covid variant discovered in South Africa may have increased transmissibility, scientists have said.
The C.1.2 variant, first discovered in May, has since August been found in six of South Africa’s nine provinces as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, Portugal, New Zealand and Switzerland.
The mutations on the virus “are associated with increased transmissibility” and an increased ability to evade antibodies, according to research published by South African groups including the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
It comes as the number of organ transplants fell by more than 30 per cent during the first wave of Covid in 2020. According to modelling calculations, the slowdown in transplants resulted in more than 48,000 years of patient life loss.
Ireland to phase out most Covid restrictions by October 22
19:03 , Robert Dex
Taoiseach Micheal Martin has confirmed the majority of Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland will be phased out by October 22.
In a televised address to the nation following a meeting of the cabinet, he said the country was entering a “whole new phase” of the pandemic and would have to “remain vigilant”.
50 Covid deaths reported today
18:56 , Robert Dex
The Government said a further 50 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 132,535.
Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 156,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
As of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 32,181 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.
Government data up to August 30 shows that of the 90,838,594 Covid jabs given in the UK, 48,048,009 were first doses, a rise of 19,643 on the previous day.
Some 42,790,585 were second doses, an increase of 66,648.
Northern Ireland deputy First Minister contracts Covid
16:16 , Rachael Burford
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said she is self-isolating after contracting Covid-19.
The Sinn Fein politician tweeted that she hopes to return to public duties next week.
She wrote: “I have contracted Covid-19. I am thankful to have had two doses of the vaccine.
“I’ll remain in self-isolation and hope to return to my public duties next week.
“Executive Office Minister Declan Kearney will take forward departmental business in the meantime.”
State school students to get Cambridge tutoring
15:52 , Rachael Burford
Hundreds of state school A-level students will be given additional tuition by University of Cambridge academics as part of a pilot scheme to mitigate educational disruption caused by the pandemic.
The 17-month programme for around 750 maths, physics and chemistry students will include online tutorials, small group supervisions, mentoring, and a residential stay at a Cambridge college.
From January, students will be supported through the ‘STEM SMART’ scheme from the second term of Year 12 to their Year 13 A-level exams in a bid to help bridge attainment gaps caused by Covid-19.
The pilot programme also aims to build confidence in disadvantaged students and encourage them to apply to study engineering or physical sciences at leading universities, including Cambridge.
Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor at Cambridge, said: “Covid continues to exacerbate existing inequalities in education, and many schools face an unprecedented challenge dealing with the legacy of the pandemic.
“As part of the university’s mission to contribute to society through the pursuit of learning, the STEM SMART programme will bolster the studies of A-level students at non-fee-paying schools, from their first year all the way through to their exams.
“This is support for those talented students who need it most, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”
NHS is facing winter-like pressures in summer, medics warn
15:08 , Laura Sharman
England’s health service is experiencing ‘winter-like pressures’, the Society of Acute Medicine has warned.
Medics from the organisation, which represents doctors working in the field of acute medicine, said that doctors were treating “vast numbers” of people with non-Covid illnesses as well as many attending hospital with severe coronavirus symptoms.
Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said many patients were suffering from illnesses typically seen in winter such as respiratory infections.
This is being seen particularly in children, but also in large numbers of patients who have seen their health deteriorate over the past 18 months.
The NHS is facing a huge backlog of care which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. A record 5.45 million people are waiting for care in England alone.
Covid cases in Scotland continue to rise
14:53 , Rachael Burford
The number of Covid cases in Scotland has risen by more than 2,000 in the past 24 hours, while seven coronavirus patients have died.
The latest Scottish Government figures published on Tuesday record 6,029 daily cases, up from 3,893 on Monday.
The figures remain below the record high of 7,113 on Sunday, but numbers of patients in hospital have continued to rise.
A total of 585 people were in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up by 34 on the previous day, with 54 patients in intensive care, up two.
The death toll under the daily measure - of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days - is now 8,118.
Booster campaign coming soon for over 80s and vulnerable, says expert
14:22 , Laura Sharman
A coronavirus vaccine booster campaign should begin quickly for those over 80s and certain groups of clinically vulnerable people, an expert has said.
Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia said that a wider booster campaign may not be needed as vaccines are still effective at warding off serious disease.
His comments come as experts from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation prepare to make a final decision about the booster campaign, with the NHS in England poised to start the campaign from September 6.
Health officials have plans in place to offer a third jab to 30 million over-50s and clinically vulnerable people but are yet to get a green light from government advisers.
Finance secretary Kate Forbes self-isolating after close contact alert
11:49 , Laura Sharman
Scotland’s finance secretary is in self-isolation after being identified as a close contact of a family member with Covid-19.
Kate Forbes will self-isolate for up to 10 days because she received her second dose of a coronavirus vaccine less than two weeks ago, she said.
Ms Forbes announced the news on Twitter, but said she would continue to work from home.
“Late this afternoon, a family member tested positive,” she tweeted.
“As a close contact, I will now self-isolate for the full period as I am not fully vaccinated. It’s been less than a fortnight since my second vaccine.”
Ms Forbes added that she will still give evidence at two committees on Wednesday and respond to the debate on the McVitie’s closure at Tollcross virtually, among other commitments.
EU has vaccinated 70 per cent of adults
11:04 , Laura Sharman
Seven in ten adults in the European Union have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The European Commission confirmed the news on Tuesday which means the bloc has hit its target set at the beginning of the year.
It marks an important milestone in the EU vaccination strategy after a slow start.
However, it also masks big differences among EU countries, with some nations being well above the 70 per cent goal while others in the poorer eastern region of the bloc being far behind.
Poor planning has led to GP service pressure, says expert
10:28 , Laura Sharman
A lack of forward planning has led to mounting pressure on GP services, a health commentator has said.
Concerns have been raised over GP access, particularly face-to-face appointments for the elderly or people who have struggled with the “digital first” strategy adopted by many surgeries during the pandemic.
One health expert said that even before the coronavirus crisis, the UK had some of the lowest numbers of GPs per population across Europe.
While it takes a number of years for new doctors to train, the population statistics have been available for a number of years which could easily predict a rise in demand for care.
Meanwhile, a lot of people had steered clear of seeking help during the pandemic, which has created a backlog.
Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis at the Office for National Statistics, added: “It is kind of a perfect storm that we’ve got in the data at the moment.
“What we started to see is that fewer people have been coming forward the last year, there’s a huge demand on the health service at the moment, in particular for GPs.”
Thailand’s prime minister faces no confidence debate over Covid handling
09:29 , Laura Sharman
A no-confidence debate has launched in Thailand targeting the prime minister’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thai legislators commenced the process aimed at Prayuth Chan-ocha and five of his cabinet members amid claims the government bungled its response to the health crisis.
The debate is scheduled to last four days, with voting by the lower house set for Saturday.
Opposition leader Sompong Amornvivat, of the Pheu Thai party, said if the prime minister is allowed to continue, more people will die and “there won’t be enough crematoriums.”
Mr Amornvivat kicked off the debate with a fierce attack, charging that Mr Prayuth is “a power-crazed arrogant person unsuitable to lead the country”.
“If we let him continue his leadership, it will lead to more people being infected and losing their lives,” he added.
“There won’t be enough crematoriums in service and there will be no way to stop the spread of the disease.”
Organisers of ongoing anti-government street protests have vowed to step up their own efforts during the debate to force Mr Prayuth out of office.
His coalition government is generally expected to turn back this week’s challenge, even though it has come under intense criticism for failing to secure timely and adequate supplies of Covid-19 vaccines.
New Zealand Covid cases drop for second day amid lockdowns
08:57 , Laura Sharman
New Covid cases in New Zealand fell for a second day amid the country’s tight lockdown during the latest outbreak this month.
The government reported on Tuesday that new cases were down to 49.
Except for a small number of cases in February, New Zealand was mainly coronavirus-free for months.
An outbreak of the delta variant imported from Australia prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a snap nationwide lockdown on August 17.
The total number of cases in the outbreak is at 612, with 597 in New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland and 15 in the capital Wellington.
The declining number of daily cases signals that the social restrictions are reducing the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, Ardern said in a news conference.
“We have a second day where our numbers have declined. We want the tail of this outbreak to be as short as possible,” she added.
Mormon church leaders urge people to get vaccinated in US, dividing worshippers
08:52 , Laura Sharman
Mormon church leaders in the US have issued their strongest statement yet urging people to “limit the spread” of coronavirus by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.
Members of the faith, widely known as the Mormon church, remain deeply divided on the measures despite consistent guidance from their leaders as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
Around 65 per cent of Latter-day Saints who responded to a recent survey said they were vaccine acceptors, meaning they have had at least one dose or plan to soon.
Another 15 per cent identified as hesitant, and 19 per cent said they would not get the vaccine, according to the poll this summer from the Public Religion Research Institute in Washington.
Centre focusing on tech behind Pfizer and Moderna jabs to boost vaccine success
08:44 , Laura Sharman
A new centre of excellence and training facility specialising in the technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines is being launched in the UK.
Those behind the centre, in the north-east of England, said they will work with the government and industry to help protect the world against future pandemics and infectious diseases.
The new facility will expand capacity at an existing site in Darlington and is expected to be ready in November, with courses to train and boost the skills of technicians and scientists available from January.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA (messenger RNA) which carry instructions that tell the body to produce a specific tool that can be used to fight disease.
As well as coronavirus, such technology can be used in the treatment of HIV, cancer and heart disease, scientists involved in the new centre said.
Dr Lucy Foley, director of Biologics at CPI - the technology innovation organisation behind the new facility - described the use of RNA as a “much neater way” of making a treatment or a vaccine, and branded it a “real game-changer”.
“I think that industry is really shining a light on RNA and these chemically synthesised products now,” she said.
The products are considered much faster to manufacture and could offer a more promising way to treat disease in future if cost of goods can be reduced, she added.
Organ transplants fell by a third worldwide during first Covid wave
08:36 , Laura Sharman
Solid organ transplants plunged by 31 per cent during the first wave of coronavirus, according to a new study.
The slowdown in transplants resulted in more than 48,000 years of patient life loss, modelling calculations show.
Data from 22 countries revealed major variations in the response of transplant programmes to the pandemic, with transplant activity dropping by more than 90% in some countries.
Kidney transplantation appeared to be the most affected across nearly all countries during 2020 compared to 2019, with a 40 per cent drop in living donor kidney and a 33 per cent drop in liver transplants.
For deceased donor transplants, rates fell by 12 per cent in kidney, nine per cent in liver, 17 per cent in lung and five per cent in heart transplants.
The research, presented at the European Society for Organ Transplantation Congress 2021, was published today in the journal Lancet Public Health.
Hopes for new Covid vaccine early next year
08:24 , Laura Sharman
A possible new Covid vaccine has entered its third trial phase with plans for a global rollout next year.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and South Korean pharmaceutical firm SK Bioscience confirmed they have started the late-stage trial.
It follows positive interim results in earlier studies with partners now aiming for global supply through the Covax facility in the first half of 2022, GSK said.
This is subject to data and regulatory reviews.
Around 88% of over 16s in the UK have already received at least one vaccine dose, the latest figures show.
However, accessible and affordable vaccines are still needed worldwide.
GSK’s chief global health officer Thomas Breuer said: “While many countries have made good progress with vaccination, there remains a need for accessible and affordable Covid-19 vaccines to ensure equitable access and to protect people across the world.
“We are pleased to contribute with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant and to be working with SK to deliver the vaccine at scale via Covax if it is approved.”
One in five small businesses fear Covid restrictions could soon return, study shows
08:01 , Laura Sharman
Covid remains a constant concern among small businesses in Britain with one in five worried that restrictions could return within three months, a study shows.
Almost a quarter of firms plan to purchase more protective equipment for their staff during this time while 18 per cent plan to spend of such measures for customers, research by Recognise Bank shows.
The survey of 500 firms found that a significant number of SMEs are concerned about the continued impact of coronavirus on their business.
However, 78% of businesses said they are expecting a boost in trade over the coming three months now that most coronavirus rules have been lifted.