Coronavirus live: herd immunity ‘no longer a goal’ amid concern over South African variant’s resistance to vaccine

A dose of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, at Infectious Diseases Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Hungary approves Sputnik V jab – as it happened” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now); Archie Bland and Rebecca Ratcliffe (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 7th February 2021 23.58 UTC

11.58pm GMT

We’ve launched a new blog at the link below – head there for the latest:

11.34pm GMT

Summary

  • Relaxations of coronavirus restrictions were enacted in Israel and Jordan, with barbershops and some other businesses opening in Israel and pupils returning to school in Jordan.
  • South Africa will suspend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in its vaccination programme while scientists advise on the best way to proceed, the country’s health minister said on Sunday in comments reported by Reuters. It will now instead offer vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks while experts consider how the AstraZeneca shot can be deployed.
  • More than 12 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to government data up to and including 6 February, when 549,078 were vaccinated.
  • Afghanistan received its first batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccines from India’s Serum Institute on Sunday.
  • Hungary has approved Russia’s coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, with 40,000 doses of the jab ready to be rolled out.
  • Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is facing mounting anger over claims he attended a meal that exceeded the limits on gatherings on the very day health restrictions had been tightened to thwart transmission of the virus.
  • Chicago’s school district has reached an agreement with its teachers’ union about a Covid safety plan, the city’s mayor has said, signalling an end to months of negotiations.
  • The government of Montserrat imposed a 14-day lockdown on Sunday after four coronavirus cases were confirmed on the Caribbean island with less than 5,000 residents.

That’s all from me for tonight, I’ll be handing over to the team in Australia shortly. I’ll post a link here when the new blog is up. Thanks for reading along and writing in!

10.56pm GMT

Leading vaccine scientists are calling for a rethink of the goals of vaccination programmes, saying that herd immunity through vaccination is unlikely to be possible because of the emergence of variants like that in South Africa.

The comments came as the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca acknowledged that their vaccine will not protect people against mild to moderate Covid illness caused by the South African variant. The Oxford vaccine is the mainstay of the UK’s immunisation programme and vitally important around the world because of its low cost and ease of use.

Read Sarah Boseley’s report here.

10.28pm GMT

Police arrested two people and fined more than 50 during a raid on a gym in Merseyside, northwest England, on Sunday.

Officers responded to a tip-off that Prophecy Performance Centre on Gaskill Road in Speke had been been opening in breach of the national lockdown.

A 24-year-old man and a 33-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment and are being questioned by police, PA media reported.

Some 52 people were issued with fixed penalty notices.

The site was also breaking fire safety rules as all of the fire doors were padlocked shut, the force said.

10.03pm GMT

Brazil has reported 26,845 new cases of the coronavirus, and 522 further deaths, according to the country’s health ministry.

The South American country has now registered 9,524,640 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 231,534, Reuters reported citing ministry data, in the world’s third-worst outbreak outside the United States and India and the second-deadliest.

Updated at 10.08pm GMT

9.46pm GMT

President Joe Biden said that it will be difficult for the United States to reach herd immunity – defined as at least 75% of the population inoculated against the virus – by the end of this summer.

“The idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of next – this summer, is – is very difficult,” Biden told CBS news in an interview.

As of Sunday morning the United States has administered 41,210,937 doses of Covid-19 vaccines and distributed 59,307,800 doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

9.32pm GMT

The government of Montserrat imposed a 14-day lockdown on Sunday after four coronavirus cases were confirmed on the Caribbean island with less than 5,000 residents.

Schools will be shut and people must work remotely where possible, while essential retail will remain open, the government announced.

The country’s vaccination programme will continue and individuals are advised to attend to their clinic based on their pre-arranged appointments.

9.18pm GMT

Tanzania has no plans for a national vaccination programme, with the east African country’s government claiming the nation is “Covid-19 free” despite little testing being carried out.

The World Health Organization’s Africa chief last week urged Tanzania to share its data on infections as the country’s president cast doubt on global vaccination efforts and its health ministry said it had no plans to accept Covid-19 vaccines.

The government has refused to publish official coronavirus data on the coronavirus since May last year, when the case total was just over 500. In June, President John Magufuli declared that the virus had been “eliminated thanks to God”.

Magufuli has consistently claimed the pandemic has been exaggerated, even as hospitals in Dar es Salaam struggled to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients.

The WHO has expressed concern over the government’s Covid-19 strategy.

9.01pm GMT

The United States has administered 41,210,937 doses of coronavirus vaccines as of Sunday morning and distributed 59,307,800 doses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday.

The tally includes doses by both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech candidates.

The agency said 31,579,100 people had received one or more doses while 9,147,185 people have got the second dose as of Sunday.

A total of 4,839,144 vaccine doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

8.26pm GMT

Cumulative Covid-19 vaccination doses administered per 100 people

7.55pm GMT

More from South Africa, after health authorities decided to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following research showing it was less effective against the variant originating in the country.

The government had planned to administer the AstraZeneca jab to healthcare workers soon, after receiving 1 million doses produced by the Serum Institute of India on Monday.

It will now instead offer vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks while experts consider how the AstraZeneca shot can be deployed, according to Reuters.

“What does that mean for our vaccination programme which we said will start in February? The answer is it will proceed,” Mkhize told an online news briefing.

“From next week for the next four weeks we expect that there will be J&J vaccines, there will be Pfizer vaccines. So what will be available to the health workers will be those vaccines.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine will remain with us … up until the scientists give us clear indications as to what we need to do,” he added.

7.48pm GMT

An emotional reunion between a married couple divided for a year by care home lockdown rules has highlighted the pain of separation still faced by thousands of people, Richard Booth writes.

Stanley Harbour, 83, and his wife Mavis Harbour, 81, embraced at the Lever Edge care home in Great Lever, Bolton in a moment captured on film by care workers who had laid out flowers and champagne flutes to mark the moment.

Full story by the Guardian’s social affairs correspondent here.

7.33pm GMT

Chicago’s school district has reached an agreement with its teachers’ union about a Covid safety plan, the city’s mayor has said, signalling an end to months of negotiations.

Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the United States, and the Chicago Teachers Union, which represents 28,000 educators, have been locked in talks for months over a gradual reopening of schools, Reuters wrote, with teachers demanding stronger safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms.

The district cancelled in-person classes for nearly 70,000 students on Monday after teachers threatened to stay away from classrooms until an agreement was reached.

English Language Program teacher Marlon Henriquez and bilingual teacher at Pilsen Community Academy Daniela Lugo prepare for a car caravan of supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union, U.S., January 30, 2021.
English Language Program teacher Marlon Henriquez and bilingual teacher at Pilsen Community Academy Daniela Lugo prepare for a car caravan of supporters of the Chicago Teachers Union, U.S., January 30, 2021.
Photograph: Eileen Meslar/Reuters

Updated at 7.39pm GMT

7.17pm GMT

South Africa suspends use of Oxford vaccine

South Africa will suspend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in its vaccination programme while scientists advise on the best way to proceed, the country’s health minister said on Sunday in comments reported by Reuters.

Zweli Mkhize was speaking after trial data showed the AstraZeneca vaccine offered only limited protection against mild disease caused by the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.

Researchers have warned that vaccines’ focus needs to shift from population immunity to protecting individuals from hospitalisation and death.

“These findings recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at-risk individuals in population against severe disease,” said Prof Shabir Madhi from the University of the Witwatersrand, who led the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial in South Africa. The data will be published in the coming days.

Updated at 7.18pm GMT

7.00pm GMT

France recorded 19,175 new confirmed Covid-19 infections on Sunday compared with 20,586 the previous day and marking a fourth daily fall, health ministry data showed.

Today’s daily figure is in line with last Sunday’s, where 19,235 new cases were added to the tally.

However, the number of patients treated in hospital for the disease rose to 27,694 from 27,369 the previous day, breaking a four-day decline, the data showed.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care also rose, to 3,272 from 3,225 the day before.

A further 171 people died in France’s hospitals and nursing homes, taking the country’s death toll to 78,965.

6.45pm GMT

In the UK, police have handed out fines worth a total of nearly £30,000 to people who breached lockdown by gathering at a pop-up shisha bar.

West Midlands Police (WMP) said officers found 36 people crammed above a food shop in Birmingham on Saturday night, where the floor had been turned into an open plan shisha lounge, with beer and soft drinks on offer, card games being played and football on the TV, PA reported.

Everyone at the bar received an £800 fine under the recently introduced penalty for gatherings of more than 15.

WMP Assistant Chief Constable Mark Payne said: “Sadly some people are still not getting the message that we are in a pandemic which has killed thousands of people, and continues to kill hundreds daily. Our officers are working long hours in really difficult circumstances to keep people safe, and blatant breaches such as these are really disheartening to see.

“Officers are having to go home to their families after breaking up large gatherings such as this, not knowing if they have contracted coronavirus while trying to protect others. We know that most people are sticking to the rules and we’re genuinely grateful for that.”

6.30pm GMT

More from Greece, where the prime minister is facing mounting anger over claims he attended a meal that exceeded the limits on gatherings on the very day health restrictions had been tightened to thwart transmission of the virus, Helena Smith writes.

“[He] ought to say a very big sorry to the Greek people,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, the spokesman for the main opposition party, Syriza, as criticism of the incident grew. “It’s even worse when it has happened on the day that the government has asked citizens to remain indoors from 6pm.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis found himself in the line of fire after he and his entourage were filmed enjoying lunch on the terrace of the harbour-front home of an MP in Ikaria. Media reports described as many as 40 people gathering – far in excess of the limit of nine people congregating at any one time.

Updated at 11.32pm GMT

6.23pm GMT

The capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, is using its theatre, which is closed due to the pandemic, to hold blood donation sessions.

A health worker prepares a man to give blood, inside the Nicosia municipality theater in central capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. The Blood donation organized by the Blood Bank of the Ministry of Health are held in theaters closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A health worker prepares a man to give blood, inside the Nicosia municipality theater in central capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. The Blood donation organized by the Blood Bank of the Ministry of Health are held in theaters closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Photograph: Petros Karadjias/AP

Updated at 6.25pm GMT

6.13pm GMT

Greece reported 733 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, taking the country’s cumulative total to 163,946.

The country’s health authorities also announced there had been 21 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 5,972.

There are 262 patients on ventilators.

Earlier this week, Greece tightened coronavirus restrictions for 10 days in three high-risk areas of the country in a bid to bring down Covid-19 levels after a recent spike in infection numbers.

Greeks enjoying the splendid weather in Athens this weekend as the government tightens curbs to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Greeks enjoying the splendid weather in Athens this weekend as the government tightens curbs to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Photograph: Helena Smith

Updated at 6.45pm GMT

6.00pm GMT

Northern Ireland reported a further 334 positive cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, as well as nine deaths.

There are 585 Covid-positive inpatients in hospital, PA wrote, 66 of whom are in intensive care.

5.39pm GMT

My colleague Jedidajah Otte has been speaking to people in the UK who have received the Oxford vaccine, following a study showing it offers less protection against South African variant:

Alan Moss, 69, from Burnham near Slough, was pleased when he received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab last Friday.

Reacting to the news that the vaccine won’t stop people becoming ill if they contract the South African variant of Covid-19, he said: “The whole thing has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and I suppose you shouldn’t get over the moon about getting the jab, nor should we be too panicked when such news emerge.

“It’s no surprise – viruses mutate into variants. I work from home and don’t travel much, and will continue taking precautions. But what I’m yet to see is: is it true that the Oxford vaccine will at least keep you out of hospital [if you contract the South African variant]?”

Moss believes the news has amplified the importance of tighter borders in the UK, and that if this doesn’t happen soon, further lockdowns will be inevitable.

He added: “The question is now: Is the government ready to do more to contain new variants? We still haven’t closed our borders, what are they waiting for? The government has to stay ahead of the curve, so it should be really enforcing quarantine. Why wait until 15 February? If we don’t act fast, I fear there will be yet another lockdown, or more, on loop.”

Updated at 5.42pm GMT

5.21pm GMT

Hungary approves Sputnik V vaccine

Hungary has approved Russia’s coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, with 40,000 doses of the jab ready to be rolled out.

Official testing has been completed “and the vaccine may be administered”, Miklos Kasler, AFP reported a health minister as announcing.

The doses are the first batch of a total order of two million to be supplied over three months.

The government announced on Tuesday that it had already received 40,000 doses of Sputnik V – the first country to do so within the European Union. It is also the first member state to have reached a deal with the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm, announcing an order of five million doses of its jab.

Hungary has been critical of the EU’s slow vaccine procurement process.

Updated at 9.53pm GMT

4.56pm GMT

Afghanistan received its first batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccines from India’s Serum Institute on Sunday.

India has sent half a million doses to Kabul as part of a program by New Delhi to distribute the vaccine to neighbouring countries, AFP reported.

“We received 500,000 doses of vaccines for Covid-19 patients from the government of India,” Afghanistan’s acting health minister Wahid Majrooh told reporters at Kabul airport as he received the consignment.

In accordance with WHO guidance, Afghanistan will prioritise health workers and elderly citizens with underlying conditions in its rollout of the vaccine.

Majrooh said Kabul plans to ultimately cover 60% of the population and was working with international agencies like the World Bank, Asian Development and the European Union to procure more jabs.

Recent months have seen a fall in new infections, but the country was hit hard by the virus last year. A health ministry survey last August found that 10 million people – nearly a third of the country’s population – had been infected with the coronavirus.

Updated at 4.59pm GMT

4.35pm GMT

Venetians have celebrated a very different carnival this year, without the usual crowds of tourists, AFP reported.

“It’s totally surreal,” said 47-year-old carnival-goer Chiara Ragazzon, an office worker. “What hits me most is the silence. You’ve always been able to hear music during the carnival, people having fun. But Venice in the fog – it’s still a magical place.”

Ragazzon and her husband had ventured into Venice from their home around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.

Italy relaxed its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, allowing greater freedoms in most regions.

Venice is among the areas now under a lower-risk “yellow” category – but residents are still not allowed to travel outside the region.

A short walk from St Mark’s Square, Hamid Seddighi, dressed in paint-splattered overalls, was making a carnival mask in his workshop, moulding and smoothing it with delicate precision.

His store, Ca’ de Sol, sells masks made from papier mache, lace and iron, bedecked with Swarovski crystals. But his creations have been piling up without takers.

The pandemic has pushed his revenues down 70 percent – mainly due to the lack of foreign tourists, his main clientele.

“It was love at first sight for me and these masks,” said the 63-year-old, who moved to Italy from Iran. “I’ve been making them for 35 years. But it’s tragic – I have only sold two for the carnival.”

People wear carnival masks and costumes in St. Mark’s Square to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021.
People wear carnival masks and costumes in St. Mark’s Square to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021.
Photograph: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters
The owner of a mask artisan shop wearing a costume steps outside to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
The owner of a mask artisan shop wearing a costume steps outside to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021.
Photograph: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters
People wear carnival masks by the Bridge of Sighs to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People wear carnival masks by the Bridge of Sighs to celebrate Venice’s annual colourful carnival, which has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Venice, Italy, February 7, 2021.
Photograph: Manuel Silvestri/Reuters

Updated at 4.48pm GMT

4.12pm GMT

More than 12 million people in the UK have now received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to government data up to and including 6 February, when 549,078 were vaccinated.

  • First dose: 12,014,288
  • Second dose: 511,447

Updated at 5.38pm GMT

4.06pm GMT

UK reports 15,845 new cases, 373 deaths

A further 15,845 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the UK, taking the total to 3,945,680, according to government figures.

This compares to 21,088 last Sunday.

The number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test rose by 373, bringing the UK death toll to 112,465. There were 587 last Sunday.

New cases have decreased by 24.3% in the last seven days, while deaths have fallen by 23.3%.

Sunday’s figures tend to be lower because of reporting delays over the weekend.

This is Clea Skopeliti picking up the blog for the evening. If you have any suggestions for our coronavirus coverage, you can DM me on Twitter. Thanks in advance.

Updated at 4.18pm GMT

4.02pm GMT

Summary of latest events

Here are some of the key developments of the last few hours, from the UK and around the world:

  • A further 410 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 75,767, NHS England said on Sunday.
  • In Scotland, 584 new cases of coronavirus were recorded along with a further seven deaths from the disease. There were also a further 461 cases of coronavirus in Wales and 28 deaths.
  • Relaxations of coronavirus restrictions were enacted in Israel and Jordan, with barbershops and some other businesses opening in Israel and pupils returning to school in Jordan.
  • Austria tightened border controls to all neighbouring countries, saying non-essential travel should be prevented during the pandemic.
  • The UK has no plans to introduce vaccine passports, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said, arguing that such a measure would be discriminatory.
  • Kate Bingham, former Chair of the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, gave a wide-ranging interview to two European newspapers, saying that Brexit was not the reason for the relative success of the UK’s approach compared to the EU’s but adding that “to get 27 countries all to agree is very difficult”.
  • The United Arab Emirates will temporarily only vaccinate residents and citizens who are elderly or who have certain health conditions, following a spike in infections over the past weeks, state media said on Sunday.
  • Researchers told the Guardian that herd immunity can no longer be the goal for Covid vaccines following the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine does not stop people with the South African variant becoming mildly or moderately ill.
  • European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde rejected calls to cancel debts run up by eurozone members to buttress their economies during the Covid-19 crisis.

That’s it from me. My colleague Clea Skopeliti will pick up our coverage shortly.

Updated at 4.04pm GMT

3.55pm GMT

410 more deaths in English hospitals

A further 410 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 75,767, NHS England said on Sunday.

Patients were aged between 28 and 100. All except nine, aged between 42 and 79, had known underlying health conditions. The deaths were between April 19 2020 and February 6, with the majority being on or after February 3.

There were 29 other deaths reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

3.35pm GMT

In Jordan, too, some relaxations are underway, with thousands of students there going back to classrooms on Sunday after almost a year of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am very happy to see my friends and teacher again,” AFP quoted seven-year-old Mecca as saying at a girls’ school in Jabal Amman, in the centre of the Jordanian capital.

“I was bored at home. Being at school is better,” she said.

Jordanian pupils get on a bus to return home after attending class for the first time in nearly a year on Sunday.
Jordanian pupils get on a bus to return home after attending class for the first time in nearly a year on Sunday.
Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

Schools and universities in the country have been shut since mid-March due to the pandemic.

Kindergarten and early elementary school levels, as well as students in their final year of high school, went back to classrooms on Sunday, the first day of the school week in Jordan, while Christian schools will reopen for those students on Monday.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees also reopened its schools on Sunday for 28,000 students.

An education ministry spokesman said more than 773,000 students were going back to the classroom this week.

The government decided to reopen schools after a drop in the number of Covid-19 cases over the past four weeks.

Another 1.4 million students across the country will return gradually until March 7, according to the education and health ministries.

Bassam Hijjawi, from the national epidemics committee, said Sunday that the gradual return to schools would take place within “a strict health protocol”.

He said all students were required to wear masks and observe physical distancing in the classroom, with two square metres provided for each desk.

Jordan has officially registered a total of 333,855 coronavirus infections and 4,369 deaths.

Vaccinations began in January and so far more than 40,000 people have received a first injection.

3.31pm GMT

In Israel, barbershops and some other businesses reopened on Sunday as the country began easing its third coronavirus lockdown amid an aggressive vaccination campaign.

Early Friday, the government announced it was lifting some restrictions imposed since December, when the country saw a rise in Covid-19 infections.

Jerusalem barber Eli Aroas was among those re-opening on Sunday morning, the start of the working week.

“I slowly notified all my customers that we are back at work,” the Jerusalem barber told AFP.

People out in the sun at the port of Tel Aviv on Sunday.
People out in the sun at the port of Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

“We have a working schedule and orders, and we hope this would be the end of all this saga.”

While shops were not formally permitted to open, many small stores were making transactions with clients standing outside.

Since December, more than 3.4 million out of Israel’s nine-million population have received a coronavirus vaccine jab in what is seen as the world’s fastest per-capita vaccination campaign.

Despite the inoculations, Israel has been registering a daily average of 6,500 new Covid-19 cases, down from around 8,000 in mid-January.

A strict nationwide lockdown in force since December 27 has been extended four times to combat the infection rate, but January was the deadliest month yet, with more than 1,000 Covid fatalities.

But as of Sunday, Israelis were no longer restricted to within one kilometre (1000 yards) of their homes.

Hair and beauty salons are allowed to have one person providing a service to one client, while and nature reserves and national parks reopened.

Hotels remain shuttered and restaurants will be allowed to cater only for takeaways, while guesthouses can host members of the same nuclear family only.

A suspension of international flights will remain in place until February 20, along with the closure of Israel’s land borders.

Israelis stranded abroad will be able to return on special flights.

The cabinet was due to meet later Sunday to plan the further relaxing of limitations, especially the educational system, set to reopen Tuesday morning.

Israel has registered a total of more than 687,000 cases of Covid-19, including over 5,000 deaths.

2.54pm GMT

Austria said on Sunday it was tightening border controls to all neighbouring countries, saying non-essential travel should be prevented during the pandemic.

The move to tighten border controls comes as the country is gearing up to cautiously loosen some restrictions this coming week, including letting non-essential shops and schools reopen.

“The border controls are meant to break the chain of infection which through new virus mutations has grown more dangerous,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a statement reported by Reuters. “During the pandemic, travel should be kept to an absolute minimum.”

Austrian police performs a health control check at the Austrian-Italian border station in Brenner, Austria in December.
Austrian police performs a health control check at the Austrian-Italian border station in Brenner, Austria in December.
Photograph: Leonhard Föger/Reuters

The interior ministry said that it had been in contact with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer over the new border measures and that talks with ministers in other countries were to follow. Austria shares borders with Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

Austria reported 1,317 new infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 420,644 since the outset of the pandemic. Twenty-two people died, raising the country’s total COVID-19 fatalities to 7,906, according to official figures.

2.45pm GMT

Former UK vaccine chief: ‘we had a clear focus on being quick’

Katie Bingham, former Chair of the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, has given a joint interview to two European newspapers, Die Welt and La Repubblica, setting out the approach she took in her widely lauded management of the British programme.

You can read the transcript in full (in English) on La Repubblica. Here are some highlights:

How her professional background informed the process and criteria for candidates

We had a very clear focus on being quick and securing the most promising vaccines for the UK as soon as possible. That was my number one priority and what we did. I’m a venture capitalist in my whole job, I’ve spent all my life building companies, developing new pharmaceuticals. So my whole job has always been: look at science, look at data, and then decide what the risks are…

…We focused, first of all, on what could get into clinic first and then we looked at the data. Now, of course, all the different companies have different types of data. None of the models were comparable and that reduced the list probably to 20. Then we probably did really deep diligence on a dozen, maybe something like that. And then we had to make decisions. That was the basis, the judgment of the team that not only what was the immunogenicity and safety data like, but just as importantly, what was the ability to supply like?”

Kate Bingham, then chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, with a plaster on her arm after an injection as part of the Novavax trial in October.
Kate Bingham, then chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, with a plaster on her arm after an injection as part of the Novavax trial in October.
Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

On available budget for the project

Well, they asked me what I thought we needed to spend, and the answer was I didn’t know when they first asked me. So we went in and obviously started doing the work and doing the due diligence. Many of the pharma companies said that they would do it on a non profit basis…

…The government didn’t say to me “you have a blank check”. We had to prepare a business case to secure an overall framework budget from which we would then make recommendations, for example “we suggest you sign this contract for these vaccines”. We weren’t choosing vaccines on the basis of being cheap. We were choosing on the basis of vaccines being effective and available quickly.”

On personal relationships and the UK’s offer to pharmaceutical firms

Being quick and nimble was definitely important. The fact that I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and the team that I work with have been in the industry at least as long, if not longer, meant that we had connections very broadly across the industry. So that meant I could just pick up the phone and speak directly to a company. With one company we had our first meeting on a Thursday and we had a follow up meeting on Saturday, and would agree the rough outline of a deal the following week.

So we had to make ourselves good customers to make people want to supply to the UK because there was going to be limited amount of vaccine initially. Our goal was to do whatever we could do to encourage the companies to talk to us. That meant we had a sort of “UK offer”, as it were, which is if the company needed support in the scale of the manufacturing and fill finish and if we could offer that, we offered it and if the company needed us to help with running the clinical trials, we did that, too.”

On the difference between UK and EU approaches and whether Brexit helped

The UK had a very strategic approach, which was to secure vaccines quickly. And the European approach seems to be more sort of a more typical procurement approach, which was more about making sure you got the best value for money for your vaccines. It wasn’t related to Brexit and is not related to people being better or more experienced…

…Indemnification [of pharmaceutical companies] was definitely a matter that all the governments, including the UK, were uncomfortable about. But if they/we wanted to secure the vaccines, they/we were going to have to give indemnity. So I think probably the difference is that we just got to that position maybe sooner than others. I can completely understand that if you could get 27 countries all to agree is very difficult.”

Lots more to chew over in that interview – here it is again, this link to the (identical) Die Welt version.

Updated at 3.36pm GMT

2.22pm GMT

More from Scotland, where 584 new cases of coronavirus have been recorded along with a further seven deaths from the disease.

The latest figures published by the Scottish Government showed that 6.9% of those tested for the virus were confirmed as having Covid-19. Meanwhile 1,710 people are in hospital with recently confirmed coronavirus, a reduction of 19 from the previous day.

That includes 108 people in intensive care, with this total having fallen by nine in the past 24 hours.

A total of 839,266 people have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine, an increase of 52,389 from the previous day (see figures in previous post). There are now 10,582 Scots who have had both doses of the vaccine, an increase of 250.

1.54pm GMT

In Scotland, health secretary Jeane Freeman says that the government aims to have every adult vaccinated “in the summer”.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, Freeman said: “Our ambition is to get through all those 4.5m adults, 18 and over, in the summer.

“At this point it is not very sensible to give specific dates because there are a number of unknowns, partly what the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] tell us and partly about supplies.

Vaccinations underway with the assistance of military personnel in Edinburgh.
Vaccinations underway with the assistance of military personnel in Edinburgh.
Photograph: Getty Images

“But what is the case, is that our infrastructure to do that is there, and we have the vaccinators, we have the support staff, we have the local and the regional centres able to do it.

“As fast as we get supplies we will be vaccinating.”

The official target for adult vaccinations to be complete is September. So far 786,427 have received a first jab, including 93% of over-80s living in the community, 99% of older adult care home residents, and 272,365 frontline health and social care workers.

1.28pm GMT

Surge testing underway to monitor coronavirus variant, DHSC says

In the UK, ‘surge testing’ is being deployed in several areas where cases of coronavirus variants have been found, the Department of Health and Social Care said in a tweet.

The DHSC highlighted areas in Worcestershire (WR3), Sefton (PR9), and in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

A gov.uk release said that “surge testing is in addition to existing extensive testing, and in combination with following the lockdown rules and remembering hands-face-space, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.”

Bristol council set out the plans on Twitter last night, saying that the steps “will allow public health agencies to investigate cases of the mutated variant of COVID-19”. Sefton council also flagged the plans on February 4, while the first day of the measures in Worcestershire led to queues at testing centres yesterday. In Worcestershire, Councillor Tony Miller said just one case of the new variant had been recorded in the area:

Updated at 1.30pm GMT

1.05pm GMT

Kate Connolly has reported on vaccine passport plans and associated fears around transmission and social unrest.

In the UK, minister Nadhim Zahawi ruled out such a plan this morning. But Connolly reports:

The impact [of decisions over vaccine passports] range from the speed at which economies can open to when grandparents and grandchildren can hug again, but it is causing growing unease among decision makers who warn there is a danger of dividing societies already under huge strain due to pandemic restraints.

Connolly reports caution in Germany even as some private companies move ahead. But there are more aggressive moves in other countries including Denmark, Sweden, Israel, Greece, and the United States.

Read the story here:

Updated at 1.17pm GMT

12.40pm GMT

In Mexico, a disastrous vaccination programme launch meant that millions of over 60s who tried to register were met by an error message for days on end, David Agren reports:

Human rights groups also raised concerns that many people, including migrants from other countries and internal migrants, do not have an official ID number. “Health is a human right that cannot be denied to anyone for any reason, including their nationality or immigration status,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International…

“There’s no strategy,” said Xavier Tello, a healthcare analyst. “It’s been nothing but a series of random plans.”

Read the story here:

12.09pm GMT

461 more cases in Wales

There have been a further 461 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 196,060. Public Health Wales reported another 28 deaths, taking the total in Wales since the start of the pandemic to 4,989.

Public Health Wales said a total of 589,622 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given. The agency said 2,606 second doses were also given.

In total, 85.3% of those over 80 have received their first dose of the vaccine, along with 78.4% of care home residents and 81.9% of care home staff.

Updated at 12.14pm GMT

11.56am GMT

The United Arab Emirates will temporarily only vaccinate residents and citizens who are elderly or who have certain health conditions, state media said on Sunday.

The temporary policy change was made following a spike in infections over the past weeks “to ensure acquired community immunity and contain the disease”, state news agency WAM said, quoting the health ministry.

A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Zabeel Health Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Zabeel Health Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA

A Reuters report said that for the next four to six weeks authorities will try to vaccinate as many elderly people and people with certain diseases as possible. Some other appointments will also be available for other population segments, it added.

The move came as daily infections tripled in around six weeks to hit a record 3,977 on Feb. 3 in the UAE. The Gulf state has not given a breakdown for each emirate.

A vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) had been made available to all adults in the Gulf state.

Dubai has also made the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines available to citizens and residents of the emirate, with priority given to the eldery, those with chronic diseases and frontline workers.
The healthy ministry reported 3,093 new cases on Sunday.

11.44am GMT

Herd immunity not the goal after South African variant vaccine news, researchers say

Herd immunity can no longer be the goal for Covid vaccines, researchers have said, following the news that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine does not stop people with the South African variant becoming mildly or moderately ill.

Oxford and AZ have carried out a small study, in 2,000 younger people in South Africa, to see whether the vaccine protects against the variant. According to the scientists involved who have not yet published it, they did not get severe disease or end up in hospital or die – although because they were young, with an average age of 31, they would be less likely to anyway. But being vaccinated did not stop them getting Covid, albeit more mildly.

Prof Shabir Madhi from the University of the Witwatersrand, and chief investigator of the study in South Africa pointed out that the recent data from trials of the new Janssen vaccine (which is not yet approved) showed that it still protected people against serious disease even though the efficacy was reduced when it came to milder illness.

“These findings recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at risk individuals in the population against severe disease,” Madhi said.

Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said the goal must be to stop people ending up in hospital and dying.

“This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected, but, taken with the promising results from other studies in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines may continue to ease the toll on health care systems by preventing severe disease,” he said.

Like other vaccine developers, Oxford and AstraZeneca are now working on tweaked vaccines that will prove tougher against the variant from South Africa.

“Efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster jabs, if it turns out that it is necessary to do so,” said Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford.

“We are working with AstraZeneca to optimise the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary. This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change.”

Updated at 11.45am GMT

11.08am GMT

Coronavirus debt cancellation ‘unthinkable’, says ECB chief Lagarde

European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde on Sunday rejected calls to cancel debts run up by eurozone members to buttress their economies during the Covid-19 crisis.

The ECB has taken unprecedented steps to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic in the 19-nation euro area, launching a massive bond-buying scheme that has so far totalled 1.85 trillion euros (.2 trillion).

“Cancelling that debt is unthinkable,” Lagarde told France’s Le Journal du Dimanche weekly, in comments reported by AFP.

“It would be a violation of the European treaty which strictly forbids monetary financing of states,” she said, calling it one of the “founding pillars” of the euro single currency.

Christine Lagarde.
Christine Lagarde.
Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Lagarde was reacting to a call Friday by more than 100 economists for the ECB to further boost the economic recovery of eurozone members by forgiving their debts.

In the letter published in several leading European newspapers, the economists noted that a quarter of the public debt of nations that use the euro – 2.5 trillion euros (.0 trillion) – was now held by the ECB.

“In other words, we owe ourselves 25 percent of our debt and, if we are to reimburse that amount, we must find it elsewhere, either by borrowing it again to ‘roll the debt’ instead of borrowing to invest, or by raising taxes, or by cutting expenses,” they wrote.

The economists proposed instead that the ECB forgive the debts in exchange for the countries pledging to spend an equivalent amount on greening their economies and on social projects.

Lagarde, a former French finance minister, admitted that “all eurozone countries will emerge from this crisis with high levels of debt.”

But, she said, “there is no doubt that they will be able to pay it back.”

11.03am GMT

Reuters reports that India has approved the shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to Cambodia and plans to supply Mongolia and Pacific Island states, officials said on Sunday, as supplies arrived in Afghanistan – action the news agency characterises as part of the country’s widening vaccine diplomacy.

The Reuters report goes on:

Seeking to steal a march over rival Asian giant China, which has also promised to deliver shots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been giving nearby countries millions of doses of the locally made AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, even as its domestic immunisation programme has just begun.

Modi is using India’s strength as the world’s biggest maker of vaccines for various diseases to improve regional ties and push back against China’s political and economic dominance.

New Delhi has approved 100,000 doses for Cambodia on an urgent basis following a request to Modi from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, India’s envoy to Phnom Penh said.

Cambodia is an important ally of China, which is expected to provide a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, mainly developed by state firm Sinopharm.

“The supply has been assured through the Serum Institute of India despite innumerable competing requests from partner countries and our commitment to our domestic population,” said Ambassador Devyani Khobragade.

Diplomats and officials posing next to cartons of a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine from India to Myanmar at Yangon International Airport.
Diplomats and officials posing next to cartons of a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine from India to Myanmar at Yangon International Airport.
Photograph: Embassy of India, Yangon/AFP/Getty Images

India has given doses to Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives to help them get started with frontline workers as part of its Vaccine Friendship initiative.

On Sunday it sent 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Afghanistan, the first to arrive in the war-ravaged country, which is still waiting for emergency approval from the World Health Organization to administer them.

India has invested millions of dollars in Afghanistan over the years in an expansive effort seen as pushing back against arch rival Pakistan’s influence in the country. “The vaccines are being provided on a grant basis,” a government source said.

So far, India had supplied 15.6 million doses of the vaccine to 17 countries either through donations or commercial contracts, said foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava.

Consignments will be sent to Mongolia, Caribbean countries and Pacific Island states in the coming weeks, he said. “External supplies are an ongoing process, depending on availability and domestic requirement,” he said.

India, which has the world’s second-highest caseload of coronavirus, plans to immunise 300 million people by August. It vaccinated about 3 million healthcare workers in the first two weeks of the campaign that began on Jan. 16 and will need to step up the pace to meet the summer target.

Updated at 11.04am GMT

10.37am GMT

My colleague Larry Elliott has interviewed Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey for the Observer. Bailey suggests in the interview that the end of lockdown could result in a significant increase in consumer spending in the UK.

Elliott writes:

Threadneedle Street is monitoring what households do with an estimated £125bn in extra savings they have accumulated since the start of the pandemic. The Bank expects only 5% of the total to be spent, but Bailey said it could be more.

“The risk is on the upside – that after you lock people up for this long they go for it.” He added: “One interesting question is how much that desire to spend comes up against a supply side that doesn’t recover immediately.”

You can read the rest of the piece here:

10.21am GMT

AP reports on how the pandemic has disrupted carnival plans in Rio de Janeiro, with the city’s Sambadrome instead being used for immunizations:

In a normal year, Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome would be preparing for its great moment of the year: the world’s most famous Carnival parade.

But a week before what should be the start of Carnival, the pandemic has replaced pageantry, with the great celebration put on hold until next year as Rio struggles to quash a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Maria de Lourdes, 101, receives a dose of China’s Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination site in the Sambadrome, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Maria de Lourdes, 101, receives a dose of China’s Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination site in the Sambadrome, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Photograph: Bruna Prado/AP

The Rio mayor’s office opened a drive-through immunization station Saturday at the Sambadrome, where a line of cars queued up on a broad avenue built for floats.

“This is usually a place of pleasure. Today it is too, because we are exercising an act of citizenship and we are opening the Sambadrome to vaccinate, “ said Paulo Roberto Machado, a 68-year-old nurse who teaches at the Veiga de Almeida University.

Rio’s city government officially suspended Carnival and warns it will have no tolerance for those who try to celebrate with open street parades or clandestine parties, saying it is monitoring social media to detect any.

Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, who often participates in the parade at the Sambadrome, asked citizens not to be “idiots” by ignoring the rules and buying tickets to parties that will not be allowed. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game looking to punish those who want party”, he said.

The cancellation has created a deep economic hole for many businesses that depend on the crowds.

Rio’s hotel occupancy rate normally reaches about 80% in the hot summer months and 100% during Carnival. It’s now at roughly 50-60%, according to Alfredo Lopes, the president of Rio’s Hospitality Workers Union.

10.17am GMT

Turning now to Malaysia, health authorities reported 3,731 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, raising the total number of infections so far to 242,452.

Reuters said there were also 15 new deaths reported, taking the cumulative fatalities to 872.

10.10am GMT

Marr cites figures from the Border Force suggesting that only one in four passengers are being checked. “There’s much greater policing of our borders and ports, airports, and of course quarantining and the passenger locator form,” Zahawi says. Marr says the last figure available shows 70% are still not being checked.

“The quarantine and the compliance with quarantine has been high,” says Zahawi, saying that test and trace also plays a role. Marr says 29% of those supposed to quarantine have left the house and suggests the rules are not tough enough. Zahawi says that 45,000 fines have been issued to people breaking quarantine rules and hardship funds are also available. He adds: “The thing that’s really important is that our capability now in terms of testing is… much increased and that will make a huge difference to the outcome for this country.” And after Zahawi proclaims the effectiveness of the vaccine infrastructure, that’s it.

Updated at 10.12am GMT

10.06am GMT

Zahawi says that a decision on whether frontline workers who come into contact with the virus more frequently will be made after consultation with the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation]. “The JCVI will look at all the evidence, all the data and I’m sure will advise us accordingly,” he says. “A lot of teachers, a lot of police officers” will be covered in higher risk groups already prioritised for vaccines in any case, he adds.

He again says that the government is not considering vaccine passports which he says would be “discriminatory”. He adds: “Of course you have the evidence that you’ve been vaccinated held by your GP and if other countries require you to show proof of that evidence that is obviously up to those countries… but we have no plan to introduce a vaccine passport.”

Updated at 11.46am GMT

10.02am GMT

Expect annual shots to deal with virus variants, says Zahawi

Zahawi says that people should expect “an annual, or booster in the autumn and then annual – in the way we do with flu vaccinations, where you look at what variant in virus is spreading around the world, you rapidly produce a variant of vaccine and then begin to vaccinate and protect the nation”.

On whether the South African variant could become dominant and lead to restrictions until a new vaccine arrives, he says “all [the vaccines] have some effect on both the UK variant and South African variant”. He says more data will be available by mid-February that will help decide the pace of relaxation of lockdowns.

9.56am GMT

On surge testing and whether it is too late to deal with the South African strain, Zahawi says “I don’t agree with that” and notes the efficacy of the vaccine rollout so far. “The surge testing is exactly what we have to do… as well as of course continuing to do gene sequencing of all the different variants.”

9.53am GMT

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi now follows his appearance on Sky with an interview with Marr. He says that the strategy on the South African variant is to “continue to rollout the current two vaccines… as rapidly as possible to protect the top nine cohorts” which account for 99% of mortality. Meanwhile he highlights a “hyperlocal, granular surge in testing tracing and then isolating”.

He also says that deals are being done to manufacture new versions of vaccines rapidly in the UK as and when they are needed.

Updated at 9.54am GMT

9.51am GMT

On French president Macron’s claim that the Oxford vaccine was only “quasi-effective” among over-65s and the decision by some European governments not to give the vaccine to over 65s, she says more data will be provided once the US trial has reached a conclusion. “In Europe they do have other vaccines that are available and so they’re able to decide if they want to to use different vaccines in different age groups,” she adds.

She says it is “very unlikely” that vaccines would be completely ineffective against future variants.

9.47am GMT

Gilbert says that a new version of the vaccine which could provide broader protection should be available in the autumn. She says that in the interim “we’re going to need to keep a really close eye on the spread of the South African variant in the UK”.

She also says that work is being done on a version of the vaccine to take on the Brazilian variant which is not yet in circulation in the UK.

Updated at 9.47am GMT

9.45am GMT

Sarah Gilbert, lead researcher on the Oxford vaccine, tells Marr that new data sets provide “really good news” on the efficacy, highlighting data released this week showing that a delay to 12 weeks for the second dose does not lead to a reduction in efficacy and in fact leads to higher antibody levels and a higher efficacy.

She also reiterates that the vaccine is equally effective against the UK variant.

Sarah Gilbert.
Sarah Gilbert.
Photograph: John Cairns/University of Oxford/PA

Asked about efficacy against the South African variant, she says that “there will be more data to come out on this shortly”. On reports that the Oxford vaccine is less effective against mild to moderate disease caused by the South African variant, she says other studies show that “we may not be reducing the total number of cases but there’s still protection against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease”.

“Maybe we won’t be reducing the number of cases as much, but we still won’t be seeing the deaths, the hospitalisations and the severe disease, and that’s really important for healthcare systems.” She says it is not yet possible to say how effective the Oxford vaccine will be against the South African variant in older groups.

9.38am GMT

Miliband is asked about a Mail on Sunday story on shadow attorney general Charlie Falconer saying that Covid “is a gift that keeps on giving”. The peer said he was referring to changes in the law triggered by the crisis.

Miliband says “he shouldn’t have said it. He was talking in the context of lawyers and the way the law was changing but it was a very poor choice of words. I’ve spoken to Charlie this morning, he’s very very sorry and apologises for what he said and it shows we’ve got to be careful with our words.”

9.31am GMT

On the BBC, Andrew Marr has been speaking to Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

Ed Miliband.
Ed Miliband.
Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

He says that Labour sees the criteria for lifting lockdown as similar to the government’s – infection rates, hospitalisations, and the rollout of the vaccine. “I don’t think the government should rush on this,” he adds. “Don’t stop and start, don’t exit too quickly, do this cautiously and judiciously and by the way have a quarantine system that works.”

He suggests vaccine passports “may be necessary” and that we should be “open” to the prospect but that there are “complicated issues” to do with how it would be deployed. He says that the government’s quarantine system covers just 5% of arrivals and is not effective. “We’re five or six weeks on from the South African variant being discovered, we still don’t have a quarantine system in place,” he adds.

Updated at 9.32am GMT

9.26am GMT

Finally, he is asked how long people should expect to wait for restrictions to ease. He says that the PM will come to parliament on February 22 and talk about reopening schools on 8 March if all goes well, before the gradual reopening of the economy. But he does not set out any further timeline.

9.24am GMT

UK not considering vaccine passports, says Zahawi

Ridge asks whether the UK is considering the introduction of vaccine passports. “No we’re not,” he says. “One, we don’t know the impact of vaccines on transmission. Two, it would be discriminatory and I think the thing to do is to make sure that people come forward to be vaccinated because they want to rather than it being made in some way mandatory through a passport.”

Updated at 10.13am GMT

9.18am GMT

On testing, Zahawi says that staff at companies with more than 50 employees will now get rapid tests. “We need to be really forensic because of these new variants to go after them very rapidly and isolate them and isolate those who have the new variant,” he says.

9.13am GMT

Zahawi is asked whether it is correct, as a leaked letter said this week, that the vast majority of adults will have received a jab by the end of May.

He stops short of saying so, noting that “the limiting factor is vaccine supply, vaccine supply remains finite.” But he says that on Saturday at one point the rate reached 979 jabs a minute. “The deployment infrastructure can do the volumes that we’ll get through,” he says. “I’m confident that we’ll meet our mid-February target of the top four cohorts,” he says, adding that he is also confident that the first nine most vulnerable cohorts will be reached by the end of May.

9.09am GMT

Zahawi says that social media companies are doing “quite a bit” to challenge anti-vaccine propaganda but that a cross-government unit is working with the companies to remove disinformation. “We can always do more,” he says.

9.07am GMT

Vaccines minister “very concerned” by vaccine hesitation among minority groups

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi is now appearing on Sky News. On the variety in vaccination rates among different ethnic groups, he says that he is “very concerned”.

Nadhim Zahawi.
Nadhim Zahawi.
Photograph: ITV/PA

Noting that overall vaccine acceptance is very high at 85%, he says that “the 15% who are vaccine hesitant skew heavily towards BAME communities, especially Afro-Caribbean and Black communities, and of course other Asian and BAME communities.”

He adds: “The NHS throughout the whole deployment programme we have a standing daily equalities section that we go through and make sure we’re targeting both with a national message and then the local message, hyperlocal message, and engaging with those faith leaders, community leaders.” He notes a £23m award to local government to meet that challenge.

Updated at 9.08am GMT

9.01am GMT

On the easing of lockdown, Burnham says that the early March date for schools to return feels “about right” but adds: “let’s not have a return to the tiers we had before. We don’t believe they worked. The better approach we think would be a phased national release from lockdown.” He says that the tiers were “divisive” and “created a lot of confusion”, noting that in the north-west “what happened is you give people incentive to travel from one part of the region to another”.

8.57am GMT

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, is appearing now to argue that life expectancy rates in different areas should be a factor in vaccine distribution across the UK. “I’m not saying diverge completely from the phase set out by ages put forth by the JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation],” he tells Ridge. “But I am saying put greater supplies of the vaccine into those areas where life expectancy is lowest and allow greater flexibility for people to be called earlier.”

Burnham says that the approach should stick to the JCVI’s advice but that groups like teachers in areas with lower life expectancy or where more people are out of work should be considered for priority.

Updated at 8.59am GMT

8.54am GMT

Nabarro says that he can’t rule out the theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, although he’s careful to note that that is because all theories have to be carefully considered to reach the right conclusion about the origins of the coronavirus. “I can’t rule anything out, and I know the team on the spot… aren’t ruling anything out either,” he says. “All options are on the table and everything will be looked at.”

8.51am GMT

Nabarro says that the outcome of the UK’s decision against WHO advice to delay the second dose of vaccines in order to roll out a first dose more broadly, shown by data so far to have provided a good level of protection, was “wonderful”. He praises the UK’s “bravery” and adds: “That’s how we’re doing Covid at the moment – we’re all learning together.”

“We’re really really benefiting from the willingness of UK scientists and UK leaders to tell us very precisely what they’re doing differently and why they’re doing differently,” he adds.

“The UK’s approach so far at least has been vindicated,” he says. “Yes, I think this is a great lesson for the rest of the world – thank you, thank you British scientists.”

He says the WHO’s initial position had been based on manufacturers’ advice and would not change unless an advisory committee of experts changed its view. “We’ve never had this speed of advancement, doing and learning at the same time, in my professional life,” he says.

8.43am GMT

UK should provide vaccines to other countries, WHO envoy says

Dr David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19, is on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, making the case for a more equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. He says it is “totally understandable” that the UK has secured large quantities of vaccine doses but that the government should start distributing supplies to developing countries once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.

“I think we should,” he says, in response to Ridge’s question about whether vaccines should begin to be diverted once over-50s have been vaccinated (he does not specify whether this would be after one or two doses).

David Nabarro.
David Nabarro.
Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

“Of course each prime minister, each group of MPs has to form their own decisions – but it’s really a question of what makes sense economically, what makes sense for society, and how we all want to be remembered in 10 or 20 years time.

“Do we want to be remembered as a world where those who had the cash could afford to vaccinate their whole populations, and those that didn’t have the cash had to cope with a possibly quite dramatically increasing death rate among their health workers? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s how any individual really wants to be seen when they look at themselves.”

He calls for a national and global debate about what priorities should be.

He also praises the conduct of the public and health workers across the globe, saying that numbers are coming down “because of people’s actions, because of the actions of health personnel. We just have to sometimes stop for a bit and say, we are doing amazingly… in the end it’s our self-discipline that’s going to get this pandemic well-contained.”

Updated at 8.44am GMT

8.34am GMT

Afghanistan received 500,000 doses of AztraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from India on Sunday, the first to arrive in the country, which is still waiting for emergency approval from the World Health Organisation before it can use them.

Reuters reported that Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, head of the immunisation program at the health ministry, said the doses would be stored in Kabul until the emergency authorisation was received, which it hoped would happen in a week.

A patient is connected to oxygen tank in the intensive care unit ward for COVID-19 patients at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A patient is connected to oxygen tank in the intensive care unit ward for COVID-19 patients at the Afghan-Japan Communicable Disease Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Photograph: Rahmat Gul/AP

The vaccines were produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the AstraZenecca/Oxford University vaccine for mid- and low-income countries.

“The (WHO) certification process is underway and hopefully it will be done in a week and we will start the vaccination process in all 34 provinces,” said Nazari.

Health workers, security force members, teachers and government employees would receive the vaccine first, he said. Nazari said China also planned to send 200,000 doses of the vaccine.

Afghan health officials have also said that the international COVAX programme aimed at improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine for developing countries would provide vaccines to cover 20% of the country’s 38 million population.

Afghanistan has had 55,335 COVID-19 cases and 2,410 deaths from the disease, according to the health ministry.

A regional WHO official told Reuters this week that they were looking at the production sites for the AstraZeneca vaccine and hoped to make the decision on emergency use within weeks.

8.21am GMT

Our colleagues at the Observer have reported that detailed analysis of government data shows that the rate at which cases of Covid-19 have fallen since the start of the year is dramatically lower in the UK’s poorest regions than in wealthier areas.

The report cites figures, verified by the House of Commons library and compiled by Labour from official statistics, which show that the number of cases of Covid infection per 100,000 people remained markedly higher in the last full week of January in many poorer parliamentary constituencies than in more affluent ones.

You can read the full story here:

Updated at 8.21am GMT

8.18am GMT

Good morning, and welcome to our live coverage of the latest coronavirus news this Sunday.

I’m Archie Bland, picking up from Rebecca Ratcliffe, and beginning in Russia, where 16,048 new coronavirus cases and 432 deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours, against 16,627 cases and 497 deaths the previous day. Those figures continue a downward trajectory on both fronts.

In Australia, as reported earlier, no new local coronavirus cases were reported for a third consecutive day on Sunday, making it 17 days out of 19 with no cases of community transmission across the country. But in Mexico also reported earlier – there were 1,496 new confirmed deaths, bringing the country’s total to 165,786.

We’ll bring you the latest updates as they happen, including coverage of the Sunday morning political shows in the UK, where vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and shadow business secretary Ed Miliband are due to appear.

8.11am GMT

Summary

  • AstraZeneca has reportedly said its vaccine developed with the University of Oxford appeared to offer only limited protection against mild disease caused by the South African Covid variant, based on early data from a trial. The study was relatively small, with 2,000 participants.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had distributed 59,304,600 doses of Covid vaccines in the US and that 39,037,964 doses had been administered as of Saturday morning.
  • Doctors in England will be paid an additional £10 every time they vaccinate a vulnerable patient who cannot leave their home. Regular rapid-result coronavirus testing is also to be made available more widely to people who are continuing to travel to work during the lockdown.
  • Australia plans to introduce vaccination certificates for Covid. The government said vaccines will be mandatory for some. It reported no new local coronavirus cases for a third day on Sunday, as tennis players geared up for the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne on Monday.

That’s all from me, I’m now handing over to my colleague in London, Archie Bland.

7.11am GMT

A 8.30am on Tuesday 26 January the waiting room of the emergency department at the Lariboisière hospital in Paris was still empty, festooned with signs reading “emergency department on strike” that predate the pandemic but have been left pointedly in place.

There were no shrieking sirens, nobody dressed in PPE. It was and continues to be calm, but the calm may not last.

Despite the 6pm-6am curfew that has been in place since 16 January, the proportion of Covid-19 infections accounted for by the so-called UK variant is increasing exponentially in France – by 50% a week.

Though that proportion is still low, at about 14%, the scientific committee advising the government expects the more transmissible UK variant to become dominant in the viral population by early March, if not sooner – and it has not ruled out a third lockdown to try to slow its progress, as has already been imposed in the UK, Ireland and Portugal.

6.19am GMT

Australia’s top medical experts are to consider a national proposal to test returned travellers two days after exiting their fortnight of hotel quarantine as the federal government reveals its plan for proof-of-vaccination certificates.

Measures to further tighten Australia’s firm containment dominated political discussion on Sunday, while Australia recorded its third consecutive day of no new locally acquired cases of Covid-19.

At the weekend New South Wales Health began day 16 testing, with Victorian health authorities keen to implement the additional post-quarantine test and ask the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to nationalise the scheme.

South Australia will also consider adopting the extra test, with the state’s premier, Steven Marshall, saying his government will look at the measure “very carefully”.

5.31am GMT

Almost all the close and casual contacts of a coronavirus case that sparked a five-day lockdown for parts of Western Australia have tested negative for the virus, Australian Associated Press reported.

Authorities have identified 528 people linked in some way to the case of a security guard at a quarantine hotel. So far 522 have tested negative with just six waiting on test results.

They were among 5,264 people checked for Covid-19 on Saturday, with no new cases reported. Health Minister Roger Cook said officials were continuing to hunt for more contacts, but believed WA was “in a good place”.

“Obviously when you had someone in the community for a number of days who was Covid-positive with the UK strain, we were looking at a very dangerous situation,” he said.

Lockdown will be lifted on Friday, but a range of restrictions will remain for Perth and Peel until 12.01am on 14 February.

All residents, including teachers and high school students, must continue to wear masks while outside their homes except for during vigorous outdoor exercise. A 20-person limit will be imposed on all private indoor gatherings, while a four square metre rule and a cap of 150 attendees will apply to hospitality and retail venues and weddings.

Restaurants, pubs and bars can only have seated service and only essential travel is permitted in and out of the combined restricted zone. Western Australia will also keep its border restrictions in place for both NSW and Victoria.

4.44am GMT

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,616 to 2,284,010, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 231 to 61,517.

4.22am GMT

Australian Open grand slam begins tomorrow

Australia reported no new local coronavirus cases for a third day on Sunday, as tennis players geared up for the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne on Monday, Reuters reported.

The Australian Open will have a reduced attendance of 30,000 fans a day, about 50% lower than usual because of Covid-19 protocols. The public health protocols which have been credited with making Australia one of the most successful nations in battling the virus forced players into a two-week hotel quarantine when they arrived in Melbourne in January.

On Sunday players were finishing warm-up tournaments with Danii Medvedev firing Russia to an ATP Cup win and world No 1 Ash Barty beating Spain’s Garbine Muguruza to win the Yarra Valley Classic.

Asl Barty wins the Yarra Valley Classic on Sunday.
Ash Barty wins the Yarra Valley Classic on Sunday.
Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

More than 500 staff and players tested negative on Friday in retesting required after a worker at their quarantine hotel caught the virus.

Nearly 1,200 close contacts of the infected worker have tested negative to the virus, health officials said.

There were also no new local coronavirus cases reported in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, where there had been infections in past weeks.

Updated at 5.02am GMT

3.54am GMT

Regular rapid-result coronavirus testing is to be made available more widely to people who are continuing to travel to work during the lockdown in England.

PA Media reported that officials hope to “normalise” testing in the workplace and ensure the safety of those who cannot work from home by identifying asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19.

Ministers will offer access to lateral flow tests – which can produce results in less than 30 minutes – to businesses with more than 50 employees. Only firms employing 250-plus staff previously qualified.

Updated at 4.00am GMT

3.35am GMT

A first shipment of 88 litres of active ingredients to make AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil arrived from China on Saturday, essential input to speed the country’s troubled vaccination program, Reuters has reported.

With those supplies flown into Rio de Janeiro on a cargo plane, the Fiocruz biomedical centre can begin filling and finishing 2.8m doses. The federally funded centre expects to receive more ingredients this month to make a total of 15m shots of the vaccine developed with Oxford University.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro says Covid is a ‘little flu’.
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro says Covid is a ‘little flu’.
Photograph: Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

The Fiocruz production line, originally scheduled to start producing in December, has sat idle due to delays getting the first shipment of supplies from China.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who says he will not take any Covid-19 vaccine, is under pressure after a slow and patchy vaccine rollout in Brazil, which is facing a second wave of infections.

Bolsonaro referred to the virus as a “little flu” but his government faces mounting criticism over its handling of the world’s second-deadliest coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 231,000 Brazilians.

Updated at 3.43am GMT

2.58am GMT

Doctors in England paid extra to vaccinate vulnerable patients at home

Doctors in England will be paid an additional £10 every time they vaccinate a vulnerable person who cannot leave their home, PA Media has reported.

Ministers are striving to meet their target of inoculating all those aged 70 and over, along with frontline health workers, by 15 February.

Doctors in England will be paid extra if they vaccinate elderly or vulnerable patients in their own home.
Doctors in England will be paid extra if they vaccinate elderly or vulnerable patients in their own home.
Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the extra cash would allow GPs to reach the “most vulnerable people who might not be able to leave their homes”, such as the elderly and those who are shielding.

The government aims to have offered a first dose jab to all over-50s and the most clinically vulnerable by early May, but the Telegraph reported that Whitehall sources believed the pace of vaccinations meant the target could be achieved by April.

Updated at 8.25am GMT

2.01am GMT

A second round of accommodation vouchers designed to help the tourism sector during the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a m boost to the South Australian economy, AAP reports.

Premier Steven Marshall said the vouchers generated 36,000 bookings, bringing cash to the state’s regions and the Adelaide CBD.

“Across round one and two of the vouchers, we’ve created more than 60,000 bookings, worth more than m, getting people booking up the CBD and regions, and spending in our restaurants, cafes, bars and experiences around them,” he said on Sunday.

Great State Vouchers have contributed more than m to the South Australian economy.
Great State Vouchers have contributed more than m to the South Australian economy.
Photograph: Kelly Barnes/AAP

“We will now take away any lessons we have learned from the second round of the Great State Vouchers, talk to the industry and gear up for round three.”

South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive Rodney Harrex said the voucher scheme had resulted in some regional venues breaking occupancy records.

He said there had been a particularly strong interest in vouchers for CBD accommodation in the second round.

Updated at 2.06am GMT

2.00am GMT

More than 39 million Americans receive Covid vaccine

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had distributed 59,304,600 doses of Covid vaccines in the US and that 39,037,964 doses had been administered as of Saturday morning.

The tallies are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines as at 6am, it said. According to its tally posted on Friday, the agency had administered 36,819,212 doses of the vaccines and distributed 58,380,300 doses.

A woman prepares to receive a coronavirus vaccine from a member of the national guard in Bowie, Maryland, on Saturday.
A woman prepares to receive a coronavirus vaccine from a member of the national guard in Bowie, Maryland, on Saturday.
Photograph: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The agency said 30,250,964 people had received one or more doses, while 8,317,180 people had got the second dose as of Saturday. A total of 4,628,962 doses of vaccine have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.

Updated at 2.43am GMT

1.47am GMT

Australia to introduce Covid vaccination certificates

Here is a bit more detail on the news that the Australian government plans to introduce vaccination certificates for Covid-19.

Government services minister Stuart Robert said an immunisation history statement, available through the government’s MyGov or Medicare sites and apps, would display proof of Covid-19 immunisation status. Hard copies will also be available.

Last week prime minister Scott Morrison said that although Covid vaccines are largely voluntary, some people may be required to get one. The exact circumstances are yet to be announced.

Government services minister Stuart Robert
Government services minister Stuart Robert
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Employer groups including the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia have asked for clarity about whether they can require employees to get a vaccine, after several employment law experts argued they could.

Australia’s Covid vaccination policy states:

While the Australian government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate. There may however, be circumstances where the Australian government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.

Australia’s vaccination campaign is expected to begin in weeks.

Updated at 2.45am GMT

1.38am GMT

South Australia to consider boosting quarantine testing

South Australia will consider adding an extra Covid-19 test for Australians returning from overseas to bolster the security of the hotel quarantine system, Australian Associated Press has reported.

At the moment, anyone forced into quarantine in SA is tested on days one, five and 12. But New South Wales has introduced a test on day 16 which while not mandatory is highly recommended.

South Australian premier Steven Marshall
South Australian premier Steven Marshall
Photograph: David Mariuz/EPA

It’s designed to pick up cases that might have developed at the tail end of the 14-day period. Premier Steven Marshall said South Australia would continue to follow the best medical advice.

“We’re learning more and more about this disease every single day that goes past,” he said on Sunday. “We’re getting more information in from other states; we’re getting information in from overseas.

“We’ll look at that very carefully. If we need to do that in South Australia, that’s what we’ll do.”

Updated at 1.45am GMT

1.32am GMT

Mainland China reported 11 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, down from 12 cases a day earlier and the lowest daily increase since mid-December, the national health authority said on Sunday.

The National Health Commission said only one of the new cases was locally transmitted and it was identified in China’s north-eastern Jilin province.

A snow statue in Jilin province with a face mask and a sign reading: ‘Wear masks to prevent novel conoravirus.’
A snow statue in Jilin province with a face mask and a sign reading: ‘Wear masks to prevent novel conoravirus.’
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 13, including 11 imported cases.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 89,692, and the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.

Updated at 2.46am GMT

1.29am GMT

Mexico’s health ministry reported 1,496 new confirmed deaths from Covid-19 on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 165,786.

Updated at 1.30am GMT

1.28am GMT

The Carnival is over

In a normal year, Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome would preparing for its great moment of the year: the world’s most famous Carnival parade. But a week before what should be the start of Carnival, the pandemic has replaced pageantry, Associated Press reports.

The Rio mayor’s office opened a drive-through immunisation station Saturday at the Sambadrome, where a line of cars queued on a broad avenue built for floats.

“This is usually a place of pleasure. Today it is too, because we are exercising an act of citizenship and we are opening the Sambadrome to vaccinate,” said Paulo Roberto Machado, a 68-year-old nurse who teaches at the Veiga de Almeida University.

The Sambadrome Marques de Sapucai in Rio in 2020 ...
The Sambadrome Marques de Sapucai in Rio in 2020 …
Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
... and in 2021.
… and in 2021.
Photograph: António Lacerda/EPA

Machado has taken part in 40 years of Carnival parades here, but on Saturday he was coordinating 20 volunteer nursing and medical students vaccinating people over 90.

“The vaccine represents the hope of better days, of returning to normality, to what we did before,” Machado said.

Rio’s city government officially suspended Carnival and warns it will have no tolerance for those who try to celebrate with open street parades or clandestine parties, saying it is monitoring social media to detect any.

Rio’s hotel occupancy rate normally reaches about 80% in the hot summer months and 100% during Carnival. It’s now at roughly 50-60%, according to Alfredo Lopes, the president of Rio’s Hospitality Workers Union.

The pandemic has hit hard in Rio, where the authorities have counted more than 17,600 deaths from Covid, the most of any city in Brazil, topping even Sao Paulo, which has nearly twice its population.

Updated at 2.19am GMT

1.23am GMT

Oxford Covid jab less effective against South African variant, study finds

Here is a bit more detail on the study that suggests AstraZeneca does not offer protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of Covid-19.

The so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants, which appear to spread more swiftly than others, are among the strains causing most concern to public health experts.

The Financial Times has reported the findings of a study from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University. “In this small phase I/II trial, early data has shown limited efficacy against mild disease primarily due to the B.1.351 South African variant,” AstraZeneca told the newspaper.

A study suggests the AstraZeneca vaccine does not offer protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant.
A study suggests the AstraZeneca vaccine does not offer protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant.
Photograph: Marc O’Sullivan/PA

None of the more than 2,000 trial participants had been hospitalised or died, according to the report: “However, we have not been able to properly ascertain its effect against severe disease and hospitalisation given that subjects were predominantly young healthy adults.”

The company said it believed its vaccine could protect against severe disease, given that the neutralising antibody activity was equivalent to that of other Covid vaccines that have demonstrated protection against severe disease.

While thousands of individual changes have arisen as the virus mutates, only a tiny minority are likely to be important or change the virus in an appreciable way, according to the British Medical Journal.

On Friday Oxford said the vaccine had similar efficacy against the British coronavirus variant as it does to the previously circulating variants.

Updated at 2.52am GMT

1.14am GMT

Hello, Rebecca Ratcliffe here in Bangkok bringing you the latest global Covid-19 developments.

A quick update:

Updated at 1.15am GMT

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.