Coronavirus live news: cases of some variants falling in UK; German third wave could be imminent due to variants

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Statistician professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the UK government may still need to use "highly local" measures when it approaches the easing of lockdown.
Speaking to Times Radio, Spiegelhalter, of the statistical laboratory at Cambridge University, said recent coronavirus data indicating drops in hospital admissions, death rates and cases across the country were "very encouraging", but there were pockets around the country with still "quite a lot of cases" and "really quite substantial numbers".

Spiegelhalter, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said some "scattered" areas were seeing above 200 new cases per 100,000 per week, which was "of concern".
He warned that unless there was greater take-up of coronavirus vaccine in some communities, in particular some ethnic communities, where it has been slower, it could become an "increasing issue".
Commenting on what prime minister Boris Johnson might announce on Monday about his plans to ease lockdown restrictions, he added:

What I understand is that they're going to try to have national measures rather than regional tiered systems since that caused such a lot of problems.

It seems to me that there's still going to be a need for highly local measures that might have to take place.

The Czech Republic on Saturday recorded 6755 confirmed cases of coronavirus, about 1,600 more than a week ago.

  • The share of newly infected in the number of tests performed was also higher, reaching almost 38%, which is the highest share since 9 January. It was 30% last Saturday, the news website Aktualne reported.

  • The number of hospitalised people with Covid-19 fell to 6,000 on Saturday, but the number of patients in serious condition remains at a record number of around 1,300.

  • Currently, almost 119,000 people in the country are infected, the highest number since last October.

  • In the Karlovy Vary region, 394 new cases were recorded on Saturday, 25 percent more than on Friday.

    35,200 people have already become infected in the region, and 1,029 have died.

  • Surge testing is being rolled out in an area of Essex, England after a case of the South African coronavirus variant was found.
    A spokesman for the Department of Health said:

    Working in partnership with the local authority, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to the CM13 postcode in Brentwood, Essex, where a single case of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.

    People living in the postcode area are "strongly encouraged" to take a test when offered, whether or not they have any symptoms of the virus.

    Eighteen new cases of the UK Covid-19 variant first discovered in Kent, England have been detected in the Philippines. According to the country's department of health, 13 of these cases are returning overseas Filipinos who entered the country between 3 and 27 January. "All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DOH is currently investigating compliance to isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for these ROFs," the ministry said.

    The Philippines' Covid-19 infections tally rose past 561,000 on Sunday after the Department of Health announced 1,888 new patients. A week ago, the country registered 1,921 new daily infections.
    CNN Philippines reports:

    The case count now stands at 561,169, of which 26,238 or 4.7% are active cases, the latest report showed.

    This update does not yet include data from two testing laboratories which failed to submit on time. The DOH said 9,737 patients were also cleared of the infection, raising the number of recoveries to 522,843. Meanwhile, the death toll climbed to 12,088 with 20 more fatalities, including 12 which were previously tagged as recoveries.

    The British health secretary Matt Hancock has refused to apologise after the High Court ruled he unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds' worth of coronavirus-related contracts.
    Asked if he had anything to apologise for despite losing the case, he told the BBC:

    People can make up their own view about whether I should have told my team to stop buying PPE and spend the time bringing forward those transparency returns by just over a fortnight.
    Or whether I was right to buy the PPE and get it to the front line.

    You tell me that that is wrong. You can't. And the reason you can't is because it was the right thing to do.

    Legal cases about timings of transparency returns are completely second order compared to saving lives.
    There is no health secretary in history who would have taken the view that they needed to take people off the project of buying PPE in order to ensure that nine months later the Health Secretary didn't have a slightly bumpy interview on the Marr programme.
    It is not what it is about, Andrew [Marr], it is about doing the right thing.

    The opposition leader Keir Starmer told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

    I don't want to call for him to resign.

    I do think he is wrong about the contracts - there have been problems with the contracts, on transparency, on who the contracts have gone to.
    There's been a lot of wasted money and I think that is a real cause for concern.
    But, at the moment, at this stage of the pandemic, I want all government ministers working really hard to get us through.

    New York City has fewer than 1,000 Covid-19 doses for first jabs left because of shipment delays caused by snowstorms across the country, the city reported on Saturday. The delays brought the city's "entire vaccination effort" to a "standstill," Avery Cohen, a spokeswoman for mayor Bill de Blasio, wrote on Twitter.

    Avery Cohen (@CohenAvery)

    Delayed shipments have put our entire vaccination effort at a standstill. As of this morning, New York City has fewer than 1,000 first doses remaining on-hand.

    February 20, 2021

    The New York Times reports:

    Vicious winter weather has snarled vaccine deliveries nationwide.

    The White House estimated that the weather had created a backlog of six million doses, and pleaded with local officials to extend hours at vaccination sites and schedule additional appointments.
    The bad weather has slowed two vaccine shipping hubs -- a FedEx center in Memphis and a UPS site in Louisville, Ky. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week that more than 2,000 vaccine sites were in areas with power outages.

    In Texas, where millions of residents lost power during this week's powerful storm, state health officials said that more than 100,000 first doses and 300,000 second doses that were supposed to be delivered this week were still waiting to be shipped to Texas from out-of-state warehouses, citing data from the federal vaccine tracking system. The missed doses are expected to be delivered during the first half of next week. In the Houston area, some vaccination sites began reopening at the end of this week. [...]

    Mr. de Blasio said on Friday that New York City had delayed scheduling up to 35,000 first dose appointments because of the shortage.

    Coronavirus live news: cases of some variants falling in UK; German third wave could be imminent due to variants

    Coronavirus restrictions in England will be eased with "weeks between the steps", in a sign that the government might be too cautious in their easing of restrictions to win the support of a group of Conservative MPs lobbying for all legal restrictions to fall away by the end of April.
    The health secretary Matt Hancock told Times Radio it would take a few weeks for the impact of lifting measures to be seen, and that hence there will be weeks between the steps so the effects of eased restrictions could be carefully studied.

    Hancock added that social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings were likely to remain for a while.
    "I want to see it more about personal responsibility over time as we have vaccinated more and more of the population," he said. The former chief whip and Conservative MP Mark Harper said he hoped the prime minister's road map would be one the Covid Recovery Group of Tories can support.

    Harper told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show:

    We think by the end of April the case for domestic legal restrictions, limiting what people can do, falls away. We think at that point people should be able to get on with their lives.
    The government may still give them health advice and there may be things people do voluntarily, but the legal restrictions should fall away at the end of April.

    Asked if there could be a Commons revolt over the continuation of the current restrictions if the road map fails to meet their demands, Harper said:

    I'm hoping what the prime minister announces tomorrow will be something that I and my colleagues can support.

    One in three UK adults has had vaccine

    One in three adults in the UK has had a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

    He told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show:

    As of this morning, one in three adults of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated - it's great news.
    We are confident that the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.
    We do not yet have the confidence that the vaccine is as effective against the South Africa variant and the variant first seen in Brazil, but we do think that the measures that we have taken - both the enhanced contact tracing and the measures at the border - are reducing those new variants here.

    Hancock said the latest data showed "around a dozen" new cases of the South African variant had been found in the country.

    In total, there have been around 300 cases, he said.

    UK teachers won't be prioritised in getting vaccine

    The British health secretary Matt Hancock again rejected calls for teachers to be given priority in the vaccine queue before schools return.
    He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday:

    We've asked the expert group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, what order we should vaccinate in, broadly in order to reduce the number of deaths as fast as possible.
    I think everybody can understand why we asked that as the question.

    They set out the priority groups one to nine, which includes those who are clinically most vulnerable and their carers, and includes the over-50s, going down the age range.
    They are currently considering, after that, what might be the best order in terms of clinical priority.
    There isn't strong evidence that teachers are more likely to catch Covid than any other group, but I'll leave it for the JCVI to set out what they think is the best order in which to do this that minimises the number of deaths.

    Hancock said there was evidence the vaccines could reduce transmission by two-thirds, which could be a factor in deciding whether to vaccinate children against Covid-19.

    He said:

    There's clinical trials under way as to whether children should be vaccinated.
    There are two points here. One is that it absolutely must be safe, specifically for children, so that is being currently investigated.

    The second is - because children very, very rarely get symptoms or serious illness from the disease - the value, the importance, of vaccinating children is to try to stop the spread of the disease.
    [...] It looks like the first jab reduces your impact of transmitting the disease by about two-thirds, but we need more evidence on that as well.

    Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said cases in the UK are going down "impressively fast" but that that is "primarily the lockdown and not the vaccine programme".

    He told BBC Breakfast:

    The vaccine programme is beginning to have an impact now, I think, on the rates of hospitalisation, according to the studies we're doing here in Bristol, but it's only just starting.
    The reason we're seeing this impact at the moment is not the vaccine programme.
    But, conversely, getting the vaccine programme done and rolling it out across the population will be really important, as we go forward, in continuing to bring the virus circulation down and reducing the chance of emergence of new variants that might escape that immunity.

    Finn said he expected an announcement to be made around vaccine priorities in the UK some time in the next week.

    Asked about a new priority list for people under 50, he said:

    The strategy from JCVI that's being provided as advice to the government is just being finalised at the moment, and then government will make their decision as to how to do this during the coming days, so I think there'll be some kind of public announcement around that in the next week or so.

    He said he could not say what he expected the priorities would be because that is something to be announced by the government.

    Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.
    He said vaccinating all adults by the end of July will make a "huge difference" but cautioned the vaccine will not give 100% protection.

    Edmunds told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show:

    If we eased off very rapidly now, we would get another surge in hospitalisations, so we have to ease very gradually.

    Otherwise we will put the health service under pressure again and we'll get a surge in hospitalisations, and indeed deaths.

    He said the South African variant is being "held in place now, as everything else is being held in place by the lockdown".
    He added: "The risk comes really when we release the lockdown."

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