The UK is seeing record numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus, with more than 60,000 positive tests reported on three days this week.
So just how bad is the second wave, compared with the first and when are cases expected to start going down?
My colleague Nicola Davis has this explainer about where we are and where we might get to:
As a result of the NHS England decision, about 3 million health and social care staff should now be offered either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by mid-February at the latest.
Frontline personnel who work most closely with Covid patients, such as those in intensive care units, A&E departments and on wards where confirmed cases are treated, will be vaccinated first.
In a letter to NHS trusts and GP practices across England, three key NHS England officials told them that they were now under an “immediate requirement to vaccinate frontline health and social care workers, ensuring maximum uptake of vaccination and timely, equitable access across staff groups”.
The letter added: “It is now time for us to vaccinate health and care workers, in line with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s prioritisation.”
In an acknowledgment that the move was necessary to help ensure NHS services had the maximum number of staff available, it said: “This is critical to ensure we protect health and care workers, patients and the public at a time when Covid-19 pressures across health and care are intensifying.”
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NHS staff to be vaccinated ‘immediately’
All NHS staff and social care staff will be offered a Covid vaccine over the next few weeks, following growing calls from health professionals anxious about their inability to get immunised.
In an announcement on Friday, NHS England said hospitals would play the lead role in vaccinating all health and care staff as an “immediate” and “critical” priority, and that most should have been inoculated by early February.
The move comes amid rising concern that parts of the NHS are coming close to collapse as a result of the ongoing steep rise in infections and people being admitted to hospital and that the difficulties facing services are being compounded by record numbers off sick or isolating because of Covid.
Absence rates in some hospitals are now between 8% and 12%, versus the health service’s normal level of 4%, just as the NHS comes under the greatest strain in its history.
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The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said the latest coronavirus death figures were a “tragedy”.
He tweeted: “It was not bad luck and it was not inevitable. The government must do everything it can to vaccinate Britain.”
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A leading GP said doctors need certainty of vaccine supply to be able to hit Boris Johnson’s target of 2m inoculations a week to cover the four highest priority groups by the middle of February.
David Wrigley, who runs a practice with 25,000 patients in Carnforth, north Lancashire, began vaccinating patients today but said that while he had enough supply of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to last into next week, “after that I’ve not got a clue on what is coming”.
The doctor, who is also a vice chair of the British Medical Association, said that “he wanted to be positive about this” but uncertainty about supply meant it was not possible to arrange appointments for jabs the week after next until the next batch arrived.
“This is where pressure needs to be exerted on the politicians,” the doctor said. “We know what’s coming next week but if we could have two to three weeks advance notice then we can plan properly. At the moment we are staring into the unknown.”
The arrival of the more portable AstraZeneca vaccine will allow Wrigley’s practice to vaccinate all 300 patients who live in care homes on its books over the weekend and with the Pfizer inoculation it will be possible to give jabs to another 1,050 patients aged over 80 – a high proportion of those in the first two priority groups for the practice.
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In an alignment with Britain, CNN are reporting that the incoming US administration of the president-elect, Joseph Biden, will release all available vaccine doses in a break from the Trump White House’s policy of holding back stock for a second dose.
TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s transition team, said: “The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible.
“He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”
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Daily reported deaths at new high as 1,325 people die within 28 days of Covid diagnosis
A further 1,325 people have died within 28 days of testing
positive for Covid-19 – the highest number of UK deaths reported on a single day since the outbreak began.
Government figures show that 415,408 people have tested positive in the last seven days, an increase of 29.9%.
A total of 1,296,432 people have been vaccinated as of 3 January.
The Guardian’s Josh Halliday meanwhile tweets:
North-south divide is clear as day in these Covid death figures. More than *12,000 people* have died in the north-west (nearly one in five of England’s total) at a rate 2.5x higher than the south-west and nearly double the south-east. Astonishing.https://t.co/YMRYke7bIO pic.twitter.com/SED2TqQwkt
January 8, 2021
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More than 300,000 people a week will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in the West Midlands if the region’s 1.6 million most vulnerable people are to receive jabs by the middle of February.
The figure was confirmed by Sally Roberts, the chief nursing officer for the Black Country and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group, who is leading the vaccine rollout in that part of the Midlands.
Roberts told a press briefing on Friday that “tens of thousands” of people in the region had been inoculated against Covid-19 since the first vaccines were given on 8 December, nearly five weeks ago.
Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, has urged the West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, to launch a vaccine taskforce to accelerate the distribution of jabs.
Byrne said on Friday that at the current pace it would take until 27 April to vaccinate all high-priority residents in the West Midlands and until 14 July to vaccinate the 2 million people over the age of 50.
Roberts said there had been “logistical challenges” to the introduction of the vaccine but these had been “resolved and mitigated quite quickly”.
The region is to move on 25 January to a scheme whereby GPs can order a specific amount of vaccine doses for a particular day. Under a current “top-down” policy, GP surgeries are told when they will receive more supplies.
Shoppers at the Bullring Open Market in Birmingham. Photograph: Jacob King/PA
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Thirteen dead at care home in Wrexham
Thirteen residents at one Welsh care home have died from Covid-19 in recent days.
The figure was confirmed by officials dealing with the incident at Hillbury care come, Wrexham.com reported.
The website quoted Cindy Clutton, the care home’s manager, as saying: “We are all understandably extremely upset by the recent deaths and we are working hard to ensure our residents and staff remain safe.
“This new variant is now prevalent across north-east Wales and here in Wrexham we are suffering particularly badly.”
Wrexham has had one of the highest Covid case rate in Wales, with 735.5 cases per 100,000 of the population in recent days.
Lawrence Isted, speaking on behalf of the incident management team dealing with the outbreak, said: “We are confident that every precaution has been taken to prevent any further spread of the infection within the home.”
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A new briefing by Public Health England on the the spread of the new Covid-19 variant shows that it is, for now, largely concentrated in London, and the south-east and east of England.
The Conservative MP Neil O’Brien has overlaid those stats with another showing the total proportion of those infected as he called for vaccine distribution to speed up.
Neil O’Brien MP
This is ominous – PHE stats on the prevalence of the new variant in recent months (left) and the total proportion of people now infected (right) look v similar.
All more reason to floor it with vaccine & be v careful even during lockdown – new version is much worse & spreading. pic.twitter.com/DNO5MEZuRK
January 8, 2021
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Scientists warn over public relaxing guard amid vaccine roll-out
Scientists have expressed concern that one of the “unintended consequences” of the vaccine’s introduction could be less adherence to protective rules and regulations, newly released documents from the government’s Sage advisory panel show.
Modelling suggests that depending on “real-world” effectiveness of the vaccines, reduced adherence could “more than offset” the benefits of vaccination by increasing infection rates, particularly in the early months before there is a high degree of coverage.
A UK national survey in early December suggested that once they believed they had acquired some level of immunity, a “significant minority” intended to reduce adherence to rules such as hand and surface hygiene, use of tissues, face protection, social distancing and room ventilation.
The survey found while 50% would still follow rules, another 29% said they would do so less strictly, with those aged 18-24 most likely to say this, while 11% said they would probably no longer follow the rules.
A UK poll conducted after the vaccine rollout had begun showed that 66% believed people should still be subject to restrictions after they received the vaccine, but 22% said they believed those vaccinated should not be subject to any more restrictions.
Scientists recommended a “culturally tailored” communications strategy was needed to emphasise that such restrictions were still “vital” . It recommended monitoring adherence to rules, and developing a system of rapid alerts to allow “timely intervention” if adherence starts to fall. It was important to ensure that communications promoting vaccination did not undermine communication promoting adherence to rules, it said.
A coat belonging to a member of the Newham health trust team hangs over a hand sanitiser dispenser as he injects a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday in London. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
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