Asked about the proposal to pay those testing positive £500 in order to encourage them to comply with the rules on self-isolation, Hancock avoids a specific reply but urges people again to follow the rules and to self-isolate.
Of course we are working on how to strengthen that system. The policy you mentioned is not government policy. But the purpose is to ensure that the most important bit of all of the self-isolation rules – which is the self-isolation either if you’re positive or are a contact – that those work as effectively as possible
UK a ‘long, long way’ from restrictions being lifted, says Matt Hancock
Hancock says the UK is “a long, long, long way” from the case rate being low enough for restrictions to be lifted but says there is early evidence the lockdown is starting to work. Asked why the current UK restrictions are lighter than they were in March of last year, he says he is confident that the country had the right level of restrictions in place.
Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary is being interviewed on Sky News. Asked about how worried people should be about the deadliness of the UK variant, says it is important people follow the rules.
The scientists do think it may be more deadly, and they have put various estimates on that – from about 10% more deadly to a bit more than that. We are not exactly certain about how much more deadly. But what matters is we have to get this virus under control and the only way you do that is by reducing social contact and following the rules.
Hancock, whose period in self-isolation after he was pinged by the NHS app, has come to an end this morning, says one of the studies suggests the UK variant could be up to 50% more deadly and points out there are still uncertainties around it.
That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. Thanks for following along – my colleagues in London will take you through the next few hours of global pandemic news.
Calls to delay UK council elections amid pandemic
Nearly 95% of councils in England have concerns about the possibility of having to hold elections in May, a poll suggests.
A number of elections are due to be held later this year, including those for the Mayor of London, local authorities in England, and police and crime commissioners.
PA Media reports that many of these were postponed from May 2020 due to coronavirus, and Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) research found more than two thirds (68%) of authorities in England felt an autumn timetable is more achievable.
The survey, involving 374 council chief executives, democratic services officers and council leaders, found 66% were very concerned about holding elections in May, and a further 28% somewhat concerned.
Only 1% of respondents were “not at all concerned”.
Their main fear, according to the poll, was preparing for an election on May 6 only to have it postponed (86%), while worries about recruiting and training electoral workers (80%) and disenfranchising voters with Covid concerns (71%) were also recorded.
Here are the key pandemic developments from the last few hours:
Vaccinated may still pass virus on, said England’s deputy chief medical officer. Coronavirus vaccines may not fully prevent people from passing the virus on to others and people who have had the jab should still continue to abide by lockdown restrictions, the deputy chief medical officer for England said. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that if those who have been vaccinated begin easing off because they are protected, they are potentially putting at risk those further down the priority list who still need inoculation.
Boris Johnson and Joe Biden share hopes for end to Covid on first call. After the call with Biden, the UK prime minister tweeted: “Great to speak to President Joe Biden this evening. I look forward to deepening the longstanding alliance between our two countries as we drive a green and sustainable recovery from Covid-19.”
New Zealand records first Covid community case in two months. A 56-year-old woman has tested positive for Covid-19 in New Zealand, after being released from government managed isolation following two negative tests. It is the first community case in the country since 18 November. The woman in New Zealand who tested positive returned two negative Covid tests while staying in government-managed isolation at the Pullman hotel, having arrived from London.
Egypt to start Covid-19 vaccination campaign: Sisi. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Saturday that Egypt would start rolling out a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign the following day with the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab, AFP reports.
Australia on track to receive vaccine from February, says treasurer. Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists Australia is still on track to receive the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine from February, as new figures suggest people are more than happy to get their jab, Australian Associated Press reports.
Australia reported zero new local cases. There were no new locally acquired Covid-19 cases recorded across Australia on Sunday, while four new infections were reported in hotel quarantine in NSW and Victoria, AAP reports.
The US is nearing 25m cases. I’ll post a summary shortly. For now, the US is nearing an astonishing 25 million cases of coronavirus – a quarter of the global total and one in every thirteen people in the country. There are currently 24,994,465 confirmed infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
UK to quarantine arrivals from high-risk countries – reports. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is preparing to force travelers from countries where there is a high risk of Covid to go into quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Britain, the Daily Mail reported on Saturday.
Three infections linked to Australian Open confirmed as UK strain. Coronavirus infections linked to the Australian Open are continuing to emerge, with a further three non-players – two men in their 30s and one in his 50s confirmed to have the highly contagious UK strain of the virus.
Mainland China confirmed 80 new coronavirus cases on 23 January,down from 107 cases a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said on Sunday. The National Health Commission, in a statement, said 65 of the new cases were local infections. The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, fell to 92 from 99 cases a day earlier. The total number of confirmed cases in Mainland China now stands at 88,991, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,635.
A possible community case of Covid is being reported in the northernmost New Zealand province of Northland. The “probable” case is in the community, a ministry of health spokesperson said, rather than a managed isolation facility. The director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and the minister of covid-19 response, Chris Hipkins, will hold a media stand-up at 4pm to share the latest information.
It has been a year since the Wuhan lockdown. The Chinese city of Wuhan marks one year since the start of its traumatic 76-day coronavirus lockdown. On 23 January 2020, Wuhan shocked the globe by confining its 11 million anxious citizens to their homes, starting a cycle that would spread across the world. But China largely brought its outbreak under control and Wuhan is nothing like the ghost town of a year ago, with traffic humming, sidewalks bustling, and citizens packing public transport and parks.
Hong Kong and Oslo tightened measures. Thousands of people in one of Hong Kong’s poorest and most densely packed districts have been ordered to stay in their homes. Norway’s government, meanwhile, has imposed the strictest restrictions seen in the region of the capital, Oslo, since March after the discovery of the British variant in a retirement home.
A French lockdown ‘likely’. A French government source has told AFP that “the hypothesis of confinement is more and more likely,” citing projections of a surge in cases due to the more transmissible British strain.
Fabric masks still work, said the WHO. The World Health Organization says it has no plans to change its guidance recommending fabric face masks as new coronavirus variants spread because the mutated strains are transmitted in the same way. The statement comes after Germany and Austria made medical masks mandatory on public transport and in shops, allowing only surgical or FFP2 masks rather than fabric.
There is a shortage of vaccines in Brazil. Brazil has just started its vaccination campaign but scientists are already warning the hard-hit country will quickly run out of doses and even syringes, some blaming the government for the shortages.
Three men have been arrested as part of an investigation into fraudulent coronavirus bounce-back loans totalling £6m, PA Media reports. The National Crime Agency said all three men worked for the same London financial institution and are suspected of using their “specialist knowledge” to carry out the scam.
Two of the suspects, aged 30 and 31, were arrested at their office by members of the NCA’s Complex Financial Crime team, while the third, aged 30, was arrested at an address in Camden.
The government’s bounce-back loan scheme was introduced in May to give small and medium-sized firms access to low-interest finance quickly. Companies can borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of their turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000. Under the terms, the government guarantees 100% of the loan and there are no fees or interest for the first 12 months, with an interest rate of 2.5% a year after that.
The £6m in bogus claims are believed to have been made through the use of false data and documents, the NCA said. The three suspects have been released while inquiries into the extent of the fraud and the possibility of others being involved continue.
The UK is set to reach a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths by the end of January after a year of missed opportunities has led to one of the worst Covid fatality rates in the world.
The Guardian’s Robin McKie takes a look at the past year:
In normal times Paris’s famous Place du Tertre – the “artists’ square” – is packed with tourists and visiting out-of-towners, even on a chilly January afternoon. In the time of coronavirus, however, the square, home to painters, portraitists, caricaturists and silhouette artists, is almost entirely deserted.
The cafes and brasseries are closed, their terrace chairs chained up, and only a handful of the more optimistic artists have braved the cold for a few hours before the 6pm curfew kicks in:
Vaccinated may still pass virus on, says England deputy chief medical officer
Coronavirus vaccines may not fully prevent people from passing the virus on to others and people who have had the jab should still continue to abide by lockdown restrictions, the deputy chief medical officer for England said.
PA Media: Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said that if those who have been vaccinated begin easing off because they are protected, they are potentially putting at risk those further down the priority list who still need inoculation.
His warning came as the latest Government figures showed the number receiving the first dose of the vaccine across the UK has passed 5.8 million, with a record 478,248 getting the jab in a single day.
The Observer view on government support for low-paid to halt spread of Covid-19
Exactly a year after the Chinese city of Wuhan went into the world’s first coronavirus lockdown, the Covid-19 death toll continues to mount. In the UK, we are losing more than 1,200 people a day to the virus and the total number of people who have died is almost 100,000. Countless people have lost someone they loved to this disease. It is a national tragedy whose scale would have been unthinkable in early 2020.
Most governments have been struggling to contain this virus. The new variant circulating in the UK, thought to be 30-70% more infectious, and which scientists think might be more deadly, poses new challenges as the vaccine gets rolled out. But our government has repeatedly made serious errors that have resulted in a higher-than-necessary death toll.
The government’s consistent hesitancy in taking swift action to contain the spread of the virus has cost lives. It imposed a national lockdown too late last March, again left it too late last autumn, and went ahead with relaxing restrictions in the run-up to Christmas against the advice of many scientific experts. It should have introduced a national lockdown more quickly in light of the growing evidence that the new variant was more infectious. The prime minister’s reluctance to make difficult decisions – together with a lack of cabinet competence that has manifested itself in the shambolic roll-out of test and trace, for example – has proved lethal:
Leading vaccine experts have backed the government’s decision to delay the second dose for up to three months, after doctors warned that the strategy was proving “ever-more difficult to justify”.
The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, has suggested that the UK has become “increasingly isolated internationally” by deciding that the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be delayed, and called for a maximum delay of six weeks. However, several prominent scientists backed the government’s plan to maximise the number of people receiving their first dose.
The Guardian’s Michael Savage, Robin McKie and James Tapper report:
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 12,257 to 2,134,936, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.
The reported death toll rose by 349 to 51,870, the tally showed.
Thailand on Sunday confirmed 198 new coronavirus cases, taking its total number of confirmed infections to 13,500, Reuters reports.
Seven of the new infections were imported, a coronavirus taskforce told a briefing. One additional coronavirus-related death was recorded, bringing total fatalities to 73 since the outbreak began last year.
Australia reports zero new local cases
There were no new locally acquired Covid-19 cases recorded across Australia on Sunday, while four new infections were reported in hotel quarantine in NSW and Victoria, AAP reports.
Health Minister Greg Hunt believes new immunisation figures show Australians have faith in the TGA to provide expert advice and ensure the safety and efficacy of all vaccines provided to the community.
Immunisation rates for five-year-olds are now beyond the aspirational target of 95% coverage, reaching 95.09% in the December quarter of 2020 and exceeding the World Health Organisation estimated international average of 86 per cent.
“Reaching our target of 95% supports herd immunity to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Mr Hunt said in a statement on Sunday.
“These figures show Australians have both the capacity and the will to lead the world in taking up Covid-19 vaccines, as they recognise how important vaccination is, and how it protects and saves lives.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at five years old have the highest rates of immunisation in the country at 97.25%.
At the same time, Australia’s seasonal influenza vaccination program continues to provide increasing numbers of vaccines to Australians of all ages.
at 4.57am GMT