Covid-19 UK news – March lockdown ease WILL let you socialise with friends outdoors after schools reopen, report claims

ANYONE jetting to the UK from Covid-ravaged countries will be forced to quarantine in hotels from February 15.

Holidaymakers will have to self-isolate at their own expense in Government-approved accommodation after returning from 33 "red list" nations.

It comes amid increasing fears over mutant Covid variants which are more contagious and deadlier than the original coronavirus.

There are around 4,000 coronavirus variants now in circulation around the world, the UK's Vaccine Minister has revealed.

Nadhim Zahawi said there was a "library" of Covid mutations being stored to ensure the country was ready to respond with updated vaccines.

Follow the live blog below for the very latest news, updates and analysis of the coronavirus crisis…

  • Claudia Aoraha

    COVID JAB ROLLOUT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BREXIT, SAYS STURGEON

    Eurofan Nicola Sturgeon was ridiculed last night after insisting that Brexit had nothing to do with the UK’s soaring vaccine rollout.

    Despite bungling by Brussels meaning the EU27 are struggling to jab their citizens, the SNP boss – who wants to re-join the bloc – said it was “too simplistic” to suggest leaving the EU has made the UK more nimble.

    The First Minister’s remarks came amid anger over low vaccination rates in the European Union and claims Brussels bureaucracy has stifled the buy-up of jabs.

    Last July, the SNP said the UK’s refusal to join the EU scheme as “idiotic”, “all about Brexit”, and would “cost lives”.

    But the UK – which went its own way on procurement – is now way ahead of the bloc.

  • Claudia Aoraha

    HOW FAR CAN I TRAVEL TO EXERCISE?

    Boris Johnson has advised for people to limit the time they spend exercising outdoors.

    The official guidance states that exercise should be done locally wherever possible – preferably in your neighbourhood.

    But you can travel to exercise if needed.

    This means if you must travel to access an open space, you can do so, within reason.

    As far as travelling to beauty spots goes, you should not do it unless one is very close to your home.

  • Claudia Aoraha

    CZECH REPUBLIC TIGHTENS COVID RULES

    The Czech Republic is further tightening entry rules in an effort to limit the growing spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

    Travelers from high-risk countries have to present a negative PCR test on arrival that is not older than 72 hours and must go into quarantine for at least five days before another PCR test. They also have to fill in an online form before their trip and wear a respirator for the first 10 days of their visits.

    High-risk countries include Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Baltics states and most other countries outside the EU.

    Those traveling from less risky countries are asked to present a fast antigen test on arrival.

    The measure becomes effective on Friday. The Czech Republic has already banned all tourist trips.

  • Claudia Aoraha

    'IT TAKES TIME TO PREPARE QUARANTINE HOTELS' SAYS EXPERT

    Meher Nawab, chief executive of London Hotel Group, said it would take time and "due diligence" to prepare hotels to receive quarantining travellers.

    "In our set procedures, which the virologists have set, we're not allowed to let the customers leave the room, they are completely self-isolating in the room, they are provided three meals a day," he told BBC Breakfast.

    "There is a lot of training to go into this, a lot of health protocols as well, and actually the insurance has to be approved."

    "If you want to do something properly, and the amount of due diligence and protocol that has to go into place, it takes a long time."

  • Claudia Aoraha

    TRAVEL PASSPORTS: THE LATEST

    Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said it would be up to countries where holidaymakers are arriving to decide on travel passports.

    "The border measures of other countries and what they require of people coming to their countries will be up to them," he told Sky News.

    "Receiving countries will set their own border measures and it will be up to those countries to define what they require travellers to have.

    "At the moment, most countries, including our own, require a negative test result.

    "And we'll have to see what countries, what the international community, put in place once vaccines around the world are as effectively distributed, as they are here in the UK."

  • Claudia Aoraha

    AVOID A 'YO-YO SITUATION'

    Dr Mike Tildesley, a professor of infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, told Times Radio said it was important "to avoid a yo-yo situation where we unwrap things too rapidly, we get a resurgence and we have to lock down again".

    Pressed on whether outdoor socialising next month seems reasonable, he said: "I would say next month our real focus should be getting our children into school, and that should be the really key thing that's top of the agenda."

    But he said "a little bit more mixing outdoors" might be reasonable but would need "very clear messaging from the Government".

  • Claudia Aoraha

    HOTEL QUARANTINE NEEDED 'IMMEDIATELY'

    Dr Mike Tildesley said hotel quarantine policies should come in immediately when there was a need.

    He told Times Radio: "As with any control policy, as soon as you realise you might need to do this you need to introduce it immediately, which is why any delay, as we saw perhaps with the South African variant and delays to bans there, leads to the possibility of the virus getting in and circulating more widely.

    "It's important that we do isolate people coming in to reduce the risk of variants coming from other countries, but also we are getting homegrown new variants here and that's not going to help that."

  • Ben Hill

    QUARANTINE OPPOSITION

    Paul Charles, a travel consultant who runs the Quash Quarantine campaign, said that quarantining travellers in hotels was not the "panacea for stopping Covid entering the UK".

    Mr Charles said certain chains were concerned about their brand reputation being "tarnished" if hotels admitted Covid-positive guests and questioned the exit plan for "unwinding" hotel quarantines.

    "Governments use these blunt tools and put these measures in place relatively quickly, although this has been very slow, but they have a habit of leaving them in place longer than is necessary," he told Today.

    "It would be much better for the anticipated five million pound up front cost to be spent on investing in testing at arrivals and departures at Britain's airports.

    "That would have more impact."

  • Ben Hill

    FOUR DEAD

    Three patients and a doctor were killed ‘when oxygen equipment exploded’ at a Covid-19 hospital in Ukraine.

    Medic Dr Olha Hliva, 26, died alongside female patients aged 91,76 and 64 in the intensive care inferno in Zaporizhzhia.

    Eight survived the blaze including a male nurse and doctor who suffered burns.

    The condition of several patients who suffered from burns or smoke had “deteriorated”, according to latest reports.

    Patients in the unit were all on ventilators.

  • Ben Hill

    AUS OPEN ON TRACK

    An Australian Open testing blitz has revealed no new coronavirus cases, organisers said Friday, putting preparations for the Grand Slam tournament back on track after a Covid scare.

    Preparations for the year's opening tennis Grand Slam were thrown into disarray when a worker at one of the designated tournament hotels became infected with the virus.

    Some 507 players and officials were ordered to be tested and isolate until they received their result, with six warm-up tournaments suspended on Thursday.

    But they were all cleared on Friday as the tournaments resumed at Melbourne Park.

  • Patrick Knox

    MEXICO REPORTS 1,682 NEW VIRUS DEATHS

    Its health ministry last night reported 1,682 new confirmed deaths from Covid-19, bringing the total in the country to 162,922.

  • Patrick Knox

    CALL TO REOPEN HAIRDRESSERS AND SALONS TO BOOST NATION’S MENTAL HEALTH

    Whitehall insiders want Boris Johnson to commit to reopening the beauty industry, alongside non-essential shops, a few weeks later.

    One government insider told The Sun: “It wouldn’t just boost the economy, it would help people’s mental health too.

    “People are getting fed up at not being able to go for a haircut. It is about improving how people feel about themselves.

    “It would be good for the high street, of course. But it will also be good for people’s wellbeing.”

  • Patrick Knox

    COVID RATES AND INPATIENTS FALL ACROSS ALL REGIONS

  • Patrick Knox

    ANTI-VACCINE RABBI DISMISSED BY JEWISH ORGANIZATION

    A prominent Jewish organization is cutting ties with a longtime Massachusetts rabbi for actively promoting anti-vaccine views and strident opposition to public health efforts to rein in the coronavirus pandemic.

    Central Massachusetts Chabad said Thursday it dismissed Rabbi Michoel Green as a representative of the organization, which oversees Jewish community centers in the region, on Jan. 27.

    Green has run the Chabad house in Westborough, which is a suburb of Worcester, New England's second-largest city, for nearly 20 years.

    Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, director of the Central Massachusetts Chabad, said in a statement that Green has been warned multiple times that his activities and statements are contrary to the organisations mission and a direct conflict with his appointment.

  • Sarah Grealish

    MIXING BY MARCH

    PEOPLE should be able to visit their friends and families at home from next month, a leading expert has said.

    Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the rate of the fall in Covid cases made him optimistic for March.

    Asked about when people could start to see friends and family, Prof Hunter replied: "Personally I believe we should be able to start doing that probably not long after (schools reopen) – if I had to bet on a time, I'd say some time in March certainly."

    On being allowed back into restaurants, he added: "I think that will be probably around the same time, maybe April. But again, it just depends what happens with the epidemic between now and then."

  • Patrick Knox

    MODELLING SUGGESTS HERD IMMUNITY ON THE WAY

  • Patrick Knox

    QUARANTINE HOTELS TO COME INTO FORCE WITHIN DAYS

    Travellers arriving in the UK from countries on the travel ban "red list" will have to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel from February 15, it has been announced.

    The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working "at pace" to roll out managed quarantine facilities in time for British nationals returning to the UK from high-risk destinations.

    The decision to require travellers to self-isolate for 10 days in approved accommodation to ensure they follow the rules was originally announced last week following the emergence of new coronavirus variants in South Africa and Brazil.

    However, ministers have been under fire for failing to announce when it would be implemented or how it would work.

  • Patrick Knox

    CASES PLUNGING ALL OVER LONDON

    Data released this morning shows cases have dropped by 50.1 per cent in one of the most deprived boroughs – Tower Hamlets in East London – in the week to January 29.

    Cases had dropped by 746 meaning the current figure for the borough is 742.

    Other boroughs to experience a dramatic reduction in Covid-19 cases include Greenwich (46.4 per cent), Hackney (45.1 per cent), City of London (45.1 per cent) and Waltham Forest (44.2 per cent).

    Camden saw its cases drop by 43 per cent, while others including Redbridge (42.6 per cent), Croydon (41.9 per cent) and Barnet (41.5 per cent) all experienced dramatic reductions.

  • Patrick Knox

    JABS ALREADY CUTTING CASES AND DEATHS

    Covid-19 vaccination is having an effect on cutting cases and death rates, with things looking optimistic for the summer months, an expert has said.

    Modelling by University College London (UCL) researchers suggests the reproduction number (the R) for coronavirus was 0.75 on February 2, which means the epidemic is shrinking.

    Professor Karl Friston said the team had produced a "most likely" scenario going forward, with a "progressive and gradual unlocking" of society as restrictions are lifted.

    He said that by July the UK could have reached a place where some people will still have ongoing infections but a form of "herd immunity" is reached via vaccination, natural immunity and social distancing.

  • Patrick Knox

    NHS UNDER 'HUGE PRESSURE' DESPITE UK BEING PAST PEAK

    Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents NHS trusts in England, called for a cautious approach to relaxing lockdown measures, claiming restrictions were lifted "too early" in 2020.

    Mr Hopson said intensive care unit (ICU) numbers are coming down "very slowly", adding that there are still 26,000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals – 40% more than the peak in the first phase last April.

    He also said NHS staff are "deeply exhausted" and "fatigued" having worked at "fever pitch intensity" for weeks.

  • Patrick Knox

    VACCINES SLASH NHS STAFF INFECTION RATES IN BY 50% WITHIN 12 DAYS

    Professor Tim Spector, who led the research from King’s College London, said the findings were “fantastic news”.

    It suggests the vaccines are helping prevent people catching the virus and therefore testing positive, which would also slow down spread of the disease. 

    The jabs have already been proven in clinical trials to be highly effective at stopping someone from developing severe disease or dying.

    But if they can also prevent people transmitting the virus, it would help come out of lockdowns sooner, the Government's scientific advisers say.

  • Patrick Knox

    MERKEL SAYS GERMANY PAST 'CREST OF 2ND WAVE'

    Chancellor Angela Merkel said today Germany is over the peak of its latest surge in coronavirus cases but she wants to wait for data on the spread of new variants before deciding on lifting restrictions.

    In an interview with German broadcaster RTL, Merkel said she warned months ago that the country faced a hard winter.

    She said: “And still we can say, the crest of the second wave has passed.

    “I can see a light shining at the end of the tunnel.”

  • Patrick Knox

    MACRON WARNS OF RISKS OF CHINESE VACCINES

    French President Emmanuel Macron warned today about the lack of information about China's coronavirus vaccines, saying they might even encourage the development of variants if they are not effective.

    Speaking to the Atlantic Council think-tank, Macron conceded that China's early "diplomatic successes" in distributing vaccines to other countries could be seen as "a little bit humiliating for us as (Western) leaders".

    But he warned that the efficacy of a jab from Sinopharma or Sinovac was unknown because "absolutely no information" has been shared about trials.

    "What it means is that in the medium to long run it is almost sure that if this vaccine is not appropriate it will facilitate the emergence of new variants, it will absolutely not fix the situation of these countries," he said.

  • Patrick Knox

    EU LEADER ADMITS BEING WRONG ABOUT BRIT JAB BLOCK

    Ursula von der Leyen admitted she should never "even have thought" of invoking a clause in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to prevent vaccines from crossing the Ireland to Northern Ireland border.

    This threat floated in a European Commission export control plan tomorrtow before being hurriedly abandoned, was denounced in both Dublin and London and embarrassed the Commission.

    But she defended the broader European vaccine strategy, which has seen the EU Commission negotiate contracts with private pharmaceutical giants on behalf of 27 member state governments.

  • Patrick Knox

    JUST ONE IN TEN TRAVELLERS TO UK BEING CHECK FOR ARRIVING FROM HOTSPOT

    And just one in ten are getting phone calls to check if they are sticking to the law and self-isolating at home.

    Most just get a text message reminding them to isolate themselves.

    Since June last year Border Force checked over 3.6 million forms – around 24 per cent of arrivals.

    Two weeks ago those only 30 per cent were being checked – despite the fear of vaccine-busting strains arriving from Brazil and South Africa.

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