There are growing fears the spread of the Indian Covid-19 variant could delay the end of lockdown next month.
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has suggested it is “perfectly likely” things could turn out differently to what the government has planned for lifting all social-distancing restrictions on 21 June.
He told Sky News: “I really hope that these current concerns around this variant evaporate, that everything goes to plan, but I think we just have to accept the possibility that we’re in for another big wave and that we will have to change what we’re doing.”
Government ministers and officials are said to be concerned about a “small but significant” minority of people who are declining to get the coronavirus vaccine when offered.
An unnamed minister told the Politico website vaccine refusers were the “principal threat” to the planned lifting of further lockdown curbs next month.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London and member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), has also warned hugging is a “high-risk procedure” and suggested people should greet each other at a distancing “with a smile and a kind word”.
While Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said he would not be meeting anyone indoors “at the moment”and warned restrictions may have to be “reversed” if the new Indian variant “escapes” Covid vaccines in England.
UK to launch first Covid vaccine study for pregnant women
Around 235 women will be given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or a placebo in a new study, which will take place at 11 hospital sites in Newcastle, Leeds, London, Oxford, Gillingham, Edinburgh and Southampton.
More than 100,000 pregnant women have already been vaccinated in the US, mainly with mRNA vaccines including Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, with no safety concerns.
For this reason, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said it is preferable for pregnant women in the UK to be offered one of these jabs instead of the Oxford-AstraZeneca one.
There is no evidence to suggest other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women but studies are ongoing.
Dr Chrissie Jones, associate professor in paediatric infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, and chief investigator for the study said: “While we have a large amount of real-world data which tells us that it’s safe for pregnant women to receive approved Covid-19 vaccines, the data gathered from a controlled research study like this is important because it will give us more information about the vaccine immune response in pregnant women, including the transfer of maternal antibodies to infants.”
She added: “All women taking part in the study will receive two doses of the approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as additional monitoring and support from their local research team.”
Sam Hancock17 May 2021 12:30
Museums reopen as culture secretary attends art gallery
Visitors queued outside the National Gallery in central London this morning, as museums in England, Wales and Scotland welcomed back guests for the first time in months.
Among the first guests in the capital was culture secretary Oliver Dowden, who also attended the Tate Modern to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, which will open to Tate members from 18 May and to members of the public from 14 June.
One retired woman, 71-year-old Lois Brooks, travelled from her home in Ispwich to visit the National Gallery. She described Monday’s easing of coronavirus restrictions as “exciting” and added: “I have missed doing this and I think it’s going to be really great.”
The reopening of museums and galleries comes as new research suggests more than half of institutions are worried about their long-term survival.
A study by charity Art Fund suggests 55 per cent of museums and galleries remain concerned about their ability to stay open. It also revealed that only 24 per cent said they were not very concerned abut their ongoing survival, while 4 per cent were not concerned at all.
Of those polled, 39 per cent said they relied on grants from local authorities to get by during the pandemic, while 38 per cent relied on government funding from the Culture Recovery Fund.
The government unveiled the £1.57bn fund last year, in a bid to save institutions in peril as a result of the pandemic.
Sam Hancock17 May 2021 12:18
Ryanair boss warns air fares ‘will be higher’ in 2022
The boss of Ryanair has warned airline passengers will be hit by price hikes next year.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary said fares will be more expensive in 2022 due to a 25 per cent reduction in the number of available seats than before the pandemic due to airlines reducing their operations.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that prices will rise, particularly during the peaks of the bank holiday weekends, the school holiday travel period,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We will be urging people to book very early because I think there’s less seats and pricing will be higher.”
He claimed flights “will never be cheaper” than they are this year, as “all the airlines are running with much lower advanced bookings than we have ever had before because of the travel restrictions”.
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 12:08
Many Britons think parliaments should work remotely after Covid, poll suggests
Just over half of all Britons want remote working arrangements at parliament to continue, even when the coronavirus pandemic is over, a new poll has found.
A total of 51 per cent of those questioned agreed MPs should be able to take part in debates and vote on legislation remotely – compared to 35 who said MPs should be required to be in parliament to take part in debates and vote on new laws.
The research, carried out for the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University, found almost two thirds (61 per cent) believed remote working at parliament would encourage more women and people with caring responsibilities to put themselves forward to be MPs.
In addition, 64 per cent of those polled said the change would allow MPs in rural areas or those who represent parts of the country a long way from Westminster to get more done.
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:55
More than 50 per cent chance June lockdown easing will go ahead, says expert
There is less than a 50 per cent chance that the 21 June plan for lifting all legal limits on social contact will be delayed, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said.
Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, offered a degree of optimism about the summer, though he stressed the Indian variant meant things were still uncertain.
Speaking in a personal capacity on LBC, Prof Medley said the chance of a delay in June was “well less than 50 per cent” but added “it is uncertain”.
Asked later about 21 June and how confident businesses such as theatres could be in reopening, he said: “It’s a risk… I think it’s better than 50 per cent that we’ll go through this next phase without having to close things again rapidly, but we’re moving back to the situation we were in 2018 before all this all started when there was a risk that we would have a pandemic, but people weren’t factoring that into account.”
Prof Medley said he thought “there’s really one other wave” of infection to come in the UK, but hopefully “vaccines will hold back the virus and prevent people going to hospital”.
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:45
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Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:34
Sadiq Khan urges ministers to offer jabs to younger people in ‘pockets’ of London
Sadiq Khan has called on the government to be “nimble” in the vaccine rollout and offer jabs to younger people in areas of London where the new variant first detected in India is more prevalent.
The London mayor said he had asked both the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, for the “flexibility to give younger people the vaccine in those parts of London concerned about the strain”.
Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn has more details:
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:29
Expert advises own friends and family to be cautious about mixing indoors
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said he has advised his family and friends to continue being cautious despite indoor restrictions lifting.
He told Sky News: “I’ve been consistent over the weekend in saying that I am very concerned that mixing people together at this particular point in time, given the uncertainties about the transmissibility of the new variant, is really actually quite risky.
“Certainly on a personal level, although I don’t influence policy on this in any way, I’m advising my family and friends to continue to be very careful about making contact with each other until we’re clearer about just what’s going to happen with this variant over the next two or three weeks.”
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:16
Business secretary urges against boozing too heavily as indoor restrictions ease
A senior government minister has urged people not to booze too heavily on the first day of being permitted to eat and drink inside pubs again.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told LBC radio: “What the prime minister has said very clearly is, yes, we are opening partially ahead of 21 June but we’ve got to behave sensibly, we’ve got to exercise some caution because if people get too carried away, we could jeopardise the ability to reopen on 21 June.”
Asked how people could exercise caution at the pub, the cabinet minister said: “It is fairly clear to me in terms of common sense that what you can do is socialise in a normal way but obviously we advise ordinarily against excessive drinking, endangering people, getting too many large groups together if that can be avoided.”
Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 11:06
The Independent’s health correspondent answers your questions live
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Chiara Giordano17 May 2021 10:54