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LIVE UPDATES: Covid-19 - WHO declares Indian strain of virus as ‘variant of global concern’
Last updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2021, 16:34
- US expands use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to include adolescents and the UK could be next
- WHO declares Indian strain of virus as ‘variant of global concern’
- Social distancing for families and friends ends in Scotland and England on Monday but, so far, not NI
Hancock: Holidaymakers in England but not Northern Ireland can use NHS app to ‘prove’ vaccine status from Monday
Holidaymakers who have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be able to “prove” their status to other countries, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said - writes Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent.
The Cabinet minister confirmed that people in England who travel abroad will be able to use the NHS app to demonstrate they are fully vaccinated when the ban on overseas leisure travel is lifted on Monday.
The app is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions, and is different from the Covid-19 app.
People who do not have access to a smartphone and know the country they are travelling to requires proof of vaccination status can call the NHS helpline 119 from Monday and ask for a letter to be posted to them.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “The certification, being able to show that you’ve had a jab, is going to be necessary for people to be able to travel.
“So, we want to make sure people can get access to that proof, not least to show governments of other countries that you’ve had the jab if they require that in order to arrive.
“Israel’s a good example. They’ve said that they’ll want proof of you having had two jabs for you to go to Israel as and when they open up. They’re on the green list of course.
“So we will make sure that you can get access to that, to prove that point.”
Mr Hancock said the use of so-called vaccine passports is “different to the question of whether we require people to be certified as Covid-secure before doing things domestically”.
He added: “The focus for the time being on this certification question, is making sure that people can travel internationally and show that they’ve had the jab if that’s what another country requires.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow published figures showing the number of passengers who travelled through the airport in April compared with the same month in 2019 was down 6.3 million to 0.5 million.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye criticised the Government’s decision to only put a handful of countries on its green travel list, claiming ministers “need to expand it massively in the next few weeks to include other low-risk markets such as the United States”.
He added that the decision by the Border Force to warn passengers to accept there will be increased delays when they return from overseas “smack of complacency”, adding: “They are completely avoidable if ministers ensure that all desks are staffed at peak times.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said ministers will review the situation every three weeks from Monday “to see if we can expand the green list”.
That means the next two dates when major changes could take place are June 7 and June 28.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said several Greek islands could be added to the green list early next month, with most of Europe put in that tier by the end of June.
“Their rates are coming down and they’re starting to really manage their Covid crisis now,” he told the PA news agency.
The Daily Telegraph reported that coronavirus data analysis shows additions to the green list on June 7 are likely to be restricted to “a limited number of destinations” including the British Virgin Islands and some Caribbean countries.
Any “big summer holiday getaway” to countries such as Spain, Italy and France is “likely to be delayed until July or even August”, the newspaper reported.
Assessments of the travel lists are based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
One further death and 89 new infections
There has been one further death linked to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and an additional 89 positive cases, the Department of Health said.
In total 1,485,125 vaccines have been administered to date.
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland passed the 500,000 mark for second doses administered.
One million first doses of vaccines are also close to being administered, the department said.
Hugs return in Scotland as Sturgeon confirms further lockdown easing
People in Scotland will be able to hugged loved ones again from Monday – subject to restrictions – an emotional Nicola Sturgeon has said as she confirmed further lockdown easing.
All of mainland Scotland, with the “highly probable exception” of Moray, will move from Level 3 to Level 2 of coronavirus restrictions on May 17, the First Minister told a Scottish Government coronavirus briefing.
Moray is expected to remain in Level 3 following a surge in cases and an increase in hospital admissions.
In the rest of the mainland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.
US expands use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to include adolescents and the UK could be next
US regulators have expanded the use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, offering a way to protect the nation’s adolescents before they head back to school in autumn - writes Associated Press reporters.
Shots could begin as soon as Thursday after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds, with an announcement expected on Wednesday.
Most Covid-19 vaccines worldwide have been authorised for adults.
Pfizer’s vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16, with Canada recently becoming the first to expand use to 12 and up.
Parents, school administrators and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.
“This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the Covid-19 pandemic,” Pfizer senior vice president doctor Bill Gruber, told The Associated Press.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 US volunteers ages 12 to 15.
The agency noted there were no cases of Covid-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 16 among kids given dummy shots.
More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.
The younger teens received the same vaccine dosage as adults and had the same side effects, mostly sore arms and flu-like fever, chills or aches that signal a revved-up immune system, especially after the second dose.
Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards”, FDA vaccine chief doctor Peter Marks said.
“Having a vaccine authorised for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech recently requested similar authorisation in the European Union, with other countries to follow.
The latest news is welcome for US families struggling to decide what activities are safe to resume when the youngest family members remain unvaccinated.
WHO declares Indian strain of virus as ‘variant of global concern’
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the strain B.1.617, which was first detected in India in 2020, as a variant global of concern.
“We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.”
It means B.1.617 is now the fourth variant, after strains first detected in England, Brazil and South Africa, to have been declared a variant of global concern.
There is early data that suggests that B.1.617 is more infectious than the original strain of Covid-19.
On Thursday May 6 the Public Health Agency (PHA) confirmed the detection of seven cases of B.1.617 in Northern Ireland.
We have contacted the PHA to establish if any additional cases of B.1.617 have been detected since last week but have not yet received a response.
Maria Van Kerkhove, said: “Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant and this lineage and all of the sub-lineages.”
Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said studies were under way in India to examine the variant’s transmissibility, the severity of disease it causes and the response of antibodies in people who have been vaccinated.
“What we know now is that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus works, so there is really no need to change any of those,” Swaminathan said.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO Foundation was launching a “Together for India” appeal to raise funds to purchase oxygen, medicines and protective equipment for health workers.