- Flu jabs to be rolled out to over-50s from December
- Preparations for mass Covid vaccination centres begin
- Oxford Covid vaccine may catch US rival
- Police have ‘no interest’ in interrupting family Christmas dinners
- Subscribe today for a one-month free trial
Pfizer is asking US regulators to allow emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccine, the company said today, starting the clock on a process that could bring limited first shots as early as next month and eventually an end to the pandemic – but not until after a long, hard winter.
The action comes days after Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine appears 95 per cent effective at preventing mild to severe Covid-19 disease in a large, ongoing study.
The companies said that protection plus a good safety record means the vaccine should qualify for emergency use authorization, something the Food and Drug Administration can grant before the final testing is fully complete. In addition to today’s FDA submission, they have already started “rolling” applications in Europe and the UK and intend to submit similar information soon.
The UK has already ordered enough of the vaccine to treat 20 million people, but it has not yet been approved by regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“Our work to deliver a safe and effective vaccine has never been more urgent,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
With the coronavirus surging around the US and the world, the pressure is on for regulators to make a speedy decision.
“Help is on the way,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert said on the eve of Pfizer’s announcement, adding that it’s too early to abandon masks and other protective measures. “We need to actually double down on the public health measures as we’re waiting for that help to come.”
Follow the latest updates below.
France: Worst of the second wave may have passed
France may be past the worst of its second wave of coronavirus infections, the country’s health agency said today, warning however that protective measures should be kept in place.
Thanks to curfews and lockdowns, confirmed new infections dropped by 40 per cent last week, admissions to hospital fell 13 per cent, and the number of new intensive care patients was down 9 per cent, Sante Publique France said.
The data provided fresh arguments for shop owners who have been lobbying to be allowed to reopen for the crucial Christmas period, while the Government was trying to decide what to do about the coming Black Friday shopping splurge.
“Although indicators are still at high levels, they suggest that the peak of the second peak is behind us,” the agency said.
The number of Covid deaths has stabilised after several weeks of increases, the agency said, with 3,756 recorded fatalities compared with 3,817 a week earlier.
Around 1 in 80 people in England have Covid-19
Around 1 in 80 people who are not in hospital or a care home would test positive for the virus in England last week, according to latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Between 8 and 14 November, 38,900 people were testing positive for the virus every day – with most infections in secondary school aged children, older teenagers and young adults.
This is down from an estimated 47,700 new cases per day the week before.
Infections among primary school children continue to rise, but cases in the over-25s are starting to level off.
The latest ONS data also shows that infection rates have continued to increase in London, the east and south east of England. The North West and Yorkshire and The Humber remain the highest, but rates seem to be falling in the North West and the East Midlands
NHS worker becomes first volunteer for final stage vaccine trial
An NHS worker has become the first person to be recruited for the final stage trial of a coronavirus vaccine.
Claire Cole, head of research delivery at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), is the first person in the world to be consented into phase three of the study to test the safety and effectiveness of the two-dose vaccine regimen developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
Ms Cole is one of 6,000 volunteers in the UK, and of 30,000 worldwide, being recruited for the study, taking place at 17 National Institute for Health Research sites in the UK – including in Manchester.
She said: “Although I have worked in health research for a number of years, I never cease to be amazed by the life-changing, and sometimes lifesaving, impact research can have.
“This has never been truer than during the Covid-19 pandemic, where I have seen first-hand how rapidly clinical research can be translated into treatments for our patients.
“I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of taking part in research and am honoured to be the first person in the world to be recruited to the study, and one of the first to receive the vaccine, as part of this vitally important coronavirus vaccine trial.”
Pay freeze would be ‘final straw’ for teachers and school leaders
A public sector pay freeze will be the “final straw” for many teachers and it could lead to an “exodus” from the profession, education unions have warned.
One head teachers’ union leader described the reports of a possible pay cap as a “huge kick in the teeth” for school staff, adding that it was “an insult” in light of the profession’s efforts during the coronavirus crisis.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is reportedly preparing to announce a wage freeze for millions of teachers, police, council staff, civil servants and other public servants when he unveils his spending review next week.
Education unions have said it would be a “slap in the face” for the profession if the Government imposes a cap on the pay of public sector workers.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “For many experienced teachers and leaders the prospect of a pay freeze will be the final straw and we are extremely concerned that it will lead to an exodus from the profession.”
Pfizer and BioNTech submit emergency authorisation request in US
Pfizer and BioNTech are submitting an emergency authorisation request in the United States which could allow its coronavirus vaccine to be used to treat high-risk populations in the country by mid-December.
The UK has already ordered enough of the vaccine to treat 20 million people, but it has not yet been approved by regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
BioNTech told Sky News it had not submitted its vaccine for approval in the UK yet.
If the vaccine is approved in the US, it suggests a similar rollout of the treatment could soon take place in the UK.
Pfizer and BioNTech will submit its emergency use authorisation request to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is also seeking approval for their vaccine in other countries across the world including Australia, Canada and Japan.
Unions threaten industrial action over Rishi Sunak’s ‘con job’ public sector pay freeze
Unions have warned that a freeze on public sector pay could prompt industrial action as they attack Rishi Sunk’s plans as “an attack on all working people”.
The Chancellor is expected to set out the details of his public sector pay freeze in next week’s spending review, limiting pay rises to at or below inflation. Frontline NHS doctors and nurses are expected to be exempt, in recognition of their work during the coronavirus pandemic.
This morning Mr Sunak said: “We’ve provided over £200 billion of support to protect the economy, lives and livelihoods from the significant and far-reaching impacts of coronavirus.
“This is the responsible thing to do, but it’s also clear that over time it’s right we ensure the public finances are put on a sustainable path.”
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told Radio 5 Live it was “not about fairness – this is a con job”.
“It just makes no sense. Public sector workers spend their pay rises in private sector retail, private sector hospitality, private sector hairdressers… This is an attack on all working people and it makes no sense economically.”
Follow all the latest on our politics live blog here.
Poll: Europeans feeling the Covid crunch
Almost 40 per cent of European Union citizens feel worse off due to the coronavirus economic crunch, with Hungarians hurt the most even before the second wave of the pandemic, a pan-European survey showed on today.
The poll, commissioned by the European Parliament, was conducted online by Kantar between September 25 and October 7 among 24,812 participants in all 27 EU countries.
This was before the second wave of infections in Europe that caused new partial lockdowns across the bloc and is expected to cause economic output to shrink in the last three months of the year in a double-dip recession.
According to the survey, 39 per cent percent of respondents in the whole EU said the Covid-19 pandemic has already impacted their personal income. Hungary was the worst affected with 44 per cent of citizens reporting a financial hit.
For the first time, more Europeans now say that economic damage caused by restrictions outweigh the health benefits which these measures aim to achieve.
‘Substantial’ part of Spanish population to be vaccinated in first half of 2021
A substantial part of the Spanish population will be vaccinated against Covid-19 in the first half of 2021, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news conference today.
Sanchez said the Government will unveil a coronavirus vaccination plan next Tuesday. He did not give any details.
The Government has created a special committee to establish who would be vaccinated first, when a vaccine is available.
Maidstone Hospital limiting visiting due to Covid cases
Maidstone Hospital will be limiting visitors due to an increase in coronavirus cases within the community, including limiting visits for those receiving end of life care.
The rules will come into force today. The guidance reads:
- Patients receiving end of life care – one visitor permitted for one hour. This must be arranged in advance with ward staff by telephone.
- Patients prior to needing ventilation – one visitor for a limited period of time. This must be arranged in advance with ward staff by telephone.
- Riverbank Children’s Unit – one parent/carer to be with the child as agreed with ward staff.
- Patients requiring individual care support – carers will be permitted in agreement with ward staff.
German infection numbers still need to fall significantly, says Government spokesperson
Germany has managed to stabilise the number of coronavirus infections but has not yet reversed the trend, a Government spokesman said today.
The number of infections still needs to fall significantly, he added ahead of another meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel with state premiers over the issue on Wednesday.
The Government’s goal is to reduce infections to 50 cases per 100,000 people over seven days while the incidence now is around 140 cases, he said.
G20 urged to fill $4.5 bn gap in global Covid-19 vaccine fund
G20 nations must help plug a $4.5 billion gap in the global Covid-19 vaccine fund to save lives and clear the way for an end to the pandemic, a letter seen by AFP said.
The letter, sent ahead of this weekend’s virtual G20 summit, was signed by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.
“A commitment by G20 leaders at the G20 Summit in Riyadh to invest substantially in the ACT-Accelerator’s immediate funding gap of $4.5 billion will immediately save lives, lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of Covid-19 tools around the world, and provide an exit strategy out of this global economic and human crisis,” the letter dated November 16 said.
“With this funding, and a joint commitment to spend a proportion of future stimulus on the Covid-19 tools needed globally, the G20 will build a foundation to end the pandemic,” added the letter addressed to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the current G20 president.
ACT-Accelerator, led by the WHO, is a globally-pooled hunt for Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.
WHO advises against remdesivir for coronavirus treatment
The anti-viral drug remdesivir should not be used to treat Covid-19 patients no matter how severe their illness as it has “no important effect” on survival chances, the World Health Organization said today.
Denting hopes in one of the few treatments that had shown some initial promise in severe patients, a WHO Guideline Development Group (GDG) of international experts said there was “no evidence based on currently available data that it does improve patient-important outcomes”.
The United States, the European Union and other countries have granted temporary approval for the use of remdesivir after initial research showed it may shorten recovery time in some coronavirus patients.
President Donald Trump was treated with remdesivir among other medicines after he tested positive for Covid-19 in October.
Today’s WHO recommendation was based on four international randomised trials among more than 7,000 patients hospitalised with the virus.
Study: Prior Covid-19 infection offers protection from re-infection for at least six months
A new study from Oxford University and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusthas suggested that individuals who have previously had Covid-19 are highly unlikely to contract the illness again, for at least six months following their first infection.
Despite an estimated 51 million people infected with the virus worldwide, with high levels of transmission ongoing, reports of patients becoming re-infected after already having had the virus are rare. However, up until now there have not been any large-scale studies of how much protection from re-infection people get.
The study, part of a major ongoing staff testing programme supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and Public Health England, covered a 30-week period (April – November 2020) with 12,180 health care workers employed at Oxford University Hospitals. The health care workers were tested for antibodies to the virus that causes Covid-19 as a way of detecting who had been infected before. The researchers then followed whether staff who had been infected before had the same number of new Covid-19 infections as those who had not been infected before.
During the study, 89 of 11,052 staff without antibodies developed a new infection with symptoms. None of the 1246 staff with antibodies developed a symptomatic infection. Staff with antibodies were also less likely to test positive for the virus without symptoms – 76 staff without antibodies tested positive compared to just 3 with antibodies.
This suggests that most people are unlikely to get the virus again if they have already had it in the previous six months, researchers say.
Households face extra £21 coronavirus charge on energy bills
British households may have to shoulder a hike on their energy bills from the beginning of April because of coronavirus, under new proposals from Ofgem.
The regulator has proposed an increase to the maximum many households can be charged on their bills, because the pandemic is putting pressure on energy companies.
Ofgem said it is considering a £21 per household Covid hike to the default price cap when it next comes up for review.
This would come on top of any other changes made to the amount energy companies can charge customers on their default rates.
The current price cap, which runs between October 2020 and the end of March 2021, is set at £1,042 per household for both gas and electricity.
New ONS figures on loneliness
Around one in 10 young people in Britain are feeling lonely often or all the time, new figures suggest.
Adults aged between 16-29 and those with health conditions reported the highest prevalence of acute loneliness in mid November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Overall, around a quarter of adults said they feel lonely often, always or some of the time.
Some 7pc of adults said they felt lonely often or always, including 10pc of young people and 12pc of people with health conditions.
This is slightly down from the beginning of November, when 8pc of all adults, 12pc of young people and 13pc of those with health conditions reported acute loneliness.
High levels of anxiety were also reported by more than a third of all adults (36pc).
This was again most commonly reported by 16-29-year-olds (41pc) and people with a health condition (39pc).
Women were more likely than men to experience high levels of anxiety or feel lonely often or all the time.
Measures of life satisfaction and happiness decreased slightly compared with the previous week, and there was a small increase in the general anxiety score.
The ONS analysed responses from 4,400 adults in Britain between November 11 and 15 as part of its weekly survey examining the social impacts of coronavirus.
The figures show that almost half of all adults in England (47pc) said their wellbeing is being affected by the pandemic.
Serbian church leader dies from virus
Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has died after contracting COVID-19, President Aleksandar Vucic said this morning.
A conservative who wielded considerable political influence, Irinej was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on November 4 and had been in a military hospital in Belgrade since then.
He tested positive after attending the November 1 funeral of Metropolitan Amfilohije, the Serbian Orthodox Church’s senior cleric in Montenegro, who also died from COVID-19.
“I was honoured to know you. People like you never depart,” President Vucic wrote on his Instagram account under a black and white photo of Irinej.
In a statement, the Serbian Orthodox Church said the Patriarch “rested with the Lord” and that the public would be informed about the details of the funeral in due course.
Finland facing stricter measures
Public meetings of more than 20 people will be banned in the region of Finland’s capital, Helsinki, to combat a rise in novel coronavirus infections, authorities said on Friday.
While Finland’s 14-day average of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants remains at Europe’s lowest level at 58, public health authorities said the rate was nearly twice as high in the capital region and thus the new restrictions were needed.
“The maximum number of people at indoor public events will be restricted to 20 in the capital region starting November 23 for three weeks,” Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori said.
In recent months, Finns have been able to enjoy relative liberties in comparison with many other Europeans under lockdowns, such as going to concerts and theatres, which will now be banned for three weeks.
On Thursday, the government decided to extend earlier travel restrictions, which require travellers from most countries to provide a negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival and to self-quarantine for 10 days or get tested a second time.
In the capital region, swimming halls, gyms and other sports venues will remain open with social distancing rules applied but adults’ team and contact sports will be interrupted, Vapaavuori said.
Vaccine delivery hurdles can be overcome, says scientist
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said he was “pretty sure” the logistical hurdles in terms of delivering any Covid-19 vaccine on a mass scale could be overcome.
Speaking about the implications for transporting vaccines across the country, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I shouldn’t think it will be too much of a problem in the UK because we do have quite a lot of cold storage and even ultra-low freezers in different regions and the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -70 to -80C (-94 to -112F) but then can be thawed out and kept in ordinary fridges at 4C (39.2F) for up to five days.”
Asked about whether the right amount of kit was available, he added: “I think we have to manage public expectations – this is not an easy feat and there are many slips between cup and lip here.
“There are lots of different logistical problems that need to be overcome and it is a huge effort to get all this done but I’m pretty sure we can do it.”
Matt Hancock planning a ‘small family Christmas’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is planning for a “small family Christmas,” and is working on plans to “allow for something a bit more like normal.”
Speaking this morning, Mr Hancock said that a ‘four-nation’ approach is being worked on, adding: “We want to have a set of rules that are UK wide, not least because so many people travel between different parts of the UK. And so we’re working with the devolved authorities to try to get an agreed set of rules for Christmas.”
Describing Christmas as “the most important holiday for people in this country,” Mr Hancock said that his own plans would involve “a small family Christmas,” adding that they are “of course within the existing rules, because, because we haven’t made any further decisions yet.”
Wales’ 17-day firebreak lockdown succeeded in bringing coronavirus rates down
As reported earlier, Wales’ 17-day firebreak lockdown succeeded in bringing coronavirus rates down, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.
Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast that the evidence was “now good enough to say that the firebreak period did succeed”.
“We’ve had 10 consecutive days of numbers coming down in Wales, positivity rates coming down in Wales, we’re beginning to see that feed into a slowdown in the number of people being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.
“So we think that firebreak period has succeeded. The question is whether it has succeeded enough, and whether people in Wales are now behaving in ways that allow us to capitalise on the ground we’ve gained, rather than seeing it frittered away.”
Relaxing rules at Christmas could cause thousands of deaths, says statistician
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter says the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that each day of relaxation of coronavirus rules at Christmas could need five days of tighter restrictions “doesn’t sound implausible”.
The statistician and chairman of the Winton Centre for risk and evidence communication at the University of Cambridge told BBC Radio’s 4 Today programme that he thought mixing at Christmas could lead to “tens of thousands” of more Covid cases, requiring an extra clampdown.
“It is quite plausible that a few days of relaxing would lead to tens of thousands of more cases and that means extra deaths and measures needed to bring those under control,” said Sir David.
“There is a big difference though because when (we’re told) we need to save lives, we don’t know whose lives we’re saving.
“If somebody though dies or is hospitalised after getting Covid at Christmas, you are going to know who they are and I think the potential regret in anticipation of that might make people really quite careful.”
He also predicted that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus – 16,000 people at present – would this winter exceed the 17,000 peak reached in spring, adding: “This will be a real slog.”
Free flu vaccine for over-50s next month – the details
People over the age of 50 will be entitled to a free flu vaccine from the beginning of next month as part of an expanded jab rollout in the face of the “twin threats” of flu and coronavirus.
This latest age group can be vaccinated by their GP or pharmacist in England from December 1, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Earlier this year the Government announced this winter would see the biggest flu vaccination programme in the UK’s history, with enough supply to vaccinate 30 million people throughout the flu season.
DHSC said flu vaccine uptake this year is higher in all vulnerable groups except pregnant women compared to the same time last year.
‘Flattening of curve’ could bring Christmas joy
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there would need to be some rules in place at Christmas but told broadcasters he was keen for people to have “some joy” after a tough year.
“We do hope over Christmas to agree a set of rules across the UK, because so many people travel around the UK, and that work is ongoing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But there will have to be rules in place, we just hope to be able to get something of the yearning people have to see their loved ones at Christmas and to have some of that joy that Christmas brings. But it has to be careful.”
The Cabinet minister added: “Christmas is a special time of year and we’ve had such a difficult year in 2020 – it has been such a terrible year and having some hope, some joy at Christmas, I know that would be welcomed by so many people.
“So we are trying to agree across the UK a set of rules that allows for that joy but keeps people safe.”
Mr Hancock said transmission levels were “slightly” different in each part of the UK, but added: “Across the UK as a whole, we are now seeing that flattening of the curve.”
Ricky Tomlinson urges people to get tested after his brother died
The Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson has revealed one of his brothers died from coronavirus as he urged people to take part in a mass testing pilot in Liverpool.
In a video message posted on the Liverpool City Council Twitter account, the actor said: “Covid is a killer. I know only too well, because one of my brothers has just died from Covid-19.
“Don’t let it happen to you, send away for your kit today and do what you’re supposed to do. Save your life and your loved ones around you.”
Tomlinson, 81, said he had used a home testing kit.
As part of the pilot scheme, which began on November 6, anyone who lives or works in Liverpool can have a coronavirus test, even if they are not showing symptoms.
‘Huge amount of work’ to deliver vaccine programme
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that the task of administering increasing numbers of flu vaccinations this winter was “a big ask” for the NHS.
He told BBC Breakfast that despite the scale of the programme, he hoped the process would be “relatively straightforward.”
“I don’t deny that it’s a huge amount of work for the NHS and I’m very grateful for the unbelievable shift they’ve pulled this year and we’ve still got to deliver this this winter,” he said.
“There are of course pressures on the NHS this year – by God there’s pressures, thanks to Covid – and for everybody who works in the NHS I want to say thank you for the work that you are doing.
But Mr Hancock refused to be drawn on whether he had pushed for health workers to be exempt from a pay freeze on public sector pay, which is expected to be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak next week.
Flu jabs to be rolled out to over-50s from December
The flu vaccination programme will be rolled out to the over-50s from December 1 in the next phase of the Government’s expanded immunisation programme, it has been announced.
Ministers have promised “the biggest flu vaccination programme in history“, with 30 million people now eligible for the jab. Healthy adults aged 50 to 64 can receive the vaccine from their GP or local pharmacy alongside pensioners, those with underlying health conditions and young children.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “This winter is like no other, and we have to worry about the twin threats of flu and Covid-19.
“Covid means getting a flu jab is more important than ever this year, so we are delivering the largest ever flu vaccination programme. Free vaccinations for 50 to 64-year-olds will now be available from GPs and pharmacies, starting from December 1.”
Encouraging signs from north-west England
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, said there was reason for optimism that the national lockdown in England will have pushed Covid case numbers to a low level before Christmas.
The member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’d like to be optimistic, but as an adviser I will stay in my lane and it is right for politicians to make these decisions based on the evidence.
“But we have got some encouraging evidence coming from the north-west of England.”
Remember Liverpool was in Tier 3 for 17 days before we went into lockdown and what we can now see – and there is this two-week lag between intervention and observation of changes in cases and then a slightly longer lag between changes and hospital admissions – is a plateauing of cases in the community and a slight downturn in cases coming into hospital.”
And this gives us great optimism that, with lockdown on top, we will be seeing overall numbers in the country driven down, so there is a lot to be optimistic about, along with the coming of a vaccine.”
Four-nation approach to Christmas
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford have both spoken this morning about their attempts to ensure that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have the same coronavirus restrictions in place for Christmas.
Speaking on Times Radio Mr Hancock said: “What we’re trying to do is ensure that we have a set of rules across the whole UK, so there’s talks going on with the devolved authorities to try and agree a common set of rules,” he said.
“…to make sure we respect the fact that we mustn’t spread the virus further but also respect the fact that Christmas is a special time where people get together, especially with their families.”
Mr Drakeford said he had held discussions with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the other first ministers of the devolved administrations on Wednesday about a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions, with another meeting planned for next week.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We agreed some broad parameters on Wednesday and remitted officials of all four administrations to work now on the detail, so I remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach a four-nation approach to Christmas.
“I certainly think that is the right thing to do – if it is achievable – and certainly Wales will be at the table next week looking to find an agreement.”
Positive results from Welsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown
First Minister Mark Drakeford said there was evidence that the firebreak in Wales had successfully had an impact on lowering the rate of coronavirus transmission.
It comes as Northern Ireland announced its own firebreak-style lockdown, due to start next week.
The Labour politician told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “(Cases) have fallen every day for the last 10 days, so right across Wales we’ve seen the incidence rate going down, we’ve seen the positivity rate going down.”
He gave the example of Merthyr Tydfil, one of the worst affected areas before the firebreak, where cases had fallen from 760 per 100,000 to below 260.
“Our assessment is that the firebreak has done what we hoped it would do,” Mr Drakeford added.
He said there were the “first signs” of the number of people needing hospital beds reducing and bed numbers “stabilising”.
Public sector debt highest for 50 years
Public sector debt has reached a new record high of £2.08 trillion at the end of October after Government borrowing hit £22.3 billion last month, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said borrowing for the first seven months of the financial year is now estimated at £214.9 billion – the highest in any April to October period since records began in 1993.
It means that the UK’s overall debt has reached around 100.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) – a levels not seen since the early 1960s – as the Government has invested billions of pounds in supporting the economy through the pandemic.
October borrowing, excluding state-owned banks, was also a record and marked a £10.8 billion increase year-on-year.
Boost for businesses as spending increases
UK retail sales volumes in October were 1.2pc higher than September, growing for the sixth consecutive month, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS reported that sales were 5.8pc higher than the same month last year after retailers reported consumers had started Christmas shopping earlier than usual.
Sales volumes for the month were also 6.7pc higher than in February, before the coronavirus pandemic fully impacted the UK and restrictions were placed on retailers.
Deputy national statistician for economic statistics Jonathan Athow said: “Despite the introduction of some local lockdowns in October, retail sales continued its recent run of strong growth.
“Feedback from shops suggested some consumers may have brought forward their Christmas shopping, ahead of potential further restrictions. Online stores also saw strong sales, boosted by widespread offers.
“However, the slow recovery in clothing sales has stalled after five consecutive months of increased sales.”
Scotland braces for new restrictions
The toughest coronavirus restrictions in Scotland will be imposed on 11 council areas as of 6pm tonight.
Earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the “unpalatable but necessary” step of moving parts of west and central Scotland from Level 3 to Level 4 for three weeks due to “stubbornly and worryingly high” infection rates.
It means non-essential shops, hospitality, gyms and beauty salons will be among the businesses forced to close in these areas until December 11.
The areas moving to Level 4 are Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian.
A ban on people in Level 3 and Level 4 areas travelling outside of their council boundaries for non-essential purposes will also come into law with reminders issued that public transport must not be used unless essential.
People still cannot meet in each other’s homes, with exceptions for extended households and those providing care, while socialising outdoors also remains limited to six people from two households.
Takeaway services and essential work-related accommodation can continue but indoor sports facilities and all leisure and entertainment venues will close.
Places of worship remain open but with a limit of 20 people with the same for funerals, while weddings and civil partnerships have a maximum of 15 attendees – including the couple.
Ukraine reports record daily infections
Ukraine registered a record of 14,575 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, health minister Maksym Stepanov said on Friday, surpassing the previous day’s record of 13,357.
The tally climbed to 598,085 cases, with 10,598 deaths, he added.
Reports EU could pay over£7.5 billion for vaccines
The European Union could pay more than $10 billion (£7.5 billion) to secure hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine candidates being developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and CureVac, an EU official involved in the talks told Reuters.
The bloc has agreed to pay 15.50 euros (£13.88) per dose for the Covid-19 vaccine candidate being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, according to the official.
That would mean an overall price of up to 3.1 billion euros (£2.78 billion) for 200 million doses, rising to 4.65 billion euros if another optional 100 million doses are purchased under the deal, the official said.
The pricing information, previously undisclosed, confirms the EU is paying less per dose than the United States for an initial supply of that vaccine, as reported by Reuters last week.
California, Ohio announce curfews
California’s governor on Thursday imposed a curfew on social gatherings and other non-essential activities in one of the most intrusive of the restrictions being ordered across the country to curb an alarming surge in novel coronavirus infections.
The stay-at-home order will go into effect from 10pm until 5am each day, starting Saturday night and ending on the morning of Dec. 21, covering 41 of California’s 58 counties and the vast majority of its population, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
A similar 10pm to 5am curfew order was issued on Thursday in Ohio and will remain in effect for the next 21 days, Governor Mike DeWine announced separately.
India’s cases surpass 9 million
India’s coronavirus cases passed nine million on Friday, health ministry data showed, the world’s second-highest tally after the United States.
The total number of recorded novel coronavirus infections was 9.004 million, the data showed, with 132,162 deaths. Many experts believe this is likely an under-estimate due to low levels of testing compared to other countries.
Lithuanian Defense Minister, top Pentagon official test positive
Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis has tested positive for Covid-19 and Anthony Tata, one of several senior US defense officials who met him at the Pentagon last week, also tested positive on Thursday, the Pentagon said.
The Lithuanian embassy told the Pentagon of Mr Karoblis’s positive test on Thursday, it added. Mr Tata, who performs the duties of undersecretary of defense for policy, had met Mr Karoblis on Nov. 13.
All the senior US defense officials who met Mr Karoblis on Nov. 13 and Monday, including Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, were tested, the Pentagon said in its statement.
‘Lie’ to contact tracers triggered South Australia’s lockdown
South Australia will end its circuit-breaker lockdown earlier than expected after it was discovered that a man connected to a recent outbreak had lied to contact tracers.
Steven Marshall, the state’s premier, said on Friday that he was curtailing drastic restrictions because one man at a pizza bar tied to a cluster of new cases had “deliberately misled” officials, claiming he had only bought a pizza there when he was actually working at the shop.
The outbreak in Parafield had sparked an urgent six-day lockdown in which the government ordered South Australia’s nearly 2 million people to stay at home and forced the closure of many businesses.
“To say I am fuming about the actions of this individual is an absolute understatement,” Mr Marshall said.
US reports 2,200 deaths and 200,000 cases in 24 hours
The US registered more than 2,200 deaths from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally on Thursday, a record high since May as the pandemic surges across the country.
The number of cases at 8.30pm (0030 GMT Friday) was 11,698,661 with 252,419 deaths, meaning 200,146 new infections and 2,239 more deaths in 24 hours.
US authorities have urged Americans not to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday next week as virus cases soar. California on Thursday announced a night-time curfew aimed at curbing the pandemic.
South Korean’s urged to stay home as infections rise
South Korea’s prime minister has urged the public to avoid social gatherings and stay at home as much as possible as the country registered more than 300 new virus cases for a third consecutive day.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said on Friday the 363 cases reported in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 30,017 with 501 deaths since the pandemic began.
South Korea’s caseload has been on a steady rise after it relaxed its physical distancing rules last month.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday asked people to minimise year-end parties and gatherings and called on businesses to let their employees work from home.
Mexico becomes fourth country to mark 100,000 Covid deaths
Mexico passed the 100,000 mark in Covid-19 deaths Thursday, becoming only the fourth country – behind the United States, Brazil and India – to do so.
Jose Luis Alomia Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, announced that Mexico had 100,104 confirmed deaths.
But the living will bear the scars too: along with their lost friends and loved ones, many surviving coronavirus victims in Mexico say the psychosis caused by the pandemic is one of the most lasting effects.
Mexico resembles a divided country, where some people are so unconcerned they won’t wear masks, while others are so scared they descend into abject terror at the first sign of shortness of breath.
WHO advises against remdesivir for patients hospitalised with virus
Remdesivir is not recommended for patients hospitalised with Covid-19, regardless of how ill they are, as there is no evidence it improves survival or reduces the need for ventilation, a World Health Organisation panel said on Friday.
A WHO Guideline Development Group of international experts said there was “no evidence based on currently available data that it does improve patient-important outcomes”.
“The … panel found a lack of evidence that remdesivir improved outcomes that matter to patients such as reduced mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, time to clinical improvement, and others,” the guideline said.
President Donald Trump was treated with remdesivir among other medicines after he tested positive for Covid-19 in October.
The recommendation was based on four international randomised trials among more than 7,000 patients hospitalised with the virus.
Briton with virus bitten by cobra suffering blindness and paralysis
A British father is suffering from blindness and paralysis in a hospital in India after being bitten by a snake while battling coronavirus, his family have said.
Ian Jones is in intensive care after being bitten by a black king cobra in a village in the north west of the country.
The former healthcare worker, who lives on the Isle of Wight with his family, had been in India for months where he runs Sabirian, a charity-backed social enterprise aimed at helping people trade their way out of poverty.
Today’s top stories
- Dozens of mass vaccination centres will be set up across the country and tens of thousands of healthcare staff recruited to immunise people against coronavirus as soon as vaccines are available.
- A quarter of people may already be immune to coronavirus even though many of them have never been infected, a new study by Public Health England suggests.
- The Oxford coronavirus vaccine could still catch up with its US rivals as scientists said they were hoping to have results by Christmas and confirmed that regulators are conducting a “rolling review” to speed up the process.
- The triple funeral of a mother and her two sons who died from coronavirus within five days of each other has taken place.
- As he once again finds himself caught between scaremongering Sage scientists and Tory MPs desperate to save the country from economic Armageddon, Boris Johnson has to decide whether he is going to be a festive Santa or a seasonal Scrooge.
- Millions of public sector workers are expected to face a pay freeze next year as Rishi Sunak attempts to pay down the spiralling costs of the coronavirus pandemic.
- President-elect Joe Biden said on Thursday that his administration would not order a national shutdown despite a dramatic rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
- The sports minister has admitted concern over the lack of physical activity and sport for children during the second lockdown.