Britain has recorded just 82 Covid deaths in the past 24 hours, marking a 43 per cent decrease on last week’s figure of 144 and the lowest number since October 19.
Cases of the coronavirus are also down 14 per cent to 5,177 when compared with last week’s figure of 6,040 – showing the second wave is continuing to wane.
Meanwhile a total of 23,335,514 people have received a Covid vaccination – 22,213,112 having their first dose and 1,122,402 having their second.
The figure marks a rise of 416,834 vital shots in the arm being administered yesterday overall. The positive news comes the day before schools go back as lockdown measures are eased for the first time.
Boris Johnson said he is ‘very hopeful’ the return will go to plan as he warned the risk of keeping classrooms locked outweighed a school-led spike in Covid cases.
The PM echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them back in class.
Gavin Wiliamson this morning denied pupils face chaos over mask and testing rules when they get back to classrooms.
The Education Secretary insisted schools in England have been given clear guidance ahead of the first phase of lockdown easing.
But one Public Health England poured hot water over the lifting of restrictions, saying the nation should prepare itself for a ‘hard winter’ with the threat of Covid-19 and a flu surge still a possibility.
Dr Susan Hopkins, who advises the Government, said the NHS will have to be ready for a potential rise in respiratory viruses as people wait to discover if there is a strong level of immunity in the population.
Elsewhere in the pandemic:
- Boris Johnson rejected the fury over an ‘insulting’ 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff, pointing to the UK’s huge Covid debt;
- Popular holiday destinations could be reopened to British tourists this summer through a traffic light system that lifts travel restrictions to low-risk countries;
- A staggering 57 million test kits have been sent to schools in BorisMr Johnson’s bold first step out of lockdown
- The Prime Minister of a Caribbean nation said Britain has ‘forgotten’ the Queen’s subjects in Commonwealth countries during its world-beating vaccine rollout;
- The EU is set to beg the United States for millions of Covid vaccines as the bloc desperately scrambles to plug the shortfall in its faltering programme.
Gavin Wiliamson denied pupils face chaos over mask and testing rules tomorrow as they finally get back to classrooms
Austria SUSPENDS jabs with batch of Astra-Zeneca vaccine
Austria has suspended vaccinations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus jabs as a precaution following the death of one person and the illness of another after the shots.
A 49-year-old woman died as a result of severe coagulation disorders, while another 35-year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism, an acute lung disease caused by a dislodged blood clot, and is recovering, the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) said.
The agency confirmed it had received two reports ‘in a temporal connection’ with a vaccine from the same batch in the district clinic of Zwettl, Lower Austria.
‘Currently there is no evidence of a causal relationship with the vaccination,’ BASG said.
Mr Johnson said he is ‘very hopeful’ the return of pupils will go to plan as he warned the risk of keeping classrooms locked outweighed a school-led spike in Covid cases.
Pupils in England are set to return to school for the first time in two months on Monday as part of the first stage of lockdown easing.
Scientists raised concerns the increased levels of interaction could push the reproduction number – the R value – above 1, causing coronavirus to spread faster.
The PM echoed the warnings of education experts that more damage was being done to pupils by keeping them at home than having them return.
Mr Johnson said: ‘You ask about the risk (of schools returning) – I think the risk is actually in not going back to school tomorrow given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.’
He said he believed pupils, parents and teachers were ‘ready’ to go back, with more than 20,000 schools set to open their gates once again.
‘Tomorrow, on March 8, is the big step on the road map that we hope is a road map to freedom,’ the Prime Minister said during a visit to a north London vaccines centre.
‘It is made possible by the rollout of the vaccination programme.
‘I’m very hopeful that it will work, it will all go according to plan and that all kids, all pupils, will be back in schools tomorrow.
‘I’m massively grateful to parents who have put up with so much throughout the pandemic and teachers who have done an amazing job of keeping going. I do think we are ready, I think people want to go back, they feel it, they feel the need for it.’
Boris Johnson visited a Covid vaccination centre in london today as the jabs drive continued
The Office for National Statistics estimated that 248,000 people across England are infected with the coronavirus, down from 370,000 in its estimate last Friday
Public Health England data show that coronavirus positive test rates fell in all but two areas of the country in the week ending February 28 – Hull in Yorkshire and Wokingham in Berkshire (shown in yellow)
Boris Johnson rejects fury over ‘insulting’ 1% pay rise for NHS staff pointing to UK’s huge Covid debt
Boris Johnson today rejected condemnation over the proposed 1 per cent pay increase for NHS staff – despite Labour suggesting it will back nurses going on strike.
The PM insisted the government had given health workers ‘as much as we can’ as protests took place outside Downing Street and shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth suggested he would be ready to join picket lines.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for a 12.5 per cent increase and set up a £35million strike fund, while Unite has said it could ballot members after the ‘insulting’ 1 per cent figure was proposed by the Department of Health.
But on a visit to a vaccination centre in London today, Mr Johnson said: ‘I’m massively grateful to all NHS staff and indeed to social care workers who have been heroic throughout the pandemic,’ he said.
‘What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time.
‘The independent pay review body will obviously look at what we’ve proposed and come back.’
In interviews this morning, Mr Williamson said parents and children are ‘excited’ about getting back to face-to-face lessons.
He defended the rules around wearing masks insisting that in secondaries students ‘recognise the importance of doing whatever they can do’.
Challenged that teachers in primaries have merely been told to wear masks ‘where possible’, he told Sky News: ‘We set out very clear guidance about how teachers will be best able to approach this. Wearing a face mask is just one small element.’
Mr Williamson also said testing would play a key role – despite concerns about the logistics involved and the number of families that will be ordered to isolate due to ‘false positives’.
The Cabinet minister confirmed the government is looking at shortening summer holidays and extending the school day as part of a wider overhaul.
He said the shake-up could be the most significant since the end of the Second World War.
Schools in England have been closed to all-but the most vulnerable and the children of key workers during the third national lockdown.
The move, designed to reduce transmission, has led to fears that a generation are having their future prospects blighted, as well as leaving parents scrambling to juggle work with home learning.
As part of reopening schools, ministers are asking pupils to take two quick-result tests per week in order to weed out asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19.
Downing Street said nearly 57million lateral flow test kits, which can produce results in less than 30 minutes, have already been delivered to schools and colleges as part of the rollout.
After three initial tests on site, students will be provided with two rapid tests to use each week at home. Masks are also being advised at all times in secondaries until at least Easter, but they are not compulsory.
Police WON’T take action against mayor who went for bike ride with other councillors despite lockdown rules
Police have decided not to take any action against a mayor who was spotted going for a bike ride in his official chains during lockdown with three people outside his household.
Councillor Sabri Ozaydin was filmed in Enfield, north London, proudly wearing his official ceremonial chains with two other councillors and his driver during a cycle last Sunday afternoon.
Despite tweeting from his official social media page during the trip that the four men were ‘exercising’, Cll Ozaydin claimed they were taking part in official business on a Sunday.
In a deleted tweet posted not long before he was videoed outside a coffee shop, Cllr Ozaydin wrote that they were ‘out cycling and speaking to local businesses after receiving issues concerning cycle lanes’.
Pictures posted on the official social media page showed the four men cycling around the borough and posing for photographs outside shops.
When confronted about the apparent lockdown breach around 15 minutes later by a member of the public, Cllr Ozaydin replied that they were ‘just cycling’, without adding any further explanation.
One of the men claimed in video footage of the exchange that the group were ‘checking the cycle lanes’ in the area.
Families of primary students can collect or request to be sent lateral flow tests so they can screen themselves twice a week. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Williamson admitted that getting schools back in full was extremely difficult.
‘We are seeing a full reopening of schools,’ he said. ‘It is a massive logistical exercise. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted.’
Pressed on whether head teachers could exclude secondary pupils who defy the advice to wear masks, he merely insisted young people recognised the benefits of following the guidance.
And told that many families with secondary age children would merely ignore orders to take tests twice a week, he replied: ‘They recognise it is a really important part of helping them get back into school.’
He made clear that there is no intention to shut schools again during the pandemic – guaranteeing they will come back again after the Easter holidays.
‘This is our first step, our real first step in terms of moving out of national lockdown and it is our schools that are leading the way,’ he said.
‘We are very much factoring in as part of the road map that actually schools will be staying open.
‘That is why we are taking a cautious approach because we intend for it to be an irreversible approach and that schools will continue to remain open.’
On the wider reform agenda, Mr Williamson told Sky News’ Ridge On Sunday: ‘There is a whole range of different proposals that we are looking at, whether it is a five-term year, whether it is lengthening the school day.
‘But also measures such as enhancing the support we give to teachers, supporting them in their professional development, making sure they can be the very best of themselves.’
He said Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s education recovery commissioner, would be looking at what measures to introduce over the next 18 months.
Mr Williamson also dodged as he was confronted with his own dire popularity ratings, after a ConservativeHome poll found he is far and away the least popular member of the Cabinet with Tory activists.
NHS worker is suspended from hospital after Facebook rant
An NHS front line worker has spoken of his dismay after he was suspended from a hospital for telling Covid deniers on Facebook to follow government rules.
Gary Oldershaw, 53, took to social media after a ‘tough’ 12-hour shift at Broomfield Hospital’s intensive care unit where he saw seven patients lose their lives. He said he was reduced to tears for the first time in 30 years on the job after seeing young and healthy people dying at the hospital in Chelmsford, Essex.
He wrote a lengthy rant on January 4 after seeing a friend post Covid conspiracy theories and begged: ‘Please, please listen and stay safe.’
The post continued to urge people to listen to medical and government advice and to ‘stay at home and look after yourselves’. But after an anonymous complaint was made about the content of his post, which included bad language, he was stunned to be told he had been suspended.
Gary claims the Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust told him he had been axed for ‘bringing the trust into disrepute’ as he was due to start his 12-hour shift on February 7. He said he never mentioned where he worked and only offered the government’s own advice but admitted he could have avoided using such ‘colourful language’.
Gary, who has worked for the NHS in various roles for more than 30 years, wrote: ‘Peeps. I know a few of my friends on here are non believers of the Covid crisis, but, let me just say this.
Meanwhile Dr Hopkins, who is Covid-19 strategic response director to Public Health England, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show we need to prepare for another Covid winter.
She said: ‘I think we have to prepare for a hard winter, not only with coronavirus but we’ve had a year of almost no respiratory viruses of any other type, and that means potentially the population immunity to that is less, and so we could see surges in flu.
‘We could surges in other respiratory viruses and other respiratory pathogens.’
Dr Hopkins added: ‘So it’s really important that we’re prepared from the NHS point of view, from public health and contact tracing, that we have everything ready to prepare for a difficult autumn, and we hope that it won’t occur and there will be a normal winter for all of us.’
Dr Hopkins said she believed ‘we will all have our summer holidays’ but her job is to advise the Government and to prepare for ‘worst-case scenarios’.
She told the programme: ‘We have to make sure that we’re prepared, and that we’re better prepared for this autumn than we have been previously.’
Elsewhere YouGov data shows a staggering ten per cent of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in Britain would refuse a vaccine.
The study for the Observer found the figure surges to 18 per cent of Pakistanis and 19 per cent in black people. But only six per cent of white people in the UK said that they would refuse having the jab.
BAME people who are unsure of getting the vaccine stand at 16 per cent, compared to eight per cent among the population as a whole.
A large number of people of colour – 59 per cent – said they would get vaccinated, with 14 per cent saying they have already had the jab.
But this second figure is almost half the number of Britons who have had a dose – 26 per cent. Of those who said they would not get a jab, 45 per cent cited a lack of information about vaccines as their reason.
Meanwhile, 37 per cent said they would not get it because they believed it was not safe and 26 per cent are sceptical of the science or did not want it.