United Nations experts condemn ‘shocking’ race report and call for Commission to be scrapped » COVID news live: Latest as 182 cases of new variant found in UK and Keir Starmer kicked out of pub over lockdown response

COVID news live Latest as cases of new variant found in UK and Keir Starmer kicked out of pub over lockdown response
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 Live COVID updates from UK and around world

Key points:

  • India added to UK’s ‘red list’ for travel following concerns about new variant – with 182 cases now found in UK
  • Boris Johnson cancels his trip to the country next week as coronavirus situation there worsens
  • UK reports four COVID deaths – the lowest daily figure since September
  • More than 10 million people in UK have received second dose of coronavirus vaccine
  • Pub landlord grapples with Sir Keir Starmer’s staff after ordering Labour leader to leave over his COVID lockdown support – see 14.18 post
  • Young people who have had coronavirus will get £5,000 for being deliberately re-exposed to the virus
  • Updates by Emily Mee

Migrant workers pack onto buses as New Delhi enters lockdown 

Earlier we reported New Delhi in India has gone into a six-day lockdown following a spike in coronavirus infections.

These pictures from Ghaziabad now show migrant workers waiting for buses as they try to return home to their villages.

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Greece suspends rollout of Johnson & Johnson vaccine 

The country had been expected to start vaccinations using the jab today but the rollout has been paused due to reports of very rare blood clotting cases.

Several countries have suspended or restricted use of the jab – as well as the AstraZeneca shot – after European and UK regulators confirmed a possible link.

Greece has said it will wait until the EUs drugs regulator announces its review of the issue tomorrow.

The country has received 33,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but said it does not expect its overall vaccination programme to be affected by the pause.

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PM finally has his first pint back at a pub 

While many enjoyed their first pints at a pub or restaurant last week, Boris Johnson had said he would be postponing his celebration out of respect following the death of Prince Philip.

He has now been seen finally getting his first drink at The Mount pub and restaurant in Wolverhampton.

The prime minister had been out on the campaign trail in support of Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands who is up for re-election next month.

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Scientist questions why UK is waiting four days to enforce rules on travellers from India 

You may remember the scenes last year when countries were removed from the UK’s travel corridors – but with a few days’ notice – meaning travellers rushed back to Britain to beat the incoming restrictions.

Professor Christina Pagel, a member of Independent SAGE, has questioned why a similar approach is being taken now that India has been added to the travel red list.

She said the move itself is “good” and we should see the number of new cases of the Indian variant fall as a result.

“But why not for another FOUR days?” she wrote on Twitter.

What is the UK’s travel red list and what other countries are on there?

The health secretary announced earlier that India will be added to the red list from 4am on Friday. Here’s what you need to know about the red list…

What is it?

Travellers from any countries on the red list face restrictions to stop new variants being brought into the UK.

Anyone who has been to a red list country in the last 10 days is not allowed to enter the UK unless they are a UK or Irish national or have residence rights in the UK.

Those who are allowed to enter will have to stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel for at least 10 days.

Who is on the list? 

A total of 40 countries are on the list, including most of South America and southern Africa, plus nations including Bangladesh, the UAE, Qatar, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Are there any exemptions?

Some people are exempt because of their work. Professions included in this are aircraft pilots and crew, civil servants and defence personnel in certain circumstances.

Health secretary says people will likely continue to wear masks after 21 June 

While being questioned about whether the UK will be largely back to normal by 21 June, Matt Hancock has said people are likely to continue to “behave more cautiously than previously”.

Speaking in the Commons, he said any decisions on England’s roadmap would “need to be based on the evidence”.

“I fully expect that there will be some areas of life – without the need for laws in this place – where people will behave more cautiously than previously, and the wearing of masks is one where before this pandemic wearing a mask in public in this country was extremely unusual, and I’d imagine some people will wear masks and choose to wear masks for some time to come,” he said.

“Our goal is to manage this virus, to manage the pandemic that it’s caused, like flu.”

His comments suggest some people will choose to be more careful but there will not be restrictions in place.

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Would you eat a coronavirus-themed dessert? 

A pastry shop in Hungary has designed a range of COVID-19 vaccine-themed mousses – and admittedly they do look pretty tasty.

The Sulyan family’s patisserie in the small town of Veresegyhaz, northeast of Budapest, has created a different jelly topping for each vaccine.

There’s citrus yellow for AstraZeneca, a slightly darker yellow for Sinopharm, matcha green for Pfizer and a vivid blue for Moderna.

“Anyone can try these as the only possible side-effect would be a little smile on their face,” joked confectioner Katalin Benko.

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World has the means to bring pandemic under control within months – WHO head 

It’s the news we all want to hear – that this situation could be over soon.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, World Health Organisation boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said: “We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control in a matter of months if we apply them consistently and equitably.”

It is a positive message, but it does carry the proviso that each country does its best to control the spread of coronavirus and share out supplies with others.

India has just been added to the UK’s red list – here’s what a scientist has said about the new variant 

The move – just announced by the health secretary – was due to a new variant first discovered in India that has also been picked up in the UK.

Some 182 cases of the variant have been found in Britain, according to the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK).

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said the variant has a “couple of potentially concerning mutations” but he believes these are “probably not as serious” as those seen in the Kent, South African and Brazilian variants.

However, he acknowledged we have had less time to study the new mutations and therefore they should be “watched carefully”.

He also suggested that we don’t know how much the new variant is driving the spike in cases in India.

“It is certainly possible that there is a cause and effect relationship but there have only been about 1,000 sequences published from India out of about four million cases in this wave so far,” he said.

“Also, we did see some sequences of this B.1.617 variant late last year so if it is driving the wave in India it has taken several months to get to this point which would suggest it’s probably less transmissible than the Kent B117 variant.”

The most important things to know from the health secretary’s statement

In case you missed it earlier (or you just want a quick round-up of what was said), here are the key announcements from Matt Hancock’s update on COVID-19:

  • India has been added to the UK’s travel red list, with the measure coming into force at 4am on Friday
  • Surge testing will be rolled out to curb the spread of the new Indian variant
  • The UK will be “ramping up” plans to provide a COVID booster shot later this year
  • The vaccination programme has prevented more than 10,000 deaths as a record number of doses were given out on Friday and Saturday
  • UK deaths are down 98% from the peak level

More than 43 million vaccine doses administered in the UK

A total of 43,084,487 jabs have now been given out – with more than 10 million of these second doses, as revealed by the government earlier today.

UK reports further four coronavirus deaths – the lowest since September

Although reported deaths are usually lower on Mondays due to a lag over the weekend, this is still a significantly small number.

Some 2,963 new cases have also been recorded.

Daily coronavirus deaths in UK by date of death


Are Hancock’s figures out of date?

The health secretary said a few moments ago that 104 cases of the new Indian coronavirus variant had been detected in the UK.

However, according to figures from the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), which tracks COVID variants, 182 cases of the variant have so far been found on these shores.

Of those, 162 cases have been found in the last five weeks.

These figures are correct as of 16 April.

Surge testing will be rolled out to curb spread of Indian variant, health secretary confirms

While being questioned by shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, Matt Hancock confirms an important bit of information regarding surge testing.

Mr Ashworth says his party will “welcome” the move to put India on the UKs travel red list, but he has concerns that some cases of the new Indian variant have not been linked to international travel.

“Now I understand that [Mr Hancock] is carrying out analysis of those samples. But surely we now need to start surge testing and designate the B1617 as a variant of concern,” he says.

The health secretary replies: “[Mr Ashworth] is right to ask about surge testing to make sure that we limit the spread as much as is possible of the variant first found in India – and we will be doing that, I can confirm.”

Here’s a few more things we learned from the health secretary’s statement…

Matt Hancock has finished his statement now, but we wanted to bring you a few more announcements he made.

  • Less than 80% of care home staff in over half of local areas have taken up the offer of a vaccine
  • Cases of the South African variant have been discovered in Barnet, Birmingham and Sandwell – in addition to a cluster of cases in southwest London
  • Two-thirds of cases of the variant in the UK have been linked to international travel

India added to UK’s red list for travel following concerns about new variant

The measure will be enforced from 4am on Friday and will mean that anyone who is not a British citizen or resident cannot enter the UK if they have been in India in the last 10 days.

Anyone who is a citizen or resident will need to go into mandatory hotel quarantine if they are arriving in the UK.

It follows concerns about a new coronavirus variant first discovered in India which is thought to be behind a massive spike in cases there.

Some 104 cases of the variant have been identified in the UK, Mr Hancock reveals, the vast majority of which are related to international travel.

He says scientists are currently analysing whether the variant could be more resistant to our current vaccines and the move is being made on a “cautionary basis”.

Nine in 10 pharmacies in the UK now offering free coronavirus tests

There’s some good news for anyone hoping to pick up a free test as the health secretary says these can now easily be requested at local pharmacies.

People in England are being encouraged to have a free rapid test twice a week to help the country get back to normal.

Tests can also be ordered online or picked up in workplaces, religious settings and testing sites.

UK to ramp up plans for a COVID booster shot to protect against new variants

After praising the vaccination programme, the health secretary says the “biggest risk” to our progress so far is a “new variant the vaccine does not work as well against”.

Scientists have previously explained we will likely need to update our vaccines each year to protect against new variants.

Therefore, Mr Hancock says the UK is “ramping up plans” for booster shots to “stay ahead of the virus”.

He says enough supplies have been procured to start booster shots later this year, using both current and new vaccine makers.

UK’s vaccination programme has prevented more than 10,000 deaths – health secretary

Earlier, the government revealed an estimated 6,000 lives had been saved by the vaccine rollout.

The latest Public Health England data now shows 10,000 deaths have been prevented up until March, Mr Hancock says.

A record number of doses were delivered on Friday and Saturday, helping to push the country over the milestone of 10 million second jabs administered.

Coronavirus deaths in the UK down more than 90% from peak – health secretary

Matt Hancock begins his statement with some positive news.

Coronavirus cases, deaths and hospital admissions are now back at the levels they were in September following a huge spike over the winter.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 is now 94% lower than the peak in January, while deaths are down 98%.

Mr Hancock says that “step by step”, the country is beginning to return to “normal life”.

Matt Hancock is making a statement in the Commons 

WHO committee advises against using vaccine passports for international travel

Vaccine passports have been the subject of controversy in recent weeks after countries around the world said they would consider using them to allow normal life and international travel to resume.

The UK government has said it is considering using COVID-status certification – such as proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – to restart international travel.

However, the World Health Organisations emergency committee has recommended against the use of such passports, saying there is limited evidence they can help control the spread of coronavirus and they raise questions about inequalities.

Coming up shortly… health secretary to give update on COVID-19 

Make sure you’re following at 3.30pm as Health Secretary Matt Hancock is due to make a statement in the Commons.

He’ll be speaking just after it was announced more than 10 million people in the UK have received their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Boris Johnson says surge testing must continue

The prime minister said “very tough” measures are still necessary to fight coronavirus.

Asked during a visit to Wednesbury, West Midlands, if he might have to go back on his word that the easing of restrictions was irreversible, Mr Johnson said: “Our programme, our road map is deliberately cautious with the intention of being irreversible.

“At the moment we don’t have conclusive evidence that it [the South Africa variant] does escape the vaccines in a very dangerous way but we have to be cautious, so wherever it appears… we have to do the surge testing, the door-to-door testing, and make sure that we clamp down on it as much as we can.

“We have also got to maintain a very tough regime, a very tough international travel regime for the time being so that we don’t reimport the disease into this country as we’re stamping it out in the UK.

“People worked incredibly hard with the lockdowns over the last few months. The vaccination programme is really helping. But we have to be cautious.”

Over 650,000 people in Lambeth and Wandsworth are being urged to get tested after cases of the South Africa variant were discovered last month.

More than 10 million people in the UK have received their second dose of a coronavirus vaccine

In a huge milestone for COVID vaccinations, it has been revealed more than 10 million people have now had a second jab – according to government figures.

It means more than 19% of all adults in the country have had both doses.

Boris Johnson had earlier said April would be the month of second vaccine doses, with a focus on making sure the top priority groups are fully vaccinated.

New data on vaccinations in England

A total of 36,147,077 COVID-19 vaccinations took place in England between 8 December and 18 April, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 265,069 on the previous day.

NHS England said 27,628,579 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 69,198 on the previous day, while 8,518,498 were a second dose, an increase of 195,871.

Data shows a total of 4,440,127 jabs were given to people in London in the time period, including 3,399,889 first doses and 1,040,238 second doses.

This compares with 5,369,031 first doses and 1,521,701 second doses given to people in the Midlands, a total of 6,890,732.

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Marble statues unwrapped for first time in seven months ahead of reopening

These pictures show gardener Andy Ayre taking off the winter coverings at Drummond Castle Gardens in Perthshire in preparation for the Gardens reopening to the public on Saturday 1 May for the first time since October 2019.

The statues are carefully wrapped each autumn to protect them from the winter frosts and unwrapped and sprayed each spring.

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Everyone aged 16 or over in the US is now eligible for a COVID vaccine

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said people aged 16 years and above who have underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening complications from COVID-19 should be among those offered the vaccine first.

Alaska was the first state to lower state-wide eligibility to age 16 and was followed by states including Georgia, Texas and California.

Earlier in April, President Joe Biden had directed states to widen the vaccine eligibility to people aged 18 or above by 19 April.

No COVID-19 vaccine is authorised yet for those under 16, although testing is under way.

Pub landlord grapples with Sir Keir Starmer’s staff after ordering Labour leader to leave

Sir Keir Starmer has been told to leave a pub in Bath by its landlord over his support for the COVID lockdown.

The incident happened while the Labour leader was on a walkabout in the city ahead of the local elections.

Rod Humphris, landlord of the Raven pub, shouted “that man is not allowed in my pub” and “get out of my pub” as Sir Keir, wearing a black face mask, walked out of the door, with the incident captured on camera by reporters.

The landlord later said: “I had heard that the Labour Party were coming round and he turned up and I told him what I thought of him, basically.

“I think he has utterly failed us as the leader of the Opposition, he has completely failed to ask the questions that needed asking, like, why did we throw away our previous pandemic preparedness?

“Why have we just accepted lockdown?

“Why have we just accepted the loss of all our freedoms?”

Pics: PA

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Journalist says decision on adding India to ‘red list’ imminent

In our 11.07 post we heard from Boris Johnson, who having cancelled his trip to India later this month said adding the country to the red list, which means travellers would have to pay to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival here, was a matter for the independent UK Health Security Agency.

Now this from Times Radio’s Tom Newton Dunn…

Greece lifts quarantine for travellers with a vaccination certificate or negative PCR test

Restrictions will not apply to travellers from most European countries, as well as Israel and the United States, as it prepares to reopen tourism services next month despite an ongoing emergency in pandemic-related hospital care.

Air travellers from those countries will no longer be subject to a seven-day quarantine requirement if they hold a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or negative PCR test issued within the previous 72 hours, the Greek Civil Aviation Authority said.

The countries made exempt are EU member states, the US, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, Israel, and non-EU members Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, who are part of a European travel pact.

Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni described the new travel rules as a “pilot measure” as Greece reopens more of its economy, noting that tourists are also subject to domestic travel restrictions.

PM considers withdrawing COVID support loans over Super League plan

Downing Street said a “range of options” were being considered in response to the European Super League plan (see live blog here), including clawing back coronavirus support loans.

Mr Johnson said the breakaway plans were not “good news for fans” or for UK football.

“I don’t like the look of these proposals,” he told reporters on a campaign visit to Gloucestershire.

“We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed.”

Landmark survey asks for children’s hopes

Millions of children across England will be given the chance to share their hopes for a post-pandemic future in the review backed by footballer Marcus Rashford.

The new children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, has launched The Big Ask – the biggest ever consultation with children undertaken in England.

The results will inform a review, titled the Childhood Commission, which aims to identify the barriers preventing children from reaching their full potential, propose solutions and set targets to monitor improvements.


Rail travel voucher extension

Passengers will get an extra six months after their original expiry date to redeem the vouchers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “This extension ensures that passengers with travel vouchers are not penalised for following government advice.

“By offering people more time to redeem their vouchers, we are ensuring that passengers will not be left out of pocket as they come back to the railways.”


Wales coronavirus cases

There have been a further 102 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 210,925.

Public Health Wales said there were another two deaths, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,540.

The agency said due to data no longer being published on a Saturday, the latest figures reflect the 48-hour period up to 9am on Sunday.

Public Health Wales said a total of 1,692,463 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have now been given in Wales.

602,807 second doses have also been administered.

Rapper apologises for cancelling Manchester event after too many fans turned up

AJ Tracey has posted a Story on his Instagram account saying sorry to his fans that the event at Platts Field Park was called off.

He wrote: “Never went out to do a gig I went to sign CD’s (sic) and leave them in different places around the UK.

“In Brum we had a small amount of people turn up – everything was safe and controlled. unfortunately manny showed out way more than expected and we called off Bristol.”

He said he would be back when “it was safe to do so”.

The Manchester Evening News reported that organisers of the event were fined £10,000 for breaking coronavirus restrictions.

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Midday COVID round-up

Boris Johnson has cancelled his trade trip to India later this month as the country struggles with a huge spike in cases (see 10.43 post) and a new variant.

Meanwhile, Israel has dropped its requirement for people to wear masks outdoors following its vaccine success – with people in the UK and other countries no doubt looking on with interest to see if it’s a sign of things to come where they live.

Elsewhere around the world, quarantine-free travel has begun between New Zealand and Australia and we have seen images of emotional reunions. And in otter news – otters in the US have joined lions, tigers, pumas, cougars, snow leopards and gorillas, as well as domestic cats and dogs, in testing positive for coronavirus.

Here, concern was raised when news broke last week that the new Indian variant was discovered in the UK – but a top scientist believes it should not be in the “top tier” of our concern – see 8.22 post.

And a story we have been featuring on Sky News this morning – that young people will be paid £5,000 to be re-exposed to COVID so scientists can learn more about reinfection.

Coming up this afternoon – a COVID statement from Matt Hancock in the Commons at around 3.30pm. It’s unclear just now what he’ll say – but we’ll have updates here when it happens.

Huge jump in footfall after shops reopened in England

The number of people heading out to shops across Britain jumped 87.8% in the week to 17 April versus the previous week, market researcher Springboard has said.

Non-essential stores in England reopened on 12 April after three months of COVID-19 lockdown.

Israel drops outdoor mask requirement

The country has also fully reopened its education system in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions following its mass vaccination drive.

All primary and secondary school grades returned to classrooms on Sunday, and health officials ended a year-long requirement to wear a mask in public spaces. Masks are still required indoors and in large gatherings.

Israel has speedily inoculated the majority of its population against the coronavirus in a world-leading vaccination campaign.

It has lifted most of its restrictions and announced last week that it would be reopening the country to vaccinated foreign tourists starting in May.

Israel’s coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, told Israeli public radio on Sunday that removing the mask requirement outdoors and reinitiating in-class studies was a “calculated risk”.

However, the vaccination campaign in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza has been slow to get off the ground, with Israel facing criticism for not sharing more of its supplies.

PM says ‘red list’ status for India is a decision for independent body

During a visit to Gloucestershire, the Boris Johnson told broadcasters: “The red list is very much a matter for the independent UK Health Security Agency – they will have to take that decision.

“But Narendra Modi and I have basically come to the conclusion that, very sadly, I won’t be able to go ahead with the trip. I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.

“Countries around the world including our own have been through this. I think everybody’s got a massive amount of sympathy with India, what they’re going through.

“And I just want to stress that this is, we’re going to be going back, the relationship between the UK and India is of huge importance, and I’ll be talking to Narendra Modi on Monday, we’ll be trying to do as much as we can, virtually.

“Of course it will be frustrating, but we’ll try and replicate as much as we can remotely, and then look forward to doing it in person as and when circumstances allow, and hopefully before the Cop summit in November and hopefully we’ll get Narendra Modi over for the G7 in June.”

Pic: Mr Johnson meeting Indian PM Narendra Modi in 2019 – PA

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Chart shows scale of cases surge in India

After news the PM has cancelled his trade trip to the country later this month, and another new daily cases record today, we have produced a chart that illustrates how infection rates have soared.

India has now endured the second highest number of cases globally after the US – though their current daily case numbers are higher than anywhere else through the pandemic.

It has the fourth highest number of deaths after the United States, Brazil and Mexico

A new strain labelled B.1.617 is thought to be partly responsible for the rise in cases – and it has now been found in the UK.

However, Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, explains in our 8.22 post why the mutation is not currently in the “top tier” of concern for the UK.


Surge testing continues in south London

People living in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth are still being urged to do PCR tests after a number of cases of the South African variant were reported.

They have increased the number of places where tests can be taken and are also encouraging residents to collect a PCR test or order a home testing kit online.



EU to purchase 100 million more BioNTech-Pfizer doses

The two companies said that the 27-nation group’s executive Commission exercised an option to purchase the additional doses, bringing the total number of shots to be delivered to the EU in 2021 to 600 million.

The announcement offers a much-needed boost to the EU’s sluggish and much-criticised vaccine rollout.

Sean Marett, the chief business officer of BioNTech, said deliveries of the company’s mRNA-based vaccine this year will cover two-thirds of the EU population.

The bloc has so far administered about 105 million shots to its population of some 450 million.

Most vaccines require two shots to provide full immunisation.

New study gives insight into vaccine impact on care homes

University College London’s COVID-19 care home study report found that:

  • The first vaccine dose was associated with substantially reduced infection risk in care home residents from four weeks to at least seven weeks
  • Vaccines protect against the highly transmissible UK variant, the study implies
  • A single vaccine dose was effective at preventing 56% of infections after four weeks, rising to 62% of infections after five weeks
  • Evidence suggesting the cases occurring post-vaccine may be less infectious.

Oxford-AstraZeneca jab may be given in Denmark on voluntary basis

Denmark’s health authority has said it may be possible for people to choose to have the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine if they wish, Ritzau news agency has reported.

Denmark last week became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca’s vaccine altogether over a potential link to a rare but serious form of blood clot.


Prime Minister cancels his trip to India

Boris Johnson was due to travel to Delhi next week but the coronavirus situation in India is worsening.

A joint statement from the British and Indian governments said: “In the light of the current coronavirus situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week.

“Instead, Prime Ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India.

“They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year.”

India reported 273,810 new infections on Monday, its highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic, and it has now reported more than 15 million infections, a total second only to the United States.

According to India’s health ministry, New Delhi reported 25,462 cases and 161 deaths in the past 24 hours.


Tearful reunions in Australia and New Zealand

In a post at 6.32am we told you about how a travel bubble has opened up between Australia and New Zealand.

Here is a video showing some of the emotional reunions as the first travellers between the two countries arrive.

Health Secretary to make a statement today

Matt Hancock will make a Commons statement at around 3.30pm to update MPs on the latest developments in the battle with COVID-19.

Interested in data? Take a look at the latest coronavirus figures here

Otters at US aquarium test positive for COVID-19

The diagnosis was confirmed at Georgia Aquarium after some of the creatures began displaying symptoms such as coughing and lethargy.

It is believed staff members were responsible for passing on the virus.

Several other animals in zoos have tested positive for coronavirus, including lions, tigers, pumas, cougars, snow leopards and gorillas.

A small number of pet cats and dogs have been reported to be infected.


Six-day lockdown for New Delhi as situation worsens

The Indian capital New Delhi will be under a strict lockdown for six days starting tonight, the city’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said.

The healthcare system is at a breaking point because of the worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

The city is also facing acute shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen supplies and key medicines such as the anti-viral Remdesivir, Mr Kejriwal said.

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More on the ‘human challenge’ by Oxford University

Currently scientists don’t know too much about reinfection but it is quite uncommon to become infected with COVID-19 twice.

Professor Helen McShane is chief investigator of a study Oxford University is launching which will look at how people’s immune systems react to exposure to the virus again.

She told Sky News the study will allow them to “robustly” answer the question of what is the immune response induced from the first infection that is stopping people from being re-infected.

The study will use the original Wuhan strain to see how long-lasting the response is but future studies may use one of the variants.

They hope it will enable them to determine who has protection after natural infection and who has protection after vaccination.

Prof McShane said: “The information gained from this study about the immune response will help us more quickly test vaccines.”

She said she is “confident the study is safe” and that the lowest possible dosage of coronavirus will be given to carefully selected people who are at very low risk of getting seriously ill.

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NHS backlog could take five years to clear

A “huge” NHS backlog caused by the pandemic could take five years to clear, NHS Providers has said.

Some 4.7 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of February – the highest figure since records began in August 2007.

The number waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment was 387,885 – the highest for any calendar month since December 2007.

In February last year, the number having to wait more than 52 weeks was 1,613.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “The scale of the backlog ahead is very worrying. Some chief executives are adamant we must avoid returning to the situation in the early 2000s, when the NHS had far too many people waiting for years, not months, on waiting lists.”

Mr Hopson added the issue is not just about elective and cancer backlogs in acute hospitals, but also patients and service users waiting for mental health and community services.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are backing our NHS with an extra £7bn for health and care services this year, bringing our total additional COVID-19 investment to £92bn.

“This includes £1bn to support NHS recovery by tackling waiting lists and providing up to one million extra checks, scans and additional operations.”


Expert says Indian variant not at ‘top tier’ of concern about mutations

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said that the variant of the virus first identified in India should be “watched carefully” but it is “probably not at the top tier of mutations that generate the most concern”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the first cases of the variant were identified late last year.

“This variant has a couple of mutations that are among those that we think are important that should be watched carefully, but they’re actually probably not at the very kind of top tier of mutations, for example in the B117 – or Kent variant – or the South African variant, that generate the most concern.

“And in terms of spread, clearly this variant has increased in frequency in India around the same time as their very large and tragic recent wave.

“But I just don’t think we know yet whether there’s a cause and effect relationship – is this variant driving that spread? Or is it happening at the same time perhaps due to a coincidence?”

He added: “And one thing to note is that there were some sequences of this variant B1.617 seen late last year. And so in some sense, if it really is driving this wave, the fuse has been burning for quite a long time, which would make it look, probably less transmissible than B117.”

 You’ve passed!

Learner drivers are able to take their tests again in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this week.

Those taking tests say they are feeling “rusty” behind the wheel, but the pressure is on as anyone who fails could have to wait months for another attempt.

Non-emergency driving tests have been banned since early January due to the pandemic but they resume in England and Wales on Thursday, in Northern Ireland on Friday and in Scotland on 6 May at the earliest.

Among those preparing is Jade Bone, 24, from Southampton, who said she is “quite anxious” after more than three months without driving.

A ban on driving lessons was only lifted in England last week and Ms Bone told PA news agency: “In my first couple of lessons back I was really rusty.

“Although I haven’t forgotten how to do things, my general confidence with driving isn’t what it was before. I’m a bit more hesitant now. I’m doubting myself.”

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The US vaccination programme progresses rapidly

Almost 130 million people aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4% of the total adult population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also said almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5% of the population, have had two vaccine doses.


Calls for India travel ban as scientists analyse variant

British scientists must urgently learn as much as possible about the Indian COVID-19 variant, a leading epidemiologist has warned, as calls mount for the country to be added to the government’s “red list”.

Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), which provides evidence on coronavirus to the government’s SAGE committee, said as much information about the new variant must be gathered “as quickly as possible”.

According to the latest update from Public Health England, 77 confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, have been detected in the UK, including 73 in England and four in Scotland.

Environment Secretary George Eustice defended the government’s decision not to further restrict travel to the country, but said the situation is being kept “under regular review”.

Pic: Patients at a hospital in New Delhi from Reuters

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Stalkers have become increasingly obsessive during lockdown

By Emma Birchley, news correspondent

Some perpetrators have used their daily exercise to watch their victims and half of the individuals questioned said they had faced increased stalking online, according to the report by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

The trust’s chief executive, Suky Bhaker, described the impact on victims as “absolutely devastating”.

She said: “They’ve felt trapped in their homes without the normal avenues of support and secondly we know their access to other support from statutory services such as the police has been quite unsatisfactory.”

According to the Unmasking Stalking report, some victims believed the monotony of lockdown had led their stalkers to become more obsessed while being able to hide their identity behind a mask.

And half of those questioned said the impact of the stalking on their mental health had grown worse because of the pandemic.

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New study to re-expose volunteers to COVID-19

Healthy, young volunteers will be deliberately exposed to the virus for a second time to see how the immune system reacts as part of a new UK study.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have launched what is known as a “human challenge” trial to look at what happens when someone who has recovered from COVID-19 infection is then re-exposed to the virus.

They will aim to determine what dose of virus is needed to re-infect after natural infection, how the immune system responds, and what this may mean for developing protective immunity against the disease.

The study, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust and is expected to start this month after receiving ethics approval, will recruit people aged 18-30 who have previously been naturally infected with COVID-19.


Cancer research ‘could be delayed by two years’

The Institute of Cancer Research in London said tightened restrictions in response to new coronavirus variants have limited laboratory research time, and slowed the race to find new cancer treatments.

It said at the start of the latest lockdown that the number of researchers able to access labs had fallen by almost 30% on top of restrictions that already existed before Christmas.

Scientists estimated advances in research for cancer patients would be put back by an average of 17 months following the first lockdown, but the ICR now fears the delay could be as much as two years.

The institute has called for extra financial support for cancer research organisations to prevent further delays.


Long-anticipated travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand opens

The start of quarantine-free travel will be a relief for families who have been separated by the coronavirus pandemic as well as to struggling tourist operators.

It marked the first, tentative steps toward what both countries hope will become a gradual reopening to the rest of the world.

The idea of a bubble between Australia and New Zealand had been talked about for months but faced setbacks because of several small virus outbreaks in both countries, which were eventually stamped out.

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 Key points:

  • India added to UK’s ‘red list’ for travel following concerns about new variant – with 182 cases now found in UK
  • Boris Johnson cancels his trip to the country next week as coronavirus situation there worsens
  • UK reports four COVID deaths – the lowest daily figure since September
  • More than 10 million people in UK have received second dose of coronavirus vaccine
  • Pub landlord grapples with Sir Keir Starmer’s staff after ordering Labour leader to leave over his COVID lockdown support – see 14.18 post
  • Young people who have had coronavirus will get £5,000 for being deliberately re-exposed to the virus
  • Updates by Emily Mee

Good morning!

I will be bringing you all of the latest coronavirus news today.