CORONAVIRUS Live updates: UK and EU regulators hold press conferences on AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine over blood clots

COVID news live latest updates UK and EU regulators hold press conferences on AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine over blood clots
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Key points:

EU regulator has concluded today that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of Oxford jab

MHRA and EMA briefings to begin shortly…

The European Medicines Agency is announcing the conclusions of its investigation into the possible connection between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots.

Simultaneously, a MHRA briefing, together with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), is being held at the Department of Health.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam will be among those attending, along with Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and JCVI chairman Professor Wei Shen.

We will be covering the MHRA BRIEFING IN THIS BLOG AND THE STREAM ABOVE, but we will also livestream the EMA briefing on YouTube. You can watch below.

Both are due to start at 3pm.


EMA to issue guidance for AstraZeneca vaccine in under-60s, Dutch health minister says

The European medicines watchdog will issue guidance on whether AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine should be used in people under 60, according to the Dutch health minister.

Hugo De Jonge also wrote that the Netherlands would be pausing its use in the under-60s pending advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which will be holding a briefing at 3pm UK time.

“The EMA will issue that advice for people younger than 60 today,” he wrote on Facebook.

India’s Serum Institute asks government for £293m to boost AstraZeneca vaccine output

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, has asked the country’s government for a grant of 30 billion rupees (£293m) to increase its capacity to make AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

It is seeking the money to ramp up monthly production to more than 100 million doses by the end of May, the government said in a statement today, noting output was currently around 65 to 70 million doses a month.

The company is making vaccine doses for dozens of mainly poorer countries, though it has supplied Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia due to AstraZeneca production issues elsewhere.

Pic: Associated Press

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French Open postponed due to COVID restrictions

Golf’s European Tour has said the French Open has been postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions the government announced last week.

It said it will work with the French golf federation to try to reschedule it.

The French Open was scheduled for 6-9 May at Le Golf National, which hosted the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Due to the travel of players, caddie and TV production personnel coming from an average of 25 countries, the tour said it was best to postpone, but added it would try to fill what is now a vacant spot on the schedule.

France entered a third nationwide lockdown on Saturday to contain the coronavirus spread, although professional sports have largely been spared.

Pic: iStock

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England records 42 new COVID-19 deaths in past 24 hours

A further 42 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, NHS England said today.

It brings the total number of confirmed deaths reported in hospitals to 86,476.

Patients were aged between 33 and 98 and all except two (aged 33 and 55) had known underlying health conditions.

Albino wallaby is ready to meet some humans…

A rare albino walla-baby born during lockdown is ready for some human interaction when a wildlife park can reopen in England on Monday.

Staff at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park (YWP) – which is home to England’s only polar bears, as well as tigers, giraffes and lions – are making final preparations to welcome the public, with a range of new animal residents but also a raft of COVID safety precautions.

The super-cute new arrival, named Baby Joey, was born to one of the senior wallabies at the park, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at some point during the UK lockdown, and is thought to be the first albino wallaby at the attraction.

As part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, zoos and wildlife parks are allowed to reopen on 12 April along with non-essential retail.

Pics: PA

Starmer deems COVID passports ‘complete mess’ – and this is important because it could foreshadow a Commons defeat for the PM

Boris Johnson is facing fresh criticism of the prospect of introducing coronavirus health certificates from the Labour party leader.

Sir Keir Starmer called the current state of play on so-called vaccine passports a “complete mess” today, warning that they could be a vast waste of taxpayers’ money when the focus should be on administering jabs.

During a visit to Plymouth, Sir Keir told broadcasters: “We do not support the government’s plans in their current form, it’s as simple as that.

“In fact the government’s plans seem to be changing on an almost-daily basis. Only a few weeks ago the prime minister was saying he was thinking of vaccine passports to go to the pub – now he says isn’t. One day he’s talking about tests – then it’s certificates. It’s a complete mess.”

He joins SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford in opposing the idea, saying their opposition MPs would not back the plans in their current form if the prime minister put them to a Commons vote.

On Monday, Mr Johnson said that he would “certainly” consult parliament on certification plans if they go ahead.

Their use is opposed by at least 40 Conservative MPs, which could be enough to defeat the government with the support of opposition parties.

India coronavirus surge illustrated in stark chart

The below graph shows the daily number of coronavirus cases in India after it recorded 115,736 cases in the past 24 hours.

New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities are imposing curfews to try to curb the surge in infections.

The latest rise overtook Sunday’s record of 103,844 infections.

Deaths rose by 630 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 166,177 since the pandemic began.

Sky News’ India producer Neville Lazarus said earlier that the grip of a second wave of the pandemic and the exponential rise of daily coronavirus cases has alarmed the government and scientific community (see post at 11.08am).

Dr VK Paul, a member of the country’s COVID-19 response team said “the situation of the pandemic has worsened, and the speed of increasing COVID-19 cases is higher than the last time”.

He added: “Warnings had been given that the situation should not be taken for granted.”

The warning he and health experts refer to is people not following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour of wearing face masks and social distancing.


Young people are highly unlikely to die from COVID – so question is, is blood clot risk higher?

Analysis by Thomas Moore, science correspondent

The greater the risk of a disease, the greater the risk doctors would be prepared to take to prevent it. That has been the underlying narrative to the debate over the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

People over the age of 80 have a 2.4% chance of dying if they become infected with COVID. For them there is no question that vaccination is safer than the disease.

But the risk of death to someone in their 20s is around 0.002%. So, the young are vaccinated not so much to protect them from the effects of the virus, but to slow the spread of the infection to the wider, more vulnerable population.

In those circumstances a vaccine needs to be ultra-safe. So, does the AstraZeneca vaccine pass the safety test?

The concern is over a rare combination of a low platelet count and clots that stop blood draining from the brain, causing a stroke.

In Germany there have been 31 of the clots – called cerebral venous sinus thromboses – and 9 deaths out of 2.7 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab. In the UK there have been 30 cases and 7 deaths in 18 million vaccinations.

It’s more than you would expect to see – particularly because the risk appears to be higher in young women. They’re not the obvious profile for a stroke.

It may be a statistical freak, but there a growing unease. Some research has identified antibodies in the blood that have been linked to clotting disorders.

The UK medical regulator, the MHRA, says the benefits of having the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks. And, again, that is certainly the case for older people. But for the young the choice is not between the AstraZeneca jab and nothing.

The Moderna vaccine is now being rollout, along with the Pfizer shot. Both are RNA vaccines, different technology to the AstraZeneca jab.

Neither has been linked to the brain clots – and the Pfizer shot has been given to 10s of millions of people in Europe, North America and Israel.

It’s a tricky decision for the medicines’ regulator. But if they conclude that the AstraZeneca vaccine can no longer be given to the young, then jabs – and risk – will be assigned based on age.

It’s a difficult message to sell, and it could undermine the rollout.

MHRA holding 3pm news conference on Oxford/AstraZeneca jab amid blood clot fears

Dr June Raine, the chief executive for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam will be among the speakers.

The news briefing, held jointly with the JCVI which is overseeing the rollout, will be held at the Department of Health at 3pm.

At the same time, the EU’s own regulator will also hold a news conference on the jab.

Concerns have been growing about links between the vaccine and blood clots in younger people, leading France and Germany to restrict its use to older sections of society.

An Oxford University trial of the jab on children has been paused while more data on clots in adults is gathered.

The UK has seen 30 cases of rare blood clots and seven deaths from 18 million inoculations using the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

Coronavirus hotspots in the UK 

Search your area to see if you are living in a COVID hotspot.


EU says AstraZeneca vaccine supply is global problem, not EU-Australia issue

The European Commission has said delivery shortfalls of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is a global issue, not something to be addressed only in talks between the EU and Australia.

It follows Australia’s request to the EU to send AstraZeneca doses.

Canberra has said the EU has blocked shipments of the jab, but the EU says AstraZeneca had not requested new authorisations for exports to Australia.

“We’re not the only region in the world producing AstraZeneca vaccines, and therefore this is a global issue. It is definitely not simply a bilateral issue between one country and the European Union,” a spokesman for the EU Commission told a news conference when asked about Australia’s request.

The spokesman said the EU was also facing huge shortfalls of AstraZeneca vaccine deliveries.

Pic: Associated Press

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Iran records more than 20,000 COVID cases in one day following Persian New Year

Iran has recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with cases soaring to 20,954 in the past 24 hours.

The country is grappling with one of its most severe surges of COVID-19 to date.

It follows a two-week public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which drove millions to travel to popular holiday spots across the country and gather in homes in defiance of government health guidelines.

The country’s vaccine rollout is also lagging, with just over 200,000 vaccine doses having been administered in the country of 84 million, according to the World Health Organisation.

Wednesday’s infection count easily surpassed the previous record set Tuesday of 17,430 infections.

Pic: Associated Press

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Could new blood clot fears derail UK’s vaccine rollout?

Analysis by Ashish Joshi, health correspondent

The ongoing safety concerns about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not seem to have crossed the channel. At least not yet.

The possible link between it and a rare type of blood clot has been around for a few weeks now. Some governments in Europe have decided that they will not administer the jab to younger people. That is against the advice of European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation – though the former is to issue another update this afternoon.

But could these safety concerns actually derail the UK’s phenomenal vaccine rollout? Potentially yes, but realistically it is unlikely.

There are a number of reasons. Vaccine hesitancy in much more culturally entrenched on the continent, especially in France and Germany. It is not as serious here among the wider population. But clearly, there are parts of the population where it is a concern like our black and ethnic minority communities.

Also the rollout has been so successful that we are working through our target groups very quickly. These are the ones who are most at risk: the clinically vulnerable and the elderly.

We know that our senior citizens are most compliant where vaccines are concerned. Hesitancy becomes more prevalent in younger people.

By the time we get round to vaccinating the under 40s more vaccines will be on stream. So if there is still uncertainty over AstraZeneca vaccine then it is possible an alternative can be administered. This was simply not possible at the start of the rollout, the urgency demanded speed and scale.

For now the most significant bump in the road is the dramatic slowdown in the number of people being vaccinated. The Easter Bank Holidays could be a factor.

And so is vaccine supply. We were warned that this would happen. The government’s own scientists have forecast a significant drop in vaccine dose being administered until the end of July.

But that has not dented the government’s confidence. It says we are still on track to meet its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of July.

EU health ministers to meet after EMA decision on AstraZeneca shot safety

Health ministers from the 27 European Union member states will meet to discuss regulators’ findings on the AstraZeneca vaccine and its link to blood clots later today.

Portuguese health minister Marta Temido will lead the meeting because her country holds the rotating presidency.

The informal meeting, set to take place at around 5pm UK time, will follow public announcements made by the European Medicines Agency expected this afternoon.

No evidence that risks of AstraZeneca outweigh benefits, expert says

Professor Ian Douglas, a pharmacoepidemiologist, has told Sky News we have to “weigh the risks and benefits” of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

It comes as the UK regulator MHRA investigates the link between the vaccine and rare blood clots.

Prof Douglas says that the benefit we see from the AstraZeneca vaccine is “very large” despite one in 600,000 people getting blood clots after receiving it.

On the investigation of the jab, he says it is a “fast-moving situation… Europe is very quick to tell us what information they’ve got”.

He says that given the enormous rollout of the vaccine in the UK, he is impressed by how regulators have been dealing with it.

“It will be interesting to see what the regulators tell us later today”, Prof Douglas says, in reference to the press conference being held this afternoon on the safety of the AstraZeneca jab by EU health ministers.

“We have to weigh the risks and benefits.

“It isn’t just death from COVID that matters, we still see people getting blood clots from COVID,” he says. “I don’t see any evidence that the risks [of the vaccine] outweigh the benefits.”

Britons spend more on golf and picnics as COVID rules relax

After some coronavirus restrictions were lifted last week, Britons spent money on golf, picnics and other outdoor activities last week, payments firm Barclaycard said.

Golf courses, tennis courts and open-air swimming pools reopened in England on 29 March, along with a ban on non-essential travel.

Face-to-face spending in the leisure and entertainment sector grew by 136% compared with the previous week and spending at golf courses jumped 370%.

Outdoor gatherings such as picnics were probably behind a 9% rise in contactless transactions over the past week as people paid for picnics, Barclaycard said.

“This is a strong indication of the pent-up demand for returning to pre-pandemic activities, like seeing friends and family and enjoying outdoor sport,” Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said.

Pic: Associated Press

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India’s COVID surge down to people letting their guard down and super-spreader events

Analysis by India producer Neville Lazarus

India is in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic and the exponential rise of daily coronavirus cases (see 7.52 post) has alarmed the government and scientific community.

Dr VK Paul, a member of the country’s COVID-19 response team said “the situation of the pandemic has worsened, and the speed of increasing COVID-19 cases is higher than the last time”.

He added: “Warnings had been given that the situation should not be taken for granted.”

The warning he and health experts refer to is people not following COVID-19 appropriate behaviour of wearing face masks and social distancing.

The low number of cases in the winter months had lulled people to believe the pandemic is over. Coupled with fatigue of severe lockdowns, low fatality rates and now vaccinations, most Indians have let their guard down.

Added to this are super-spreader events. Elections are taking place in five states. The prime minister, cabinet ministers, chief ministers and leaders of parties are campaigning, conducting political rallies and roadshows with thousands of people. Footage of these events show almost no one wearing face-masks while social distancing is impossible.

The month-long Maha Kumbh festival in Haridwar will witness a gathering of almost 150 million pilgrims. Even though a negative PCR test mandatory to attend the festival it is unfeasible to maintain COVID-19 protocols.

Experts have also said the new variants of the virus are far more infectious but less lethal. Genome sequencing of all cases in Punjab show around 80% of them is due to the UK variant.

India may have one of the lowest fatality rates in the world, but it can ill afford a severe burden on its already inadequate and creaking public health care system. For decades, successive governments have spent just over 1.2% of its GDP on healthcare. Over 70% of its citizens rely on expensive private health care and one illness can push a family into poverty.

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Germany welcomes calls for tougher COVID lockdown

Any demands for a short, tough lockdown to slow down the spread of COVID-19 is correct as infection rates are too high, a German government spokeswoman has said.

The government is looking at whether nationwide, rather than regional, measures were needed, she added.

However, the majority of Germany’s 16 federal state premiers are against bringing forward talks scheduled for 12 April on what action to take.

The spokeswoman also said the number of patients in intensive care is rising.

The country is tackling a third wave of coronavirus which is sweeping across Europe, reporting 9,677 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 2,910,445. The number of deaths also rose by 298 to 77,401.

Pic: Associated Press

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Search your area below to check for COVID-19 infections


Snapshot of what is going on around the world…

  • The University of Hawaii is placing 81 football players in quarantine after eight players tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week
  • Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski said today that around 90% of COVID-19 cases reported in the country are the UK variant
  • Hungary has begun loosening its lockdown restrictions today even as another daily record in COVID-19 deaths was broken and a surge in the pandemic gripped the country’s hospitals
  • Spain’s northwestern Castile and León region is temporarily halting use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine while European authorities investigate links between the jab and rare blood clots
  • India has hit another new peak with 115,736 COVID infections reported in the past 24 hours (see post at 7.52). New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities are imposing curfews to try to slow the soaring infections
  • Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is joining other Republican governors in the US who are speaking against vaccine passports, which are being developed in some areas to allow people to travel, shop and dine more freely.

Gymnast celebrates vault success by flashing COVID vaccination card 

A University of Illinois gymnast has captured global attention after celebrating by brandishing his vaccination card.

Evan Manivong sealed his fourth vault title of the season with a career best equalling score of 14.750 in the 22 March meeting with Minnesota.

After sticking the landing, the sports star took a card out from his vest and showed it to those around him before celebrating with his teammates.

“It’s my vaccination card… go get vaccinated everyone!” he later tweeted.

One commentator said: “Oh and he sticks the landing! Not sure what that is… a vaccine card?

“Whatever it is, if that’s what it takes, sign me up for one of those cards – that was amazing.”

Pic: PA

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Thailand detects first cases of UK coronavirus variant

Thailand has detected 24 cases of the coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 first detected in Kent, Britain, according to a virologist in the country.

“This variant is very viral and can spread 1.7 times faster than the usual strain,” Yong Poovorawan, a senior virologist from Chulalongkorn University, told a health ministry briefing on Wednesday.

COVID infections are rising in the country, with another 334 new infections reported on Wednesday, raising the total to 29,905.

The figure was up on the 250 new cases announced on Tuesday.

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Some groups of people, especially the young, report higher levels of loneliness

Levels of loneliness have increased in the UK since spring 2020 – with young people being the worst affected.

People in areas with higher rates of unemployment, higher crime rates or higher levels of anxiety were also more likely to report feeling lonely.

New data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that between 3 April and 3 May 2020, 5% of people (around 2.6 million adults) said they felt lonely “often” or “always”.

It comes after a year of lockdowns, social distancing, and restrictions on travel and gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And that proportion increased to 7.2% of the adult population (about 3.7 million adults) from October 2020 to February 2021, according to findings from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN).

Urban areas recorded the highest rates of loneliness (8.3%), while countryside areas reported the least (5.7%).

Places with younger populations also tended to have higher rates of loneliness, the report found.

Moderna has arrived!

New pictures show pharmacists transporting a cooler containing the Moderna vaccine and a nurse preparing a shot at the West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen.

The Moderna coronavirus vaccine is the third jab to be approved for use in the UK, which is being administered to patients in Wales today.

As we reported in the blog a little earlier, unpaid carer Elle Taylor, 24, became the first person to receive a shot.

Pics: PA

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Brazil’s daily COVID deaths surpass 4,000 for first time

Brazil has reported 4,195 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, becoming the third nation to go above that daily threshold.

It comes as many governors, mayors and judges are reopening parts of the economy despite lingering chaos in overcrowded hospitals and a collapsed health system in several parts of the country.

Brazil’s total number of deaths from COVID-19 is quickly approaching 340,000, the second-highest in the world.

Only the United States and Peru have had daily death figures higher than 4,000.

Miguel Lago, executive director of Brazil’s Institute for Health Policy Studies, said reopening is a mistake that he fears will bring even higher death numbers, though he thinks it unlikely to be reversed.

“The fact is the anti-lockdown narrative of President Jair Bolsonaro has won,” he said.

Pic: Associated Press

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Regions pause Oxford jab

This story feels like it is really building again ahead of the EMA news conference later.

The latest is that the regional authorities of Castile and Leon in central Spain have suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine until the European Medicines Agency releases a report on its safety.

European Medicines Agency to give update on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this afternoon

This comes as France and Germany restricted use of the jab to older patients and the UK regulator examines blood clot links in younger people.

Earlier we brought you expert opinion on the jab and these reviews – see 8.05 and 8.16 posts.

First UK patient receives Moderna vaccine 

Elle Taylor, 24, from Ammanford, Wales – an unpaid carer for her 82-year-old grandmother – has become the first UK person to receive the Moderna vaccine, West of England correspondent Dan Whitehead reports.

Speaking after receiving the vaccine, she said: “I’m very excited and very happy. I’m an unpaid carer for my grandmother so it is very important to me that I get it, so I can care for her properly and safely.

“My grandmother has had her first dose and she is going for her second dose on Saturday.”

The jab is being rolled out in Wales today after the UK government ordered 17 million doses – enough for 8.5 million people.

First doses are being administered at West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen – and a total of 5,000 doses have been distributed to vaccination centres.

Moderna’s vaccine is the third to be approved for use in the UK, and will be rolled out alongside jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca.

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Texas issues order banning COVID passports in the state

As the debate continues here in the UK, with trials and talk of some kind of COVID certification being inevitable, vaccine passport critics aren’t messing around in the US.

Texas governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order on Tuesday banning government-required vaccine passports in the state.

It comes after a similar decision from Florida last week.

In a video announcement, Mr Abbott said that Texans are returning to “normalcy” as vaccination efforts increase and hailed the state for administering more than 13 million doses to residents so far.

The Republican governor then said that vaccination efforts should be done “without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms”.

He continued: “But, as I have said all along, these vaccines are always voluntary and never forced.

“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives.”

Moderna vaccine has arrived in the UK – here’s what you need to know

The Moderna coronavirus vaccine is the third jab to be rolled out in the UK, alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca jabs.

How effective is it against coronavirus?

The phase three results suggested vaccine efficacy against coronavirus was 94.1%, and vaccine efficacy against severe COVID-19 was 100%.

More than 30,000 people in the US took part in the trial, from a wide range of age groups and ethnic backgrounds.

How many doses of Moderna does the UK have?

The government has bought 17 million doses – enough to vaccinate about 8.5 million people because two doses are required.

How much does it cost?

The Moderna vaccine is the most expensive, per dose, of the vaccines created so far.

It was pitched for $38 (£28) a dose during last summer – much higher than Pfizer, at $20 (£15).

How does the vaccine work?

The Moderna jab is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.

Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus’s genetic code.

An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body, where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.

These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.

No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine.

This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is accelerated.

How is it transported and stored?

The Moderna vaccine has been shown to last for up to 30 days in household fridges, at room temperature for up to 12 hours, and remains stable at -20C (-4F) – equal to most household or medical freezers – for up to six months.

The company claims mRNA-1273 can be distributed using widely available vaccine delivery and storage infrastructure – with no dilution required prior to vaccination.

Read more here.

‘Urgency’ over AstraZeneca investigation, COVID passports ‘may not be necessary’, Hunt says

Jeremy Hunt has said there is “urgency” over the MHRA concluding its investigations into a potential association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare form of blood clot.

The chairman of the Health Select Committee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there is urgency; I think the one thing you can’t say about the MHRA is that they act slowly – they have been very, very fast and fleet of foot throughout this pandemic.

“But I think people do understand that this is a new virus, these are new vaccines, there is no medicine that is 100% safe, and that’s why you have to look at these very difficult balances of risk.”

On vaccine passports, Mr Hunt said: “In normal times, if you were being asked to show your health record or COVID status before going into a pub, it would be absolutely abhorrent.

“But this is a pandemic.

“It may not be necessary to do any of that if the vaccine programme is as successful as we hope, if cases fall to low enough levels.

“But if the only way to socialise in public places safely is to ask people to demonstrate they’re not likely to be a risk to others, then I think people are quite sensible and quite pragmatic about this sort of thing.”

Hull hit ‘really badly’ by pandemic as cases remain ‘stubbornly high’

Labour MP Emma Hardy says the government should look at the case numbers across England and not just London in terms of the easing of restrictions as she tells of how badly Hull has been hit by the pandemic.

Ms Hardy says cases in the city remain “stubbornly high” with figures twice the English average – 115 infections among 100,000 people.

Last month she quit her shadow ministerial post citing increased constituency work over lockdown.

She tells Sky News there has been a “massive increase in demand and the need for support from people” because her constituency also covers the city centre, so lots of the entertainment venues have been “hit really badly”.

Ms Hardy says Hull is seeing “rising unemployment” among young people.

“The pandemic came at the worst possible time,” she says.

Ms Hardy says she is not against the easing of lockdown but wants the government to “take account the case numbers throughout the whole of England”, not just London.

Ryanair says losses due to COVID are slightly less than expected

Ryanair expects losses for the year of the pandemic to be slightly lower than first thought.

Net losses are now expected to be between €800-850m, compared with previous guidance of between €850-950m, the airline said.

No reason for the revision was given.

Bosses claimed that Easter travel restrictions and the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines saw a delay in passenger numbers recovering.

“While it is not possible (at this time) to provide meaningful (2021/22) profit guidance, we do not share the recent optimism of certain analysts as we believe that the outcome for (2021/22) is currently close to break-even,” the airline said in a statement.

Pic: Associated Press

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South Korea reports highest single-day COVID cases as clusters develop in saunas and bars

South Korea has reported its highest single-day number of new COVID-19 cases in three months.

It comes amid a surge of infections as the country approved a Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a bid to expedite its inoculation campaign.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 668 new cases for Tuesday, the highest level since 8 January, with clusters developing in kindergartens, saunas, bars and churches, mostly in the greater Seoul area.

To date, total infections stand at 106,898, with 1,756 deaths.

The country’s food and drug safety ministry said on Wednesday it has granted final approval for the use of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) vaccine after a panel of experts ruled the single-dose shot treatment was safe and effective.

Pic: Associated Press

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Taking AstraZeneca vaccine is a ‘no-brainer’

More experts are weighing in on the AstraZeneca safety debate as the UK’s regulator MHRA investigates reports of blood clots.

Professor Calum Semple has said he is “not worried one little bit” about headlines around the jab.

The SAGE scientist told LBC radio: “I’ll take myself, I’m 53, my risk of death from COVID is about one in 13,000, for me it’s a no-brainer, I need to have the vaccine.”

He later added: “This vaccine is safe. What do I mean by safe? You can look right, look left, look right again cross a road, it’s safe to cross because you don’t see any cars (but) you can trip, you can stumble.

“Nothing is risk-free, but is the vaccine safe? I would say yes.”


Concerns over AstraZeneca taken ‘very seriously’, expert says

Concerns over the AstraZeneca jab are being taken “very seriously” and “very thoroughly” investigated, an expert has said, as the UK’s drugs regulator investigates reports of blood clots.

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and who also sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What stands out about them is that we see thrombosis, including thrombosis in the cerebral veins, all the time.

“But we don’t normally see them in association with a low platelet count – which is a small blood cell which is involved in blood clotting – and so that makes them stand out and makes us think that this is something a little bit different and out of the norm.”

Mr Finn said this meant they wanted to understand why this was being caused and whether it is linked to the vaccine.

After being told there had been 30 cases of this kind of blood clot and seven deaths as more than 18 million people received the jab, Mr Finn said it “could potentially” affect the rollout of the vaccine.

He said: “Those figures quoted were up until 24 March and I think we’ll hear shortly what’s happened subsequent to that in terms of numbers of cases, but we can expect there will have been more in the interim.”

Mr Finn highlighted that the risk of COVID-19 is greater for older people and therefore it likely favours them receiving the vaccine, adding: “What we urgently need to understand if this is a causal thing, is whether that risk-benefit ratio stands up when you get down to younger ages.”

Risks of COVID ‘much higher’ than AstraZeneca vaccine, former MHRA chief says

The former chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said he has “no reservations” about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Professor Sir Kent Woods told LBC radio: “The risks of COVID are much higher.

“The reason it is so difficult to be certain whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship, even in younger people, between the vaccine and these thrombotic events, these clotting events, is that there are such clotting events occurring in the background anyway.”

He added: “It’s not an unknown event.”

On Tuesday, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that the benefits of taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab “far outweigh” any “rare incidents of risk

He reinforced the government’s message for people to get a COVID jab as MHRA experts continue to investigate reports of a very rare and specific blood clot in the brain after taking the Oxford jab.

India sees another record day of new virus cases

India has hit another new peak with 115,736 COVID-19 infections reported in the past 24 hours.

New Delhi, Mumbai and dozens of other cities are imposing curfews to try and curb the recent spike.

The latest rise, reported on Wednesday, overtook Sunday’s record of 103,844 infections.

Deaths rose by 630 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November, raising the total number of fatalities to 166,177 since the pandemic began.

Experts say the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces. The latest surge in infections is worse than last year’s peak of more than 97,000 a day in mid-September.

Pic: Associated Press

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Pausing AstraZeneca trial in children ‘right decision’ but blood clot risk is low, expert says

Professor Ravi Gupta, clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, tells Sky News it was “absolutely the right decision” to pause the AstraZeneca trial in children, “pending further investigation of blood clots in adults”.

He says it is “nothing to worry about” but it is important to have the information in front of us.

“The increase in blood clots was also seen in adults under 55,” he says, but adds we also need to remember that younger people are also at risk of severe illness from COVID.

He says there is an argument to continue vaccinating younger people because the rate of blood clot issues is extremely low, and vaccinating children is important to curb transmission.

Moderna vaccine rollout begins in Wales today, PM says

Boris Johnson has tweeted about the Moderna jab rollout beginning in the UK this morning after the government ordered 17 million doses.

Will we need COVID passports on the high street?

When non-essential retail opens next week there will be “no requirement for certification” – and nor will there be from 17 May when we get to stage three of the PM’s roadmap, MP Paul Scully tells Sky News.

He says the “ethics and practicalities of a certification programme” are currently being examined – especially for bigger events such as football matches, for which “vaccine passport” trials are due to take place in the coming weeks.

“That’s why it is linked to the Events Research Programme,” he says, adding there is plenty of debate and discussion being had before any decisions are made.

He says the work being done on certification is mainly for big events rather than small businesses because “they are tougher” to get back to normal rather than the high streets with non-essential retail and hospitality including pubs.

However, there is confusion after a government paper released on Easter Monday said businesses could turn away people – now – after asking for their COVID status.

When will Moderna jab be rolled out in England?

Small business minister Paul Scully says we will hear “in the next few days” when the Moderna vaccine will be rolled out in England.

First jabs of the vaccine are being given out in Wales from today.

AstraZeneca is safe, MP says

Conservative MP Paul Scully, minister small business, tells Sky News that the MHRA are doing their work and “the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe”.

“It is saving thousands of lives and has gone out to millions of people, both here in the UK and across the world,” he tells Sky News.

He says his advice would be to take up an invite in getting the AstraZeneca shot.

“That’s the way out of the pandemic – and how to continue saving lives”, adding it is also the path to restoring the economy and getting our lives back to normal.

On AstraZeneca trials being paused on children, he said it is “right that the scientists do their work and make sure that the vaccine is as safe as possible”.

He adds that there is “no proof that there is any causal links from the very rare occasions that there have been blood clots”, and that “everything has shown that the vaccine is safe and best to get it, as you heard from the scientists before”.

Mr Scully said this is why the government is releasing a £20m fund – to “extend our life sciences”.

“We’ve done an amazing job in rolling out the vaccine in good order, with £300m, but we are putting £20m more in to make sure our life sciences will flourish”.

North Korea claims it still has zero coronavirus cases

North Korea continues to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus in its latest report to the World Health Organisation.

The WHO said the country reported that it tested 23,121 people for COVID-19 as of 1 April and that all results were negative.

Outsiders have expressed doubt about whether North Korea has escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and a porous border it shares with China, its economic lifeline.

During the pandemic, North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and mobilised health workers for quarantines of tens of thousands of people who showed symptoms.

This week, it became the first country to drop out of the Tokyo Olympics because of coronavirus fears.

Coming up…

Paul Scully, minister for small business, will join us at 7.05am to discuss the new £20m fund aimed at supporting the UK’s medicine manufacturing industry and help the response of future pandemics.

EU agency to confirm AstraZeneca blood clot link

A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there is a causal link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clots – but the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting the virus.

Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper that it is unclear what the connection is and said the European Union’s medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week.

Based on the evidence so far, Mr Cavaleri said there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of AstraZeneca jabs that have been administered.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of platelets,” Mr Cavaleri was quoted as saying.

The EMA press office said its evaluation “has not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing”. It said it planned a press conference as soon as the review is finalised, possibly for Wednesday or Thursday.

Pic: Associated Press

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Moderna vaccine rollout begins in UK as AstraZeneca children’s trial is paused

The Moderna vaccine is going to be given to patients in the UK for the first time today.

First doses of the jab are going to be administered at West Wales General Hospital in Carmarthen – and a total of 5,000 doses have been distributed to vaccination centres.

Moderna’s vaccine is the third to be approved for use in the UK, and will be rolled out alongside jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford University-AstraZeneca.

The UK has purchased 17 million doses of the Moderna jab, enough for 8.5 million people, and phase three results suggest the vaccine has 100% efficacy against severe cases of coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m delighted we can start the UK rollout of the Moderna vaccine in west Wales today.”

It comes after a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on children in the UK was paused while the medicines regular investigates a possible link between the jab and rare blood clots in adults.

Read more here.

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COVID-19 linked to increased risk of psychiatric and neurological conditions

Findings from a new study suggest contracting coronavirus is “robustly associated” with an increased risk of developing mental health and neurological conditions in the six months after a diagnosis.

University of Oxford researchers looked at the TriNetX electronic 2020 health records of more than 230,000 COVID-19 patients who were mostly from the US.

Published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, the study estimated that one in three COVID-19 survivors (34%) were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of being infected.

And 13% were given their first neurological or psychiatric diagnosis, researchers found.

The findings also suggested that the incidence of such conditions rose with the severity of a COVID case.

It found that a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis occurring in 39% of those who were admitted to hospital, 46% of those in intensive care, and 62% in those who had encephalopathy – described as “delirium and other altered mental states” – when they had COVID.

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Key points:

Good morning and welcome to today’s live coronavirus blog

We’ll be bringing you the latest COVID updates from the UK and around the world.