These are the coronavirus morning headlines for Thursday, January 14, as some Boots and Superdrug high street branches will begin rolling out Covid vaccines in England.
Six stores across England will be able to administer the jabs from Thursday while the UK Government aims to hit its target of vaccinating all people in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.
Andrews Pharmacy in Macclesfield, Cullimore Chemist in Edgware, north London, Woodside Pharmacy in Telford and Appleton Village pharmacy in Widnes will be in the first group to hand out the injections, alongside Boots in Halifax, and Superdrug in Guildford.
The six pharmacies have been picked because they can deliver large volumes of the vaccine and allow for social distancing. England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “fantastic” that jabs would be available on the high street.
By the end of the month more than 200 community chemists will be able to give vaccines, according to NHS England.
Boris Johnson also told MPs that distribution “will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can” but said supply of doses remained the main barrier.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he is “confident” the infrastructure is in place to hit the target.
In an interview with WalesOnline, he said: “You’ve got to have the supply you need. We know how much vaccine we are going to get over the next couple of weeks.
“People are working very hard on the UK level to give us certainty beyond that, but at the moment we know how much Oxford vaccine we’ve got this week and next week, but it will be a week before we probably know the volumes we’ll get after that, so it’s a combination of the supply and the capacity to deliver the supply. We’ve got the capacity to deliver.” Read the full interview here.
Scottish Government sets out plan to end of May
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has published its vaccine delivery plan, including details of how many doses it expects to receive for each week until the end of May, prompting a row with the UK Government, which has declined to publish its numbers.
The Scottish Government published a 16-page document setting out how it intends to vaccinate 4.5 million people, including 400,000 a week from the end of February.
It set out the supply of vaccine from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna from the start of April that it expects to receive each week. However, the Scottish government has highlighted that these targets will vary week-to-week depending on vaccine supplies.
In the week commencing February 15, it expects to only be able to administer 78,731 vaccinations due to supply issues. But for the week beginning March 7, it expects this to rise to 432,207.
By mid-March, the government expects to receive a weekly supply of more than 300,000 coronavirus vaccines.
This angered ministers in London, with a senior Government source warning: “Publication of numbers like these risks suppliers coming under pressure from other countries.
“These vaccines are a finite resource and as we have said throughout – supply is the limiting step.”
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Death toll reaches new high
News of the vaccine rollout comes as the daily reported UK death toll reached a new high on Wednesday, with 1,564 fatalities recorded within 28 days of a positive test.
The latest figures meant the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus has now been passed in the UK, according to official data.
In Wales, there are now double the number of patients with coronavirus in Welsh hospitals than during the first peak. Wales’ two top medical officials detail the huge pressure the NHS is facing.
Dr Andrew Goodall, the chief executive of NHS Wales, said there are around 2,870 patients being treated for Covid-related issues as critical care services operate at 152% of normal capacity.
More than a third of hospital beds in Wales are currently being used by patients with Covid-19, while nearly two-thirds of patients in critical care units also have the disease.
Latest figures from Public Health Wales published on Wednesday, January 13 show 1,533 new cases of the virus have been recorded to bring the total since the pandemic began to 174,412. The overall death total with lab-confirmed coronavirus has now passed 4,000 and now stands at 4,063 in Wales.
Following the latest figures, the Wales infection rate is now 416.8 cases per 100,000 people based on the seven days up to January 8. That is an increase on the 403.5 previously reported. Cases for your area here.
PHW data also shows 101,371 people have now received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as at 10pm on Tuesday, January 12. That is an increase of 10,142 on the figure reported on Monday.
The UK Government’s top scientist also warned the country is “in for a pretty grim period” of deaths which will not “reduce quickly”.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told ITV’s Peston programme: “The daily numbers jump around a bit but I think we are in a position now – when you look at the number of infections we’ve had over the past few weeks and how this is likely to continue, so I don’t think they’re going to drop very quickly – that I’m afraid we’re in a period of high death numbers that’s going to carry on for some weeks.
“It’s not going to come down quickly even if the measures that are in place now start to reduce the infection numbers.
“So we’re in for a pretty grim period, I’m afraid.”
New strain detected in Brazil
In a two-hour questioning from a committee of MPs, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged concerns about a new strain of coronavirus from Brazil, but stopped short of promising a travel ban on the South American country.
“We already have tough measures … to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad,” he said.
“We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.”
But he came under intense questioning from Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee, as she called on him to take “immediate action on a precautionary basis”.
She said three days had passed since gaining knowledge of the variant but there is still nothing to stop arrivals coming from the South American nation.
Mr Johnson earlier told the Commons liaison committee: “We are concerned about the new Brazilian variant.
“There remained many questions about the variant, including whether it would be resistant to the vaccines.”
Ms Cooper said she would be “very reassured” to learn of additional measures being introduced, in addition to the requirement for people arriving in England from Friday to receive a negative test up to 72 hours before departure.
Mr Johnson replied: “Well we are and we’re putting in extra measures to ensure that people coming from Brazil are checked and indeed stopping people coming from Brazil.”
The Labour MP said: “Are you, that’s a new announcement?”
“No, sorry, I said what we were looking at was the question of whether or not the Brazilian variant is immune resistant,” Mr Johnson replied.
Pressed on whether this means a travel ban being imposed on Brazil, he said: “We are taking steps to ensure that we do not see the import of this new variant from Brazil.”
The Government’s top scientist said the Brazilian variant contains “a change of the genetic code, at position 484, and that changes a part of the protein, it changes a bit of a shape of the protein”.
Sir Patrick Vallance told ITV’s Peston programme that there is no evidence new variants are more deadly.
Find out how many cases are in your area
New rules for travellers arriving in UK delayed until next week
New rules requiring travellers arriving in England to have a negative coronavirus test have been delayed “to give international arrivals time to prepare”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week announced passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane – including UK nationals – will have to test negative for Covid up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.
The restrictions were due to come into force at 4am on Friday, but have been moved to the same time on Monday.
In a statement on Twitter, Mr Shapps said: “To give international arrivals time to prepare passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test before departure to England from MONDAY 18 JANUARY at 4am.”
Travellers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals.
New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine, while the operator who transported them will also be fined.
Passengers will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their test results.
Travellers will have to take an internationally approved test and guidance released by the Department for Transport said they could include PCR tests, nasal and throat swab tests which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.
Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests, which can return results in two to three hours, and lateral flow tests which generate results in less than 30 minutes are also acceptable.
Results can be produced as physical documents or by email or text, but must be in English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted.
British nationals attempting to return home who test positive must not travel and must follow the local guidance in their host country, and contact the nearest consulate if they need support.
Fines handed to ‘selfish idiots’ at Cardiff house parties
Police issued 28 fixed penalty notices at just two house parties in Cardiff this week as council leader brandishes people “selfish idiots”.
Cardiff council leader Huw Thomas posted on social media saying that in the last week, 61% of fines issued in Cardiff last week were for household gatherings.
This included 28 fixed penalty notices issued to people who attended two house parties in the Cathays and Ely area of the city.
Police enforcement has been ramped up in the past week as people continue to flout the coronavirus regualtions. On Friday, the First Minister announced the lockdown would be extended a further three weeks and some restrictions would be tightened further.
Study into Covid immunity
Previous Covid-19 infection provides some immunity for at least five months, but people may still carry and transmit the virus, according to a new study.
Experts have warned that a small number of those with immunity may still be able carry the virus in their nose and throat and therefore have a risk of transmitting it to others.
The first report from Public Health England’s (PHE) Siren study found that antibodies from past infection provide 83% protection against reinfection for at least five months.
This suggests that people who contracted the disease in the first wave may now be vulnerable to catching it again.
Although reinfections in people with antibodies were rare, the researchers identified 44 potential reinfections among 6,614 participants who showed evidence of previous infection.
Professor Susan Hopkins, senior medical adviser at PHE and the Siren study lead, said: “This study has given us the clearest picture to date of the nature of antibody protection against Covid-19 but it is critical people do not misunderstand these early findings.
“We now know that most of those who have had the virus, and developed antibodies, are protected from reinfection, but this is not total and we do not yet know how long protection lasts.
“Crucially, we believe people may still be able to pass the virus on.”