Watch live as WHO chief briefs media on latest Covid developments
Police are investigating a deadly outbreak of the virus in a Devon care home after as many as 33 positive coronavirus cases were recorded.
Three residents have died at the Holmesley Care Home in Sidmouth, and several others are believed to have been admitted to hospital.
The WHO announcement followed decisions by a number of countries to halt use of the jab amid safety concerns, with reports that a small number of people had developed blood clots after receiving their injection.
The European Medicines Agency has also said there “is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine”.
In the UK, Make Drakeford has announced a slight easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in Wales. Four people from two households can meet outside to socialise — including in a private garden — from Saturday under new “stay local” guidance.
Hairdressers and barbers are allowed to open from Monday for appointments only, although most non-essential shops will remain closed until at least 12 April.
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s rolling Covid coverage.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 08:23
Tourism in wales to open for Easter – but not for the English
Welsh people will be able to take holidays within Wales at Easter, the first minister has confirmed.
Mark Drakeford, the Labour leader in Wales, told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We will reopen self-contained accommodation in Wales for Easter.
“So that means if you have a caravan or you can hire a cottage, then you’ll be able to do that.”
Travel correspondent Simon Calder has the full report:
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 08:49
Thailand delays use of AstraZeneca Covid vaccine over blood clot fears
Thailand has said it will delay use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after several European countries temporarily suspended the jabs following a small number of reports of blood clots.
Yong Poovorawan, an adviser to Thailand‘s vaccination programme, said the delay, pending an investigation into the cause of reported side-effects, will not have a big impact on the rollout.
AstraZeneca says there is no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis with the vaccine.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 08:53
Wales lifts ‘stay at home’ lockdown order
The Welsh government is to begin to reopen people’s personal lives and the economy as coronavirus numbers in Wales “continue to go in the right direction”, first minister Mark Drakeford has said.
People from two households will be able to meet in gardens from Saturday, while hairdressers and barbers will be able to operate from Monday. Non-essential retail will begin to reopen from March 22.
Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Provided things continue to go in the right direction, we hope to be able to reopen self-contained accommodation for the Easter period.”
He said that in many Welsh homes, people would need to go through the house to access the back garden but “the idea is you walk straight through, out the back door into the garden”.
“That will be a big step forward here in Wales, people haven’t been able to do that now for weeks and weeks,” he said.
“For many families that will allow grandparents to see grandchildren again and it’s a sign that cautiously, carefully and step by step, we’re now on the journey of reopening Welsh society.”
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 09:02
Novavax jab 96% effective against original Covid strain
Novavax has said its vaccine is 96 per cent effective against the original Covid strain and 86 per cent effective against the British variant.
The results come from late-stage trials conducted in the UK. The shot is only 55 per effective against the South Africa variant, Novavax added.
The firm hopes to get authorisation to roll out its jab by May.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 09:13
EU in fresh Covid vaccine supply blow
Washington has told the European Union that it should not expect to receive AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in the United States any time soon.
Separately, Thierry Breton, the bloc’s internal market commissioner, said he was not seeing “best efforts” from AstraZeneca to meet its EU delivery targets.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 09:17
Full list of lockdown changes in Wales
- Government order of ‘stay at home’ becomes ‘stay local’
- Four people from two different households can meet up outdoors to socialise, including in gardens, although children are excluded from that number
- Golf, tennis and basketball facilities can reopen
- One designated person can visit a care home resident
- All primary school children and those scheduled to take exams will resume lessons.
- Schools will have the flexibility to bring back year 10 and 12 pupils and more students will return to colleges
- Hairdressers and barbers can open up again but restricted to appointments only
- Gradual easing of non-essential shopping and non-essential aisles in supermarkets
- Garden centres can reopen
- Self-contained accommodation in Wales will be able to reopen provided Covid-19 cases continue to fall
- All shops, including all close contact services, will be able to open – the same date as in England
- All other pupils will return to school
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 09:42
Thailand has delayed the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that was scheduled to start on Friday with the public vaccination of the prime minister and cabinet members, amid concerns about reports of blood clots in some vaccinated people.
Thailand joined the ranks of Denmark, Norway and Iceland who have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after about 30 cases of “thromboembolic events” or blood clots were reported out of the five million Europeans who received the vaccine.
Namita Singh has the full story:
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 10:16
Italy ‘mulling new lockdown measures’ amid rising cases
Italy’s cabinet is scheduled to meet this morning to dicuss possible Covid lockdown measures amid rising cases, Bloomberg reports.
New restrictions could be imposed in regions where the country’s big cities are – including the areas surrounding Milan and Rome.
The measures may be introduced as early as Monday and remain in place until 6 Apri, according to Bloomberg.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 10:26
Biden says 4 July could mark ‘independence from virus’ but warns conditions ‘can change’
Joe Biden has told America he hopes the nation can celebrate 4 July cookouts as “independence” from the coronavirus, but warned he needs “everyone to do their part”.
In his first televised primetime address, considered a presidential rite of passage for every occupant of the Oval Office, Mr Biden said he was ordering that every adult be made eligible for one of the three approved vaccines by May 1.
He said he was also hopeful of pressing ahead with a plan to open most schools for youngsters from kindergarten to the eighth grade, within the first 100 days of his presidency.
Chief US correspondent Andrew Buncombe has more details:
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 10:37
Malaysia defends Covid fake news law amid outcry
Malaysia’s government on Friday defended a new law aimed at tackling rampant fake news related to Covid-19 and an ongoing state of emergency, as critics warned it could be used to silence dissent and curtail free of speech.
The emergency ordinance, which took effect on Friday, will make it an offence to publish or reproduce any “wholly or partly false” content related to the pandemic or the emergency declaration, prescribing hefty fines and jail terms of up to six years.
Emergency laws do not need parliamentary approval.
Opposition lawmakers and civil society groups said the new law was too sweeping and could be used to instil fear among the public about criticising the government.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 10:48
Covid transmission drops by 30% after person is vaccinated – study
Transmission of Covid-19 drops by at least 30 per cent after a person is vaccinated, a new study suggests.
Public Health Scotland and the University of Glasgow assessed 300,000 NHS workers between December 8 – the first day of vaccination in Scotland – and 3 March.
The researchers looked at the records of people who live with both vaccinated and unvaccinated healthcare workers, finding those who had a single dose were at least 30 per cent less likely to pass the virus on.
Given that people living with healthcare workers could also catch the virus from other sources, researchers say the 30 per cent figure is a low estimate.
Those who have had both doses of vaccine were found to be at least 54 per cent less likely to pass on the virus.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 11:05
Italy to ‘impose nationwide Covid lockdown over Easter weekend’
Italy will be placed under a nationwide lockdown for the Easter weekend, a draft law decree seen by Reuters said on Friday, as the government battles to stem a fresh surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations.
Non-essential shops will be shuttered nationwide from April 3 to April 5. On those days, Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons.
The draft decree also said that as of Monday curbs will be tightened in the country’s low-risk ‘yellow’ regions, where movement between towns will be severely limited and restaurants and bars will be closed.
Along with nationwide measures, Italy calibrates restrictions in its 20 regions according to a four-tier colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) based on infection levels and revised every week.
The decree is expected to be approved later today.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 11:19
Bulgaria halts AstraZeneca vaccine, Portugal, Canada and Australia say jab is safe
Bulgaria on Friday halted inoculations with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine until the European Medicines Agency sends a written statement dispelling all doubts about the vaccine’s safety, the government said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Portugal’s medicines regulator Infarmed has said the shot is safe. Regulators in Canada, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea have also backed the injection.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 11:28
German officials back AstraZeneca vaccine after clot concerns
Top German public health officials have said AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is safe and Germany would continue to use it on Friday after several European countries halted its distribution amid safety concerns.
“Everything we know so far suggests that the benefits of the vaccine, even after every individual case reported, are greater than the risks, and that continues to be the case,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news briefing.
Health authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland on Thursday suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after reports of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, added that there was no statistical evidence of excess mortality after any coronavirus shot.
“Since we’re now vaccinating the old and very old, and most people who die are of course old and very old, then there can be a chronological link between vaccination and death,” he said.
“There is no evidence that the link is statistically excessive,” Mr Wieler added.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 11:44
Wales lockdown: What rules have changed and what does ‘stay local’ mean?
Lockdown restrictions in Wales are to ease from Saturday, with outdoor sports and meeting up with friends in a garden to become legal again.
Up to four people – not counting children – will be allowed to socialise outdoors, including in private gardens. Outdoor facilities for sports such as golf, tennis and basketball will be allowed to open and single designated visitors can enter care homes.
Joanna Taylor has more details:
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 12:13
Pandemic inspires youngsters to get involved in science – survey
The coronavirus pandemic has inspired more than a third (35 per cent) of children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem), new data suggests.
According to the figures, children in the UK are most inspired to be doctors or nurses (29 per cent) and astronauts (25 per cent).
Youngsters have also been particularly engaged by scientific discoveries over the last 12 months.
A survey of more than 2,000 parents of children aged five to 16 across the UK found that 50 per cent of youngsters cited NHS frontline staff, the scientists behind the Covid-19 vaccine rollout (31 per cent) and the Mars rover landing (24 per cent) as events that have most inspired.
Matt Mathers12 March 2021 12:18
Covid rates in households lowest since late September
Around one in 270 people in private households in England had Covid-19 last week, ending Saturday, according to new estimates from the Office for National Statistics – the equivalent of 200,600 people.
This is down from around one in 220, or 248,100 people, for the week before.
It is the lowest figure since the week to 24 September, when the estimate stood at one in 470, or 116,600 people.
Jane Dalton12 March 2021 12:28
WHO urges countries to keep using Oxford jab
The World Health Organisation has urged countries to continue administering doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, saying there is ‘no indication’ it is linked to blood clots, writes Samuel Lovett:
Jane Dalton12 March 2021 12:36
Positive tests in south of England may be rising
There are early signs of a “possible increase” in the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the South East and South West of England, official figures suggest.
Rates are estimated to have decreased in the North East, North West, East Midlands, East of England and London while the trend is uncertain in Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The West Midlands had the highest proportion of people of any region in England likely to test positive in the week to March 6: around one in 190 people.
Yorkshire and the Humber had the next highest, at around one in 230.
The other estimates are one in 305 for the East Midlands; one in 295 for north-west England; one in 320 for London; one in 280 for north-east England; one in 315 for eastern England; one in 265 for south-east England; and one in 290 for south-west England.
Jane Dalton12 March 2021 13:08