The UK could experience a third wave of coronavirus infections after Christmas if restrictions are are eased too much over the coming weeks and months, Dominic Raab has warned.
Asked by BBC’s Andrew Marr whether Britain may suffer a resurgence of cases in January and February, the Foreign Secretary said: “There’s a risk of that if we don’t get the balance right.”
He added that the tiered approach and mass lockdown would be central to further suppress the pandemic before mass vaccination has taken place – a process he hopes will begin “before Christmas”.
Mr Raab’ comments come amid a growing Tory rebellion over the new tiered system.
In an attempt to appease MPs, the Prime Minister said last night he would allow the House of Commons to vote on the new tiers in late January, saying the regulations “have a sunset of 3 February” – a timeframe Mr Raab defended as “realistic”.
But scientists and public health experts have consistently warned that “rates are still too high, there are too many people coming into hospital and too many people dying” to lift restrictions yet.
“We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage,” Peter Openshaw, an immunologist from Imperial College who sits on Sage’s nine-strong clinical information group, told the BBC.
“If we take the breaks off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we’d be making a huge mistake… I think we must keep this under control and just behave very very sensibly,” he said.
Follow the latest updates below.
Today in photos
Here’s a look at the pandemic across the globe, in photos:
Austria: Chancellor warns ‘tough measures’ will continue and apres-ski will not open this year
Austria should expect further heavy restrictions when its current lockdown measures expire in just over a week, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has told the Austrian paper Kleine Zeitung.
The country’s nationwide lockdown is due to be lifted on December 7, but it is not yet clear what that will mean for the ski industry – cornerstone of a tourism sector which accounts for some 15 per cent of economic output – or overall life in Austria.
“The higher the infection numbers, the harder it will be to introduce steps for reopening,” Kurz said, adding that new measures will be announced on Wednesday. “We will have to live with further massive restrictions after December 7.”
Asked about the potential for a ski season, Kurz said that sports and leisure facilities would not be part of the first easing measures, but the government intended to enable more outdoor and individual sports in the foreseeable future.
“Separate from that is the question of tourism,” he said. “What’s already clear, apres-ski will happen at the earliest in one year,” he said, referring to the tradition of a post-ski drink in mountain bars and restaurants.
France, Italy, Austria and Germany have all ordered even the high-altitude lifts that could be running this early in the winter to remain closed for now in the hope that all resorts can benefit at peak season, if and when the infection rate slows.
RNA vaccines ‘like snapchat messages that expire’
Are RNA vaccines safe? It’s a question we have heard over and over in the last few weeks after positive early data from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which both use this technology.
Prof Shane Crotty, a virologist at La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, has pulled together a brilliant Twitter thread answering this very question.
- “RNA is like snapchat messages that expire”, he writes. The vaccines do not become a permanent part of your body and, after instructing cells to make one viral protein temporarily, they disintegrate.
- The RNA Covid vaccines include a message telling our bodies to make just one single coronavirus protein. But “it takes 25 different coronavirus proteins to make a coronavirus, so there is no worry about the RNA making a virus.”
- If a vaccine is going to generate side effects, this usually happens within days or weeks of being given the jab. To date 70,000 doses of Covid-19 RNA vaccines have been given to people and independent safety boards – which are not controlled by pharma companies – have not reported any serious concerns. 70,000 is a big number.
Stuck with penguins: Russia’s Antarctic scientist can’t go home because of Covid-19
A scientist at Russia’s research outpost in the Antarctic, populated by penguins as well as 22 other researchers, got stuck there for a few more months after his planned replacement went down with Covid-19, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports.
Denis Melnikov, a geophysicist with a penchant for Instagram selfies with penguins, arrived at the Mirny research station in January before the coronavirus pandemic hit the planet.
His mission was supposed to end in November when the scientist who was supposed to replace his contracted Covid-19 and had to go to hospital. The vessel carrying the new expedition and supplies has set sail from St Petersburg for the South Pole without his replacement.
Mr Melnikov, 33, says he has always dreamt of working in the Antarctic but he is beginning to miss “cold beer and home.”
“So I’m stuck here for a few more months,” the researcher wrote last week in an Instagram post with the picture of a crimson sunset over the Antarctic’s snow-covered shores.
“It wasn’t something I was prepared for but I’m not too upset. At least, I’m expecting a parcel from home with a new camera, home-made cookies and a whole jar of Nutella. So might as well stare at the icebergs for two more months.”
UK secures 2 million more doses of Moderna vaccine
Another two million doses of a vaccine which trials suggest is 95 per cent effective have been secured by the Government.
It brings the total number of jabs on order from the US firm Moderna to seven million – enough for around 3.5 million people in the UK.
The vaccine has yet to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), but doses could begin being delivered next spring if it meets the standards.
Interim data suggests the jab is highly effective in preventing people getting ill and may work across all age groups, including the elderly.
The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved by the MHRA.
It also has orders for 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to be 95 per cent effective.
Restrictions eased in Czech Republic as surge eases
The Czech government will allow restaurants and non-essential shops to reopen on Thursday as the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic eases, Health Mister Jan Blatny announced today.
The country will move down one notch to level three on its 5-level risk scale, which means all shops and restaurants can open but must limit customer numbers to allow for social distancing. A night-time curfew will be lifted and limited sports activities can resume.
Here’s a look at the trajectory of the country’s outbreak:
Raab: Risk of a third wave ‘if we don’t get the balance right’
Asked whether we could face a third wave of restrictions in January and February, Dominic Raab said: “There’s a risk of that if we don’t get the balance right.”
But he added that so far the R rate is coming down. “That is why we are starting with the tiered approach, which is more restrictive than some people would like but allows us to ease measures when possible.”
He added that the government are doing “everything we can” to avoid another national lockdown after Christmas.
Raab: Vaccination to start before Christmas
The BBC’s Andrew Marr has asked the Foreign Secretary whether Chris Whitty or the Tory MP Steve Baker are “more important to Number 10.”
“What’s important is the welfare of this country, saving lives and livelihoods, its a balanced approach,” Dominic Raab responded, dodging the question. “If you look at the approach it is a tiered approach, we want to come out of a national lockdown sustainably.
“Some people have argued [the restrictions] are too tough, but we have heard the public health arguments for this. Having them at this level allows us to ease off when we are confidence to do so,” he added, suggesting that another vote in January would provide the “right balance”.
Dominic Raab also repeated many of the comments he made on the Sky this morning, emphasising that the tiered system and mass testing would be central to keeping the virus under control until a vaccine is ready.
He added that the process of vaccination would start as soon as regulators “have given us the green light”.
“We would like to start doing that before Christmas,” Mr Raab said.
‘We scientists are very concerned about relaxation of precautions’
Prof Peter Openshaw added that he is concerned that restrictions will be eased too soon and could trigger a surge in cases when “the end is in sight”.
“We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage,” he told the Andrew Marr show. “The rates are still too high, there are too many people coming into hospital and too many people dying.
“If we take the breaks off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we’d be making a huge mistake. We’ve all sacrificed so much, everyone has sacrificed enormously in order to get the transmission rate down.
“With only a few months to go until we all get vaccinated, I think it would just be a terrible mistake. I think we must keep this under control and just behave very very sensibly.”
This has echoes of what Julian Tang, a virologist, told the Telegraph – he suggested that a “ring lockdown” strategy is required to suppress the virus (see 8:50am).
‘First vaccine regulatory approval could happen within a fortnight’
Peter Openshaw, an immunologist from Imperial College who sits on Sage’s nine-strong clinical information group, has raised doubts on reports that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be approved by regulators.
“I would be surprised if it’s next week,” he told the BBC. “But I know that the regulators are looking very hard and they’re doing everything they can to scrutinise all the data. My understanding is there’s been quite an interactive process with the regulators while these trials are going on.
“I wouldn’t be too surprised if an announcement is made within the next two weeks, possibly the next week, but we will have to wait and see and this must not be rushed.”
He added the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial results are good news “based on the press releases”.
On Monday scientists published a press release putting the headline figure for the vaccine’s overall efficacy at an average of 70 per cent. In most participants this figure was 62 per cent, but in a sub-group who were given a lower dose regime, the efficacy rose to 90 per cent.
When asked whether the figure of 70 per cent efficacy was a “real figure”, Prof Openshaw said that this “came about by merging two slightly different studies” and more data is needed to analyse success than a press release.
But he added: “I think even more important is that it looks like several trials are reporting very good efficacy. That means for sure that this is a virus we can defeat via vaccination. We didn’t know that, and that is tremendously good news.”
Watch: WHO says it needs to evaluate Covid-19 vaccine on more than just a press release
The World Health Organisation has reiterated calls for further trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, to provide “definitive answers” on efficacy.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO chief scientist, said it would be “great” if a smaller dose could trigger a greater immune response, as this would allow limited vaccine supplies to reach more people.
But she added that a “full trial” is needed to confirm whether these results in a larger and more diverse group of people.
The UN agency has also called for the full data to be published, rather than a press release – read more here or watch the clip below:
Labour: We will vote for tiered system if Government answer two questions
Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary has told the BBC that the party does not share the view of backbench Tory MPs that we can let the virus “rip through” communities, but added that before supporting the new tiered system Labour need clarity on two key points.
First, whether the measures are sufficient to get on top of the virus. And secondly whether people will be able to comply with the restrictions.
“We need to see proper support in place so that people can comply, otherwise we may be in a worse position in January,” Lisa Nandy told Andrew Marr.
She added that “our support is not unconditional”.
“We need to be sure that these measures are sufficient to gain control of the virus, otherwise we are asking businesses to suffer economic pain without anything to show that this is worth it. That it will actually set us on a path in the future.”
But pushed on whether Labour would vote these measures down without these assurances, Nandy said: “It’s not too late for the government to come forward with those assurances and we are not in favour of rejecting public health measures… but we want to know that the government is coming forward with that help.”
Hong Kong reports four month high, with 115 new Covid cases
Hong Kong reported 115 new coronavirus infections today, including 109 locally transmitted, the highest in nearly four months, as authorities battle a surge of Covid-19.
The figure was up from 84 yesterday and was the highest since August 1, when 125 cases were reported. It compares with the July 30 record of 149.
Hong Kong has closed bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues for the third time this year after authorities warn the resurgence is worsening rapidly.
The latest jump in cases forced a delay in the launch of a “travel bubble” between Hong Kong and Singapore, originally scheduled for November 22, for at least two weeks. Authorities are also reopening a temporary Covid-19 treatment hall near the city’s airport.
Hong Kong is not the only place in Asia struggling to contain a new surge in cases. Japan and South Korea have both tightened restrictions this week in an attempt to curb the virus, with authorities concerned about a rise in asymptomatic, difficult to trace clusters.
Read more about these challenges from our Global Health Security team here.
Raab: PM’s assertion tiered system will end come February is ‘realistic’
Dominic Raab has insisted that the Prime Minister is being “realistic” in his assertions that the tiered system could end in nine weeks, in early February.
While the government originally suggested the restrictions would last until Easter, Boris Johnson told Tory MPs last night that regulations “have a sunset of 3 February” in an attempt to head off a major rebellion.
Asked if the Prime Minister’s message needs to be more “realistic” by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, the Foreign Secretary replied: “We do, and I think he is in fairness.”
He added: “We’ve seen the success of the vaccine through the trial process, we’re not there yet we need to make sure that they’re safe, but we’ve got to the stage where we’ve secured over 350 million doses.
“We think by the Spring, we don’t know but we think by the Spring that we will be in a position to move to a whole different world because the vaccine will have been distributed to key workers and the most vulnerable, particularly by age.
“The question is how we avoid the virus getting out of control and damaging lives and livelihoods and putting undue pressure on the NHS. So I do think this feels like an exit strategy. And I do think with that comes some cautious grounds for hope.”
In a separate exchange, Mr Raab also defended the broad geographical restrictions as a necessity to prevent the virus from “shooting up”. Watch that clip below:
‘Ring lockdown’ strategy needed to keep cases low pre-Christmas, experts warn
The public are underestimating the importance of “ring lockdowns”, a leading virologist has warned amid the backlash against the new tiered system announced by Boris Johnson this week (details of that here).
Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, told the Telegraph that he is concerned “people don’t see the longer term benefit approach”:
“If there’s a central postcode hotspot the postcodes around that will be affected if you relax tiers adjacent. That’s how the virus spread.
“So you do a ring lockdown around the hotspot by putting the whole region in tier 3. We are creating a firebreak around that hotspot.”
He added that the lower the numbers are driven before Christmas, the safer people will be when mixing over the festive period.
But Dr Tang said he was concerned that the lack of travel restrictions across the country could trigger a resurgence of cases in regions that are currently low risk.
“If we get down to 5,000 to 10,000 cases a day by Christmas new cases, you might see a doubling of that after Christmas,” he warned, urging people to take care not to “kill Granny” over Christmas.
Indonesia: Record increase in daily new cases reported
Indonesia has detected a record daily rise in coronavirus infections today, 6,267 new cases, bringing the total to 534,266, according to data from the country’s Covid-19 task force.
This is the third record high in the last week for for the Southeast Asian country. An additional 169 new deaths were also reported, taking the total fatalities to 16,815.
Below is a look at the trajectory of the country’s outbreak. But Indonesia is not alone in Asia struggling to contain a surge of Covid – read about why Japan and South Korea are struggling here.
Britons to get ‘vaccine stamps’ in their passports
British travellers who have been inoculated against coronavirus could have their passports stamped to show they have had the vaccine in a boost for the tourism industry, The Telegraph can disclose.
The new ‘vaccine stamps’ would allow tourists to avoid being held up at borders if the international travel industry starts to pick up in the middle of next year as the pandemic subsides.
The stamps are being considered by ministers at the Department for Transport (DfT) as a significant way to boost the aviation industry by giving a degree of certainty to travellers planning overseas holidays next summer.
Christopher Hope and Nicola Smith have all the details you need to know here.
Turkey’s new virus figures confirm experts’ worst fears
When Turkey changed the way it reports daily infections, it confirmed what medical groups and opposition parties have long suspected – that the country is faced with an alarming surge of cases that is fast exhausting the Turkish health system.
In an about-face, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government this week resumed reporting all positive coronavirus tests – not just the number of patients being treated for symptoms – pushing the number of daily cases to above 30,000.
With the new data, the country jumped from being one of the least-affected countries in Europe to one of the worst-hit.
That came as no surprise to the Turkish Medical Association, which has been warning for months that the government’s previous figures were concealing the graveness of the spread and that the lack of transparency was contributing to the surge.
The group maintains, however, that the ministry’s figures are still low compared with its estimate of at least 50,000 new infections per day.
Lockdown-related posts more likely to be sceptical of Government policy
Lockdown-related posts on social media are five times more likely to be sceptical of Government policy than in favour, according to a new study.
Data collected from over 94,000 public posts across social media websites in England reveal that just four per cent of the 67,000 authors were in favour of the second national lockdown.
70 per cent of the posts were categorised as ‘neutral’ on lockdown with 26 per cent criticising the restrictions.
The study, carried out by data analysis company Impact Social, only examined ‘original’ posts from ‘unique’ authors, meaning any ‘retweets’ or ‘shares’ of lockdown posts were excluded.
Singaporean gives birth to baby with Covid antibodies
A Singaporean woman, who was infected with the novel coronavirus in March when she was pregnant, has given birth to a baby with antibodies against the virus, offering a new clue as to whether the infection can be transferred from mother to child.
The baby was born this month without Covid-19 but with the virus antibodies, the Straits Times newspaper reported on Sunday, citing the mother.
“My doctor suspects I have transferred my Covid-19 antibodies to him during my pregnancy,” Celine Ng-Chan told the paper.
Ng-Chan had been mildly ill from the disease and was discharged from hospital after two-and-a-half weeks, the Straits Times said.
Ng-Chan and the National University Hospital (NUH), where she gave birth, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The World Health Organisation says it is not yet known whether a pregnant woman with Covid-19 can pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery.
To date, the active virus has not been found in samples of fluid around the baby in the womb or in breast milk.
North Korea toughens rules of entry to sea to fight virus
North Korea is further toughening restrictions on entering seawaters as part of elevated steps to fight the coronavirus pandemic, state media said Sunday, two days after South Korea said the North had banned sea fishing.
The Korean Central News Agency reported the country is mobilising more anti-virus units and establishing strong steps to “completely remove uncivilized and unhygienic elements that could help make room for the spread of an epidemic” at winter.
KCNA said officials were building firm anti-epidemic measures along border areas to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country. In front-line coastal areas, authorities were working out more stringent rules for venturing out at sea and collecting filthy materials in the waters, according to KCNA.
North Korea has maintained no single virus case has been found on its territory, a claim widely questioned by outside experts.
News in brief from around the world
The number of cases in Germany increased by 14,611 to 1,042,700, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Sunday and the reported death toll rose by 158 to 16,123.
China on Sunday reported 11 new cases in the mainland for Nov. 28, compared with six cases a day earlier, the health authority said.
Mexico reported 10,008 new infections and 586 additional deaths on Saturday, health ministry data showed, bringing the official number of cases to 1,100,683 with a total death toll of 105,459.
In the US, a surge in cases will put San Francisco under a curfew beginning on Monday and trigger other restrictions related to the virus, the city announced.
Brazil has registered 51,922 additional cases over the last 24 hours and 587 new deaths, the nation’s Health Ministry said on Saturday.
Croatia‘s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has been ordered to isolate at home after his wife tested positive for Covid-19, the government’s spokesman said on Saturday.
Delayed Olympics could cost an extra £1.4 billion
The coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Olympics could cost $1.9 billion (£1.4 billion) more than its original budget of $13 billion, a 15 percent increase, a report said on Sunday.
The Olympics organisers will formally decide the increased budget for the Games as early as mid-December after communicating with the Japanese government and the host city Tokyo, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, citing unnamed Olympic sources.
The 2020 Games were pushed back a year as Covid-19 spread around the globe, and are now scheduled to open on July 23, 2021.
But the delay has thrown up a plethora of new costs, from rebooking venues and transport to retaining the huge organising committee staff.
With many countries experiencing second or even third waves of infection, there have been doubts about whether the event can be staged, but organisers and Olympic officials insist it can be done safely.
South Korea considers tougher restrictions
South Korean authorities will consider tighter social distancing restrictions on Sunday to clamp down on economic activities after last week saw the fastest spread of infections since the early days of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun is to meet with health authority officials at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) to decide whether virus curbs need to be tightened further to slow transmissions, Yonhap News said.
South Korea reported 450 infections of the new coronavirus on Sunday after reporting more than 500 new coronavirus cases for three days in a row, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Source: The Telegraph Travels