Boris Johnson must end ban on outdoor sports now, top scientist urges

Boris Johnson must end ban on outdoor sports now, top scientist urges, as Covid hospitalisations, cases and deaths ‘plunge’ and vaccinations soar

  • Professor Mark Woolhouse calls for accelerated ease of lockdown restrictions 
  • Says small numbers of adults and kids should be allowed to play sports outside 
  • Added the data is so promising that outdoor sports should return ‘straight away’ 

Children and small numbers of adults should be allowed to play outdoor sports immediately, according to a leading scientist.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a roadmap for easing restrictions in England tomorrow in a statement in Parliament.

He is believed to be planning a cautious approach, despite more than 17million doses of the vaccine being pumped into arms.

 

Professor Woolhouse says children should be allowed to play outside ‘immediately’

But Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University says the recent data suggest there is ‘no need’ to be quite so careful.

He said in the Observer: ‘The government has said the country’s exit from lockdown should be data-driven. Well the data is extremely good, far better than anyone, including me, anticipated two or three weeks ago.

‘This virus very rarely transmits outdoors. So, quite honestly, outdoor activities that don’t involve close physical contact could be adopted now. That is not an argument to say we can have crowds back at football matches.

 

Thousands of people will be hoping tomorrow’s announcement comes with an idea when activities such as five-a-side football can return

‘But sports involving small numbers of players or sports for children: they could start safely today.”

 

Professor Woolhouse says the data is ‘extremely good’ and sport could return straight away

Earlier today Matt Hancock warned the Government would take its time lifting the coronavirus lockdown, despite speeding up plans to rollout vaccines to all UK adults by the end of July.

The Health Secretary said it was ‘right to be cautious’ ahead of Boris Johnson’s big reveal of his roadmap out of restrictions tomorrow.

Mr Hancock confirmed this morning that every adult in the country will be offered at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the end of July.

Mr Hancock also confirmed that everyone over 50 will be offered at least a first dose by April 15, rather than by May, as previously suggested.

And he also confirmed that one-in-three adults in England has now been vaccinated.

But asked about the speed of the lockdown lifting, he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is right to be cautious, it is incredibly important. 

‘There are still almost 20,000 people in the hospital with Covid right now. Almost 20,000.

‘The vaccination programme whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we also need to get the second jab to everybody.

‘So we have got time that needs to be taken to get this right, the PM will set out the roadmap tomorrow and he will set out the full details, taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.’

 

Captain Sir Tom Moores funeral will be held on Saturday

The funeral of Captain Sir Tom Moore will be held on Saturday in what his family said would be a ‘small’ private service as they urged the public to stay at home.

The NHS fundraising hero’s daughters Lucy Teixeira and Hannah Ingram-Moore said today that they had ‘no choice’ but to hold a ceremony for family only. The location has not yet been revealed but it is likely to be in his home county of Bedfordshire.

They also revealed Captain Tom had written about his funeral in a book before his death, saying he wanted it to end with My Way by Frank Sinatra ‘because I always did things my way and especially like the line about having too few regrets to mention’.

In the book, Captain Tom added that it was ‘odd and rather touching to think that people might weep over my passing – strangers I’ve never even met’ and that he would want to look down and ‘chuckle at everyone making a lot of fuss over me’.

The family said Captain Tom had openly spoken about his funeral over the past year and had wondered if ‘perhaps the interest in him over the last 12 months would mean we would need to have more Victoria sponge cakes available for the extra guests’. 

Captain Tom Moore at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, after he achieved his goal of 100 laps of his garden in April last year

Captain Tom Moore at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, after he achieved his goal of 100 laps of his garden in April last year

Captain Tom is pictured in Barbados last December with (from left) grandchildren Benjie and Georgia, their mother Hannah, who is Captain Tom's daughter and father Colin Ingram-Moore

Captain Tom is pictured in Barbados last December with (from left) grandchildren Benjie and Georgia, their mother Hannah, who is Captain Tom’s daughter and father Colin Ingram-Moore

He captured the hearts of Britain with his fundraising during the first lockdown when he walked 100 laps of his Bedfordshire garden before his 100th birthday.

The Second World War veteran, who raised more than £32million for NHS Charities Together, died at Bedford Hospital on February 2 after testing positive for Covid-19.

What Captain Tom wrote about his own funeral in a book

Captain Sir Tom Moore wrote the following passage in a book he chose to call Captain Tom’s Life Lessons in the final few months of his life:

‘Previously, my funeral would have made one little line in the local newspaper and been attended by only a handful of people, but I expect there’ll be a few more now.

‘Someone will have to make extra cake and sandwiches, and it won’t be me.

‘I want the service to end with My Way by Frank Sinatra, because I always did things my way and especially like the line about having too few regrets to mention.

‘It’s odd and rather touching to think that people might weep over my passing – strangers I’ve never even met.

‘If I can, I’d like to watch my own funeral from a distance.

‘That would be quite the joke as I looked down and chuckled at everyone making a lot of fuss over me.

‘Even though I have a space reserved in the village churchyard, I want to be cremated and my ashes taken back to Yorkshire to be with my parents and grandparents in the Moore family plot.

‘I wouldn’t mind having a little white headstone somewhere to mark my existence, a bit like the ones they have in military cemeteries.

‘Nothing too fancy.

‘When I was younger I enjoyed listening to The Goon Show on the wireless, and one of the comedians who always made me laugh the hardest was Spike Milligan.

‘Like me, he fought in the Second World War, but was wounded in Italy.

‘When he died at the age of 83, he wrote his own epitaph, which was engraved in Gaelic on his headstone.

‘It reads: ‘I told you I was ill’.

‘This always made me laugh, so I think I’d ask for the simple inscription of my name, the dates of my earthly span, and the words: ‘I told you I was old’.’

In line with current restrictions, the funeral will be attended by eight members of Sir Tom’s immediate family – his two daughters, four grandchildren and his sons-in-law.

The family will inter Sir Tom’s ashes in Yorkshire, with his parents and grandparents in the Moore family plot, once this is permitted by eased coronavirus restrictions.

Captain Tom’s family said they understood that so many people wanted to pay their respects, but urged the public to ‘continue to support the NHS by staying at home’.

They added that they had set up an online book of condolence and people could also donate to The Captain Tom Foundation or plant a tree in his memory.

Captain Tom’s family said he had also spent ‘many enjoyable hours’ in the final few months of his life writing a book called Captain Tom’s Life Lessons.

He wanted to release this just before his 101th birthday, but his relatives said the final chapter was ‘so poignant and reading it brings us so much comfort and warmth’.

They are therefore sharing the last chapter ‘as a thank you, from our father Tom and us as a family, for the love and kindness the nation and the world have shown him’. 

In the chapter, Captain Tom writes: ‘Previously, my funeral would have made one little line in the local newspaper and been attended by only a handful of people, but I expect there’ll be a few more now.

‘Someone will have to make extra cake and sandwiches, and it won’t be me.

‘I want the service to end with My Way by Frank Sinatra because I always did things my way and especially like the line about having too few regrets to mention. 

‘It’s odd and rather touching to think that people might weep over my passing – strangers I’ve never even met.

‘If I can, I’d like to watch my own funeral from a distance.

‘That would be quite the joke as I looked down and chuckled at everyone making a lot of fuss over me.’

He said he wished to be cremated and for his ashes to be taken to Yorkshire, but would not mind a ‘little white headstone somewhere to mark my existence, a bit like the ones they have in military cemeteries’.

He said for his epitaph he would ask for the ‘simple inscription of my name, the dates of my earthly span, and the words: ‘I told you I was old” – in reference to comedian Spike Milligan’s famous epitaph ‘I told you I was ill’. 

Shortly after his death earlier this month, Ms Teixeira said Captain Tom would have a ‘quiet’ send-off and the family was planning an understated funeral that would be ‘suitable’ for him.  

Captain Tom is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle on July 17 last year

Captain Tom is knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle on July 17 last year

The Queen talks to Captain Sir Tom Moore and his family after he was knighted last July

The Queen talks to Captain Sir Tom Moore and his family after he was knighted last July

She said at the time: ‘At the moment, my sister Hannah and I are planning a careful send-off that is suitable to him, quite quiet in a manner that he would say to us ‘well done, girls’.

How Sir Captain Tom’s heroic actions boosted Britain amid lockdown 

Sir Captain Tom Moore hoped to raise £1,000 for the NHS, but ended up capturing the hearts of Britain. Here’s how 100 laps around his garden turned into a knighthood:

April 2020 The army veteran begins fundraising in the hope of raising £1,000 for the NHS amid the coronavirus pandemic. He wants to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday on April 30.  

April 14 More than £2million is donated.

April 15 The total rises to £7million as more than 340,000 people show their support. 

April 16  He completes his 100 laps – meaning he walked an average of six laps a day – and reveals he’s going to keep going to raise as much as possible. Both the Prime Minister and the Royal Family congratulate him. 

April 24  Sir Captain Tom is the oldest person ever to reach Number One in the Top 40 Charts with his cover of You’ll Never Walk Alone. He performs it alongside singer Michael Ball and The NHS Voices of Care Choir.

April 30 The fundraising page hits £32million on his 100th birthday. He is made an honorary colonel and enjoys a military flypast. 

July 17 The Queen awards him a knighthood in a special engagement.

September He writes bestselling autobiography Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day and signs a deal to film a biopic of his life. 

October 5 – Captain Tom starts a podcast to tackle isolation among Britain’s elderly. 

December  He ticks a holiday to Barbados off his bucket list. 

January 31, 2021 He is admitted to hospital amid an intense battle with pneumonia, his family reveal. 

February 2, 2021 Sir Captain Tom’s death is announced days after he tests positive for coronavirus.

‘I know that there are things being talked about, but my sister and I are focussing on planning the next stage and celebrating the end of his life.’ 

Last week, Mrs Ingram-Moore revealed the family received a ‘lovely letter for the Queen’ following his death, adding that the monarch felt ‘genuine loss’.

She said the Queen and her father were ‘two similar souls’ and would have probably had ‘a cup of tea and had a good chin wag’ after he was knighted last year, if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

Buckingham Palace paid a personal tribute following his death, with a spokesman saying the Queen’s thoughts were with his family – and the flag at Number 10 was lowered to half-mast.

Captain Tom, from Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, was knighted by the 94-year-old Queen in a unique outdoor ceremony at Windsor Castle on July 17. 

As well as being knighted, Captain Tom was made an honorary colonel and an honorary member of the England cricket team.

Mrs Ingram-Moore also said last week how Captain Tom’s heart would have been ‘broken’ to hear about trolling the family received.

Speaking about her father’s days in hospital and their final family holiday to the Caribbean, she said she could not tell her father ‘people are hating us’ after his mammoth fundraising efforts.

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘I couldn’t tell him. I think it would have broken his heart, honestly, if we’d said to him people are hating us. 

‘Because how do you rationalise to a 100-year-old man that something so incredibly good can attract such horror?

‘So we contained it within the four of us and we said we wouldn’t play to … that vile minority, we wouldn’t play to them, we’re not, because we are talking to the massive majority of people who we connect with.’

Mrs Ingram-Moore also said her father had wanted to come home to steak and chips after he was admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

She said: ‘I said to him in the last few days: ‘So, what do you want to eat when you come home?’ And we decided it was steak and chips.

‘He was really excited about coming out for steak and chips and getting his frame back outside and his walker.

‘The last real conversation was positive and about carrying on, and that’s a lovely place to be.’

Mrs Ingram-Moore said that when Captain Tom went into hospital, the family ‘really all believed he’d come back out’. 

Captain Tom, with (left to right) grandson Benji, daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and granddaughter Georgia, at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, in April 2020

Captain Tom, with (left to right) grandson Benji, daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and granddaughter Georgia, at his home in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, in April 2020

Captain Tom, pictured last April, captured the hearts of Britain with his fundraising during the first lockdown when he walked 100 laps of his Bedfordshire garden before his 100th birthday

Captain Tom, pictured last April, captured the hearts of Britain with his fundraising during the first lockdown when he walked 100 laps of his Bedfordshire garden before his 100th birthday

‘We thought the oxygen would help, that he would be robust enough, (but) the truth is he just wasn’t. He was old and he just couldn’t fight it,’ she added.

Before he died, the centenarian got to tick a holiday in the Caribbean off his bucket list when the family travelled to Barbados just before Christmas.

‘It was just amazing,’ Mrs Ingram-Moore said. 

‘He sat in 29 degrees outside, he read two novels, he read the newspapers every day, and we sat and we talked as a family, we went to restaurants (because we could there) and he ate fish on the beach and what a wonderful thing to do. I think we were all so pleased we managed to give him that.’

Captain Tom’s Life Lessons will be published on April 2. 

‘We have no choice but to hold a small family funeral’: Full family statement on Captain Tom’s funeral 

A statement issued on behalf of his daughters Lucy Teixeira and Hannah Ingram-Moore said: ‘Over the past year our father spoke openly about his death and his funeral, and had wondered out-loud if perhaps the interest in him over the last 12 months would mean we would need to have more Victoria sponge cakes available for the extra guests.

‘Sadly, like so many other families affected by the pandemic, we have no choice but to hold a small family funeral, which will take place this Saturday. Whilst we understand so many people wish to pay their respects to our father, we ask that the public and the press continue to support the NHS by staying at home.

‘We have been contacted by so many people asking what they can do to honour our father, so we have set up an online book of condolence. People can also donate The Captain Tom Foundation, plant a tree in his memory or donate to a charity of your choice.

‘In the last few months of his life, our father had spent many enjoyable hours writing a book he chose to call Captain Tom’s Life Lessons, which he planned to release just before his 101st birthday. Sadly, he’ll never get to share this with you personally.

‘The final chapter is so poignant and reading it brings us so much comfort and warmth, so we share the last chapter now as a thank you, from our father Tom and us as a family, for the love and kindness the nation and the world have shown him.’

Vaccine boss confident over-50s will get jab by May but issues mutation warning

A leading figure in the UK’s vaccine rollout is “confident” all over-50s will have been offered a jab by May.

But chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Clive Dix acknowledged that a mutation of Covid could prove resistant to vaccines although the UK would be “prepared and ahead of the game” if that happened.

Mr Dix said that continual research into the virus that first emerged towards the end of 2019 would ensure we remained on top of new variants that may attempt to evade the vaccine.

Despite new mutant strains of the virus emerging, including the recently identified South African variant, Dix is sure that all over the 50s will be vaccinated by May, following a leaked Downing Street’s announcement that was confirmed on Friday by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

He said: “We will work day and night to ensure we meet whatever the target that’s feasible can be met.

Clive Dix is positive that everybody over the age of 50 will be vaccinated by May
Clive Dix is positive that everybody over the age of 50 will be vaccinated by May
(Image: c4xdiscovery.com)

“So I’m very optimistic that we will meet the May target.”

While addressing claims that future mutations of the virus could slip pass the vaccine, Clive revealed: “Of course – when it will occur and whether it will occur is one thing.

“That’s what happened with the flu, we get these pandemic threats with flu, we should learn from the flu,” he told BBC’s Today.

The chairman of the UK Taskforce believes that the UK will be ahead of the game in tackling mutant strains
The chairman of the UK Taskforce believes that the UK will be ahead of the game in tackling mutant strains
(Image: Sky News)

He went on to add: “I believe this virus will be very similar [to the flu] – it will last a long time, it will be travelling around the world in different places, it will be endemic in certain countries and we need to do that work, yes.”

When probed into whether the virus could go under the radar and break past the vaccine, Dix responded: “I think there is the possibility but we will be ahead of the game.

Mr Dix is positive that all future strains will be able to be tackled with the range of vaccines the UK is using
Mr Dix is positive that all future strains will be able to be tackled with the range of vaccines the UK is using
(Image: Sky News)

“We’re not going to wait for it to happen – we now have capabilities in the UK to be responsive and that capability won’t just be for the use of the UK of course.

“Once we’ve done it, it will actually help the whole world because it will be part of that whole surveillance and reaction.”

Speaking about variants of the virus and plans to tackle it with vaccines, he told the BBC: “We’ll make libraries of future vaccines, just small amounts, enough to then, if it does occur, do a quick clinical study to see that it works and then start manufacturing it.”

It's estimated that 15 million people will have been given the first vaccine dose by February 15
It’s estimated that 15 million people will have been given the first vaccine dose by February 15
(Image: REUTERS)

Currently, it’s believed that over 11 million people have received the first dosage of the vaccine, with an estimated 15 million people needing to be jabbed by February 15 for the government to meet its pledge of vaccinating the most vulnerable.

Speaking on Sky News on February 5, Mr Dix said that if the vaccine does reduce various transmissions he “can’t see why all of them won’t.”

He said: “We’re starting to see some glimpses of helping the transmission,

“If it does, I can’t see any reason why all of them won’t so hopefully that data will emerge and we’ll start seeing a brighter future.”

Optimism as 1,000 people vaccinated against Covid every minute on Saturday

Britain can vaccinate almost 1,000 people a minute and ministers say they are “confident” that more than 30 million of the most vulnerable will be vaccinated within three months.

The pace reached on Saturday morning gives Britain a theoretical capacity of more than a million doses a day but supplies remain the constraint on moving this fast. On Friday 494,163 people received a first dose.

The news came as Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of vaccine deployment, said that passports allowing those who have been vaccinated extra rights would be “discriminatory”.

Nadhim Zahawi has dismissed the idea of a vaccine passport to allow free movement in the UK

Nadhim Zahawi has dismissed the idea of a vaccine passport to allow free movement in the UK

JESSICA TAYLOR/REUTERS

He insisted that GPs would be responsible for administering them to permit travel after The Times revealed last week that ministers were working on a certification system if other countries require proof of

Covid: Minister rules out vaccine passports in UK

“We still don’t have a quarantine system in place. We still don’t have a plan for a comprehensive quarantine system, so let’s proceed a step at a time, and of course, look at the vaccine passport – but let’s get the quarantine right and let’s get the rollout right too.”

Forget individual vaccine passports, our country needs a collective one

It’s always good to hear a government minister give a direct answer, and vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi certainly gave that on the Andrew Marr show this morning.  Asked if the government was considering a vaccination passport so as to allow people, for example, to go on holiday, he said “no, we’re not.  That’s not how we do things in the UK.   We do them by consent.”

       Yet there is a problem with raising civil liberties as a reason for rejecting the idea of vaccination passports, and I’m not convinced it is one that the government has really considered.  Is anyone going to be impressed by ministers blathering on about civil liberties when the alternative might be weeks or months more suffering a far greater attack on our freedoms – ie being ordered to stay at home, banned from meeting up with friends and forbidden to go to the pub?

       True, I don’t like the idea of everyone being issued with a document which we then had to present, say, when we went to the supermarket or got on a bus – and which would allow vaccine refuseniks to be banned from everyday activities if not confined to their homes forever after. But then neither do I like the way that ministers are talking about lockdown going on for many more months, with restrictions likely to remain in place all through next winter.   It seems odd for the government to play up its triumph in getting further ahead in its vaccination programme than any other major country while at the same time behaving as if the vaccine will have too little effect on the progress of the epidemic to allow society to be reopened.  Behave as if you have still got the virus, we are told, even when we’ve had a couple of jabs of an expensively-developed and procured vaccine.    

       At this rate we will win the race to vaccinate Britain – and yet still be locked down while people in other, lesser-vaccinated but slightly more risk-taking countries can visit shops, bars and carry on some semblance of normal life.   It won’t seem a great victory, then.  Moreover, when you are trying to persuade people to take a vaccine you need to give them hope – you need them to be able to see it as a route to freedom. We’re not going to do that if we drag our heels even about talking of lifting lockdown. The failure to provide a timetable or criteria for reopening the country risks many more people asking themselves: what’s the point in me getting vaccinated?

       That is why there is such high public support for vaccination passports – polls have suggested that between 50 and 70 per cent would be in favour, with only 10 to 20 percent against.  Never mind the dystopian possibilities of creating two classes of people, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated – we’re in a bigger dystopia already, where everyone’s freedom is curtailed.

      There is a far more practical argument against vaccination passports.  If we could vaccinate everyone this week, then fine.  But imagine if we started issuing the passports  tomorrow, allowing people greater freedoms from three weeks after receiving their first dose. We would suddenly have a country of liberated octogenarians while young people – who are unlikely to suffer serious harm from Covid anyway – remained in lockdown.  Tea dances would recommence, cruise ships would sail – while fit and healthy 25 year olds faced another six months under stay-at-home orders.

      The only real way around this is to treat Britain as a single being, which qualifies for its vaccination passport as soon as a certain proportion of the population have had their jabs. Last year I remember Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance telling us that herd immunity would not be achieved until 60 percent of the population had acquired immunity. That may be higher now with the more-transmissible Kent variant, but it is surely not 100 percent.    Would Whitty and Vallance like to put a figure on it? Once we reach that figure, the epidemic would presumably decline with no restrictions in place whatsoever.

      But long before then, surely, we can start to ease these measures.  Already, one sixth of the population have had the vaccine. Almost as many people again appear to have acquired natural immunity.  A randomised study published by the Office of National Statistics last week suggested that one in seven people tested in the 28 days to 18 January had antibodies to the virus in their blood.

      We might not be there yet, but surely we are well on our way to the point where the UK as a whole can be provided with its vaccination passport.  If not, it is imperative on the government to tell us why not – why the goalposts of herd immunity have been shifted.

UK weather: Storm Darcy brings snowfall and gale-force winds

UK weather

Met Office warnings suggest there could be widespread disruption and possible power cuts in the south-east

Heavy snow and gale-force winds have hit south-east England and East Anglia as Storm Darcy brings icy conditions to much of the nation.

The easternmost part of the country was worst affected by heavy snow on Sunday afternoon, the Met Office said, reporting disruptive conditions in Ipswich, the wider Suffolk area, Kent and Southend-on-Sea.

The A120 was covered in snow, and rail firm Southeastern strongly advised passengers not to travel on its network on Sunday or Monday. The company’s Maidstone East line will be closed on Monday. Southern Railway said it had cancelled trains on two of its routes.

Amber and yellow weather warnings for snow were issued by the Met Office for Sunday and Monday, suggesting there could be widespread travel problems and possible power cuts in parts of London, the east and south-east of England.

Places affected by the amber warning included Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent, which experienced “widespread, persistent and occasionally heavy snow”, as well as 40-50mph gusts that could cause snowdrifts until midday on Monday.

Yellow warnings for snow and ice will be in place for the entire country until Wednesday evening.

People play in the snow in Beckenham Place park in south east London, UK on 7 February 2021 as storm Darcy sweeps the country. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

The cold snap was a result of “bitterly cold” strong easterly winds from Ukraine and the Black Sea area spilling across the UK on Sunday, the meteorologists said, but the chill was not expected to be as bitingly sharp as it was with the “beast from the east” in 2018. The Met Office added: “During Monday morning the snow will turn more intermittent before gradually easing.”

The forecasters predicted up to 30cm of snow in the Kent Downs and the North Downs, while many parts of Scotland and north-east England could be hit by 2-5cm of snow, with 10-15cm possible in higher regions above 200 metres.

Sarah Kent, a Met Office meteorologist, said: “There will be significant disruptive snowfall across the south-east.

“Within this area, there is a small chance particularly over the downs of Kent and the North Downs that you could see 25-30cm of snow. It is a small chance but the threat is there, up to a foot of snow potentially combined with extremely strong easterly winds. Even inland in that area, gusting could be 45mph and higher than that on the coasts.

“This could lead to significant drifting of any lying snow and obviously blizzards for the snow coming past you for anyone who is attempting to travel.”

She added that it was to be expected that some roads would be closed or blocked by the drifting snow, and said long delays or some cancellations of public transport were likely.

Huge waves whipped up by the strong wind crash over the South Gare lighthouse near Redcar on Sunday. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Roads may become blocked by deep snow, with the possibility of stranded vehicles and passengers.

Essex police urged drivers in the area to adjust to the current conditions, reduce speed and increase distance to other vehicles.

Daytime temperatures will stay in low single figures for much of the country, with some places staying below freezing while the strong winds will make it feel even colder.

Public Health England has issued a cold weather alert for the whole of England from Saturday through to Wednesday. Dr Owen Landeg, of PHE, said: “Cold weather isn’t just uncomfortable, it can have a serious impact on health.

“For older people and those with heart and lung problems, it can increase the risks of heart attacks, strokes and chest infections. So it’s really crucial at this time, especially ahead of a potentially very cold snap, to remember to check on frail or older neighbours or relatives, especially those living alone or who have serious illnesses.”

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Scientist calls for return of outdoor socialising with Rule of Six

By Jack Maidment and Jack Elsom for MailOnline 

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi today said AstraZeneca is ‘confident’ its jab prevents serious illness caused by the South African coronavirus variant after early data from a small study suggested the vaccine was less effective against the strain. 

Mr Zahawi said he had spoken to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam this morning about the study as he insisted the vaccine ‘does protect against severe disease’. 

He said that through its own trials AstraZeneca is ‘confident that it does effectively deal with serious illness, serious disease and hospitalisation’. 

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi revealed that the UK’s vaccine roll-out almost hit 1,000 jabs a minute yesterday as he said he believes the Government will have vaccinated all over-50s by May. 

A small trial of just 2,026 people in South Africa found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had ‘limited efficacy’ in protecting against mild and moderate disease caused by the mutant strain, which has been found in 11 people in the UK who have not recently travelled from abroad.

However, nobody died or was hopitalised during the study by South Africa‘s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University, which has not yet been published but has been seen by the Financial Times.  

The pharmaceutical giant said scientists have already begun adapting the vaccine to better protect against the new variant, with hopes a booster shot will be ready by autumn if required. 

AstraZeneca said it remains confident that its vaccine can prevent severe disease caused by the variant – and pointed out that the trial could not measure its effectiveness at preventing severe disease caused by the mutant strain because the median age of participants was 31. 

Nevertheless, the announcement will increase the temptation on governments around the world to introduce stricter border controls to control the spread of coronavirus variants – at least until updated vaccines are available or the threat is shown to be manageable. 

Experts also said that T-cell immunity – which was not measured by the South African trial – may remain intact against the South African variant. 

The UK is currently conducting mass testing in eleven areas where the South African variant has been found.

An AstraZeneca spokesman said: ‘In this small phase I/II trial, early data has shown limited efficacy against mild disease primarily due to the B.1.351 South African variant.

‘However, we have not been able to properly ascertain its effect against severe disease and hospitalisation given that subjects were predominantly young healthy adults.’ 

Half the trial were given a placebo in the trial, meaning the effects of the vaccine were tested on just 1,113 people.  

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he had spoken to England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam this morning about the South African study as he insisted the AZ vaccine 'does protect against severe disease'

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he had spoken to England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam this morning about the South African study as he insisted the AZ vaccine 'does protect against severe disease'

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said he had spoken to England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam this morning about the South African study as he insisted the AZ vaccine ‘does protect against severe disease’

A testing blitz is underway in parts of the country after 11 cases of the South African variant were identified in people who had no links to travel - suggesting it may be spreading in communities

A testing blitz is underway in parts of the country after 11 cases of the South African variant were identified in people who had no links to travel - suggesting it may be spreading in communities

A testing blitz is underway in parts of the country after 11 cases of the South African variant were identified in people who had no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities

Staff instruct a person on how to carry out a Covid-19 test at a mobile testing unit during a testing blitz to track the South African variant

Staff instruct a person on how to carry out a Covid-19 test at a mobile testing unit during a testing blitz to track the South African variant

Staff instruct a person on how to carry out a Covid-19 test at a mobile testing unit during a testing blitz to track the South African variant

Mr Zahawi was asked during an interview on Sky News this morning if he is worried about the study’s findings. 

He replied: ‘I spoke to Jonathan Van Tam this morning. Of course the good news about the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which is the flipside of that headline you have just quoted is that it does protect against severe disease.’

He added: ‘As I say, through their own trials AstraZeneca is confident that it does effectively deal with serious illness, serious disease and hospitalisation.’

The Vaccine Minister also revealed that the UK’s vaccine roll-out almost hit 1,000 jabs a minute at one point yesterday as the Government tries to deliver on its ambition to vaccinate all over-50s by May. 

Mr Zahawi said: ‘The limiting factor is vaccine supply, so vaccine supply remains finite. I can tell you that yesterday between 11 and 12 o’clock we almost got to 1,000 jabs a minute.

‘We got to 979 jabs a minute so the deployment infrastructure of which GPs are absolutely the backbone of this whole deployment with hospital hubs, national vaccination centres, now we have 100 national vaccination centres, and 200 pharmacies, the deployment infrastructure can do the volumes that we will get through.

‘I am confident we will meet our mid-February target of the top four cohorts. I am also confident because I have enough line of sight of the deliveries that are coming through that we will also meet the one to nine cohorts by May and we will say more about that next week when we hit the first target, I hope all goes well.’ 

Government data up to February 5 shows of the 11,975,267 jabs given in the UK so far, 11,465,210 were first doses – a rise of 494,163 on the previous day’s figures.

Some 510,057 were second doses, an increase of 4,064 on figures released the previous day. The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 440,896.

Based on the latest figures, an average of 392,754 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the Government’s target of 15 million first doses – covering the top four priority groups – by February 15.  

Mr Zahawi said the pace of the vaccine roll-out ‘will vary, no doubt’ because manufacturing ‘remains challenging’. 

He also said the UK is not looking at introducing vaccine passports and suggested people would ask their GP to provide proof of their jab if required by other countries ahead of any future visit.

Asked if the UK is looking at introducing them, Mr Zahawi said: ‘No we’re not. 

‘We have, as of yesterday, given the first dose to 11.5 million people and what they get is a card from the NHS with their name on it, the date they’ve been vaccinated with the first dose and the date for their second dose.

‘One, we don’t know the impact of the vaccines on transmission, two, it’d be discriminatory. 

‘I think the right thing to do is make sure people come forward and be vaccinated because they want to rather than it being made in some way mandatory through a passport.

‘If other countries require some form of proof then you can ask your GP – your GP will hold the record – and that will then be able to be used as your proof that you’ve had the vaccine. 

‘We’re not planning to have a passport in the UK.’

The median age of the South African trial’s participants was 31, an age at which someone is very unlikely to fall seriously ill with Covid-19. 

An AstraZeneca spokesman also told the FT: ‘We do believe our vaccine could protect against severe disease, as neutralising antibody activity is equivalent to that of other Covid-19 vaccines that have demonstrated activity against more severe disease, particularly when the dosing interval is optimised to 8-12 weeks’. 

Coronavirus has mutated thousands of times during the course of the pandemic which is normal behaviour for a virus. 

But scientists are concerned in particular about three variants which evidence suggests are highly transmissible; the ones first detected in Kent, South Africa and Brazil. 

The South African variant, which has been detected across the world including in the UK, appears to be proving the most resistant to vaccines.

American pharmaceutical firms Johnson and Johnson and Novavax have both reported their shots are less effective against the strain.

Similarly, Moderna is manufacturing a booster shot to its vaccine regimen to tackle the variant, while the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was also reportedly less effective.

Britain has bought 100million doses of the home-grown Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and is currently rolling it out to millions. 

At the same time a testing blitz is underway in parts of the country after 11 cases of the variant were identified in people who had no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.

Public Health England confirmed that the 11 cases of the South African variant in people who hadn't travelled to the country were found on December 22, January 5 and January 26 – the mass community testing began on February 2

Public Health England confirmed that the 11 cases of the South African variant in people who hadn't travelled to the country were found on December 22, January 5 and January 26 – the mass community testing began on February 2

Public Health England confirmed that the 11 cases of the South African variant in people who hadn’t travelled to the country were found on December 22, January 5 and January 26 – the mass community testing began on February 2

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified

Worcestershire become the latest area to start surge testing after the South African coronavirus variant was detected locally.

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified.

A mobile testing unit has been set up at The White Hart pub in Fernhill Heath, near Worcester, for adults with no symptoms living within walking distance.

A drive-through testing site is planned to open in the coming days, and door-to-door testing will also be made available.

Worcestershire County Council said: ‘Working in partnership with NHS Test and Trace, every person over the age of 18, living in the WR3 postcode and some WR9 postcodes, is strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test this week, even if they are not showing symptoms.’

Dr Kathryn Cobain, director for public health in the county, said: ‘I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.’

Door-to-door and mobile testing began at the start of the month as part of urgent efforts to swab 80,000 people. 

Testing of around 10,000 people in Maidstone, Kent, was completed on Thursday night.

In Surrey, testing in Woking was expected to finish on Friday with door-to-door deliveries in Egham and Thorpe due to begin on Saturday.

Sefton Council said efforts to identify the variant in the Norwood area of Southport in Merseyside would continue into the weekend.

Testing in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, is being rolled out for another week until February 12, the council said.

Around 10,300 people in Walsall have been tested so far and some 560 tests had been conducted in the affected areas in Birmingham, the West Midlands Combined Authority was told.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits were also deployed this week to Hanwell, west London and Mitcham, south London.

Testing will also continue into next week in Tottenham, north London.