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Coronavirus news – live: Government risked cover-up claims over variant, adviser says, amid scrutiny of study

BMA criticises 12-week wait for second Pfizer dose

The government risked being accused of “covering up” evidence suggesting that the new UK variant of coronavirus is more deadly if they had chosen not to announce it, a scientific adviser has said.

Professor Peter Horby, who chairs the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), defended Boris Johnson’s decision to reveal the information on Friday, but cautioned that the news needed to be “put in perspective” and that the risk of the strain being more deadly was still “very, very small” to most people.

His comments come as other scientists cast doubt about the news that the variant is more deadly, saying it is still an “open question”. Some said they were “quite surprised” that the government chose to make the announcement, as the evidence was “based on a relatively small amount of data”.

Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said it is still not “absolutely clear” that the new variant is more deadly, adding that there are “several investigations going on at the moment” and more work needed to be done to determine if that was actually the case.

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Scientific adviser defends decision to announce new variant might be deadlier as govt could face ‘cover-up’ claims

Professor Peter Horby, who chairs the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), has defended the government’s decision to reveal evidence suggesting the UK variant of coronavirus is more deadly.

He said that if the government had not been transparent about the information, it may have been accused of “covering it up”.

However, he cautioned that the news needed to be “put in perspective” and that the risk of the strain being more deadly was still “very, very small” to most people.

Prof Horby told BBC Breakfast: “”Initial data didn’t suggest that this was any more serious than the old virus but now the data has started to come in, there are a number of streams of data that are coming in, that suggest there might be a small increase in risk of death,” he said.

“There are some limitations in the data so we need to be cautious with the interpretations but it is important that people understand that we are looking at this and this may be true.

“People need to put it into perspective. This is a risk for certain age groups and that risk may have increased but for most people it is still not a serious disease.”

His comments come as other scientists show scepticism about the news that the variant is more deadly, saying it is still an “open question”.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage subgroup Spi-M, said he was “quite surprised” that the government chose to make the announcement, as the evidence was “based on a relatively small amount of data”.

Professor Graham Medley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the new variant was not a “game-changer” in terms of dealing with the pandemic.

Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said it is still not “absolutely clear” that the new variant is more deadly.

Kate Ng23 January 2021 13:55
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Sri Lanka minister who drank potion made by “sorcerer” tests positive for Covid-19

Sri Lanka’s health minister, who has faced criticism for consuming and endorsing a herbal syrup made by a sorcerer has tested positive for coronavirus.

An official from the Health Ministry confirmed on Saturday that Pavithra Wanniarachchi has become the highest-ranking official to be infected with the virus.

It comes after thousands of people gathered in long queues in December in the village of Bandara to obtain the syrup, which is said to contain honey and nutmeg, days after Wanniarachchi and several other government officials publicly consumed it.

Read the full story below:

Kate Ng23 January 2021 13:40
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Social distancing to be observed again in Guernsey after four new cases detected

Residents of Guernsey must once again observe social distancing after four new Covid-19 cases of unknown origin were discovered on the island.

The Civil Contingencies Authority and director of Public Health issued the advice after the tests were confirmed on Friday, and contact tracing is underway.

Gatherings and events “of any kind” should also be cancelled, said the advice, adding that they “do not want to see any unnecessary risks taken and would urge al islanders to take this advice very seriously”.

None of the four people who tested positive for the virus have travelled into the island or are contacts of known cases or travellers.

Public Health said: “Contact tracing is continuing to determine whether there is a link between the cases and whether these cases are linked or this is as a result of wider community seeding.”

Kate Ng23 January 2021 13:20
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Strict Covid-19 rules could stay for first half of 2021 in Ireland

Michael Martin said new cases may need to be as low as 100 to 200 before restrictions can be relaxed.

He told RTE Radio 1: “It will become the dominant variant here. It is at 62% of all cases. It transmits more easily.

“If we have mass mobilisation and mass socialisation it will spread again.

“I think with the vaccines coming, there’s an argument to be cautious and conservative now for the first half of this year, until we roll out the vaccines.

“We will be witnessing far more prolonged restrictions than we have to date.”

Kate Ng23 January 2021 13:00
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Calls for Home Office to shut Kent barracks amid large coronavirus outbreak

Around 120 people are believed to have tested positive for coronavirus at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, a military barracks housing asylum seekers.

The outbreak has prompted fears of a health crisis on top of conditions described as “unbearable” by residents, many of whom have crossed the English Channel in small boats.

Michael Drummond reports:

Kate Ng23 January 2021 12:45
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Officers injured while dispersing illegal party attended by more than 200 people

The Metropolitan Police has revealed that two officers were injured while working to disperse an illegal party on 17 January, which was attended by more than 200 people.

Several units attended to reports of a mass gathering taking place at a property on Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge, London, at around 3.30am.

Attendees “became hostile” while police were dispersion the crowds and pushed through officers in an attempt to avoid being fined, resulting in two officers getting injured.

Around 30 fixed penalty notices (FPN) were issued to attendees and a three-month closure is being prepared for the owner of the establishment, said the Met.

Prior to that, the force also broke up large groups gathering illegally on 16 January in Ladbroke Grove and on 20 December on Montpelier Street, SW7.

Superintendent Michael Walsh said: “The above three instances were flagrant breaches of Covid legislation and could potentially have put multiple people at risk of contracting or spreading the virus. Attending or organising such parties during this critical period is an incredibly selfish decision to make and we will continue to take action against those who flout the rules.

“We will absolutely not tolerate assaults on police officers. It goes without saying that anyone who harms an emergency worker will face the full force of the law.

“I would like to thank colleagues from Kensington and Chelsea Council for their support in delivering this weekend of action. Through our partnership with them, we have been able to take swift and appropriate enforcement action in those cases where people have very clearly and very deliberately broken the rules.”

Kate Ng23 January 2021 12:30
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London mayor pleads with public to stay at home

Sadiq Khan has issued a plea for the British public to “protect your family” and follow the coronavirus regulations.

The mayor of London said in a tweet: “We cannot ignore the thousands dying from Covid each week.

“We cannot ignore the heartbreaking pleas from our NHS to follow the rules.”

The stark reminder comes as the government released its new advert aimed at driving home the message to stay at home.

Kate Ng23 January 2021 12:15
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Community leaders in Scotland asked to help combat ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among minorities

A minister has said that community leaders are being asked to help stem the spread of vaccine misinformation among ethnic minority groups in Scotland.

According to the Edinburgh and Lothian Regional Equality Council (Elrec), South Asian people may encounter “foreign messages” that spread false claims about the Covid vaccine in family networks.

Equalities minister Christina McKelvie said there is an overlap between groups who are most hesitant about the vaccine and those most affected by Covid-19.

She has written to community leaders “asking for their help in developing and delivering targeted messages to communities, to address specific barriers they may have to taking up the vaccination”.

“We are keen to explore how local community leaders, or people who are visible and well known in those communities, can help encourage people to take up the vaccine, and that’s why we’ve written to over 100 representative organisations including Elrec, providing ideas and support to make that happen,” she said.

“We also know that there is a significant overlap between the groups disproportionately affected by Covid-19 – which include minority ethnic people – and those most likely to be vaccine hesitant.”

She said an expert group had been set up earlier in the pandemic to advise the Government on how to meet the needs of minority communities.

Kate Ng23 January 2021 12:10
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Thousands of Hong Kong residents locked down amid surge in infections

Government workers wear personal protective equipment inside the lockdown area in Jordon district in Hong Kong
Government workers wear personal protective equipment inside the lockdown area in Jordon district in Hong Kong

Thousands of Hong Kongers have been placed under lockdown on Saturday as authorities struggle to contain an outbreak in the city.

Hong Kong has recorded more than 4,300 coronavirus cases in the last two months, making up nearly 40 per cent of the city’s total. Around half of infections have been detected in the Yau Tsim Mong district.

Authorities said in a statement on Saturday that an area covering 16 buildings in the district will be locked down until all residents have been tested.

“Persons subject to compulsory testing are required to stay in their premises until all such persons identified in the area have undergone testing and the test results are mostly ascertained,” it said.

Around 3,000 people in the district have been tested so far, according to the Hong Kind government.

Kate Ng23 January 2021 11:46
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Matt Hancock thanks public for efforts during lockdown

The health secretary has thanked the British public for their efforts in looking out for one another “in what are really difficult times”.

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Matt Hancock said: “I’ve been really inspired by some of the stories that I’ve seen, the people I’ve talked to, who are helping out locally, whether it’s helping elderly people to get to a vaccination centre, or making sure people have got food and access to things that they need.

“I know that communities right across the country are coming together, and people are helping their neighbour. It’s so important in this time.”

Watch his message below:

Kate Ng23 January 2021 11:30