Covid-19 news: No plan to delay end of England lockdown, says UK PM

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Latest coronavirus news as of 4pm on 1 June

There is nothing “currently in the data” to suggest planned easing of restrictions in England on 21 June should be delayed, says UK prime minister

There are currently no plans to delay easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from 21 June, according to UK prime Minister Boris Johnson. On 1 June, a spokesperson for Johnson told journalists who asked about the timeline to refer to comments made by Johnson on 27 May, when he said he didn’t see “anything currently in the data” that would divert him from the scheduled easing of rules. The spokesperson added: “We will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards June 21.” 

However, scientists advising the UK government are already warning that it may be necessary to delay the planned lifting of restrictions in England. Ravi Gupta at the University of Cambridge, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that a delay of a few weeks could have a significant impact on the UK’s battle against covid-19 and recommended it should be made clear to the public that it would be a temporary measure based on the surge in cases of the new variant.

In Scotland, covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in some parts of the country on 5 June but much of the country will retain tougher measures due to recent spikes in virus cases, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish Parliament on 1 June. Edinburgh and Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North, South and East Ayrshire, North and South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire and Stirling have not yet met the criteria to see restrictions ease, Sturgeon said.

Other coronavirus news

Peru has revised its covid-19 death toll up to 180,764, from its previous official figure of 69,342, following a government review. Peru’s prime minister Violeta Bermudez said the death toll was increased based on advice from experts. “We think it is our duty to make public this updated information,” Bermudez told a press conference on 31 May. 

Australians who have been vaccinated against covid-19 may be able to leave the country and return with more lenient quarantine requirements than are currently in place, as part of a new plan that could be trialled within six weeks, the Guardian reported. Australia’s borders have been closed since March 2020 and returning residents are currently required to quarantine in hotels for two weeks upon arrival. The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, revealed the proposal in parliament on 1 June.

Heathrow airport in London has started processing passengers from “red-list” countries in a separate terminal from other arrivals. Red-list countries are those that the UK considers high risk for coronavirus transmission, such as India.

The European Commission proposed lifting all quarantine obligations on travel within the European Union from 1 July for residents who are fully vaccinated against covid-19, as well as for those who can prove that they have recovered from the infection or who can present a negative coronavirus test.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.55 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 170.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 840.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Rising infections: Experts have warned that the UK government may have to reconsider plans to lift restrictions in England on 21 June with infection numbers rising.

Five key charts: Hannah Ritchie from Our World In Data picks her top five charts that show how the coronavirus pandemic has played out across the world.

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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.

Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.

Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.

Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.

The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.

Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.

Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Previous updates

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Gunners from the Royal Horse Artillery distribute Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests

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28 May

Nearly 7000 cases of the coronavirus variant identified in India have been confirmed across the UK

As of 27 May, 38.5 per cent of new coronavirus infections in the UK were cases of the B.1.617.2 variant of the virus first identified in India, according to data from Public Health England. Mass testing and vaccination drives are continuing in areas most affected by the variant, including in Bolton, UK health minister Matt Hancock told a press briefing on the same day. Public Health England data shows that 6959 cases of the variant had been confirmed in the UK in total by 27 May, up from 3424 cases the previous week, and Hancock said the variant could account for up to three-quarters of all UK cases

Despite recent rises in coronavirus cases in the UK, Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency, said there hasn’t been a “sharp increase” in hospitalisations. However, on 27 May, Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that concerns remain about the transmissibility of the B.1.617.2 variant and that “data collected in the next two to three weeks will be critical”. Ferguson said the government’s plan to ease restrictions in England on 21 June “hangs in the balance”, adding: “The key issue as to whether we can go forward is, will the surge caused by the variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in to the relaxation measures?”

Other coronavirus news

The European Union’s medicines regulator authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15. It is the first covid-19 vaccine to be authorised by the agency for use in children. The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the vaccine for emergency use in children 12 and older on 10 May.

Japan extended emergency coronavirus measures in Tokyo and several other regions, as the country is seeing record numbers of severely ill covid-19 patients in hospitals. The state of emergency was due to expire at the end of May, but has now been extended until at least 20 June. The Olympics are scheduled to begin in Tokyo on 23 July.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is appealing to countries that have vaccinated their most at-risk groups to accelerate sharing of covid-19 vaccine doses with other nations, particularly in Africa. At least 20 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine are needed within the next six weeks to cover people in Africa who are due for second doses, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, at an online briefing on 27 May. 

California launched a covid-19 vaccine lottery to incentivise people to get vaccinated. Under the programme, called Vax for the Win, 10 residents of the state who have received at least one dose of a vaccine will win $1.5 million each. Ohio, Colorado and Oregon are among other US states offering monetary prizes to people who have received a covid-19 vaccine, in an effort to tackle vaccine hesitancy.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.51 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 169 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 807.2 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Our World In Data: As head of research at Our World in Data, Hannah Ritchie has played a central role in making covid-19 data easily accessible around the world. She spoke to New Scientist about her view of the pandemic and what might happen next.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine: The coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical arm Janssen, which is a single-dose vaccine, has now been approved by the UK medicines regulator.

Animal coronaviruses: Cats, dogs and farm animals host coronaviruses that have been studied for decades. That research could provide valuable insights in the fight against covid-19, including whether our vaccines can end the pandemic.

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Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

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27 May

Preliminary research suggests rare blood clots linked to some covid-19 vaccines may be related to their DNA delivery mechanism

Researchers may have identified a cause of the rare blood clots associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) covid-19 vaccines. Preliminary research by Rolf Marschalek at Goethe University in Frankfurt and his colleagues indicates the problem is related to the method by which these vaccines deliver DNA instructions for the assembly of the coronavirus spike protein inside cells. This so-called viral vector technology is used in both the Astrazeneca and J&J covid-19 vaccines. 

The DNA is delivered to the cell’s control centre, called the nucleus, rather than the surrounding fluid where the virus would usually produce proteins, according to Marschalek and colleagues in a non-peer-reviewed study posted online on 26 May. In the cell nucleus, parts of the DNA encoding the coronavirus spike protein are split apart, creating incomplete versions that aren’t able to bind to the cell’s outer membrane where they would be detected by the body’s immune system. Instead, they are released into the blood, where they may trigger the blood clots in rare cases, Marschalek told the Financial Times

Marschalek said a solution may be to modify the gene sequence in the vaccine in a way that prevents this splitting. He said J&J had already contacted his laboratory for advice and is trying to optimise its vaccine.

Other coronavirus news

US president Joe Biden has ordered the US intelligence community to increase its efforts in investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. “I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Biden said in a statement on 26 May. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus originated in a laboratory.

The head of the Japanese Doctors Union, Naoto Ueyama, said that holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July as planned could lead to the emergence of a “Tokyo Olympic strain” of coronavirus. Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee have said the Olympics will go ahead with strict virus-prevention measures in place. But concerns remain about the risks posed by athletes and officials from around the world converging in Japan, Ueyama told a news conference on 27 May. 

Covid-19 hospitalisations in England have increased slightly, according to the weekly national influenza and covid-19 surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) . Hospital admission rates for covid-19 rose slightly to 0.79 per 100,000 people, up from 0.75 per 100,000 people the previous week. “This is a reminder that we still have a way to go and need to remain cautious,” said Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, in a statement.

Germany plans to offer a first dose of covid-19 vaccine to all children aged 12 and above by the end of August, according to a draft health ministry report seen by Reuters. The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 on 28 May.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.5 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 168.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 796.3 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 26 May

Researchers estimate that up to 30 per cent of covid-19 health burden could be due to lasting effects requiring long-term care

As much as 30 per cent of the health burden of covid-19 could be a result of lasting effects that need long-term care, rather than deaths, according to Anna Vassall and Andrew Briggs at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. They estimated this using measures known as disability-adjusted life years and quality-adjusted life years that capture the impact of ill health on a person’s life course. It’s “a very rough first estimate based on simple assumptions”, they write in an article published in Nature

The overall magnitude of these lingering effects, which can range from fatigue to cardiovascular disease, has been greatly underestimated, Vassall told New Scientist, so the impact on younger people is greater than thought. 

“We worry that everyone is focusing their strategy on deaths, and hence the old, when they are prioritising vaccines,” says Vassall. Health authorities need to look at the broader disease burden, she says. 

Other coronavirus news

Dominic Cummings, former aide to UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has acknowledged that the UK government “failed” the public in its response to the covid-19 pandemic. Cummings was giving evidence to the cross-party health and social care and science and technology committees on 26 May. “The truth is that senior ministers, officials, advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” said Cummings. “When the public needed us most, we failed. And I’d like to say to all the families of those who have died unnecessarily, how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made, and my own mistakes.” Cummings said the government hadn’t responded quickly enough and was underprepared in the weeks after the coronavirus outbreak was first detected in China in January 2020.

The US, Australia, Japan and Portugal are among countries calling for a more in-depth investigation into the origins of the covid-19 pandemic. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that a laboratory origin of the virus was “extremely unlikely”

A lawyer for the European Union accused AstraZeneca of failing to respect its contract with the bloc for the supply of covid-19 vaccines and asked a Belgian court to impose a fine on the company. The EU is seeking €10 for each day of delay for each dose as compensation, plus an additional penalty of at least €10 million for each breach of the contract, the bloc’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told a Brussels court on 26 May.

Coronavirus deaths
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.48 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 167.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 785.5 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Gunners from the Royal Horse Artillery distribute Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to Bolton residents

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 25 May

Local officials in England “not consulted” over new guidance for areas affected by the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant

People in England are being advised not to travel into and out of eight areas where the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant first identified in India is spreading. The updated UK government guidance also says that people in Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow, North Tyneside, Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen should avoid meeting people from other households indoors. 

The government has faced criticism over communication of the new advice, which was published on 21 May without an announcement. Blackburn with Darwen council’s director of public health, Dominic Harrison, said local officials in those areas affected “were not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to this guidance”, Sky News reported on 25 May.

Other coronavirus news

The US is urging citizens against travel to Japan, where the Olympics are scheduled to take place in July, because of a continuing surge of coronavirus cases in the country. Tokyo is recording a weekly average of about 650 new cases per day, the BBC reported, and hospitals have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which oversees Team USA, told Reuters in a statement that it has been made aware of the updated travel advice but that it is “confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer”. Japanese officials also said they did not expect the travel advisory to affect the Olympics

Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine has been found to be highly effective at preventing covid-19 in people aged 12 to 17. Moderna said its vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in trials. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was also found to be 100 per cent effective in adolescents, has already been given emergency authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in those aged 12 to 15. 

The Guardian reported that figures supplied by NHS trusts in England show that 32,307 people in the country “probably or definitely” contracted covid-19 while in hospital for another medical problem between March 2020 and March 2021, and 8747 of them died from the disease.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.47 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 167.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 775.6 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Vaccination race: The director-general of the World Health Organization has called for a massive drive to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of every country in the world by September, and 30 per cent by the end of the year.

See previous updates from May 2021, April-March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November/December 2020, and March to November 2020.

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