Covid-19 news: Prior coronavirus infection may not protect long-term

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 17 June

A small study suggests previous coronavirus infection doesn’t necessarily provide long-lasting immune responses

People who have been previously tested positive for the coronavirus may not be protected against becoming infected again, as the coronavirus doesn’t necessarily trigger long-lasting immune responses, according to a small, preliminary study. “In our view, previous infection does not necessarily protect you long-term from SARS-CoV-2, particularly variants of concern,” said Eleanor Barnes at the University of Oxford, one of the senior authors on the study. “You shouldn’t depend on it to protect you from subsequent disease, you should be vaccinated,” Barnes told the Guardian.

Barnes and colleagues looked at blood samples from 78 healthcare workers who tested positive for the coronavirus between April and June 2020. Of the 78 study participants, 66 had a symptomatic infection while 12 had an asymptomatic infection. The blood samples were taken monthly for up to six months after their infection and were analysed for a range of immune responses. 

The analysis revealed that six months after infection the majority of the healthcare workers who had experienced a symptomatic coronavirus infection had a detectable immune response. However, more than a quarter didn’t – and of those participants that had an asymptomatic coronavirus infection, 91.7 per cent had no detectable antibodies that could neutralise the alpha variant of the coronavirus, which was prevalent at the time of the study. None had detectable levels of antibodies that could neutralise the beta variant. The study didn’t look at the delta variant, now dominant in the UK.

The study, conducted with the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, was released online on 15 June and hasn’t been peer-reviewed.

Other coronavirus news

Scientists are calling for the UK government to suspend daily contact testing trials in schools in England, in an open letter to UK education minister Gavin Williamson published in the BMJ. The aim of the trials is to evaluate the effectiveness of regular lateral flow testing for coronavirus in schools, as an alternative to 10-day isolation for the contacts of pupils who contract covid-19. However, the letter argues that the risks posed by the trials outweigh their benefits, as lateral flow tests can miss early-stage infections which may contribute to the spread of the delta variant of coronavirus. It comes as a study commissioned by the government found that coronavirus infections in England increased by 50 per cent between 3 May and 7 June, as the delta variant became more prevalent.

Japan announced it would lift a state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures, while maintaining some social distancing measures, such as limiting spectator numbers at large events. The Olympics are due to begin in Tokyo on 23 July, after being postponed last year. Speaking at a news conference on 17 June, Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga urged people in the country to watch the games on TV to avoid spreading the virus.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.83 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 177.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 1.65 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Infection risk: Several studies suggest that reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 is fairly rare in Europe and the US and when it does happen, symptoms are less severe second time round.

To add: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2281512-risk-of-covid-19-infection-plummets-21-days-after-a-vaccination/ 

Essential information about coronavirus

Everything you need to know about the pandemic

Where did coronavirus come from? And other covid-19 questions answered

What is covid-19?

You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it

What’s the fairest way to share covid-19 vaccines around the world?

Covid-19: The story of a pandemic

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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Care worker Sarah Cox visits client Patricia Taylor at her home during the coronavirus pandemic

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16 June

Covid-19 vaccinations to be made mandatory for care home staff in England under proposed UK plans

The UK government plans to make covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for care home staff, ministers are expected to announce. On 15 June, the Guardian reported that the government intends to push ahead with the mandatory vaccination plan, which will affect the majority of the approximately 1.5 million people who work in social care in England, despite employer and staff organisations warning that it could backfire if staff who don’t wish to get vaccinated decide to quit. The plan could also be extended to all NHS staff.

“Encouraging vaccination is always preferable to a mandatory requirement,” said Helen Bedford at University College London in a statement. “Indeed, evidence from a recent study of health and care workers suggests that where they felt pressured to have [a covid-19] vaccine, they were less likely to do so.”

Gino Martini, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said that while the society strongly encourages all pharmacists to get vaccinated if they can, it does not agree with making covid-19 vaccinations mandatory. “Informed and educated choices about health interventions would be more beneficial long-term than enforcing them,” Martini said in a statement.

According to NHS England figures, 83.7 per cent of eligible staff in older adult care homes are reported to have received at least one dose of covid-19 vaccine as of the week ending 6 June, and 68.7 per cent are reported to have received two doses. Residents in care homes for older adults and their carers are in the top Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation priority group for covid-19 vaccination.

Other coronavirus news

Japan could allow up to 10,000 fans to attend Olympic events in Tokyo in July and August, after health advisers in the country approved plans to increase the number of spectators allowed to attend sports events. “It is important that we maintain thorough anti-infection measures to prevent a rebound in cases, especially as we foresee a spread of the delta variant,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister overseeing Japan’s coronavirus response, told a government advisory panel. A covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan is due to end on 20 June.

The European Union has added the US to its safe travel list, meaning people travelling to the bloc from the US will no longer need to quarantine on arrival if they present a negative coronavirus test. Other countries added to the EU’s safe list include Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Lebanon, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. The UK hasn’t been added to the list due to “serious concerns” about the delta variant of coronavirus and recent rises in cases, an EU diplomat told the Guardian.

Text messages published by UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, reveal that Johnson described UK health minister Matt Hancock as “totally fucking hopeless” during the early stages of the UK’s epidemic in 2020. The messages were part of a conversation between Johnson and Cummings regarding the UK’s failure to accelerate its coronavirus testing scheme.

India’s government has doubled the interval between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.82 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 176.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 1.63 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Antiviral hope: In patients with severe covid-19 who had no natural antibody response, a therapy containing two antibodies reduced mortality by a fifth.

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A student waits before leaving after receiving a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

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15 June

People aged 18 and over in England should be eligible for covid-19 vaccine appointments in coming days

All people over the age of 18 in England are expected to become eligible for covid-19 vaccination this week, as more than 41 million people across the UK have now received at least one dose of vaccine. “I expect that by the end of this week, we’ll be able to open up the National Booking Service to all adults aged 18 and above,” chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens told the NHS Confederation conference on 15 June. “By 19 July we aim to have offered perhaps two-thirds of adults across the country double jabs,” said Stevens. 

On 14 June UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced that planned lifting of restrictions in England, originally scheduled for 21 June, would be postponed until 19 July to allow more time for people to be vaccinated. Figures from Public Health England show that two doses of covid-19 vaccine are 80.8 per cent effective against symptomatic disease caused by the delta variant – which now accounts for more than 90 per cent of new UK coronavirus cases – whereas a single dose of vaccine is much less effective, only providing 33.2 per cent protection. More than 29 million people in the UK have received two doses of covid-19 vaccine so far. 

Other coronavirus news

Easing of coronavirus restrictions in Scotland is likely to be delayed by three weeks, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish parliament. Scotland had been due to move down to the lowest level of its five-tier system of coronavirus measures from 28 June, but on 15 June Sturgeon said that this was likely to be postponed to allow more people to be vaccinated against covid-19.

UK cabinet office minister Michael Gove has suggested that people in the UK will have to learn to accept a certain level of deaths from covid-19 once restrictions are lifted. “We can provide people with the best protection possible through the vaccination programme but, as with flu, we know that every year there are a number of people who contract it, and every year certainly there are a number of people who are hospitalised and who suffer as a result of it,” Gove told Times Radio on 15 June.

Uganda is facing shortages of covid-19 vaccines and oxygen as coronavirus cases and hospitalisations in the country surge in a third wave of the pandemic. “We really feel it’s an emergency,” Uganda Medical Association secretary general, Mukuzi Muhereza told the Guardian. “We are receiving SOS [calls] for oxygen and human resources from health facilities across the country.” The World Health Organization reported 1735 new coronavirus cases in Uganda on 13 June, a significant increase from the 60 daily new cases reported a month earlier on 13 May.

People arriving in Ireland from Britain will be required to quarantine for 10 days on arrival unless they are fully vaccinated against covid-19, Ireland’s transport minister Eamon Ryan told journalists on 15 June. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.81 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 176.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 1.62 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Delta variant: Models predicting a possible huge third wave of covid-19 cases and evidence that the delta variant of coronavirus increases hospitalisation risk are behind the decision to delay easing of lockdown in England.

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14 June

Delayed lifting of restrictions in England “justified” due to threat posed by delta variant, say scientists

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce a four-week delay to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England. The BBC reported on 14 June that senior UK government ministers have signed off on the decision and Johnson is expected to confirm the delay at a news conference at 6pm UK time on 14 June. Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh said the delay “would be justified”. In a statement, Woolhouse said: “The arrival of the delta variant has changed the assessment of the risks of re-opening: it is more transmissible, causes more severe disease and the vaccines are less effective against it.”

A four-week delay to easing of restrictions in England could reduce pressure on healthcare services. Statistical modelling seen by ministers suggests that even with the rapid rollout of covid-19 vaccines, the UK will face a third wave of infections, mainly among younger people who haven’t yet been vaccinated, the Guardian reported on 13 June. “We are much busier now in emergency departments than at the peaks of either the first or second wave,” Raghib Ali, a consultant at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS trust told the Guardian. “In other parts of the hospital we are catching up with a lot of elective work because of the backlog, so for both of those reasons it’s a very bad time to have additional pressure from covid-19,” said Ali.

Other coronavirus news

A headache, sore throat and runny nose are now the most frequently reported symptoms of covid-19 in the UK, according to data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study. The change may be linked to the increased prevalence of the delta variant (also called B.1.617.2), which now accounts for more than 90 per cent of UK coronavirus cases. “This variant seems to be working slightly differently,” Tim Spector, who runs the ZOE Covid Symptom Study, told the BBC. “People might think they’ve just got some sort of seasonal cold and they still go out to parties. We think this is fuelling a lot of the problem,” he said. “It might just feel like a bad cold or some funny ‘off’ feeling – but do stay at home and do get a test.”

A covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by US company Novavax was found to be 90 per cent effective overall at preventing covid-19. The trial, which included 29,960 participants across 119 sites in the US and Mexico, found that the vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease and 93 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 caused by coronavirus variants of concern. During the trial, the alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) became the dominant variant in the US, Novavax said in a statement.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.8 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 176 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 987.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

11 June

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US president Joe Biden gestures as he poses for a family photo with G-7 leaders in Carbis Bay, England.

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A nascent plan by G7 nations to donate one billion vaccine doses has been criticised for not going far enough

G7 and EU leaders meeting in Cornwall, UK, from today are expected to announce plans to donate a billion vaccine doses to lower-income countries. The US has already announced that it will donate 500 million doses, and the UK 100 million. But the G7 plan has come under fire even before it has been formally announced.

“The new US and UK commitments are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough, fast enough,” said Alex Harris, director of government relations at the Wellcome charity in the UK, according to Reuters. “We urge G7 leaders to raise their ambition.”

“If the best G7 leaders can manage is to donate 1 billion vaccine doses then this summit will have been a failure,” said Oxfam’s health policy manager Anna Marriott as saying. Marriott said the world needs 11 billion doses to end the pandemic.

Other coronavirus news

The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine might have an extremely rare side effect called capillary leak syndrome, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has warned after its safety committee reviewed six cases. Most of these occurred in women within four days of vaccination. The EMA says people who have previously suffered from capillary leak syndrome – which can result in fluid leakage from small blood vessels, swelling and low blood pressure – should not be given the vaccine. The agency notes that more than 78 million people have had the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU and UK.

The province of Punjab in Pakistan has said it will block the mobile phones of people who refuse to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The province includes the city of Lahore, population 11 million. According to AFP, a spokesperson for the Punjab primary health department said the decision had been taken because people had been very hesitant to get coronavirus vaccines, and that the state telecoms agency will decide how to implement the measure. The province of Sindh has previously said civil servants who refuse to be vaccinated will not be paid from July.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned people in the US to stop using a rapid coronavirus test made by Innova – the same test being widely used in the UK. The FDA said it “has significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health”. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.77 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 174.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 958.4 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Matt Hancock

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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10 June

UK health secretary Matt Hancock questioned on government’s handling of pandemic

The delta variant first identified in India is now causing 91 per cent of coronavirus infections in the UK, said health secretary Matt Hancock. He told MPs this was according to an assessment he saw on Wednesday evening. Hancock was speaking during more than four hours of questioning by MPs on the science and health committees.

On the government’s decisions at the start of the pandemic, Matt Hancock said they knew from the start that up to 820,000 people could die from covid-19, but ordering an earlier lockdown would have meant going against scientific advice. “The clear scientific advice at the time was that there was a need to have these tools like lockdown at your disposal but also that the consequences and the costs of lockdown start immediately and, critically, the clear advice at the time was that there’s only a limited period that people would put up with it. Now, that proved actually to be wrong,” Hancock said.

Hancock also said there was never a national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff, despite reports of doctors and nurses having been forced to improvise. “We’ve looked into this and there is no evidence that I have seen that a shortage of PPE provision led to anyone dying of covid,” he said.

Asked why care home residents were allowed to return to homes from hospital without being tested, he said testing someone without symptoms “could easily return a false negative and therefore give false assurance that that person did not have the disease”.

Other coronavirus news

The US has bought 500 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccines to donate to other countries through the COVAX vaccine sharing initiative. The doses will go to 92 low- and lower-income countries.

Data from Israel suggest that higher levels of vaccination against covid-19 are associated with lower rates of infection among unvaccinated people aged 16 and under. The findings, published in Nature Medicine, show that vaccination helps to protect people in the community who have not been vaccinated

Bihar state in India has added more than 4000 deaths to its official covid-19 figures after the discovery of thousands of unreported cases, taking its total to 9429. Officials blamed the oversight on private hospitals delaying their reports of data. The announcement adds weight to suggestions that there is significant undercounting of deaths in India, particularly in rural areas where testing facilities are harder to access. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.75 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 174 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 944 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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People line up to receive a vaccination.

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9 June

Eight in ten adults in most of UK have covid-19 antibodies

About eight in ten adults in England now have antibodies against the coronavirus, according to the latest survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Levels are similar in Wales and Northern Ireland, but slightly lower in Scotland, at seven in ten adults. The survey of UK households was carried out in the week beginning 17 May, asking people to provide blood samples and for information on whether they had been vaccinated.

The presence of antibodies indicates that people have either had at least one coronavirus vaccine or a natural infection with covid-19. “But the detection of antibodies alone is not a precise measure of the immunity protection given by vaccination,” says the ONS. The survey also found that 71-82 per cent of adults said they had received one dose of the vaccine and 38-53 per cent said they had had both doses. 

Other coronavirus news

The Moderna vaccine against covid-19 is likely to give better protection against new variants of the coronavirus than a natural infection, a study suggests. The work was based on testing antibodies from people’s blood against mutated virus spike proteins made in the lab. The researchers found that antibodies from people who had received the mRNA vaccine bind to a broader variety of spike proteins – which the virus uses to infect cells – than antibodies from people who had been naturally infected with covid-19. “People may have differing susceptibility to variants, depending on the way in which they acquired their immunity against the virus,” Allison Greaney at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, said in a statement.

The AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may be causing a further kind of rare blood clotting disorder, called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). This vaccine, as well as that made by Johnson & Johnson, have previously been linked with a rare syndrome where people have unusual blood clots accompanied by low platelet levels. A new Scottish study has found the AstraZeneca jab may also be causing ITP at a rate of one in 100,000 doses.

Coronavirus cases in the US are at their lowest level since March last year, averaging about 14,000 new infections a day in the past week. But the US could be the next country after India and the UK to see a significant rise in cases because of the delta (Indian) variant, according to UK experts speaking at a press briefing today. The latest estimate is that delta is 60 per cent more transmissible than the alpha variant which first emerged in the UK, according to Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London. 

Coronavirus deaths
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.74 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 174 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 932 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Vaccine clots: The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine may be associated with a slightly increased risk of some bleeding disorders, according to new data, but such cases are very rare and the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh the risks, say researchers.

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Covid-19 news: England lockdown easing could be delayed by two weeks

8 June

Likely delay for rollback of lockdown restrictions in England

England’s final stage of easing lockdown restrictions is likely to be put back by at least two weeks, a government source has told The Times. An end to social distancing rules, such as the “rule of six” or two households for indoor gatherings, and a ban on nightclubs and mass gatherings, had been pencilled in for 21 June.

But after a “downbeat” briefing yesterday from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance, ministers are now considering the delay. The advisors pointed out that covid-19 vaccines currently available give less protection against the delta variant of the coronavirus, which was first identified in India. It also seems to be more transmissible.

Other coronavirus news

People in Greater Manchester and Lancashire were today asked to take extra social distancing precautions due to rising numbers of people infected with the delta variant. The measures include meeting people outside wherever possible, keeping two metres’ distance, and minimising travel into and out of the areas. The guidance already applied to several other areas of the UK including Bedford and Leicester. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all affected areas would get supervised testing in schools and support for all residents to be tested twice a week. The stricter rules now apply to a tenth of England’s population.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is becoming the primary cause of covid-19 cases in England, replacing the variant first identified in Kent, a study has found. Leon Danon of the Joint Universities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research (JUNIPER) consortium and colleagues analysed variants through routine surveillance testing in England. “This is a variant that’s very likely to dominate everywhere,” says Danon.

People who catch the coronavirus after being vaccinated have milder symptoms and are less likely to transmit the virus, a US study has found. The research followed nearly 4000 healthcare staff and other key workers who were tested weekly since December. Those who got “breakthrough” infections after one or two doses of vaccine had 40 per cent less virus in their bodies and spent 2.3 fewer days in bed than people who had not been vaccinated.

Healthcare and social care staff in England are experiencing critical levels of burnout due to the covid-19 pandemic, a report by parliament’s health and social care committee has found. Lack of staff means workers are being overstretched, said the MPs.

People in the UK have been advised by environment secretary George Eustice to take holidays in their home country this year. However, travel to other countries is still permitted, under rules based on whether they are on the green, amber or red lists.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.7 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 173.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 917 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Tamara, 25, centre, holds the hand of Gianella, 24, as she receives her first Pfizer vaccine.

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7 June

People aged 25 to 29 will be invited to book vaccines from tomorrow

Covid-19 vaccines will be offered to people aged 25 to 29 from tomorrow in the UK, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced. 

“From this week we will start offering vaccinations to people under 30, bringing us ever closer to the goal of offering a vaccine to all adults in the UK by the end of next month,” he told MPs.

Hancock also said he has asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to advise on whether the vaccination programme should be extended to children, following the decision by the medicines regulator to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab for children aged 12 to 15.

The delta variant of the coronavirus, which now makes up the vast majority of new infections in the UK, has made the vaccination race tighter, Hancock said. However, the numbers of people being hospitalised with the virus remain flat, and most of them are those who have not been vaccinated.

Out of 12,383 cases of the delta variant as of 3 June, 464 went on to present at emergency care and 126 were admitted to hospital. Of those, 83 were unvaccinated, 28 had one dose of vaccine and three had both doses, Hancock said.

He added that it was too early to say whether stage four of the plan to end lockdown would go ahead on 21 June. “The road map has always been guided by the data and as before, we need four weeks between steps to see the latest data and a further week to give notice of our decision. So we’ll assess the data and announce the outcome a week today on 14 June,” Hancock said.

Other coronavirus news

The Indian government will provide free covid-19 vaccines for all adults from 21 June, prime minister Narendra Modi has announced. Less than 4 per cent of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to Our World in Data. Under the current policy, the federal government provides free vaccines to the elderly and frontline workers only, with state governments and private hospitals offering vaccines for a fee to other adults. “Whether it is the poor, the lower middle class, the middle class, or the upper middle class, under the federal government programme, everyone will get free vaccines,” Modi said in a televised address.

Businesses in Delhi and Mumbai have begun reopening as part of a phased easing of lockdown measures in several states. India’s daily recorded coronavirus infection numbers have fallen from 400,000 a month ago to around 100,000.

All adults in Wales will be offered a coronavirus vaccine by next Monday, first minister Mark Drakeford has said. If achieved, the milestone will come six weeks ahead of schedule, with the four UK nations previously saying they would offer a first dose to everyone over the age of 18 by the end of July.

Ireland has taken another stride back to normality as pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities reopened. Hospitality venues can serve food and drinks outdoors, while gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres are now allowed to facilitate individual training.

Coronavirus deaths
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.7 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 173.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 905 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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4 June

There were 12,431 cases of the delta variant in the UK as of 3 June

The delta variant of the coronavirus has become the dominant variant of coronavirus in the UK according to data from Public Health England, as the total number of confirmed cases caused by the delta variant has increased to 12,431 as of 3 June, up from 6959 a week earlier. The rise in coronavirus cases across the UK may be related to the spread of the highly-transmissible delta variant

Neil Ferguson, a scientist who has advised the UK government on covid-19, said the delta variant of coronavirus may be 30 to 100 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant alpha variant of the virus. “The best estimate at the moment is this variant may be 60 per cent more transmissible than the alpha variant,” Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 4 June. “There’s some uncertainty around that depending on assumption and how you analyse the data, between about 30 per cent and maybe even up to 100 per cent more transmissible,” he added. 

Ferguson told New Scientist that he believes more data on the transmissibility of the delta variant will be released in documents from the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on 8 June.

Other coronavirus news

Kaori Yamaguchi, a Japanese Olympic official, criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for ignoring public concerns about holding the Games in Tokyo during the coronavirus pandemic. Yamaguchi said the Japanese government and the IOC had been “avoiding dialogue” and that the IOC “seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important”. Coronavirus cases in Tokyo have fallen slightly following a recent surge but on 4 June, Japan’s medical adviser Shigeru Omi warned that an increase in people’s movements during the Olympics could spark a fresh outbreak.

US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci is urging China to release the medical records of nine people whose illnesses may provide insights into the origins of the coronavirus. The nine individuals in question include three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly became ill in November 2019 and six miners who became ill after entering a bat cave in 2012. “It is entirely conceivable that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab,” Fauci told the Financial Times.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.7 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 172.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 871.8 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Vaccines for children: The UK medicines regulator has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15, but the independent vaccination committee has not yet decided whether to extend the roll-out.

Future pandemics: Could we make vaccines for future pandemics within 100 days? That is the aim of a new global plan by governments and life science industry leaders.

Long-lasting symptoms: Neurological and psychiatric symptoms such as anosmia and depression are common among people with covid-19 and may be just as likely in people with mild cases, new research suggests.

Coronavirus London

A woman wearing a face mask crosses Westminster Bridge, London.

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3 June

Weekly coronavirus cases in England rise as Portugal removed from UK’s “green list” for travel

Coronavirus cases in England are continuing to rise, with the number of people testing positive for the virus at its highest level in six weeks. A total of 17,162 people tested positive for the coronavirus in England in the week up to 26 May, up 22 per cent from 14,051 the previous week, according to figures from NHS Test and Trace. The most recent weekly figure is the highest since the week up to 14 April, when 18,050 people tested positive.

Half of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against covid-19, UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced. In a tweet on 3 June, Zahawi described it as an “important milestone”.  

Portugal is being removed from the UK’s “green list”, which means travellers returning to England from trips there will be required to quarantine on arrival. According to data from Portugal’s health ministry, cases in the country are rising. There were 724 new cases reported on 2 June, the highest daily increase since 6 April. “We have got to follow the data and, of course, I understand why people want to travel but we’ve got to make sure we keep this country safe,” UK health minister Matt Hancock told the BBC. No new countries have been added to the green list, the BBC reported on 3 June. 

Other coronavirus news

More than 20 medical and healthcare organisations in the UK, including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, are calling for stricter guidelines on face masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. In a virtual meeting with government officials, representatives from the organisations are expected to argue that existing rules in the UK leave them vulnerable to coronavirus infection through the air and that healthcare workers in other countries, such as the US, are provided with higher-grade equipment, the BBC reported. This comes as a preliminary study, led by Mark Green and Malcolm Semple at the University of Liverpool in the UK, found that covid-19 prevalence in England between 1 May 2020 and 31 January 2021 was highest among people working in the hospitality, transport, social care, retail, health care and educational sectors.

US president Joe Biden announced a national “month of action” on 2 June, with a new goal of getting at least 70 per cent of people in the country vaccinated against coronavirus before the 4 July public holiday. Biden encouraged people under 40 to “step up” and get vaccinated. On 3 June, the US outlined its plans for allocating covid-19 vaccine doses for donation to other countries. At least 75 per cent of the first 25 million vaccine doses will be shared through COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed platform for ensuring equitable access to vaccines globally. The remainder will be shared directly with countries currently “experiencing surges”, the White House said in a statement, “including Canada, Mexico, India, and the Republic of Korea”.

A German police force has established a dedicated team to deal with a growing illegal trade in fake covid-19 vaccine certificates. Police in Cologne said fake certificates were being traded via the encrypted Telegram messaging service. Fully vaccinated people in Germany are exempt from certain covid-19 restrictions for instance, they can visit restaurants without presenting a negative coronavirus test.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.69 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 171.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 863 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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2 June

Proportion of deaths due to covid-19 in England and Wales at lowest level since September, but coronavirus cases in the UK are rising

There were 107 deaths from covid-19 in England and Wales in the week up to 21 May, down from 151 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics. Covid-19 accounted for 1.1 per cent of all deaths in the week up to 21 May, which is the lowest proportion recorded since the week up to 11 September, when the disease accounted for 1 per cent of all deaths in the two nations. 

On 1 June, the UK reported no covid-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, for the first time since July 2020. In a statement, Nathalie MacDermott at King’s College London said that, while zero daily covid-19-related deaths “is certainly something to be celebrated, we must remember that this follows a three day bank holiday weekend during which time deaths may not have been formally reported [or] recorded”.

Scientists advising the UK government have recently expressed concerns about rises in case numbers in the country considering plans to lift restrictions in England on 21 June, as well as the threat posed by the delta variant of the coronavirus (also called B.1.617.2). According to Our World In Data, the number of daily new coronavirus cases per million people in the UK has been rising since 19 May. There were 48.73 new cases per million people on 1 June, compared to 22.36 on 19 May.

Other coronavirus news

Israel’s health ministry reported a small number of cases of heart inflammation observed mainly in young men who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine. A study it commissioned found 275 cases of the condition, called myocarditis, among more than 5 million vaccinated individuals. Pfizer said it has not observed a higher rate of myocarditis among vaccinated people than would normally be expected to occur in the general population. On 28 May, the EU’s medicines regulator said it had received 107 reports of myocarditis following the vaccine, mainly in people under 30, but said there was no indication that the cases were due to the vaccine. Last month, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group recommended further study of the possibility of a link between myocarditis and mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

A lockdown in Melbourne, Australia has been extended for another week, while restrictions in the rest of the state of Victoria will be eased from midnight on 3 June. James Merlino, acting premier of Victoria, announced the extension of the Melbourne lockdown on 2 June. Six new cases were reported in the state on 2 June, bringing the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 60.

The UK government’s commitment of £1.4 billion in funding for a post-pandemic catch-up programme for pupils in England is facing criticism from school leaders. The Association of School and College Leaders described the amount as “pitiful” compared to commitments made by other countries. 

The World Health Organization has approved China’s Sinovac covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.56 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 171.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 851.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Delta variant: The highly transmissible coronavirus variant formerly known as B.1.617.2 has already become the dominant one in the UK, France, Japan and elsewhere.

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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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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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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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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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