Vaccines minister: ‘UK getting safer every day’
The UK is “getting safer every day” as more people get coronavirus jabs, the vaccines minister says.
Almost one in five adults in the UK have now been vaccinated, Nadhim Zahawi tells the House of Commons.
He pays tribute to those who have worked “night and day” on this “huge logistical endeavour”.
“It really is the combination of the best of the United Kingdom,” he says.
But there are 32,000 people in hospital with coronavirus and the level of infections is “alarmingly high”, he says.
The government has an “ambitious plan” to continue the fight against coronavirus, which includes boosting supply of vaccines which already stands at 400 million doses, he says.
He says 39 new sites have opened this week, along with 62 pharmacy led sites meaning more people will live closer to a vaccination site.
Four people have died following a fire at a hospital treating Covid patients in Ukraine.
The fire ripped through an intensive care unit at an infectious diseases hospital in the city of Zaporizhzhya late on Wednesday.
Three of the dead had the virus and were on ventilators and the other fatality was a staff member, the regional governor told local media.
Ten others were rescued from the fire. Two are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
President Volodymyr Zelensky sent his “sincere condolences” to the victims’ families.
There have been a number of fires in Covid facilities over the past couple of months.
Last December, nine people were killed in a Turkish hospital after an oxygen ventilator exploded. The blast caused a fire in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
In November, at least 10 people were killed in a fire at a Romanian hospital that was treating Covid patients.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been delivering her daily coronavirus briefing at St Andrew’s House.
She says a further 1,149 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the latest 24-hour period – and highlights this number is 4.9% of the total number of tests carried out.
The first minister says while we shouldn’t read too much into a single day, this is the first day Scotland has had a test positivity rate below 5% in recent weeks, which is a “small ray of sunshine”.
Most of the new cases were recorded across Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian.
A further 53 deaths with a positive Covid test were registered, taking the total by that measure to 6,322.
Canada has defended its decision to draw on a supply of vaccines from Covax, a global inoculation-sharing initiative.
Covax pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income countries.
Canada is the only member of the G7 group of rich countries listed as a Covax beneficiary at this stage. But other wealthier countries, including New Zealand and Singapore have requested an early allocation as well.
The scheme has announced a plan to deliver more than 330 million vaccine doses in the first half of 2021. Most of the first doses will be delivered to low and middle income countries.
By Ben Butcher and Alison Benjamin
The number of patients in critical care appears to have peaked, according to data from NHS England.
Average weekly occupancy has been declining for the past five days – the first sustained decreases since early December.
Despite this, occupancy still remains very high.
Some 15 hospitals reported that all of their critical care beds were full, down slightly from 18 last week.
And around one-in-five hospitals are reporting average occupancy above 95%.
Nationally, 86% of critical care beds are full in the week ending 31 January.
This is broadly comparable to this time last year but doesn’t account for the fact that critical care units have had to find an additional 2,500 beds this year.BBCCopyright: BBC
The Intensive Care Society warns that adding beds is not enough, since equipment and staff are needed to expand capacity fully.
The rapid expansion of beds – up by over two-thirds since last year – means patients have often had fewer doctors and nurses per patient than normal.ReutersCopyright: Reuters
Earlier, we reported that hotel industry leaders say they still have not heard any details about the government’s plans to introduce quarantine hotels for people arriving from Covid hotspots.
The PM announced the plan in January, but no start date has been set to introduce the new measures.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast this morning that an “operational plan” would be announced in “the coming days”.
Since then, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, has reiterated that hotels “have offered their help to the government, but we are yet to hear any details on the scheme”.
“We are ready to provide assistance as and when hotels will be needed,” she says
The Immigration Services Union, which represents workers for the UK Border Force, also says “nothing has been communicated” to them or staff.
The organisation’s professional officer, Lucy Moreton, adds: “We don’t know if the Border Force officers are going to be expected to determine whether someone should quarantine or not – or whether that will be done on the passenger locator form, or on an honesty basis.”
If you’re just joining us this lunchtime or need a recap of today’s news, here are some of the stories we’ve been covering:
- A UK trial has been launched to see if giving people different Covid vaccines for their first and second doses works as well as the current approach of using the same type of vaccine twice
- People’s immune response “could be enhanced” by combining Covid vaccines, according to England’s deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam
- The UK is “past the peak” of the current wave of the pandemic but infection rates are still high, England’s chief medical officer says, Prof Chris Whitty, says
- PM Boris Johnson has announced an “education recovery commissioner” to oversee how England’s schools can catch up from the disruption of the pandemic
- Officials in Wales will meet later to discuss the South African variant after three cases with no clear link to travel were identified
- The Australian Open boss says he is confident the tennis tournament will start on Monday, despite 160 players awaiting Covid tests results
- The International Red Cross has pledged 100 million Swiss francs (£81m, or $110m) to ensure Covid-19 vaccines get to the most vulnerable communities in the poorest countries
- The humanitarian organisation is warning if large areas of the world remain unvaccinated the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, putting everyone at risk