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Live Reporting

Edited by Rob Corp and James Clarke

All times stated are UK

  1. That's it from us

    We're wrapping up for the evening. Thanks for joining our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic today - we'll be back tomorrow with more updates from around the world.

    Today's posts were written by Hazel Shearing, Jen Meierhans, Francesca Gillett, Paul Seddon, Sinead Wilson and David Walker.

    They were edited by Rob Corp, James Clarke and Claire Heald.

  2. US set to pass 500,000 deaths - and other world updates

    The US is expected to top 500,000 deaths from the pandemic on Monday - a grim milestone that will be marked in a ceremony at the White House by President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

    "They will ask all Americans to join in a moment of silence during a candle lighting ceremony at sundown," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news conference.

    In other international news:

    • Australia's deputy prime minister has criticised fans at the Australian Open tennis final after some loudly booed the mention of a vaccine rollout. Michael McCormack called the crowd's behaviour "disgusting"
    • China lifted all remaining local lockdowns on Monday. No new domestically transmitted cases have been detected in the past 24 hours, according to government statistics - and that has been the case for the past couple of weeks
    • In Germany, many schools reopened today, although officials say infection rates remain worryingly high. Only in two western states - Baden-Württemberg and Saarland - is the weekly average infection rate below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants. It is above that target level in the other 14 federal states
    • French officials say stubbornly high infection rates are hampering efforts to ease coronavirus restrictions. The area around the southern city of Nice, which has the highest rate in France, will go into partial lockdown for the next two weekends. While shops are open in France, restrictions are keeping many businesses shut
    • Air New Zealand says it will trial a new digital health pass designed to help streamline safe international travel
    • Portugal's devastating third wave of coronavirus infections is subsiding and officials say the country now has one of Europe's lowest transmission rates. Just weeks ago, Portugal was one of the world's worst-hit countries and fellow EU members were sending emergency medical teams to help out
  3. Analysis: Whitty's frustration hints at toxic debate around schools

    Nick Triggle

    Health Correspondent

    The frustration felt by UK chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty when he was asked about newspaper reports over recent days that he was opposed to children going back to school en-masse was clear to see.

    He said children had been badly disadvantaged by schools having to stop face-to-face teaching so he was completely in favour of the move and was surprised it had been reported, given he had denied it.

    It is an illustration of the toxic debate that has surrounded the re-opening of schools with scientists and teaching unions arguing aggressively about what the evidence shows.

  4. Watch: Masks could still be the norm next winter - Vallance

    Video content

    Video caption: Covid-19: Vallance says expect 'baseline' measures next winter

    During this evening's No 10 press conference, UK government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said working from home could also be expected to continue until next winter.

  5. Portugal's third wave eases as cases tumble

    Alison Roberts

    Portugal Correspondent, Lisbon

    Tram in Lisbon, Portugal, February 4, 2021

    Portugal's huge third wave of coronavirus infections looks to have subsided - five weeks into a lockdown that was imposed as its rates of new cases and deaths were soaring to the top of the global rankings.

    Recent days have seen a "very significant drop" in infections, epidemiologists said at a briefing in Lisbon on Monday.

    Nationally, the transmission rate (R rate) is at its lowest since the start of the pandemic and is thought to be currently the lowest in Europe.

    There are still 80,642 active cases, according to today's bulletin, but the lockdown imposed in mid-January has had its effect. The number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 is now less than half the level of three weeks ago.

    Still, the government has warned that it expects to extend the lockdown until at least the end of next month and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa favours its remaining in place over Easter, in early April.

    While the programme of vaccination against the disease is under way, the same supply problems as in the rest of the EU mean that it is going more slowly than originally hoped.

    Overall, Portugal has confirmed 798,074 cases and 16,023 deaths from Covid-19.

  6. Reality Check

    What is the risk of reopening schools?

    By BBC Reality Check


    Boris Johnson said that “all the evidence shows that schools are safe and the risks posed to children by Covid is small”, as he announced that all schools will reopen in England from 8 March.

    It is true that children are far less likely to become seriously ill from the virus than older people, but the role schools play in the spread of the virus overall is not clear-cut.

    The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the government on the pandemic, has said there is no clear evidence that schools are the driving force behind broader community spikes.

    "It is difficult to quantify the size of this effect and it remains difficult to quantify the level of transmission taking place specifically within schools compared to other settings," Sage reported in November.

    Its evidence suggests that primary school children are "less susceptible to infection than adults," but the risk increases among older children.

    Sage concluded that closing secondary schools was "more effective" than closing primary schools because of this.

    At the government briefing, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty added the Easter holidays would act as a “natural firebreak” and the risk of transmission would be lowered further by increased testing and the wider use of masks in schools.

  7. Imagining what 500,000 lost lives look like

    The US will soon top 500,000 deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic - more than the American death tolls from World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War combined.

    Our colleagues have put together this article with comparisons and visual aids to help put that figure in perspective.

    Later on Monday, President Joe Biden will lead a candle-lighting ceremony and a moment of silence at the White House to mark the grim milestone.

    Graph of coronavirus deaths in US states
  8. How will the road map go down politically?

    Iain Watson

    Political correspondent

    The prime minister struck a largely optimistic tone tonight .He was unveiling a "one-way road to freedom".

    But it’s not clear that the journey will end on 21 June.

    That’s the earliest date in the road map for the lifting of restrictions in England.

    But at his press conference, Boris Johnson was careful to say this is when "most" restrictions will be lifted.

    The accompanying document has made clear "the government cannot rule out re-imposing economic and social restrictions at a local or regional level... to suppress a variant which escapes the vaccine".

    But even if that pessimistic pandemic twist doesn’t happen, at the end of the vaccination programme only two-thirds of the population will be inoculated.

    That’s largely because children aren’t being vaccinated.

    So while 21 June could be the day when rules governing how many of us can meet and where will end, some of the now familiar paraphernalia of the pandemic could be with us for some time - some degree of social distancing, testing, and, yes, self-isolation.

    And Boris Johnson pointed out that quite a few matters are under review including the "complex" issue of whether to issue vaccination certificates.

    And while overall the prime minister was upbeat - "spring is on its way" - his medical and scientific advisers managed to restrain any enthusiasm.

    There were warnings that Covid-19 could still be with us for several winters.

    Sir Patrick Vallance talked about mask wearing during winter months.

    And that’s worrying some of Boris Johnson's own MPs.

    They say he is already moving far too slowly down "Freedom Road" and fear that he may yet do a U-turn and head, to them, back in the wrong direction.

  9. What did we learn about lockdown easing from the presser?

    Here are the highlights from tonight's Downing Street press conference:

    • The PM says the UK is on "a one-way road to freedom" with the vaccine programme creating a "shield" around the population. He says the "unparalleled national effort has shifted the odds in our favour"
    • Johnson described 12 April as "a big moment" when outdoor hospitality and shops reopen
    • He says he understands those pushing for a faster unlocking but "we must be humble in the face of nature". Once restrictions are lifted however, "we will not go back"
    • Whitty says infection rates are "still very high" but the rollout of vaccines is "extraordinary". He says there is "quite a way to go" to get hospital admissions down but we are making "very fast progress" across the UK
    • He adds "we are taking a risk but it is an accepted risk" that can't be measured in less than 4 weeks with another week then needed to analyse the data
    • Vallance agrees and says the cautious approach of releasing more measures only every 5 weeks is very important
    • Johnson tells the BBC "this isn't the end today" but it's a road map that "takes us to the end". He says ministers will be guided by the data because people "would rather see certainty than haste"
    • Johnson adds that he can't guarantee if the easing of restrictions will be irreversible but it is his "intention" that they will be
    • Vallance says it is right to prioritise getting children back to school and that the environment has been made "progressively more safe"
    • "The crocus of hope is poking through the frost" says the PM but he won't be "buccaneering with people's lives"
    • Masks may be needed next winter says Vallance along with good hand hygiene.
    • On the question of whether vaccines should be compulsory as a condition of employment, Whitty says in his professional view, social care and medical staff should get jabbed, but it is a political decision for ministers
  10. Social care and NHS staff have duty to get vaccine - Whitty

    During the Downing Street briefing the scientific advisers were asked why secondary school children should continue to wear masks in school and what the evidence is for

    Sir Patrick Vallance says they will "add to the protection" afforded by handwashing and social distancing.

    They are also asked whether vaccination could be a condition of employment in the social care sector, amid reports of low take up.

    Chris Whitty says he considers it a "professional responsibility" for medics and social care staff get themselves vaccinated to protect patients, but contracts are a "political question" not for him.

    Asked about the long-term consequences of home working, Boris Johnson says he does not believe this will lead to a "fundamental change" to office working, although some "trends" may be "accelerated".

    He says he is sure cities will be "full of buzz and life and excitement again" as long as people feel safe - and he is "sceptical" it will lead to a "massive change in urban life".

  11. That's a wrap at Downing Street, folks

    That's the end of the No 10 briefing.

    Stay tuned for analysis of the prime minister's plan for easing lockdown in England - and the latest reaction.

  12. Vallance: 'Baseline' measures next winter

    Pippa Crerar from the Mirror asks when we might be able to go back to the office or to hug and kiss loved ones, and whether the PM can reassure people about job losses.

    Sir Patrick Vallance says we can expect "baseline" measures next winter. For example, mask-wearing "in certain situations", hand hygiene, staying away from work if we have symptoms and a test, trace and isolate system.

    But he says these are not the same as measures we have now.

    On job losses, Boris Johnson says the government "will of course support" businesses and that the chancellor will set out more details in the Budget next week.

    He says he hopes the plan "will be reassuring" for businesses in the hospitality sector.

  13. Whitty defends school reopening plan

    Chris Whitty is asked whether he is happy with the PM's plan to bring all schoolchildren back from 8 March instead of opting for a phased return (as is happening in Scotland and Wales).

    Prof Whitty says he is "surprised" at newspaper reports he was unhappy at the idea - and had denied this to journalists before it was printed.

    He adds that the risk to children is "so much smaller" than for adults, and will be even smaller due to interventions such as testing, favouring a return to the classroom because of the other benefits.

    UK government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says getting children back to school is "crucial" and waiting five weeks to see the effect is "the right thing to do".

    Asked whether he has become a "gloomster" - a word he has used to refer to political opponents in the past - the PM says his plan is about as "dynamic" as "it is possible to be".

  14. Analysis: We cannot stop Covid deaths completely

    Nick Triggle

    Health Correspondent

    Despite all the progress with vaccination, UK chief medical adviser Chris Whitty is adamant we cannot stop Covid deaths completely.

    During a bad flu season, 9,000 people can die. During the winter of 2017-18, deaths topped 20,000.

    Prof Whitty said going forward it was important to see Covid deaths in that context.

    Modelling produced for the government by Imperial College London suggested there could be 30,000 deaths by the summer of 2022. And that was the optimistic scenario with a slow lifting of restrictions.

  15. PM: 'I can't guarantee it's going to be irreversible'

    Sky News' Sam Coates asks whether the PM would resign if England had to be locked down again. He also asks if it's possible for this progress to be irreversible.

    Boris Johnson says: "I can't guarantee that it's going to be irreversible but the intention is that it should be."

    He says last year showed Covid is capable "of spreading really very fast when you unlock " - which is why there must be time to assess the data.

    Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says vaccines are a "miracle", but it is important to "go cautiously as you release, have enough time between measures... and take new measures to release when you're safe to do so - not before".

  16. Covid cases 'should be kept to low level,' says Whitty

    The panel is asked what an acceptable level of infection is as restrictions are eased, given a target for the R infection rate is not mentioned in the road map document.

    Prof Chris Whitty says the vaccine has broken the "tight linkage" that used to exist between cases, hospitalisations and deaths, but surges should still be "kept to a low level".

    Asked whether so-called 'vaccine passports' will be used to reopen the economy, Boris Johnson says other countries will insist upon them to allow people to enter their borders.

    On whether certificates could be used domestically, he says there are "ethical" issues about how they might be used and the potential for discrimination.

    This is why, he says, the government has commissioned a review of the issue. He says "there may be a role" for certification but "we have to get it right".

  17. Steps not 'an invitation to do a lot more'

    Responding to a question about dates from the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, the PM says: "This isn't the end today but it's very clearly a road map that takes us to the end."

    He adds ministers will be "guided by the data".

    And in response to her question about how many deaths we should be prepared for as a result of lifting the rules, Prof Whitty says: "Every year in the UK... you get substantial numbers of people dying from respiratory infections."

    He adds: "For the foreseeable future, coronavirus is going to be added to that list of things."

    He says the priority for vaccination is getting through adult groups, before children.

    Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, urges people to stick to the rules.

    He says each stage of easing "isn't an invitation to do a lot more".

  18. UK looking to source more vaccine under current contracts - PM

    The first question from the public is about how the UK will make sure people can get their second dose 12 weeks after the first.

    Boris Johnson replies that he believes the UK has the supplies to ensure this happens - adding "we are looking to source more where we can" within existing contracts.

    There's a second question from the public, on whether the UK will make a "fair and equitable" donation of surplus vaccines once the more vulnerable groups have received their jab.

    The prime minister says yes - adding the UK has already made a pledge to the UN's Covax scheme.

  19. Whitty: 'This is not the end'

    Wrapping up, Whitty says: "This is not the end but this is the point where we can have a steady, risk-based, data-driven opening up."

    He urges people to stick to the guidelines at different stages.

  20. Whitty: 'There is a risk to this'

    Prof Chris Whitty

    Ending his part of the government's presentation, Prof Chris Whitty - chief medical officer for England - explains the delay of five weeks between the different stages of the PM's road map.

    "The reason for that is that inevitably for each one of those steps we are taking a risk, which is an accepted risk. There is a risk to this," he says.

    He says that after each step we must "wait until we have data that tells us - have we done what we expected it to do?"

    "The big worry is have people got slightly worse," he says.

    He explains: "We cannot measure that in less than about four weeks. It takes that long for the effect to be seen."