Covid-19: UK variant 'may be more deadly' but nation's R number drops

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Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Friday evening. We'll have another update for you tomorrow morning.

1. 'Some evidence' the UK variant may be more deadly

We already knew that the Covid-19 variant first discovered in south-east England was more transmissible, but now - speaking at a Downing Street briefing - Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed it may also "be associated with a higher degree of mortality". On how much more deadly the UK strain might be, the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said if the old variant might lead to the deaths of 10 in 1,000 men in their 60s who caught the virus, the new variant might kill 13 or 14 in 1,000. However, he added: "There's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it."

image copyrightPA Media

2. Vaccines work against UK strain

While the new strain might be more deadly, the PM said that evidence "continues to show that both the vaccines we're using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant". However, with regards to new strains in South Africa and Brazil, Sir Patrick said they might "have certain features which means they might be less susceptible to vaccines". At the same briefing, a question was asked about concerns people have had about having to wait up to 12 weeks between their first and second doses of the vaccine, and whether one dose offered sufficient protection. England's chief medical officer - Prof Chris Whitty - said the "great majority of the protection" was given by the first dose and the second dose would top that up and extend that over time. You can read more about how effective a single Covid vaccine dose might be here.

3. UK R number 'between 0.8 and 1'

The UK's R number, a measure of whether the epidemic is growing or shrinking, is at or below one for the first time since early December. The government's scientific advisers have estimated the virus is reproducing at a rate of between 0.8 and 1. Anything below one means infections are in retreat. Earlier, Office for National Statistics figures suggested cases are decreasing slightly or levelling off across Britain. But Prof Whitty said about one in 55 people in England still had the virus. And in Northern Ireland, cases have continued to rise and the new, more infectious strain has overtaken the older variant. You can read more about the R number and why it matters here.

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4. EU's vaccine rollout stalling

Vaccinations in parts of Europe are being held up and in some cases halted because of a cut in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. Germany's most populous state and several regions in Italy have suspended first jabs, while vaccinations for medics in Madrid have been stopped too. The US pharmaceutical firm has had to cut deliveries temporarily while cases in many European countries surge. Italy and Poland have threatened to take legal action in response to the reduction in vaccines. Pfizer said last week it was delaying shipments for the next few weeks because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer and has also authorised the Moderna vaccine.

image copyrightReuters
image captionItaly saw a dramatic fall in the number of daily vaccinations last weekend

5. Police find 150 people at London wedding

Police broke up a wedding party in north London, where they originally claimed about 400 people had gathered. Officers found the windows at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School, in Stamford Hill, had been covered when they arrived at 21:15 GMT on Thursday. Guests fled from the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish school when the police arrived. The organisers face a £10,000 fine for breaking lockdown rules. The Met has since revised its estimate of guests at the event down to 150. A spokesman for the school, whose principal died in April after contracting coronavirus, said: "We had no knowledge that the wedding was taking place. We are absolutely horrified about last night's event and condemn it in the strongest possible terms." You can read about the current rules for weddings here.

media captionA video shared with the Jewish Chronicle shows officers in Stamford Hill

And don't forget...

You can find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page.

If you're struggling to understand why vaccinating the most vulnerable won't immediately end lockdown, health correspondent Nick Triggle explains the reasoning.

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