Covid-19: UK vaccine supply to drop, EU exports row, and festival concerns

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

1. 'Significant reduction' in vaccines

There will be a "significant reduction in weekly supply" of coronavirus vaccines from the week beginning 29 March for a month, the NHS is warning. A letter seen by the BBC states there has been a "reduction in national inbound vaccines supply". At a Downing Street briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said vaccine supply was always "lumpy" and that there would be a focus "on getting the vaccine to the most vulnerable". He insisted the government was "on track" to offer a first dose to everyone in priority groups one to nine by 15 April. It comes as people aged 50 to 54 in England are now being invited to book their appointment for a Covid vaccine - the final group on the government's priority list.

2. EU warning over jab exports

In other vaccine supply news, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to withhold exporting vaccines to the UK and any other countries outside the EU that do not supply doses in a reciprocal way. She said the rules could apply to countries with higher vaccination rates than those in the EU. However, she did not specify what restrictions might be introduced. At Wednesday's No 10 news conference, Mr Hancock said he "fully expected" production facilities in the EU to fulfil their contractual responsibilities to deliver vaccines to the UK.

3. Health department 'smoking ruin'

Boris Johnson's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has made scathing remarks about how the Department of Health first responded to the pandemic. In evidence to MPs, he told them it was like a "smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE" last March. He said that was why the PM had taken direct control of the vaccine programme. The prime minister's official spokesman rejected the criticism, saying the focus had always been on protecting the NHS and saving lives, while Matt Hancock said the vaccine rollout had been "a huge team effort".

4. Festival drug safety concerns

There are concerns over the potential for deaths from illegal drugs at festivals this summer. If lockdown is lifted as planned, large events are expected to go ahead from 21 June onwards in England - with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland aiming for a similar timescale. But charities are worried "pent up" energy could increase the amount people take, and about the strength of the drugs and the lack of testing to identify bad batches. The government's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee heard evidence from drug experts on Tuesday.

image copyrightGetty Images

5. St Patrick's Day online

Countries around the world are celebrating St Patrick's Day today, with online events replacing traditional parades for the second year in a row. Landmarks around the globe are turning green for the day in honour of Ireland's patron saint, and events ataking place across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be streamed online. They include an online disco and live music events in Belfast.

image copyrightTourism Ireland Global Greening
image captionA record 690 landmarks are taking part in Tourism Ireland's Global Greening initiative

And don't forget...

Find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page. You can also track how many people in the UK have had a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and when you will be able to get yours.

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