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Birmingham may face tougher travel guidance and surge testing due to Indian variant, experts say

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Birmingham and Bedfordshire may be next in line for help with tackling the Indian variant after tough guidance was issued to nearly 4million people in the North West yesterday, experts have said.

Greater Manchester and Lancashire joined eight other areas where surge testing and tighter travel advice have been implemented to curb the spread of the mutant Delta strain. 

It means 28 councils are now subject to the guidelines, which has seen the Army drafted in to help give out tests and vaccines and residents urged not to leave the area and meet friends outdoors. 

But official data shows only six of the 10 areas to have spotted at least 150 cases of the Indian variant have been hit with the tougher advice, with Birmingham (223), Sefton in Merseyside (193), Nottingham (192) and Central Bedfordshire (183) yet to be added to the list. 

The Indian variant makes up more than 85 per cent of all new infections in Birmingham and is also dominant in the neighbouring areas of Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton which have each spotted at least 30 cases. 

Bedford has been subject to the advice since last month but Central Bedfordshire (183) has yet to be added to the list. The other borough in the county — Luton — has also seen 119 cases.

For comparison, Lancaster — one of the boroughs to be affected by yesterday’s update — has only spotted 11 cases, Public Health England data shows. 

Professor David Livermore, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the high case numbers and dominance of the strain in Birmingham and other areas means they will ‘most likely’ be put under similar guidance by No10.

Downing Street is hopeful that the measures adopted will snuff out outbreaks, after Bolton saw its infection rate quickly start to fall once surge testing was brought in to root out every case. Hospital admissions have also begun to tail off in the Greater Manchester borough, fuelling hopes the NHS won’t be battered by an inevitable surge in cases from the Indian variant.

Separate MailOnline analysis showed today six of the 10 towns in England seeing the sharpest spike in Covid cases were hotspots for the Indian variant. The other three had not detected any cases of the mutant strain, but had only checked up to two cases in the latest two weeks, and no surveillance data was available for the other.

It comes as people in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant.

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson today warned it will be another ‘two to three weeks’ before SAGE can work out how dangerous the Indian variant is, as he dealt a killer blow to hopes of lockdown ending on June 21.

‘It’s well within the possibility we could see another, third, wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalisations as the second wave. At least deaths, I think, would certainly be lower. It’s hard to judge,’ he said.  

DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place

BIRMINGHAM: Covid cases in the city — which is also a hotspot for the Indian variant — have been rising in recent weeks. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by  the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

SEFTON: Cases are also up in this Merseyside borough. It suppressed the first outbreak of the Indian variant, but cases again appear to be rising. It is not being given extra support by the Government at this stage. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

CENTRAL BEDFORDSHIRE: Covid cases are also rising slightly in this area, a hotspot for the Indian variant. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

NOTTINGHAM: And this city is also seeing its infections begin to rise as Indian variant cases surge. It is yet to be offered enhanced support by the Government, although experts say this could happen in the coming weeks

England’s top 10 areas with the fastest growing Covid case numbers 

Six out of 10 English towns with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks are hotspots for the Indian variant, official data revealed today.

A further three areas seeing the fastest growth in cases have not detected a single case of the mutant strain.

But less than five infections were checked for variants in each over the last two weeks of May, the latest period data is available for.

One area seeing the sharpest rise in cases carried out no surveillance for mutant strains over the past two weeks.

It comes as Boris Johnson comes under pressure to push back June 21 lockdown easings amid the rapid spread of the new variant. 

Department of Health-calculated infection rates for local authorities in England on June 3 were compared to those a week beforehand to determine which areas had the fastest upticks in infections.

Staffordshire Moorlands, Cheltenham, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tewkesbury, Cheshire East and Chester and Elmbridge were all hotspots for the Indian variant with the fastest rising cases in the country.

Maldon, Adur and Rochford had no cases of the mutant strain but had done very little sequencing, and Eden had carried out no surveillance. 

Eden, in the Lake District, saw the sharpest rise, with its infection rate leaping more than 10-fold from 1.9 cases per 100,000 residents to 31.9.

It was followed by Maldon, in Essex, where cases spiked almost nine-fold from 3.1 to 30.8 per 100,000.

And the Staffordshire Moorlands where cases rose seven-fold from 12.2 to 95.5 cases per 100,000.

Across Britain 302 out of 380 local authorities saw their infections rise in the week to June 3, the latest available.

Only eight saw no change in their Covid infections, and 73 saw cases continue to fall. 

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MailOnline’s analysis of Public Health England and Sanger Institute data shows Birmingham has the fifth highest number of Indian variant cases in the country — the highest of areas where guidance has not already been issued.

Of those areas, Sefton had the second highest followed by Nottingham. The strain, scientifically called B.1.617.2, made up 60 per cent and 79.3 per cent of cases in the areas respectively.

The strain made up 89.7 per cent of cases in Central Bedfordshire, 76.4 per cent in Hillingdon (148 Indian variant cases), 94.4 per cent in Croydon (137) and 76.8 per cent in Luton (119).  

Asked whether Birmingham, Sefton and Central Bedfordshire were likely to be next in line for surge testing and tougher travel guidance, Professor Livermore said he expected them to.

He said: ‘I’m loth to best guess what the Government will do but they are most likely to pursue such approaches in places where the Indian variant is most prevalent and where its incidence in the population is also high.’ 

But Professor Livermore suggested the approach may be too lax to reduce cases although even with an increase in infections, hospitals are unlikely to become overrun because of how many vulnerable people have now been vaccinated.

SAGE advisers fear a huge uptick in admissions with a variant that is up to 40 per cent more transmissible than the once dominant Kent strain, a figure that advisers believe is feasible.

Grim modelling which spooked ministers following the emergence of the Indian variant warned hospitalisations could hit levels seen at the peak of the second wave — even though more than 80 per cent of Britons have already received their first dose.

Data shows one jab is less effective at blocking symptoms against the Indian variant but two doses appear to thwart the strain.  

Professor Livermore said: ‘The variant seems able to out compete the previously dominant Kentish type and is well on the way to becoming nationally predominant in the UK. 

‘We know the Kentish variant expanded in North Kent and East London during the second lockdown in November last year so it is to be expected that the Indian variant will do so under the laxer conditions of “guidance” — though this will be slowed by growing herd immunity and the coming of summer. 

‘Despite this inevitable spread, and rising case numbers, there is scant evidence of rising severe disease and none that NHS is still under severe Covid pressure.’  

Tougher guidance designed to stop the spread of the Indian variant was already in place in eight councils, including Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen before Lancashire and Greater Manchester were added to the list.

But another 20 councils were added to the list yesterday, with 5.7million people — around a tenth of the country — now living under stronger advice.

The specific areas included in the new guidance in Greater Manchester are: Manchester, Salford, Bury, Rochdale, Wigan, Oldham, Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and Bolton.

And in Lancashire they are: Rossendale, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, Pendle, Fylde, Lancaster, West Lancashire, Wyre, Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen.

BOLTON: Ministers brought in surge testing and ramped up the vaccination drive in this borough of Greater Manchester, which appears to be beginning to snuff out their outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

WIGAN: Covid cases are also rising in this Greater Manchester borough amid the spread of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

MANCHESTER: They are also up in central Manchester, which is now receiving extra support from the Government

LEICESTER: The city is also experiencing rising Covid cases, after suffering an outbreak of the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BEDFORD: Cases appear to have started to level off in this area, one of the first to be hit by the Indian variant. The area is receiving extra support from the Government

BLACKBURN WITH DARWEN: There are early signs that infections in this area which is a hotspot for the Indian variant may be beginning to peak after surge testing was brought in and officials ramped up the local vaccination drive

Six out of 10 English towns with the fastest growing Covid outbreaks are hotspots for the Indian variant, official data revealed today.

A further three areas seeing the fastest growth in cases have not detected a single case of the mutant strain.

But less than five infections were checked for variants in each over the last two weeks of May, the latest period data is available for.

One area seeing the sharpest rise in cases carried out no surveillance for mutant strains over the past two weeks.

Staffordshire Moorlands, Cheltenham, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Tewkesbury, Cheshire East and Chester and Elmbridge were all hotspots for the Indian variant with the fastest rising cases in the country.

Maldon, Adur and Rochford had no cases of the mutant strain but had done very little sequencing, and Eden had carried out no surveillance.  

Freedom Day delayed for a MONTH? Minister warns ‘wait until you’ve heard from the PM’ on Monday before planning your summer amid fears for weddings and large events as June 21 unlocking is cast further into doubt

By Luke Andrews for MailOnline and Jason Groves Political Editor for the Daily Mail

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick hinted today that long-awaited weddings for more than 30 guests could be delayed beyond June 21 as the Prime Minister comes under increasing pressure to delay lockdown easings

People in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant.

No10 is considering delaying the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown following jittery warnings from top scientists about the spread of the mutant strain.

Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23, hoping the move would give the NHS valuable extra time to ensure millions more over-50s are fully vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today appeared to drop the biggest hint yet that England’s final unlocking will be delayed, with cases ‘clearly rising’. Yesterday Britain recorded the biggest week-on-week jump in infections since before Christmas, after the number of positive tests jumped by 90 per cent to 6,083.

Asked whether weddings with more than 30 guests will once again be allowed from June 21, he said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you.

‘We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.’  

Weddings are one of the few areas of society yet to enjoy any freedom, with ceremonies currently capped to 30 guests in England. The final step of the roadmap will remove the limit, alongside allowing nightclubs to reopen and people to invite more than six others into their homes. 

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do.

Despite growing calls to delay the move, Michael Gove — who has called for a cautious approach to the roadmap — said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 if he was a ‘betting man’.

Meanwhile, Whitehall sources say Rishi Sunak — who is desperate for the PM to stick to the target date to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders — could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown but for no longer than ‘a week or two’. But The Guardian claims the Chancellor would be willing to delay Freedom Day by a month, which could see it pushed back until July 19.

Other experts and Tory MPs have lined up to urge the Prime Minister not to delay the unlocking, saying people must learn to live with the virus and the NHS should be ‘able to cope’ with any surge from the Indian variant.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said that ‘life has to go on’ when asked whether the Government should stick to its roadmap on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. But he added vaccines would not be enough and people would need to keep adapting their lifestyles to fight the disease. 

Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers which represents hospitals across England, said trusts could ‘cope’ with the inevitable rise in Covid cases fuelled by the Indian variant. He pointed to Bolton — the first place to be battered by the Indian variant — where hospitalisations were now falling.

Mr Hopson added jabs had ‘broken the link’ between rising cases and hospitalisations, and those being admitted to wards tended to be younger and less sick than those during the first and second waves. 

Ministers yesterday ramped up support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, urging 4million people living in both areas not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors. Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s mayor, said there was ‘every reason to believe’ the extra support will successfully curb the spread of the mutant strain.

It came as official data revealed eight in 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or catching the virus in the past. Office for National Statistics blood testing found 80.3 per cent of adults tested positive for antibodies in the third week of May. 

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England’s local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain’s leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

Rishi Sunak (left, pictured at Oswald’s club in London last night) could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown. Michael Gove (right) has said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 – if he were a ‘betting man’

Hospitals are ‘coping’ with Covid infection levels, says NHS boss 

Chris Hopson said hospitals could ‘cope’ with rising cases

Hospitals in Covid hotspots are seeing a ‘significantly’ lower death rate among people admitted for treatment and are coping with current levels of infection, the head of NHS Providers has said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the body which represents NHS trusts in England, said there was a degree of confidence that vaccines appear to have ‘broken’ the link between infections and the ‘very high level of hospitalisations and mortality we’ve seen in previous waves’.

He told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if other areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

An increased package of support is being provided to Greater Manchester and Lancashire, similar to that seen in Bolton, where case numbers of the Delta variant first identified in India have been relatively high.

Mr Hopson said any decision on easing remaining lockdown restrictions in England on June 21 was finely balanced, adding that if ‘incredibly busy’ hospitals see even a small rise in Covid patients, they could have to ‘make some trade-offs between Covid and non-Covid care’.

He added that ‘we don’t quite know where we are in terms of, are we at the beginning of an exponential rise or not?’.

But he said the ‘picture on mortality seems really pretty clear, that we’ve had less than 15 people a day dying from Covid for nearly about seven weeks now and that compares to well over 1,000 a day in the January peak and 800 a day in April last year’. 

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In other coronavirus developments today:

  • Hundreds of British passengers on a cruise ship sailing around the country were told they could not disembark when they arrived in Scotland because of Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus restrictions;
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing would stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and that he was prepared to be arrested;
  • Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid either from a vaccine or having had the virus in the past, study showed today; 
  • An American senator blasted a letter by 27 scientists claiming Covid originated naturally as an ‘orchestrated’ attempt to damage then-President Donald Trump;
  • Cambridge University researchers found people most worried about catching Covid would judge other people’s behaviour more harshly;
  • Indian doctors claimed the new Covid variant is giving people gangrene and hearing loss not seen in older strains of the virus;
  • Weekly Covid deaths in England and Wales have dropped below 100 for the first time in nearly nine months;
  • Britain’s daily Covid cases yesterday spiked to 6,048 in a 90 per cent jump on last Tuesday — and 13 deaths from the virus were recorded.

The final batch of restrictions are due to be relaxed on June 21, but there are growing calls for the last round of easings to be delayed amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant, which is now dominant in the UK and at least 40 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain of the virus. 

Mr Jenrick hinted to Sky News that June 21 could be pushed back, saying:’We created this five-week period between the stages of the road map and that has actually proved invaluable on this occasion, because it’s a finely balanced decision.

‘We need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, but the link to hospitalisations and ultimately to death.

‘So the Prime Minister is reviewing that ahead of the decision point, which is going to be June 14 – at that point of course he will let everybody know what the ultimate decision is.’

He added: ‘We are going to take a cautious approach but if we can proceed with that reopening on the 21st of June of course all of us would love to see that, for our own lives and for the livelihoods that depend on that further reopening.’

The minister was also grilled on whether Britons would be able to holiday abroad this year, saying people should stick to the ‘admittedly relatively small number of countries’ on the ‘green’ list, and not travel to ‘amber’ or ‘red’ areas unless absolutely necessary.

‘You shouldn’t be booking holidays to countries that are currently on either the amber list or the red list,’ he told the programme.

‘You can go to the admittedly relatively small number of countries on the green list.

‘Even there be aware that this isn’t a normal summer for holidays, we are reviewing that list every three weeks and so I would advise people to look for travel operators who can offer flexibility, would be able to offer rescheduling or repayments if something changes.

‘We would like to open up that green list to more countries but we have obviously got to do so cautiously.’

Only 11 countries and territories are on the green list, which includes no major travel destinations in Europe.

The Prime Minister was yesterday reported to be considering delaying June 21 by about two weeks to give extra time for all over-50s — who are most at risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus — to get their second dose of the Covid vaccine, and for it to take effect.

But some experts have called on him not to delay the unlocking. Asked whether June 21 should go ahead, Dr Nabarro suggested ministers should stick to the roadmap.

‘It can’t be just about restrictions – the future for humanity is going to require that we adapt our lifestyles so that we make it hard for this virus to spread,’ he said.

The Army is being sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Pictured: The Royal Horse Artillery help out at a walk-in vaccination bus in Bolton town centre today

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have Covid antibodies 

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region.

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

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‘We know that the virus is constantly changing, which means that although vaccination is a marvellous marvellous asset, it’s not going to be enough. 

‘We are going to have to continue to behave as though the virus is an ever present threat.

‘So by all means, let the restrictions be released, but at the same time could I encourage everybody, everywhere to go on behaving carefully.

‘At school, at the university, in the pub, in the restaurant, in the social club, the virus is still going to be around and it can come back with a huge surge, very, very quickly.’

Mr Hopson has also suggested the latest round of easings could go ahead because the NHS may be able to cope with the higher pressure if hospitalisations follow Bolton.

The Greater Manchester borough’s hospitalisations are falling after cases also began to drop, following efforts to ramp up vaccinations in the community and surge testing to root out every case.

The NHS Providers chief executive told Times Radio: ‘And if, and it is a big if, if Bolton has gone through its complete cycle and if others areas follow Bolton, the view from the hospital there was that they were able to cope with the level of infections.

‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here…you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures. 

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

Amid growing concern June 21 may be pushed back, impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on that date and he was prepared to be arrested.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”Come to the theatre and arrest us.”’ 

Ministers yesterday announced enhanced support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire to help the area curb the spread of the Indian variant.

Matt Hancock said the military would be brought in as part of the ‘strengthened package of support’.

The Health Secretary also encouraged the up to six million people living in the area not to travel to other parts of the UK and get tested twice a week to help curb the spread the spread of the Indian variant.

He added that residents should try to work from home where possible, and that schools could reintroduce face coverings in communal areas if they were advised to do so by local directors of public health.

Mr Burnham has expressed support for the measures taken in his region and Lancashire.

He said the package was ‘better than the way they went about it last year’, adding it had a ‘better chance of carrying the public with it’. ‘We have every reason to believe it will be successful,’ he said.

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly among a string of Cabinet ministers pressing Boris Johnson to stick to the target date, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’ but would resist any further slippage as this could involve extending the furlough scheme.

‘I don’t think he’s in principle against a short delay if that is what is necessary,’ the source said. ‘If it is more than a week or two then that is problematic.’ 

Treasury sources said there were no plans to extend the furlough scheme, which continues in full until the end of this month. From July, employers will have to make a gradually increasing contribution until the scheme ends in September.

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APRIL LEFT, MAY RIGHT: Graphs show the proportions of people in different age groups who show signs of immunity to coronavirus in blood tests. The levels are almost maxed out in elderly and middle-aged groups who were first to get vaccinated and have clearly risen in younger groups during May 

Andrew Lloyd Webber says Boris Johnson will have to arrest him to stop theatre reopening on June 21

Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and he is prepared to be arrested.   

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions

The pandemic has had a catastrophic financial impact on the theatre industry and many have remained closed despite the ease in Covid-19 restrictions as it is not financially viable for them to open with reduced capacities.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is preparing for a production of Cinderella, which is scheduled to open for previews on June 25 ahead of its world premiere in July.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”come to the theatre and arrest us.”’

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It comes as eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’ 

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region. 

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

The age distribution of immunity is directly linked to the vaccine rollout, with higher rates in older people and lower ones among younger people who haven’t yet had their jabs.

In over-50s in England, for example, more than 98 per cent of people showed signs of immunity.

In those aged 35 to 49 it was 78 per cent, in 25 to 34-year-olds it was 59 per cent and in under-25s it was 53 per cent.

Andy Burnham calls for No10 to redirect Covid vaccine supplies to Greater Manchester’

Andy Burnham has called for vaccine supplies to be diverted to Indian Covid variant hotspots including Greater Manchester to jab over-18s

Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham has today called for vaccine supplies to be redirected to his region and other Indian Covid variant hotspots to tackle the spread of the mutant strain.

The former Labour MP, dubbed the ‘King of the North’, is urging ministers to open up jabs to over-18s in badly-hit areas to deal with surging cases. 

He argued surging supplies to the region would stop the spread of the Delta variant and offered the best hope of No10 being able to unlock fully on June 21.

But a Government minister today dismissed Mr Burnham’s calls to divert coronavirus vaccine supplies to areas including Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Four million people living in both areas were yesterday slapped with tougher guidance urging them not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said No10 was ‘going to stick with the advice’ given to them by top scientific advisers regarding the roll-out. 

Currently the inoculation drive is only open to over-25s in England. But some areas have already begun offering jabs to over-18s, including in parts of Manchester.

Asked about whether he wanted over-18s to be prioritised in the roll-out on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘We absolutely would say surge vaccine supplies into high case areas, so not just Greater Manchester and Lancashire [but] other parts of the country. 

‘It makes much more sense to get on with the vaccination programme in June, then doing that later in the year or later because obviously the need is now to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Of course it would slow the vaccination programme in other parts of the country where cases are lower.’ 

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Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. 

Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.

Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the second time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday that only three of the 126 people hospitalised by the Indian variant in the UK had been fully vaccinated. But a further 28 in hospital – just over a fifth of the total – had received one jab.

Mr Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty are said to have argued that a short delay would enable many more to gain the extra protection of a second jab. But Michael Gove, who is also urging caution, is said to believe Mr Johnson will press ahead with lifting at least some restrictions on June 21.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister wanted to see more data before announcing the decision on Monday. 

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to overrule the scientists. 

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists have got themselves into a frightened state where none of them want to be the one who says unlock because they are fearful they will be blamed if something goes wrong, even though there is no evidence that it will.

‘They are drifting towards a zero Covid goal, which is unattainable, and the politicians have to take back control.’

Former Cabinet minister David Jones also warned against further delay. ‘We cannot continue to live as we have for the last 15 months,’ he said. At some stage we have to take our courage in our hands and start getting back to normal, and that stage is now.’ 

It comes after MailOnline analysis yesterday revealed all over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21.

The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect. 

Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.

Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.

But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.

Experts told MailOnline the figures suggest the Government would be right to delay by two weeks in order to ensure all over-50s have had their second dose and are protected.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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Coronavirus UK: Neil Ferguson warns SAGE needs ‘two to three weeks’ more data

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Britain today recorded another 7,540 coronavirus cases in the biggest spike since February as Professor Neil Ferguson warned it will be ‘two to three weeks’ until SAGE can work out how dangerous the Indian variant is, dealing a killer blows to hopes of lockdown ending on June 21. 

The virus modelling expert, who has guided the Government through the pandemic and earned himself the nickname ‘Professor Lockdown’, said scientists still don’t know how much faster the variant spreads, how much more deadly it is nor how big the third wave will be.

The chance that scientific advisers, ministers and Boris Johnson – who committed to ‘data not dates’ – will sign off on June 21 without this information is slim-to-none. An extra three weeks to collect the figures plus the PM’s one-week notice for a change in restrictions suggests that, best case scenario, it will be early July before Step Four of the roadmap is taken.

Professor Ferguson said: ‘It’s well within the possibility that we could see another, third, wave at least comparable in terms of hospitalisations, as the second wave. At least deaths, I think, would certainly be lower. It’s hard to judge.’

The Imperial College London epidemiologist said researchers need to see how many people are admitted to hospital and die as a result of the current surge in infections. 

They believe it is around 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, more likely to put people in hospital and that vaccines work less well against it.

Britain’s surge in cases today was 74 per cent higher than last Wednesday’s. Another six deaths were recorded and 123 people were admitted to hospital this time last week. 

There have now been more than 19,000 new cases in just three days and Professor Ferguson suggested the outbreak’s doubling time could be less than a week, warning of ‘quite fast doubling, comparable with what we saw before Christmas.’

The prolific SAGE member’s warning is the closest thing to confirmation that Boris Johnson will delay the ending of social distancing laws planned for June 21, dubbed ‘Freedom Day’. His ministers today took a ‘wait and see’ approach to questions about the roadmap and told people to hold off making summer plans.

But there is hope that any delay will only be temporary – likely around a month or until the school holidays start in England at the end of July – and long enough to buy time for experts to collect more data and the NHS to give out more jabs. Bolton, the first area hit by the Delta strain, appears to have managed to control it without lockdown. NHS Providers chief Chris Hopson said if the same thing plays out in other areas the NHS should cope.

Professor Neil Ferguson (left) warned it will be ‘two to three weeks’ until SAGE can work out how dangerous the Indian variant is, dealing a killer blows to hopes of lockdown ending on June 21. Boris Johnson (right) is expected to announce his decision by Monday at the latest

Professor Ferguson, commenting amid a week of swirling speculation about whether lockdown will end this week on schedule, said: ‘There is a risk of a substantial third wave but we cannot be definitive about the scale of that.

‘It could be substantially lower than the second wave or it could be of the same order of magnitude. And that, critically depends on how effective the vaccines still are protecting people against hospitalisation and death against the Delta variant, as well as a few other unknowns.

‘One of the key things we want to resolve in the next few weeks is do we see an uptick in hospitalisations? We’re seeing in some areas, but a consistent uptick or growth in hospitalisations to match the cases? And then what’s the ratio between the two? Because vaccination has fundamentally changed that ratio.’

On ending lockdown completely he said: ‘Clearly you have to be more cautious if you want measures to be irreversibly changed and relaxed, but the Government will decide in the next few days…

‘One of the challenges in the last few weeks is case numbers have so much lower than they were back in December of last year when we resolved the transmission advantage of Alpha [Kent] over other variants. There by the time we realised what was going on Alpha was spread over a large proportion of the country and there were many thousands per week.’

On whether delaying June 21 would be a good idea, he said it was not his job to advise Government but added: ‘Having a delay does make a difference because it allows more people to get second doses, and what we do know about this Delta variant is it has a bigger effect on efficacy after one dose than two.

‘The PHE data suggest that first dose efficacy drops by about 20 per cent from somewhere between 50-60 per cent to 30-40 per cent if you’re infected with the Delta variant. But the second dose efficacy stays higher. It’s still affected but it doesn’t drop by anywhere near as much.

‘There would be benefits, from a purely public health point of view, in terms of protecting people and it would have an effect on transmission of having more weeks of people vaccinated…

‘In two or three weeks we will be in a better position to refine those estimates and say this is what we would expect to see.’

Dr Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London, added: ‘Any delay, from a purely scientific basis, will help because it will allow more time for people to get the second dose.

‘Just having it isn’t enough, you need about seven days for the vaccine to really boost the immune response back up to the levels that we’d like it to be.’

No10 is considering delaying the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown following jittery warnings from top scientists about the spread of the mutant strain.

Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23, hoping the move would give the NHS valuable extra time to ensure millions more over-50s are fully vaccinated and protected against the Delta variant.

But there are also hopes that the virus won’t be as difficult to deal with as models suggest because vaccines are protecting millions of people from getting seriously ill.

If other local areas can follow the example of Bolton, which appears to have arrested the spread of the virus without using lockdown, the NHS is unlikely to get overwhelmed, Chris Hopson said.

The medical union boss told Times Radio: ‘It’s important not to just focus on the raw numbers here… you also do need to look at who’s being admitted into hospital and how clinically vulnerable and what level of acuity [illness] they’ve got.

‘What chief executives are consistently telling us is that it is a much younger population that is coming in, they are less clinically vulnerable, they are less in need of critical care and therefore they’re seeing what they believe is a significantly lower mortality rate which is, you know, borne out by the figures.

‘So it’s not just the numbers of people who are coming in, it’s actually the level of harm and clinical risk.’

He added: ‘Hospitals are very, very busy at the moment, they are incredibly busy, worryingly busy. And therefore if we do see even small numbers of Covid patients, we will have to make some trade-offs between Covid and non-Covid care.’

The number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid is increasing very slowly in the UK but a surge in cases over the past 10 days is expected to lead to a significant rise in admissions in the coming weeks. It will be this, Professor Ferguson said, that dictates how Britain moves forward into the third wave

Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told The Times: ‘Across our hospitals staff are facing pressures much like those seen in mid-winter, with bed occupancy levels well above 90 per cent, which is dangerous and unsustainable.

‘This is before we face any further rise in Covid patients, which would lead to a third wave for the south but, as it seems is often overlooked, a fourth for those in the north.

‘The worry is that hospitals are on a knife-edge but not necessarily a Covid one, with acute units on the brink due to very high numbers of patients being admitted due to chronic illnesses that have taken their toll over past lockdowns and, in many cases, are due to an inability to access urgent primary care.’  

People in England making summer plans for after ‘Freedom Day’ were today told to ‘wait until you’ve heard from the Prime Minister’, in another hint that June 21 easings will be pushed back because of the Indian variant. 

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today appeared to drop the biggest hint yet that England’s final unlocking will be delayed, with cases ‘clearly rising’. Yesterday Britain recorded the biggest week-on-week jump in infections since before Christmas, after the number of positive tests jumped by 90 per cent to 6,083.

Asked whether weddings with more than 30 guests will once again be allowed from June 21, he said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you.

‘We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.’  

Weddings are one of the few areas of society yet to enjoy any freedom, with ceremonies currently capped to 30 guests in England. The final step of the roadmap will remove the limit, alongside allowing nightclubs to reopen and people to invite more than six others into their homes. 

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm by Monday at the latest whether the June 21 plan will go ahead and he is running the roadmap timetable down to the wire, so far refusing to give any indication of what he will do.

Despite growing calls to delay the move, Michael Gove — who has called for a cautious approach to the roadmap — said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 if he was a ‘betting man’.

Meanwhile, Whitehall sources say Rishi Sunak — who is desperate for the PM to stick to the target date to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders — could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown but for no longer than ‘a week or two’. But The Guardian claims the Chancellor would be willing to delay Freedom Day by a month, which could see it pushed back until July 19.

Other experts and Tory MPs have lined up to urge the Prime Minister not to delay the unlocking, saying people must learn to live with the virus and the NHS should be ‘able to cope’ with any surge from the Indian variant.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said that ‘life has to go on’ when asked whether the Government should stick to its roadmap on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. But he added vaccines would not be enough and people would need to keep adapting their lifestyles to fight the disease.  

Ministers yesterday ramped up support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire, urging 4million people living in both areas not to leave the area and avoid meeting people indoors. Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester’s mayor, said there was ‘every reason to believe’ the extra support will successfully curb the spread of the mutant strain. 

The final batch of restrictions are due to be relaxed on June 21, but there are growing calls for the last round of easings to be delayed amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant, which is now dominant in the UK and at least 40 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain of the virus. 

Mr Jenrick hinted to Sky News that June 21 could be pushed back, saying:’We created this five-week period between the stages of the road map and that has actually proved invaluable on this occasion, because it’s a finely balanced decision.

‘We need to see that data of cases, which are clearly rising, but the link to hospitalisations and ultimately to death.

‘So the Prime Minister is reviewing that ahead of the decision point, which is going to be June 14 – at that point of course he will let everybody know what the ultimate decision is.’

He added: ‘We are going to take a cautious approach but if we can proceed with that reopening on the 21st of June of course all of us would love to see that, for our own lives and for the livelihoods that depend on that further reopening.’

The minister was also grilled on whether Britons would be able to holiday abroad this year, saying people should stick to the ‘admittedly relatively small number of countries’ on the ‘green’ list, and not travel to ‘amber’ or ‘red’ areas unless absolutely necessary.

‘You shouldn’t be booking holidays to countries that are currently on either the amber list or the red list,’ he told the programme.

‘You can go to the admittedly relatively small number of countries on the green list.

‘Even there be aware that this isn’t a normal summer for holidays, we are reviewing that list every three weeks and so I would advise people to look for travel operators who can offer flexibility, would be able to offer rescheduling or repayments if something changes.

‘We would like to open up that green list to more countries but we have obviously got to do so cautiously.’

Only 11 countries and territories are on the green list, which includes no major travel destinations in Europe.

The Prime Minister was yesterday reported to be considering delaying June 21 by about two weeks to give extra time for all over-50s — who are most at risk of hospitalisation and death from the virus — to get their second dose of the Covid vaccine, and for it to take effect.

But some experts have called on him not to delay the unlocking. Asked whether June 21 should go ahead, Dr Nabarro suggested ministers should stick to the roadmap.

‘It can’t be just about restrictions – the future for humanity is going to require that we adapt our lifestyles so that we make it hard for this virus to spread,’ he said.

The Army is being sent in to help with surge testing and health chiefs will have the power to enforce mandatory face masks in secondary schools. Pictured: The Royal Horse Artillery help out at a walk-in vaccination bus in Bolton town centre today

DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place

‘We know that the virus is constantly changing, which means that although vaccination is a marvellous marvellous asset, it’s not going to be enough. 

‘We are going to have to continue to behave as though the virus is an ever present threat.

‘So by all means, let the restrictions be released, but at the same time could I encourage everybody, everywhere to go on behaving carefully.

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have Covid antibodies 

Eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Antibody positive levels are highest among older age groups who have had two doses but rising fast in younger adults, too

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region.

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

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‘At school, at the university, in the pub, in the restaurant, in the social club, the virus is still going to be around and it can come back with a huge surge, very, very quickly.’ 

Ministers yesterday announced extra support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire to help the area curb the spread of the Indian variant.

Matt Hancock said the military would be brought in as part of the ‘strengthened package of support’.

The Health Secretary also encouraged the up to six million people living in the area not to travel to other parts of the UK and get tested twice a week to help curb the spread the spread of the Indian variant.

He added that residents should try to work from home where possible, and that schools could reintroduce face coverings in communal areas if they were advised to do so by local directors of public health.

Mr Burnham has expressed support for the measures taken in his region and Lancashire.

He said the package was ‘better than the way they went about it last year’, adding it had a ‘better chance of carrying the public with it’. ‘We have every reason to believe it will be successful,’ he said.

The Army will be sent in to help carry out surge testing to flush out cases of the virus, while NHS boards in the area will be given extra help to ensure vaccine uptake is as high as possible. Residents are also being asked to get tested twice a week.

Both Greater Manchester and Lancashire were added to the ‘coronavirus restrictions’ page of Government guidance under the heading ‘If you’re in an area where the new Covid-19 variant is spreading’, alongside other parts of the North West, Leicester, Hounslow in London and North Tyneside. They cover a total of 5.7million people – around 10 per cent of England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We know that this approach can work, we’ve seen it work in south London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.’

Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham insisted the guidance was ‘not a lockdown’.

Specific areas included are: 

In Lancashire: Rossendale, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, Pendle, Fylde, Lancaster, West Lancashire, Wyre, Burnley and Blackburn with Darwen.

In Greater Manchester: Manchester, Salford, Bury, Rochdale, Wigan, Oldham, Stockport, Trafford, Tameside and Bolton. 

The same rules and advice were already in place in Blackburn, Bolton and Burnley, along with Kirklees, North Tyneside, Bedford, Leicester and the London borough of Hounslow. 

The Army will go door-to-door in some areas to hand out swab kits, and schoolchildren will be helped to get tested. 

Labs will test as many of the positives as possible to identify outbreaks of the Indian variant – although almost all cases are now expected to be caused by it. More than eight out of 10 cases in most of the affected areas have already been linked to the strain.

Vaccinations will also be boosted with extra capacity and supplies and appointments opened up to all adults, as happened unofficially in Bolton when it was the country’s hotspot.

Mr Hancock said: ‘I want to encourage everyone in Greater Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer. We know that this approach can work – we have seen it work in South London and in Bolton in stopping a rise in the number of cases.

‘This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Greater Manchester and in Lancashire, and of course, it is vital that people in these areas as everywhere, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible.’

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak was reportedly among a string of Cabinet ministers pressing Boris Johnson to stick to the target date, arguing there is a pressing need to get key sectors such as hospitality firing on all cylinders.

A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak could live with a delay of ‘a week or two’ but would resist any further slippage as this could involve extending the furlough scheme.

‘I don’t think he’s in principle against a short delay if that is what is necessary,’ the source said. ‘If it is more than a week or two then that is problematic.’ 

Treasury sources said there were no plans to extend the furlough scheme, which continues in full until the end of this month. From July, employers will have to make a gradually increasing contribution until the scheme ends in September.

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APRIL LEFT, MAY RIGHT: Graphs show the proportions of people in different age groups who show signs of immunity to coronavirus in blood tests. The levels are almost maxed out in elderly and middle-aged groups who were first to get vaccinated and have clearly risen in younger groups during May 

It comes as eight out of 10 adults in England now have signs of immunity to Covid from either a vaccine or having had the virus in the past.

A regular blood-testing report from the Office for National Statistics found that 80.3 per cent of adults in England tested positive for coronavirus antibodies in the third week of May, up from 76 per cent at the end of April.

Antibodies are virus-fighting proteins that give people immunity to the virus and should stop them from getting sick if they catch it, although they don’t always give total protection.

Andrew Lloyd Webber says Boris Johnson will have to arrest him to stop theatre reopening on June 21

Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned Boris Johnson that nothing will stop him from reopening his theatres on June 21 and he is prepared to be arrested.   

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions.

He also revealed he has already remortgaged his London home.

The composer, 73, told the Daily Telegraph he may have to sell his six West End venues if the Government does not relax its restrictions

The pandemic has had a catastrophic financial impact on the theatre industry and many have remained closed despite the ease in Covid-19 restrictions as it is not financially viable for them to open with reduced capacities.

Lord Lloyd-Webber is preparing for a production of Cinderella, which is scheduled to open for previews on June 25 ahead of its world premiere in July.

‘We are going to open, come hell or high water,’ Lord Lloyd-Webber told the Telegraph.

Asked what he would do if the Government postponed lifting lockdown, he said: ‘We will say: ”come to the theatre and arrest us.”’

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The country’s huge vaccination programme, which yesterday started offering jabs to people in their 20s for the first time, is the driving force behind the surging numbers of people who show signs of immunity.

Across the whole of the UK a total of 40.6million people have had at least one dose of a jab – more than three quarters of all adults – and 28.2m have had both jabs giving them the maximum possible protection.

NHS bosses Sir Simon Stevens said on Monday that the vaccine rollout is entering ‘the home straight’ as health chiefs and Matt Hancock urged everyone to get a jab as soon as possible to help the country end lockdown rules.

The ONS report said: ‘There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies.’ 

The ONS report showed that Wales had the most people testing positive for antibodies in the UK, with 83 per cent. In Scotland it was 73 per cent and Northern Ireland 80 per cent.

Across the regions of England, positivity was highest in the East Midlands and the North West, with 80 per cent, and lowest in London with 76 per cent.

Vaccine uptake is significantly lower in the capital, with only 68 per cent of adults having had a jab, compared to more than 76 per cent in every other region. 

Higher rates of infection in London in the first and second waves have boosted immunity, however, because most people also test positive if they have had coronavirus in the past.

The age distribution of immunity is directly linked to the vaccine rollout, with higher rates in older people and lower ones among younger people who haven’t yet had their jabs.

In over-50s in England, for example, more than 98 per cent of people showed signs of immunity.

In those aged 35 to 49 it was 78 per cent, in 25 to 34-year-olds it was 59 per cent and in under-25s it was 53 per cent.

Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. 

Government scientists are understood to have warned ministers that daily cases are on course to be running at well over 10,000 a day by June 21.

Yesterday, daily cases topped 6,000 for the second time since mid-March. And there is concern that those who have had only one jab are at risk from the virulent Indian strain.

Matt Hancock told MPs on Monday that only three of the 126 people hospitalised by the Indian variant in the UK had been fully vaccinated. But a further 28 in hospital – just over a fifth of the total – had received one jab.

Mr Hancock and the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty are said to have argued that a short delay would enable many more to gain the extra protection of a second jab. But Michael Gove, who is also urging caution, is said to believe Mr Johnson will press ahead with lifting at least some restrictions on June 21.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister wanted to see more data before announcing the decision on Monday. 

Tory MPs urged Mr Johnson to overrule the scientists. 

Former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Scientists have got themselves into a frightened state where none of them want to be the one who says unlock because they are fearful they will be blamed if something goes wrong, even though there is no evidence that it will.

‘They are drifting towards a zero Covid goal, which is unattainable, and the politicians have to take back control.’

Former Cabinet minister David Jones also warned against further delay. ‘We cannot continue to live as we have for the last 15 months,’ he said. At some stage we have to take our courage in our hands and start getting back to normal, and that stage is now.’ 

It comes after MailOnline analysis yesterday revealed all over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21.

The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect. 

Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.

Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.

But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine is linked to another bleeding disorder that can cause purple-dotted rash

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AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine has today been linked to another rare bleeding disorder.

Researchers say around one in 100,000 people given the jab will suffer idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP).

The condition can cause minor bruising around the body and can leave some with a purple-dotted rash. 

Almost 350 Brits have been struck down with a separate rare clotting disorder after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed by Oxford University. 

The complication — blood clots occurring alongside abnormally low platelet levels, cells which cause blockages — spooked health chiefs into advising under-40s are given a different jab.

ITP can cause minor bruising around the body and can leave some with a purple-dotted rash called petechiae (pictured)

Edinburgh University experts, who uncovered the link to ITP, did not say how many people also went on to develop clots. 

But they said it was likely to be a ‘manifestation’ of the main troubling complication.

Researchers spotted the link after analysing data from 5.4million people in Scotland between December 8 and April 14. By then, 1.7million had received their first dose of the Oxford jab, while 800,000 had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

They examined vaccinated individuals’ health records to identify any previous issues with ITP, clotting or bleeding disorders and compared these to people who had not been vaccinated.

No cases were linked to Pfizer’s Covid jab, which works in an entirely different way.  

They said the finding for that jab — which has been administered 24.6million times in Britain — was ‘reassuring’. 

What is idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)?

ITP is a condition that causes the immune system to destroy platelets.

Platelets are blood cells that clot the blood and are needed to prevent bleeding and bruising after injury.

People can get ITP after a virus, vaccine or certain medicines, but the cause is often unknown. It is usually diagnosed with a blood test.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people in the UK have ITP. 

Someone who does not have enough platelets can bruise very easily or may be unable to stop bleeding when cut.

Other common symptoms include petechiae – a pin prick rash of blood spots that can appear red, purple or brown – bruising and nose bleeds. 

A normal platelet count is between 100 and 400 thousand million per litre of blood.

Those who have ITP are unlikely to get bleeding symptoms unless their platelet count is below 20 thousand million per litre of blood.

ITP in children almost always gets better without any treatment.

But adults are usually prescribed a short course of steroids to treat the condition. 

Source: NHS

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For the AstraZeneca jab, the risk of developing ITP lasted for almost four weeks after getting jabbed.  

There is no proof the AstraZeneca’s jab has caused blood clots despite mounting claims, and that remains under investigation.

The experts also insist the benefits of the jab outweigh risks for the large majority of adults. 

UK health chiefs only advised under-40s were given a different vaccine because of their tiny risk of falling seriously ill, coupled with the very low prevalence of Covid at the time.

The recommendation from the JCVI, which advises No10 may change if cases spiral out of control because of the Indian variant. 

Edinburgh scientists said the risk of ITP after AstraZeneca’s jab — calculated to be 11 per 1million doses — was similar to rates seen for the MMR vaccine.  

Professor Aziz Sheikh, study author, claimed the ‘very small risk’ of ITP, clotting and bleeding needed to be ‘seen within the context of the very clear benefits’ of the jab, which has been repeatedly proven to save lives.

Dr Will Lester, a consultant haematologist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, who was not involved in the study, said ITP is often ‘manageable’, and the risk of death from the condition ‘very rare’. 

He insisted there is ‘currently no evidence’ that any vaccine against Covid is riskier than another.

Patients who developed ITP had an average age of 69 and often had at least one underlying health condition, such as heart disease or diabetes.    

The first clots to alarm people given AstraZeneca’s vaccine were ones appearing in veins near the brains of younger adults in a condition called CSVT (cerebral sinus venous thrombosis).

Since that, however, people have developed clots in other parts of their bodies.

All of the clots have occurred alongside thrombocytopaenia, an abnormally low numbers of platelets — an unusual effect because platelets are usually used by the immune system to build the clots.

In most cases people recover fully and the blockages are generally easy to treat if spotted early, but they can trigger strokes or heart or lung problems if unnoticed.

Symptoms depend entirely on where the clot is, with brain blockages causing excruitiating headaches. Clots in major arteries in the abdomen can cause persistent stomach pain, and ones in the leg can cause swelling of the limbs.

Some countries have decided to stop using the jab altogether, with Denmark and Norway opting against rolling it out. Other nations have restricted it to certain age groups.

The Oxford vaccine was approved in the UK in December and is recommended for use in over 40s

But AstraZeneca’s jab isn’t the only one thought to cause blood clots. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, which has yet to be approved in the UK, has been linked to 28 cases in the US out of more than 10.4million shots.

Researchers in Germany believe the problem lies in the adenovirus vector — a common cold virus used so both vaccines can enter the body.

Academics investigating the issue say the complication is ‘completely absent’ in mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s because they have a different delivery mechanism.

Experts at Goethe-University of Frankfurt and Ulm University, in Helmholtz, say the AstraZeneca vaccine enters the nucleus of the cell – a blob of DNA in the middle. For comparison, the Pfizer jab enters the fluid around it that acts as a protein factory.

Bits of coronavirus proteins that get inside the nucleus can break up and the unusual fragments then get expelled out into the bloodstream, where they can trigger clotting in a tiny number of people, scientists claim.

The JCVI recommended that under-39s should be given a vaccine other than the Oxford jab, over concerns about very low risk of possible links to blood clots. F igures show that over 40 million people have received their first jab in the UK, while over 28 million have received their second

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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HALF of breast cancer patients hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine say they fear side effects

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One-third of breast cancer patients may be hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a new study suggests.

Of 619 women who responded to a survey on breast cancer-related social media pages, 183, or 34 percent, said they were tentative to get immunized against the virus.

More than 50 percent of the women said they feared adverse reactions and about one-fifth distrust the health care system. 

The women also reported that they were most likely to be motivated to take the vaccine if it was recommended to them by their oncologist.

For the study, published in JAMA Oncology, the team surveyed 540 women resisting in Mexico who visited social media channels dedicated to improving breast cancer care.

Of the group, 357 said they were willing to be vaccinated immediately against COVID-19 and 183 were hesitant to be vaccinated right away.

Among the hesitant group, 54.6 percent – 100 women -feared side effects or adverse reactions and 20.2 percent – 37 women – said they distrusted the health care system. 

Other primary reasons women cited for not wanting the vaccine was that some believed that the vaccine is not for women with breast cancer, 12.6 percent, or their physician has not recommended it to them, 9.8 percent.

Some also believe that the vaccine is either not effective (17, 9.3 percent), or can cause Covid-19 (14, 7.7 percent). 

The survey also asked what it would take for the women to get the vaccine.

Other potentially effective measure to getting hesitant people vaccinated include providing patients with more information on the vaccines effectiveness (85, 46.4 percent) and safety (78, 42.6 percent). 

The patients also trust their loved one and other personal figures in their life, as 61 (33.3 percent) answered that they would receive the vaccine if someone close to them did so and did not experience a negative reaction, and 32 (17.5 percent) said they would receive the vaccine if their primary care physician recommended them to do so.

The least effective measure was the vaccine being endorsed by national health officials, with only three hesitant respondents saying that would convince them to receive the vaccine.

Researchers also found that those hesitant to receive the vaccine were most likely to be younger than 60, have no education past a high school degree, and were unlikely to have received a flu shot in the past year. 

The results seem to match strategies outlined by American public health officials in getting hesitant people vaccinated.

While a majority of national figures have endorsed the vaccine and its effectiveness, many of those hesitant about receiving the vaccine are unlikely to be swayed by them.

Instead, many officials have focused on getting primary care physicians and community leaders – people who a hesitant person has a personal, trustworthy, relationship with – to endorse the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. 

The researchers point out oncologists in particular as being key to getting more breast cancer patients vaccinated, since patients are most likely to trust putting their health into them.

Researchers also note that their survey may have some limitations, since they were relying on self reported data from social media, and the sample size of 619 is relatively small.

Cancer patients are at an increased risk of dying of Covid-19, and the best way to protect themselves, according to health experts, is by getting vaccinated. 

A recent study found that patients with an active cancer diagnoses are up to 70 percent more likely to die from Covid-19 than the average person. 

Cancer patients may be more vulnerable than others even after receiving the vaccine, though, as another recent study found cancer patients were developing lower antibody levels after being vaccinated.  

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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