Border virologist Dr Louise Pemberton speaks to Australian COVID vaccine roll out | The Border Mail


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An Albury-based virologist is calling for clarity and calm when it comes to the Australian roll-out of the COVID vaccine. Charles Sturt University lecturer Louise Pemberton said while she wanted to reassure the Border community that the vaccines chosen by the Australian government were safe, the roll-out messaging needed to be “spot on” to achieve herd immunity. “I think it is going to play out quite well,” Dr Pemberton told The Border Mail. “I don’t think there is any need for anyone to be worrying about the safety of the vaccines that have been chosen. “The Astra Zeneca one – which is the one the government has obtained the most doses of – is displaying at the moment around 62 per cent efficacy, which is good, compared with other vaccines for other viruses it measures up to those. “But I think where the confusion is coming is that there are other vaccines that are displaying higher efficacy.” Dr Pemberton said the Astra Zeneca vaccine “a good vaccine” but there needed to be a large number of people get the jab for it to be effective for the population. IN OTHER NEWS: “Because it is only 62 per cent effective, there needs to be a really big push to get as many people buying into getting vaccinated as possible so we can increase the chances of eventually getting herd immunity with the addition of the other vaccines as well,” she said. “You would want to get a huge buy in from the public for it to be effective, almost 100 per cent, which is not feasible. “The government messaging must be spot on when they roll out the advertising campaign to get as much of the population to opt in for vaccination. “With the other two vaccines the efficacy is much higher, 95 per cent; this is why people are questioning why we have not procured more doses of these. “Whatever campaign that is brought out by the government, it really needs to push that they are safe because there underlying nervousness that because its been developed within 10 months that they aren’t safe which is not true.” Dr Pemberton said while she could only speak for herself and her family, she would encourage everyone to ask questions of their GP before opting-in.

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Covid: Vaccinated people may spread virus, says Van-Tam


Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam stressed that scientists “do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission”.

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As more countries impose COVID curfews, scientists ask: Do they work?


But curfews also have been used as instruments of political repression and systemic racism. Decades ago, in so-called sundown towns in the United States, black people were not permitted on the streets after dusk and often were forced to leave altogether.

As the pandemic unfolded, Melbourne, and many European countries imposed curfews, on the theory that keeping people at home after a certain hour would slow viral transmission. Usually curfews were implemented alongside other measures, like closing businesses early and shuttering schools, making it difficult to tease out the curfew’s effectiveness.

Street vendors leave Bolivar Square at the start of an official continuous multi-day curfew in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus infections, in Bogota, Colombia on Friday.Credit:AP

The scientific evidence on curfews is far from ideal. There has not been a pandemic like this one in a century. While curfews make intuitive sense, it’s very hard to discern their precise effects on viral transmission, let alone transmission of this coronavirus.

Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florida, believes that curfews are, on the whole, an effective way to slow the pandemic. But he acknowledged his view is based on intuition.

“Scientific intuition does tell you something,” Longini said. “It’s just that you can’t quantify it very well.”

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Maria Polyakova, an economist at Stanford University, has studied the effects of the pandemic on the US economy.

“In general,” she said, “we expect that staying at home mechanically slows the pandemic, as it reduces the number of interactions between people.”

“The trade-off is that the reduction in economic activity especially hurts many workers and their families in the large service sector of the economy,” she added.

So is the curfew worth the price?

She is at a loss to understand the logic.

“Assuming that nightclubs and such are already closed down anyway, for instance, prohibiting people from going for a walk around the block with their family at night is unlikely to reduce interactions,” Polyakova said.

Moreover, the virus thrives indoors, and clusters of infection are common in families and in households. So one daunting question is whether forcing people into these settings for longer periods slows transmission — or accelerates it.

“You can think of it like this,” said William Hanage, a public health researcher at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, “what proportion of transmission events happen during the time in question? And how will the curfew stop them?”

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One study, published recently in Science, analysed data from China’s Hunan province at the start of the outbreak. Curfews and lockdown measures, the researchers concluded, had a paradoxical effect: These restrictions reduced the spread within the community but raised the risk of infection within households, reported Kaiyuan Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, and his colleagues.

Longini and his colleagues incorporated lockdowns and curfews into models of the pandemic in the United States and concluded that they can be an effective way to reduce transmission.

But, he cautioned, models come with a lot of assumptions about the population and how the virus spreads.

“Whether you believe that is a scientific rationale depends on whether you believe the model,” he said.

Jon Zelner, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan, said that there was too little scientific data to know whether curfews are effective, but that such coercive measures rarely work in the long run.

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“With respect to curfews, I think that it is hard to understand what the positive impact of them is going to be,” he said. “One of the things I worry about with relatively vague or poorly reasoned orders is that it erodes the trust people need to have to follow these.”

In countries like Japan, which have a much lower incidence of COVID-19 than the United States, the secret seems to be a population that accepts and follows guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing, “rather than a series of rule-like restrictions” like curfews.

That could have happened in the United States, Zelner said, but public health recommendations were “drawn into our broader set of unending cultural and political conflicts.”

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Voices From China’s Covid Crisis, One Year After Wuhan Lockdown


They are survivors, essential workers and specialists still trying to understand the physical and emotional effects of the coronavirus. They make up a tapestry of people, offering a view of the first months of the pandemic, and of what China’s recovery means.

A year after the Covid-19 lockdown in the Chinese city of Wuhan — the first in the world, and still one of the harshest — we asked six people, some of whom we spoke to at the height of the outbreak, to describe what they have been through.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

One day in August, our manager reminded us that drivers always had to wear masks, no matter how much the situation had improved. Personally, I don’t know if it’s PTSD, but I always wear a mask. I’m probably the only driver in our company who still always carries hand sanitizer in my pocket and uses it regularly.

I always thought I wasn’t afraid of death. But I found out during the epidemic that I’m terrified of it. I missed my wife, my 5-year-old twin boys, my father, so much. I thought, if I survive this, what will I do?

So after the lockdown lifted, my first thought was going home. I stayed two months. In the past, I would stay two or three days, maybe a week, then hurry back. I don’t make a lot of money, and my mind was always on making more. But now, my thinking has changed. If I make a little more money, what’s the use?

I never thought that this sudden epidemic would create a situation where everyone said thank you. I was shocked. Wasn’t respect for people like experts, academics, celebrities? How could it go to a delivery worker? It made me so happy.

Now, things have gone back to the way they were last year. This is human nature.

Zhang Yongzhen, a virologist, came under immense official pressure after he released the full sequence of the new coronavirus on Jan. 11 of last year, in defiance of Chinese government orders. He remains absent from Beijing’s narrative of how the country beat the virus, in contrast with Zhong Nanshan, the government-appointed doctor celebrated for announcing what many experts had already figured out: that the virus could be transmitted by humans.

At that time, I made four findings about the virus. One, it was like SARS. Two, it was a new coronavirus. Most important, the virus was transmitted through the respiratory tract. I also thought it was more infectious than the flu virus. Even then, I thought it must be able to spread from humans to humans.

If more experts had shared my opinion from the beginning, then we may not have needed Zhong Nanshan to say something.

Whether in the United States or in China, we need to cultivate a group of critics — real scientists in the field. China really needs it. Zhong Nanshan is old. Who will be the next to dare to speak the truth? You must have enough courage to speak the truth.

I have since encountered some difficulties in terms of my work and funding for my programs. But I don’t regret anything I did. I trusted myself. I have so much experience, my team has made so many discoveries over the years, that we were able to make accurate judgments.

I hope you can mention one thing. My wife passed away on Oct. 13, 2019. We got married in 1989 and we were together for 30 years. If I have made any contribution to society, it is because of the support of my wife.

Blair Zong, 34, was one of hundreds of Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, and she published a visual diary in February chronicling her quarantine on a military base in California. She is now in Austin, Texas, working as an event planner and a nanny.

After Wuhan locked down, I was nervous and anxious. I heard rumors about people dying and things got really scary. Someone sent me a report that said America was evacuating citizens, so I called the consulate. I made the decision to go and said goodbye to my mom and grandparents.

The day I left quarantine, there was a lady behind me in line in the San Diego airport who was coughing nonstop. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bad sign, but I also felt like there was no way the virus could spread here that badly. Everything was normal again.

But then starting in March, people here started buying up toilet paper, and the panic came back. The situation had stabilized in China, so my friends there started to mock me, asking: “Do you regret going back now?” One of my college friends in Wuhan sent me a package of goggles and masks.

I have become more calm and more careful about life. I accept everything as it comes. I’m trying to be more eco-friendly.

As Wuhan focused on fighting the coronavirus, Zhao Qian, 29, struggled to get medical treatment for her newborn daughter, who had a life-threatening heart condition.

At the time, hospitals weren’t taking in any patients, including our daughter. We tried so hard, we tapped every possible resource and connection, and it was only through our efforts that we were able to save our daughter’s life. All of the doctors had gone to the frontline.

Overall, though, the country’s policies were quite good. I remember when all the supermarkets were closed, some volunteers were still helping me buy food. No matter what unpleasant hearsay or rumors there may have been, I think the country was very powerful. Wuhan people are now very safe. It’s very reassuring.

Any Chinese person should feel very proud. No matter how great the hardship, even with an outbreak that was so serious that other countries couldn’t control it, as long as the people are unified, I think we can get through anything.

Lei Wuming, 50, a psychology professor at the Wuhan University of Technology, began hosting funerals over WeChat, a popular messaging app, to give grieving families a way to mourn.

Back then, I was like a priest hosting these funerals. I was also a psychologist. I helped create an atmosphere for families to express their grief. First, to express their grief, and second, to cherish the memories.

It brought families closer. They recalled the same memories and the same person and it made their relationship closer. They were huddling together to keep warm.

The families would set up a chat group. Then I would join. I would play some funeral music and then make a speech. Then I would name each person who would talk, one by one. They could choose to talk, type or even send emojis.

It was social support, so the family would feel, “I am not alone here. I have families and friends who are there for me.”

In retrospect, our death toll compared to Western countries — if it is truthfully reported — ours is quite low. But at the time of the pandemic, we didn’t think like that. We thought we were done for.

After Liu Pei’en’s father died from the coronavirus last January, he vowed to pressure the authorities to take responsibility for initially concealing the outbreak.

Looking back at the first half of last year, I was so angry. The local officials threatened me. I left Wuhan, and they still wouldn’t let it go. They harassed my relatives. They wanted to make it seem like I had a mental illness.

But in the second half of the year, I began to change. I devoted myself to studying Buddhism. Faith allows you to understand life and truth. I could see that retribution and killing have been a part of humanity from ancient times to the present.

My heart began to calm down. I am no longer angry and full of hate. Still, the pain is raw and I cry a lot.

I spend a lot of time praying. I try to donate as much money as I can to temples and other charity organizations for the poor and elderly around Wuhan. I have given more than 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in my father’s name, to help him earn merit.

Any dreams I had for making money before have now faded. Because what is the use of money anyway? Money can’t buy back life.

I realized I was ignorant when I thought I could sue the government. Nothing will come of it. And if you take a step back, everyone is guilty and will face karmic retribution.

I only care about the people around me, about being myself. I’m planning to take my mother to Sanya for Chinese New Year. That’s where we were going to go last year before my father was infected.

Reporting and research was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Albee Zhangand Coral Yang.

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UK Considering Australia-Style COVID ‘Quarantine Hotels’ for International Travellers, Says Report



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Currently in the UK, there are approximately 3.58 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, with around 96,000 deaths reported.

The UK government is to consider the enforcement of “Covid hotels” as part of a broader effort to restrict international travel, according to the BBC. 

The news comes hot on the heels of comments by Boris Johnson that suggested tighter border restrictions were a likely necessity in order to prevent dangerous new Covid-19 strains from entering British territory.

In a move that has risen the eyebrows of anti-lockdown Conservative Party backbenchers in parliament, BoJo’s cabinet are also said to be considering a total shut down of the UK’s borders to outside travel, although government sources have been widely quoted as saying that they suspect such an outcome, while still under discussion, is unlikely.

However, a system similar to that employed by the governments of Australia and New Zealand, in which hotels used to quarantine international arrivals are likely to be established, is being taken seriously. According to this approach, it would be legally mandated for travellers entering the UK to carry out a 10-day quarantine in a hotel for which they would have to foot the bill. In Australia, travellers have to pay for their hotel room at a select number of Covid-19 quarantine facilities where they have all of their meals brought to their room throughout the 14-day stay. They are also tested twice for the virus during that period. If the measure is adopted by the UK government, then ministers must decide whether it will apply across the board to all travellers, or only those coming from high-risk countries. According to the BBC, among those supporting the measure’s implementation in the UK is London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

This week, the government suspended all UK travel corridors, which had previously allowed some arriving to the UK from particular countries to avoid having to quarantine. Furthermore, nationals heading to Britain now have to provide a negative Covid-19 test up to 72 hours before their departure. Those arriving – including British nationals – must quarantine for 10 days.

Discoveries of new and contagious more variants in South Africa and Brazil recently resulted in the UK suspending flights from those two nations, as well as several other South American and African states.

At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, January 22, Bojo did not rule out taking harsher action against international travel.

“I really don’t rule it out, we may need to take further measures still. We may need to go further to protect our borders. We don’t want to put that [efforts to control Covid-19] at risk by having a new variant come back in,” said the prime minister.

The news comes on the heels of the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19 in Kent, England. At his above-mentioned Friday press briefing, BoJo said that the new strain may in fact be more deadly than previous versions by up to “30 percent.” However, Public Health England’s medical director, Yvonne Doyle, has been quoted as saying that it is “too early” to say whether the new variant is more deadly.

“There is some evidence, but it is very early evidence. It is small numbers of cases and it is far too early to say this will actually happen,” she said.

 



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NHS urged to recognise ‘Covid tongue’ as official sign of the disease


Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said he’s seeing an increasing number of infected patients with sores on their tongue and unusual mouth ulcers

The NHS is being urged to recognise ‘Covid tongue’ as an official symptom of coronavirus amid fears it is becoming more widespread. 

Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said he’s seeing an increasing number of infected patients with sores on their tongue, unusual mouth ulcers and swollen tongues.

The epidemiologist, who is monitoring the UK crisis through his Covid symptom tracker app used by millions of Brits, warned one in five sufferers show symptoms the NHS doesn’t recognise.

Professor Spector warned 20 per cent of infectious people may be slipping through the cracks and continuing to spread the disease because of it. 

The NHS currently only lists three signs of the infection — a fever, continuous cough and loss of smell or taste. It suggests only people with these three symptoms may have Covid-19 and therefore should self-isolate and get tested. 

This means Britons suffering from the virus’ less common symptoms are not getting access to swabs and may be continuing to pass the virus to others. 

The UK has repeatedly been accused of playing catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to spotting Covid-19 throughout the crisis.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of 11 primary symptoms, including fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat and shortness of breath — but admits the virus can cause an array of other side effects.

He is urging the NHS to recognise 'Covid tongue' as an official symptom of coronavirus amid fears it is becoming more widespread.

He is urging the NHS to recognise ‘Covid tongue’ as an official symptom of coronavirus amid fears it is becoming more widespread.

The UK has been accused of missing 'the majority' of Covid-19 cases because it still only recognises three tell-tale signs of the infection (the NHS website, shown)

The UK has been accused of missing ‘the majority’ of Covid-19 cases because it still only recognises three tell-tale signs of the infection (the NHS website, shown)

The medical name for acute swelling of the tongue as the result of a viral infection is ‘glossitis’. Professor Spector tweeted about the symptom last week.

He said: ‘One in five people with Covid still present with less common symptoms that dont get on the official PHE list – such as skin rashes. 

‘Seeing increasing numbers of Covid tongues and strange mouth ulcers. If you have a strange symptom or even just headache and fatigue stay at home!’

He added today: ‘Keep those Covid tongue pics coming – important to draw attention to these, skin rashes, Covid toes and the 20 plus other symptoms of Covid that go ignored.

‘Thirty-five per cent of people have non-classic symptoms in the first three days when most infective.’

Professor Spector has repeatedly called for the NHS to expand its list – which he described as the ‘briefest in the world’ – to ensure Covid-19 infections are spotted in the early stages – reducing the risk of it being spread as Britons self-isolate earlier.

Professor Spector is drawing attention to the Covid tongue symptom of the virus

Professor Spector is drawing attention to the Covid tongue symptom of the virus

‘We’re still missing 35 per cent of cases that have symptoms that aren’t in the NHS 111 list which is the briefest list in the world,’ he told MailOnline.

He added that anyone using the Covid-19 symptom app can get a test for the virus if they’re suffering any symptom, rather than just the NHS-identified ones. 

Analysis of NHS hospital records show a cough, fever and shortness of breath are the three most common symptoms, with seven out of 10 patients suffering at least one of the three.  

But up to a third of patients also experience respiratory problems, stomach pains and musculoskeletal symptoms — including muscle and joint pain, and fatigue.  

Professor Spector told MailOnline today: ‘We are collecting many anecdotal reports of COVID tongue via the ZOE app and it is associated with Long COVID patients. 

‘We need more analyses before we can put some numbers on how common it is and how predictive it is of COVID. 

‘Until then, unusual tongue symptoms are likely to suggest COVID while the virus is still common.’ 

However, red and white patches can also be caused by other infections, including thrush, according to British Dental Association spokesman Professor Damien Walmsley. 

‘The white patches usually rub off, leaving a sore red patch underneath,’ he said.

But sore patches are often only an indication that a person is run down and their immune system is not firing on all cylinders, he added.

‘It could also occur in those who have been taking antibiotics, or using asthma inhalers.’ 

Single white patches on the tongue ‘can be a bit more worrying,’ according to Professor Walmsley.

It could simply be down to the fact the tongue is rubbing against a tooth or filling and being irritated, but there’s a small chance it could indicate oral cancer.  

A localised white patch or red patch which has been there for more than three weeks should be checked out by your dentist or GP, the expert said.

COVID-19 HAS AT LEAST 19 SYMPTOMS, EXPERT BEHIND UK SYMPTOM TRACKER APP SAYS 

Professor Spector and researchers from King’s College London have developed a symptom-tracking app which has seen millions of Britons sign up and report their symptoms. 

The full list of symptoms, in order of how predictive they are of the disease, include:

1. Loss of smell/taste

2. Persistent cough

3. Fatigue

4. Loss of appetite

5. Skin rash

6. Hives

7. Fever

8. Severe muscle pain

9. Shortness of breath

10. Diarrhoea

11. Delirium

12. Abdominal pain

13. Chest pain

14. Hoarse voice

15. Eye soreness

16. Sore or painful throat

17. Nausea or vomiting

18. Headache

19. Dizziness or light headedness

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Retail sales continue rebound, having risen 7 months in a row since COVID low in April


Retail sales have risen for seven months in a row and are now more than 5 per cent higher than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The data agency released numbers for November on Friday that showed Canadian retailers racked up more than $55 billion in sales during the month. That’s more than $600 million higher than they were the previous month, and the seventh straight monthly gain since shopping cratered in March and April of 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning.

The increase was led by higher sales at food and beverage stores and higher online sales — continuing the internet shopping trend that exploded last spring.

Different types of stores saw different sales changes, including:

  • Food and beverage stores, up 5.9 per cent.
  • General merchandise, up 1.6 per cent.
  • Building and garden supply, up 2.2 per cent.
  • Gas stations, down 1.6 per cent.
  • Clothing and accessories, down 3 per cent.

Sales grew in every province except Manitoba, where they declined by 3.1 per cent. Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic noted that Manitoba’s lag is likely because that province was among the first to move into a second lockdown phase.

“That could be a preview of what is coming in the data for December and January from some other larger provinces that have since taken similar measures,” Kavcic said.

While retail sales numbers look strong “in the rearview mirror,” as Kavcic put it, the data agency indeed warned that the streak of growth may come to an end with next month’s numbers, which cover the normally busy shopping month of December.

StatsCan said Friday that preliminary data suggests retail sales were down by 2.6 per cent in December. That estimate is based on early numbers from 59 per cent of retailers surveyed by the data agency, so the number may change as more retailers report their numbers.

It may also get worse as retailers locked down by government orders report their sales data.

“We’re set for a steep decline in December as lockdown measures spread more widely across major parts of the country and then extended into January,” Kavcic said.

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Covaxin and Covishield: What we know about India's Covid vaccines



As India starts exporting Covid vaccines, here’s what we know about Covishield and Covaxin.

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UK coronavirus LIVE: Covid cases plunge in London as R rate falls to between 0.8 and 1


It comes as the UK’s R rate dropped to between 0.8 and 1 according to the Scientific Group for Emergencies (Sage). But the scientists advising the Government warned that despite the reductions, case levels remain “dangerously high”.

Live updates

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Case numbers are shrinking by up to 4% every day

The estimates for R and the growth rate are provided by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), a sub-group of Sage.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between -4 and -1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

It means the number of new infections is shrinking by between one and four per cent every day.

Scientists advising the Government said that all regions of England have seen decreases in the R number and growth rate estimates compared with last week, and R is below or around 1 in every region.

However, they warned that despite the reductions, case levels “remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives”.

Sage scientists said: “It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not.

“We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.”

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More on that R rate which suggests lockdown is starting to have an impact…

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is between 0.8 and 1, the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

Last week, it was between 1.2 and 1.3.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, it means the outbreak is growing exponentially.

An R number between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 8 and 10 other people.

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The R rate has fallen to between 0.8 and 1

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission has fallen and is now estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 across the UK, according to the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

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No10 remains staunch in its refusal to publish vaccine supply data

Downing Street has cited a global demand for vaccines as a reason why the figures for the supply of coronavirus jabs is not being published.

Asked why the Government is not giving numbers on supply, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There’s clearly a huge demand for vaccines around the world so we’re not going to be commenting on vaccine supply and delivery schedules.”

Pressed on how global demand is a justification for not publishing figures, he said: “I haven’t got any more to add on this.

“We have said we won’t be getting into the detail of supplies and deliveries.”

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Sadiq Khan is calling for facemasks to be worn outdoors in a bid to tackle the crisis in the capital

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We must ensure vaccine rollout is ‘fair’ – No10

Asked about whether supply of the vaccine to the north-east of England and Yorkshire would be scaled down due to strong progress in vaccinating people in the top four priority groups in those areas, Downing Street highlighted comments made by Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week about the rollout needing to be “fair”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will continue to ensure that all areas and regions of the UK receive the vaccine to ensure we can protect the most vulnerable in society.

“I would point to what Matt Hancock said yesterday where he said we have got to make sure vaccination is fair across the UK and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and Yorkshire, have gone fast early on.

“He also said why we’re putting more vaccine into areas that haven’t made as much progress, so everyone in the top four groups can receive the offer of a vaccine by February 15.

“We’ve always said that we will prioritise those first four cohorts, which is why we set the mid-February target.

“But it remains the case that areas of the UK will continue to receive doses of the vaccine.”

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Government avoids question on whether vaccines will be moved away from some regions to boost others

Downing Street has declined to deny suggestions that vaccines will be moved away from some regions in order to boost those that have made less progress in the rollout.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi previously denied that vaccines would be moved from Yorkshire and the North East to help other regions in England.

But asked to repeat the denial, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m simplifying pointing out the fact that we’ll continue to prioritise the over-80s and will ensure the areas that need more in order to increase those percentages can receive it, while ensuring that we provide vaccine doses to all areas of the country.”

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Downing Street denies £500 quarantine payment

Downing Street has denied that the Government is preparing to pay everyone in England £500 if they test positive for coronavirus in an effort to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “There are no plans to introduce an extra £500 payment.

“We already offer a £500 payment to support those on low incomes who cannot work from home.

“We’ve given local authorities £70 million for the scheme and they are able to provide extra payments on top of those £500 if they think it necessary.

“That £500 is on top of any other benefits and statutory sick pay that people are eligible for.”

The spokesman, asked about the Department of Health and Social Care document the universal payment suggestion was allegedly made in, said he would not comment on a leaked paper.

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Some smaller hotspot areas have one in 20 people with Covid in private households

In some areas of England as many as one in 20 people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 between January 12 and 17, according to the ONS.

These areas are Rochdale, West Lancashire, Knowsley, Liverpool and Sefton in north-west England; and Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham, Newham and Croydon in London.

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One in 35 Londoners had Covid last week – ONS

Around one in 35 people in private households in London had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16, according to ONS estimates.

This is the highest figure for any region in England.

The ONS estimates that around one in 40 people in north-east England had Covid-19 during this period, with one in 50 in north-west England and the West Midlands.

The other estimates are one in 55 people in south-east England, one in 60 in the East Midlands, one in 75 in eastern England, one in 80 in south-west England and one in 85 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

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Covid vaccine expenses: Tax-free bonds may be just what the doctor ordered


The Centre is looking at introducing an instrument such as a tax-free bond during the Budget to mobilise resources for higher health-related expenses due to Covid-19.

According to multiple government sources, the exact name and nature of the instrument are yet to be finalised, but the aim is to strike a balance between financing additional expenditure and not adding to the tax burden. A formal announcement is expected in the Budget, on February 1.

The government may need to provide ₹50,000-80,000 crore for Covid vaccination during FY22. While introducing a cess or a surcharge would address this, State governments have been objecting to such a levy as they do not get a share of this revenue stream. Hence, a tax-free bond may seem a more viable option to the Centre.

Last year’s Budget had made a provision of ₹67,111.80 crore for health. Then, in the first Supplementary Demands for Grants, approved by Parliament during the Monsoon Session, additional cash outgo of ₹14,231.96 crore was provided.

The Centre has announced that, to start with, three crore people will get two shots of Covid vaccine each for free, which means at least 6 crore shots. This needs to be financed.

Vaccination phase two

On Thursday, the Centre indicated that the Prime Minister may lead the second phase of inoculation covering 27 crore people. However, it is not clear how this will be funded — if the Centre/States will bear the full cost or a part of it, letting the rest be borne by the beneficiaries.

Sources said that considering the inadequate revenue collections, the Centre will need innovative means to meet such expenditure. “The option of cess or surcharge is being discussed, too. There is also the borrowing option, and a tax-free bond,” a source said.

Divakar Vijayasarathy, founder and Managing Partner with DVS Advisors LLP, said the tax incentive is meant to channel the savings habits of the masses towards garnering resources for a specific purpose — with a lock-in period to balance the asset-liability mismatch. The scheme is likely to be allowed as a deduction from the gross total income.

Success formula

He suggested three measures to ensure the scheme’s success: “There should be a moderate lock-in period — a longer one would discourage retail investors. The fund-raise should be for a targeted purpose. And, it should be kept outside the ambit of 80C and allowed as a separate deduction.”

Funding options

  • Cess & surcharge: Quick way to increase revenues, but States likely to object
  • Borrowing: Already, additional borrowing is likely beyond FY21 Budget Estimate of ₹7.8-lakh crore
  • Tax-free bond: Perceived as secure instrument; does not burden taxpayers

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