Covid vaccine news live: EU to reveal findings on J&J ‘clot link’

The European Medicines Agency are preparing to present the results of their investigation into possible links between the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clotting cases later today.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson suspended its vaccine rollout in the EU after the US Food and Drug Administration recommended officials pause its use while the rare food clot cases are examined. Six cases of the rare clotting disorder were identified in the US, out of nearly 7 million people who were given the single-dose jab in the country.

Meanwhile, the US state department is to issue advice to Americans to avoid 80 per cent of countries worldwide, as the pandemic continued to “pose unprecedented risks to travellers”.

In a note to the media about its updated travel guidance, the department said this will bring it more in line with travel advisories from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and “does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country”.

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Nicola Sturgeon confirms Scotland will further ease lockdown measures from Monday

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed planned relaxations to lockdown measures in Scotland will go ahead from Monday.

Beer gardens, cafes, shops and gyms will reopen from 26 April, but indoor hospitality venues will have to close at 8pm, with outdoors following at 10pm.

Our Whitehall Editor Kate Devlin has the breaking story:

Kate Ng20 April 2021 12:27


‘Dramatic deterioration’ of media freedom during pandemic, says report

There has been a “dramatic deterioration” of press freedom since the pandemic tore across the world, Reporters Without Borders said in its annual report.

The group’s new World Press Freedom Index, which evaluated the press situations in 180 countries, painted a stark picture and concluded that 73 per cent of the world’s nations have serious issues with media freedoms.

It says countries have used the coronavirus pandemic, which erupted in China in late 2019, “as grounds to block journalists’ access to information, sources and reporting in the field”.

This is particularly the case in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, the media group said.

Issues have also arisen from a drop in public trust in journalism itself.

The group said 59 per cent of people polled in 28 countries claimed that journalists “deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false”.

Kate Ng20 April 2021 12:20


At least 12 EU countries confident they can meet July vaccine target, says bloc’s vaccine chief

The EU executive’s vaccine task force chief has said that at least 12 of the bloc’s 27 member states are confident they can vaccinate 70 per cent of their adult population by mid-July.

The European Commission set the target for the end of this summer, depending on a big increase in vaccine deliveries to accelerate its vaccination drive.

European internal market commissioner Thierry Breton told an Irish parliamentary committee said: “We are confident that we will be able to deliver enough doses but it is true also that it is up to member states to organise themselves to be ready for that.

“Today I can tell you that I understand we have at least 12 member states who say they are fully comfortable this 70 per cent figure. This number is increasing on a daily basis.”

Mr Breton did not say which 12 member states were confident or which countries were less comfortable about the target.

It comes after an announcement last week that EU countries will receive 50 million more vaccines produced by Pfizer this quarter has give the executive additional comfort on its delivery targets.

Kate Ng20 April 2021 12:00


What time is Nicola Sturgeon’s lockdown announcement today?

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is holding a coronavirus briefing today, where she is expected to give an update on the latest lockdown restrictions.

Ella Glover explains what time her announcement is and what you can expect from it:

Kate Ng20 April 2021 11:45


Israel and UK consider ‘green travel corridor’

Israel and Britain are discussing the possibility of opening a “green travel corridor” between them due to the success of the two countries’ vaccination campaigns, reports Reuters.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the issue was discussed at a meeting between foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi and UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove in Jerusalem.

A statement from the ministry quoted Mr Ashkenazi as saying: “We will promote, together with the UK, mutual recognition of vaccines in order to allow tourists and business people from both countries to safely return to their routines.”

The ministry added that both countries had made “great progress” with vaccinations and therefore opened the “possibility of creating a green travel corridor” – although it gave no timeline for implementing it.

Last week, Israel said it would start allowing the entry of vaccinated tourists groups into the country from 23 May.

Kate Ng20 April 2021 11:30


Everything we know about the Indian variant of Covid-19

The discovery of 77 cases of a new coronavirus variant, which first emerged in India, has caused concern among scientists and the government.

Officials consider it a “variant under investigation (VUI)” rather than a “variant of concern (VOC)”, which includes Manaus, UK and South African variant.

Samuel Osborne outlines everything we know about the new variant:

Kate Ng20 April 2021 11:16


Everything we know about the Indian variant of Covid-19

The discovery of 77 cases of a new coronavirus variant, which first emerged in India, has caused concern among scientists and the government.

Officials consider it a “variant under investigation (VUI)” rather than a “variant of concern (VOC)”, which includes Manaus, UK and South African variant.

Samuel Osborne outlines everything we know about the new variant:

Kate Ng20 April 2021 11:15


Wearing two masks can double effectiveness of face coverings, study finds

Wearing two face coverings can nearly double the filtering efficiency of the masks against particles the size of the novel coronavirus and reduces the chances of wearer contracting Covid-19, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina found that double masking enhanced filtration by eliminating gaps and poor-fitting areas of masks.

My colleague Vishwam Sankaran has more on this story:

Kate Ng20 April 2021 11:00


Primark to repay £121m furlough money

Shoppers queue outside Primark store on 12 April in Stoke on Trent

(Getty Images)

The owner of Primark will repay £121m in furlough money claimed through the government’s job retention schemes and pay out a dividend to shareholders.

This is despite a dip in profits due to stores being closed for more of the autumn and winter period due to lockdown.

Associated British Foods (ABF) said in its 2021 interim results announcement that sales were down 17 per cent to £6.3bn and adjusted operating profits fell 50 per cent to £319m in the six months to 27 February.

But chief executive George Weston said the decision to repay the cash was a reflection of the company’s confidence that Primark will once again become “cash generative” as stores reopen.

He said in a statement: “With most of the Primark stores closed for more than half the period, the management team demonstrated operational agility in response to the measures employed by governments to tackle the pandemic.

“Primark sales after store reopening demonstrate the relevance and appeal of our value-for-money offering. We are excited about welcoming customers back into our stores as the lockdowns ease and are delighted with record sales in England and Wales in the week after reopening on 12 April.

“With our success in a number of new markets, as wide-ranging as Poland and Florida, we are as convinced as we have ever been in the long-term growth prospects for Primark.”

Kate Ng20 April 2021 10:45


IATA chief accuses companies of profiteering from Covid PCR tests

PCR swab tests are often required for travel

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The head of global airline industry body IATA has hit out at the high cost of PCR testing, accusing some companies of profiteering from the COVID-19 tests, and calling for the industry to challenge whether PCR tests are necessary.

“We’re clearly seeing evidence of profiteering by people who have jumped on the testing bandwagon” Willie Walsh, IATA’s new director general, said at an industry conference on Tuesday.

“The cost of testing should be significantly lower than it is. I think we’ve got to challenge whether PCR testing is necessary,” he said.

According to analysis, PCR tests could cost a family of four returning from a country on the government’s to-be-confirmed “green list” about £600.

Prices for the tests vary from £60 to over £200 but average £128 according to Abta. This is double the cost in parts of Europe, where the EU has agreed tests can be zero-rated for VAT and some governments cap the cost.

Kate Ng20 April 2021 10:30

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