arents dropping their children off at school have been warned against bending coronavirus rules as the “next few weeks are going to be crucial” in keeping infections and hospital admissions down.
Infectious disease expert Dr Mike Tildesley said it is “possible” to keep the reproductive number – or R value – of the virus below 1 with schools open, but everyone must continue to follow “all the other rules”.
Dr Tildesley warned parents: “When you’re dropping your children off you need to maintain social distancing.
“Just because you’re not in the home with your young children don’t use it as an excuse to go out and mix with other people that you otherwise wouldn’t have done.”
Schools in England are due to reopen from Monday, a move Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said marks the “beginning of the road back to normality”.
Saudi Arabia to lift most coronavirus-related curbs on Sunday
Saudi Arabia will end most coronavirus-related restrictions on Sunday, including resuming indoor dining, reopening cinemas and resuming entertainment activities and events, the state news agency SPA said on Saturday.
Some activities will remain banned, including weddings and corporate meetings. Social gatherings will continue to be limited to a maximum of 20 people, SPA said, citing an interior ministry source.
Dalai Lama receives Covid-19 vaccine
The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, has received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in India.
After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.
“In order to prevent some serious problems, this injection is very, very helpful,” he said.
Dr GD Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterwards.
He said: “He offered to come to the hospital like a common man to get himself vaccinated.”
Ten other people who live in the Dalai Lama’s residence were also vaccinated, Dr Gupta said. All eleven received the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.
India has confirmed more than 11 million cases of the coronavirus and over 157,000 deaths. The country, which has the second-highest caseload in the world behind the US, rolled out its vaccination drive in January, starting with healthcare and frontline workers.
Earlier this month, it expanded its inoculation drive to older people and those with medical conditions that put them at risk.
Germany could open up by late May, says Merkel’s chief of staff
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very sceptical” about prospects of people travelling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.
Ms Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections.
But many issues have yet to be addressed.
Ms Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Funke newspaper group in an interview published Saturday that he is “very sceptical as far as travel at Easter is concerned.”
Easter falls on the first weekend in April this year. But he said he expects “that we can talk in a significantly more relaxed way about travel and leisure from Whitsun,” on May 23.
Mr Braun said that Germany could return to full normality in the summer — if vaccine manufacturers keep to their delivery pledges and no new coronavirus mutation arises “that raises questions over the whole success of vaccination”.
Germany so far has given 5.7% of its population a first dose of vaccine and 2.8% two doses. A fall in new coronavirus cases has stalled as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain spreads.
Ireland approaching 500,000 vaccination mark
Ireland is expected to reach the milestone of half a million coronavirus jabs administered this weekend.
Taoiseach Micheal Martin hailed progress in the pandemic.
Speaking in a video posted on Twitter, Mr Martin said he was inspired by recent visits to vaccination centres where thousands of front line healthcare workers are receiving the inoculation.
He said government and the HSE is doing everything it can to secure supplies and to give those vaccines to people as quickly as possible.
“Over the coming days we will have administered half a million doses since the first vaccination was given to Dubliner Annie Lynch 63 days ago,” he said.
“Next week we will begin to vaccinate those with underlying health conditions as well as continuing to vaccinate the over-70s and healthcare workers”.
The Taoiseach said the vaccines are reducing the impact of the virus.
“This can be seen in the reduced levels of infection in our nursing homes and amongst our frontline healthcare workers,” he said.
“This brings hope, along with the continued fall in Covid numbers thanks to the sacrifices you have been making.
“The 14-day incidence level fell below 200 this week for the first time since Christmas.
“While our health services are still under pressure, the number of patients in our hospitals and ICUs is reducing significantly”.
However, the Taoiseach added a note of caution, warning that variants of the virus mean people should not relax around restrictions.
On Saturday the number of patients with Covid-19 dropped to 99 with the number of cases in hospital at 401.
Paul Reid, chief executive of the HSE, described it as a “great sign”.
On Friday, one further death with the virus and 522 new cases were notified in the Republic of Ireland.
Meanwhile, protesters calling for an end of lockdown restrictions are set to gather in Cork city centre later.
It follows a demonstration in Dublin last weekend which saw chaotic scenes in the capital, 23 arrests and three Garda officers left injured.
Vaccines need to be resigned to prevent transmission of Covid-19 variants, says infectious disease expert
Vaccines need to be redesigned to prevent widespread transmission of coronavirus variants such as that first found in Manaus, Brazil, an infectious disease expert has said.
Professor Ravindra Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it was “fantastic” that the mystery person infected with the Manaus variant had been found.
He told Times Radio: “But there will be people out there who have not been tracked and traced who have the variant and who may have transmitted it”.
Prof Gupta, an expert in clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said it is “always a possibility” that the Manaus P1 variant could become dominant in the UK but it is “unlikely at the moment because, first of all, we have low rates of transmission and we have a virus that has a transmission advantage”.
He added: “On the other hand, once many of us have been vaccinated, the shift for evolutionary paths for the virus will become to avoid immunity rather than just to transmit rapidly, it will be a combination of both”.
Lockdown was a ‘success’ but the country is ‘still not out of the woods’, says ONS head
Professor Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said the lockdown had been a “success” but the country was “still not out of the woods”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had been “very strong reductions everywhere”, although in the North East and East of England the decline had “flattened off, potentially”, unlike in the South West and South East which have continued with a decline in cases.
The UK’s national statistician added: “I think this lockdown has been a success but at the same time, while we have seen major reductions, we are still relatively high.
“I’m in very much the view that we should do everything we can not to blow it nationally.
“We have done fantastically well in the last couple of months but we are not completely out of the woods yet”.
He added that it was “very difficult” to work out the difference between the lockdown impact and the effect the vaccine was having, but it was clear both were working in reducing the numbers.
Recommendations for pupils to be tested twice a week should be reviewed, says Professor Bird
Professor Sheila Bird said the recommendation to ask school pupils to produce tests twice a week when they return to classrooms should be reviewed to ensure consent is continued.
The statistician told the Today programme: “The Royal Statistical Society warns that pupils and families’ willingness to take part is likely to decrease over time.
“There is initial interest and curiosity, but twice a week is a big ask of children and families, and the additional benefit from doing this twice a week versus once a week is modest and it has to be offset against the implications for the consent rate and the willingness to continue to do it”.
The likelihood of false positive reading from lateral flow tests are ‘very likely’, says Professor Sheila Bird
Professor Sheila Bird, a member of the Royal Statistical Society, said every positive quick-result test of a school pupil should be checked with a PCR test to ensure it was accurate.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the likelihood of a false positive reading from a lateral flow test, she said: “Very likely.
“In the present circumstances when infection incidence is low, the false positive rate with lateral flow tests remains to be absolutely determined in the context of schools but maybe between one and three per 1,000 children.
“So to differentiate a false positive from a true positive is to do that PCR confirmation”.
Parents should keep social distancing and following other rules, says Dr Tildelsey
Dr Tildelsey said parents need to keep social distancing and following other rules while dropping their children off at school.
He said: “Just because you’re not in the home with your young children don’t use it as an excuse to go out and mix with other people that you otherwise wouldn’t have done.
“It’s possible with schools open we can keep the R number below one but if we are going to achieve that we all need to keep following all the other rules.”
He added that falling Covid-19 rates are most likely due to lockdown measures and that the impact of vaccinations “hopefully is yet to come”.
He said: “I think most of the reason the numbers are going in the right direction now is still due to lockdown.
“I think we haven’t quite seen the impact of vaccinations, probably start to come in round about now and having a little bit of an effect, but most of the effect thus far actually is probably the fact we have been under severe restrictions since the start of January”.
The next few weeks are going to be ‘crucial’, says infectious disease experts
An infectious disease expert has said the “next few weeks are going to be crucial” for keeping coronavirus infections down as schools reopen.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Government’s SPI-M modelling advisory panel, told Times Radio that children going back to classrooms would cause a rise in the reproductive number – or R value – of the virus while more vaccinations would cause it to reduce.
He said: “We do need to get this balancing act correct and we need to open up at the rate of vaccinations and keep the R number in check, as it were.
“Definitely things are moving in the right direction but the next few weeks are going to be crucial for us to monitor what happens when schools open.
“Hopefully we can keep everything down and most importantly we can prevent seeing a rise in hospitalisations”.