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Covid UK news - live: Case rates among 20-somethings highest ever recorded in any age group

The Independent logo The Independent 6 days ago Akshita Jain and Conrad Duncan
qr code: Coronavirus - Tue Jul 20, 2021 © PA Coronavirus - Tue Jul 20, 2021

LIVE – Updated at 20:21


Covid case rates among people in their twenties are at the highest-ever recorded level for all age groups in England, according to new figures, as the virus rips through the mostly unvaccinated or partially vaccinated group.

Video: Coronavirus in numbers: Latest stats as UK records highest daily death figure for three months (Birmingham Mail)


Public Health England data suggests that 1154.7 per 100,000 people among those aged 20 to 29 caught coronavirus between 12 and 18 July.

It came as supermarkets urged customers against panic buying in response to reports of empty shelves in shops due to issues around staff self-isolating, with food retailers insisting that gaps in supply will be temporary.

On Thursday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers were “very concerned” about the so-called “pingdemic” which has seen more than 600,000 people asked to self-isolate due to close contact with a coronavirus case in the past week alone.

Meanwhile, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has laid out plans for a UK-wide NHS Covid pass which will allow people to show their Covid status, such as vaccination status or recent test results.

Key Points

  • Covid cases among people in 20s at highest-ever recorded level for any age group
  • Supermarkets urge customers not to panic buy over reports of empty shelves
  • Record 618,000 people pinged by NHS Covid app in England and Wales in a week
  • Government ‘very concerned’ by self-isolation chaos amid reports of staff shortages
  • List of jobs exempt from isolation rules to be shared today, minister says
  • Isolation rules for double-vaccinated Britons ‘may not be lifted on 16 August’

Italy widens Green Pass restrictions to curb coronavirus surge

20:21 , Charlene Rodrigues

Italy widens Green Pass restrictions to curb coronavirus surge

The Italian government announced on Thursday that from next month people must present proof of immunity to access an array of services and leisure activities, just days after France introduced similar measures.

The “Green Pass” is a digital or paper certificate that shows if someone has received at least one jab, has tested negative or has recently recovered from covid-19.

As of Aug. 6, the pass will be required to access gyms, swimming pools, sports stadiums, museums, spas, casinos and cinemas. Eating in indoor restaurants also requires a pass.

“The Green Pass is essential if we want to keep businesses open,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters.

However, divisions within his unity government meant that proposals to extend the pass to trains, public transport and domestic flights had to be shelved for now.

The right-wing League party warned it would kill tourism.

By contrast, the cabinet agreed that discos should remain closed, even for those with the pass.

The Green Pass was introduced in Italy last month, but until now it has only been used for travel within the Europe Union, to access care homes and large wedding receptions within Italy.

UK may see the return of some coronavirus restrictions in “several weeks”, Prof. warns

20:06 , Charlene Rodrigues

Like the Netherlands and Israel, UK may see the return of some coronavirus restrictions in “several weeks”, Professor Devi Sridhar told Sky News

Too early to say coronavirus numbers are levelling off, experts warn

19:54 , Charlene Rodrigues

The apparent fall in Covid-19 case numbers may be temporary ahead of a return to exponential growth, experts have warned.

By 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 39,906 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK - down from 44,104 at the same time on Wednesday.

A further 84 people had died within 28 days of testing positive as of Thursday, up from 73 on Wednesday.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, said Thursday was the first time reported case numbers had been lower than the same day the previous week since early May.

“They represent a 18 per cent drop.”

“Also the week-on-week percentage increase in cases has fallen from a peak of 43 per cent last Sunday to just 24 per cent today,” Hunter said, adding that it is still too early to see any impact of the relaxations of Monday 19.

“Some of the reduction in cases will be because of many children no longer being tested as regularly now schools are closed,” he said.

Scotland records highest number of covid deaths in one day for more than four months

19:40 , Charlene Rodrigues

Scotland has recorded the highest number of Covid deaths in one day for more than four months,

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said it shows the “toll” the virus can still take.

The surge in coronavirus cases has put a strain on NHS Scotland, with one public health expert warning that the backlog of people waiting for care “will get worse before it gets better.”

Health leaders are urging pregnant women to get the covid-19 vaccine

19:27 , Charlene Rodrigues

Health leaders say they want more women to come forward to take the jab after 95 per cent of pregnant women in hospital last week with coronavirus were not vaccinated.

Pregnant women are eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, with studies in the US showing no safety concerns among more than 130,000 pregnant women given those doses.

In the 2020/21 flu season, 606,540 women were registered as pregnant with their GP, indicating only around one in 10 may have had the first dose across England.

But, determining an accurate number of eligible women is difficult due to how pregnancy is recorded.

Pregnant women who get symptomatic Covid-19 are two to three times more likely to give birth to their babies prematurely.

Though uncommon, severe illness due to Covid-19 is more likely in later pregnancy.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said, "Pregnant women are at greater risk of serious illness if they get Covid, and those with severe Covid are twice as likely to experience a stillbirth and three times as likely to have a preterm baby.”

"Getting the vaccine is the best way to keep you and your baby safe," she said.

Lone women in Covid quarantine hotels to get female guards

19:10 , Charlene Rodrigues

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced on Thursday female guards will now escort women quarantining alone in hotels after a number of male guards were accused of sexual harassment.

My colleague Lamiat Sabin has this report.

a person standing next to a suitcase © Provided by The Independent

Lone women in Covid quarantine hotels to get female guards

Employ students to check Covid documents at the border, says Lord Bilimoria

18:41 , Joe Middleton

Students should be employed during the holidays to check passengers’ Covid documents at airport arrivals to help tackle “completely unacceptable” queues, a business leader has said.

CBI president Lord Bilimoria said the move coupled with pre-departure inspection of paperwork would deal with the congestion and lengthy waits at immigration “in one swoop”.

Many passengers arriving at Heathrow in recent months have suffered long delays due to extra coronavirus checks at the border.

Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, told Parliament: “The queues at arrivals at our airports are now completely unacceptable. They are two hours or more, as I have experienced recently.

“Why do the Government not do two things? First, they could get airlines to check documentation before passengers board planes to the UK.

“Secondly, with universities having closed, they could employ university students, or recent graduates, train them up in a day or two and get them to check Covid documents at arrivals at the airports, with one or two Border Force agents supporting and supervising them, and then let the passengers through to the e-gates and to the immigration officers to do the passport checks.

“These two moves would remove the congestion and queues in one swoop.”

Responding, transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said: “I thank him for his suggestions and I will ensure that my colleagues at the Home Office listen to them as well.”

Additional reporting by PA

Vaccine passports will become ‘more and more necessary’ claims Andrew Lloyd Webber

18:19 , Joe Middleton

Andrew Lloyd Webber told Sky News he thinks that vaccine passports will become “more and more necessary” just days after self-isolation rules resulted in the cancellation of performances of his West End show Cinderella.

Lord Webber said that the introduction of the passports seems to be “inevitable” but was concerned this could exclude younger audience members from shows.

Earlier this week he announced Cinderella would not be returning to the stage on Monday after a member of the cast tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday.

In comments at the start of the week he said the current system is “completely, completely untenable” and his industry has been left “on its knees”.

Health leaders urge pregnant women to get Covid-19 vaccine

17:59 , Joe Middleton

Health leaders are urging pregnant women to get a Covid-19 vaccine after figures suggested only around one in 10 may have had a first dose.

The data, from Public Health England (PHE) shows for the first time that 51,724 pregnant women in England under the age of 50 have received at least one dose of a jab since mid-April.

The figure is likely to be at least 4,000 higher when taking into account the numbers who have already had a vaccine because they are clinically vulnerable or because they are a health or social care worker.

Nevertheless, leaders say they want more women to come forward, with 95% of pregnant women in hospital last week with Covid-19 being unvaccinated.

Pregnant women are eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, with studies in the US showing no safety concerns among more than 130,000 pregnant women given those doses.

Pregnant women who do get symptomatic Covid-19 are two to three times more likely to give birth to their baby prematurely.

Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, welcomed the figures but said he hoped more women would take up the vaccine.

He said: “We are encouraged to see more than 50,000 pregnant women in England have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“We recommend vaccination in pregnancy as it’s the most effective way of protecting women and their babies from severe illness and premature birth.”

Additional reporting by PA

In 16 local authority areas ‘less than half of 18-24 year-olds have been jabbed’

17:37 , Joe Middleton

There are 16 local authority areas in England where less than half of 18-24 year-olds are estimated to have received a first dose of vaccine, according to analysis by PA.

The areas with the lowest proportions are Islington in London (40.6%), Birmingham (40.8%), Lewisham in London (46.2%) and Liverpool (46.7%).

By contrast there are 10 local authority areas where at least 90% of 18-24 year-olds have received a first dose: East Devon, Elmbridge, Hart, Harrogate, North Kesteven, Richmondshire, Rutland, South Oxfordshire, Test Valley and Wiltshire.

In four areas, less than half of 25 to 29-year-olds are estimated have received a first dose: Coventry (41.7%), Nottingham (46.1%), Birmingham (46.5%) and Barking & Dagenham in London (48.6%).

There are 18 areas where at least 90% of 25-29 year-olds have had their first jab: Cambridge, Cherwell, City of London, Cotswold, Elmbridge, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrogate, Hart, Isles of Scilly, Mole Valley, Richmond upon Thames, South Cambridgeshire, South Oxfordshire, Test Valley, Wandsworth, Waverley, Woking and Wokingham.

Will the ‘pingdemic’ really cause food shortages?

17:18 , Joe Middleton

The Independent’s Joe Sommerlad looks at the UK’s food supply after barren supermarket shelves have been seen across the country as staff absences prompted by app self-isolation orders rise.

graphical user interface © Provided by The Independent

Will the ‘pingdemic’ really cause food shortages?

Government to rethink £27bn road building strategy because of ‘changes to travel’ after Covid

16:56 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson’s government will review its £27bn roads investment plan because of “fundamental” changes in travel patterns brought on by the Covid pandemic, the transport secretary has announced.

Grant Shapps said it was right to look again at the strategy to expand the road network – arguing that the rise in homeworking and online shopping was unlikely to be “fully reversed” even as the economy recovers from lockdowns.

“In the last eighteen months, fundamental changes have occurred in commuting, shopping, and business travel,” the minister said in a written statement on Thursday.

Adam Forrest has the details.

a street filled with lots of traffic © Provided by The Independent

Government will rethink £27bn roads plan because of post-Covid ‘changes to travel’

UK records further 39,906 Covid-19 cases and 84 deaths

16:32 , Joe Middleton

The UK has recorded a further 39,906 Covid-19 cases, the Government said.

A further 84 people have died, bringing the UK total to 128,980.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 154,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Bus driver punched in head after telling passenger to wear mask

16:20 , Joe Middleton

A passenger punched a bus driver after he requested him to wear a mask in northwest London.

Police released a CCTV image on Thursday of a man they want to speak to in connection with the assault, which took place in Harrow, and urged the public to come forward with information.

The incident happened at around 4pm on 5 May, when masks were mandatory indoors and on public transport, the Metropolitan Police said.

Charlene Rodrigues reports

a group of people sitting on a bus © Provided by The Independent

Bus driver punched in head after telling passenger to wear mask

No need for public to stockpile over self-isolation chaos in shops, retail chief says

15:59 , Conrad Duncan

There is no need for the public to be stockpiling products from supermarkets, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has insisted, amid concerns about the effect of self-isolation rules on the UK’s food supply chain.

Helen Dickinson told the PA news agency that there was “plenty of food in the country” despite reports of empty shelves in some shops.

“What we're seeing is pockets of issues in specific places where case numbers are particularly high and the most important thing is that the government acts now before the situation does get more serious, so that we don't see more empty shelves in more places,” Ms Dickinson said.

“So what we're seeing is pockets of issues in certain parts of the country and that's being driven by a perfect storm of various things all happening at the same time: summer, labour shortages in the lead-up to the opening up of the economy but most significantly, as the case numbers start to rise, more and more people are being asked to self-isolate.”

She added that there were lots of factors coming together to create problems but self-isolation was the “biggest issue” that retailers were raising.

Record infections among 20 to 29 age group will ‘slow down’ vaccination push

15:53 , Conrad Duncan

Labour’s shadow health secretary has warned that high Covid case rates among 20- to 29-year-olds will “slow down” the UK’s vaccination programme after it was revealed that infections are at record levels this month in the group.

Commenting on The Independent’s article on the figures, Jonathan Ashworth said: “More infection amongst young people at just [the] time they should be getting jabbed.

“Not only bad for those getting sick with Covid, given you have to wait 28 days after infection for jab this is also going to slow down the vaccination programme…”

Stormont ministers ‘delay decision’ on relaxing Covid restrictions in Northern Ireland

15:44 , Conrad Duncan

Stormont ministers have delayed final decisions on relaxing the majority of Covid-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland proposed for next week, according to the PA news agency.

Ministers reportedly gave the green light to two further relaxations at a meeting on Thursday but stopped short of ratifying a series of other planned moves.

From Monday, a cap limiting the number of households allowed to participate in 15-person outdoor gatherings will be removed and close contact services, such as hairdressers, will be able to accept walk-in customers.

PA understands that ministers have agreed to meet again on Monday and Thursday to consider whether to press ahead with other relaxations, such as allowing theatres and concert halls to reopen, that had originally been earmarked for next week.

They are due to receive updated health data ahead of their deliberations on Monday.

Self-isolation exemption list must be ‘clear and unambiguous’, Labour says

15:29 , Conrad Duncan

The government must produce a “clear, unambiguous list” of which workers will be allowed to avoid Covid self-isolation in order to keep the country running, Labour has said.

Shadow business minister Seema Malhotra accused ministers of being in a “tailspin” over the proposals, which are expected to be published later today.

“It makes sense to exempt certain fully vaccinated professionals, such as those working in emergency services, from self-isolation rules through a targeted test to release scheme to keep our country running,” Ms Malhotra said.

"But the government has made a mess of its own policy and is undermining the effectiveness of the rule change.

“If ministers don't know or can't decide what the plan is, how can employers possibly be expected to understand what's required of them?”

She added: “The government must today come forward with a clear, unambiguous list of critical workers and a workable plan for how exemptions will be applied.

“This chaotic decision-making and make it up as you go along approach starts right at the top with Boris Johnson - it's bad for public health and it's bad for our economy too.”

15:21 , Conrad Duncan

If you’re interested in what the latest Covid developments mean for British politics, you can check out our two newsletters Inside Politics and John Rentoul’s View From Westminster.

For more updates and analysis on health issues, you can read a sample of our correspondent Shaun Lintern’s Health Check Newsletter by clicking here.

To find out how to sign up for free, you can click here.

Covid cases among people in 20s at highest-ever recorded level for any age group

14:50 , Conrad Duncan

Covid case rates among people in their twenties are at the highest-ever recorded level for all age groups in England, according to the latest figures.

Data from Public Health England showed that a total of 1154.7 infections per 100,000 people were recorded between 12 and 18 July among those aged 20 to 29.

Our science correspondent, Samuel Lovett, has the full story below:

a close up of a sign © Provided by The Independent

Covid cases among people in 20s at highest-ever recorded level for any age group

Guinea pulls athletes out of Tokyo Olympics over Covid concerns

14:34 , Conrad Duncan

The African country of Guinea has pulled out of this year's Olympic Games in Tokyo due to the “resurgence of Covid variants” and concerns about the health of athletes.

Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow made the announcement in a letter on Wednesday addressed to the president of the Guinean Olympic committee.

“Due to the resurgence of Covid variants, the government, concerned with preserving the health of Guinean athletes, has decided with regret to cancel Guinea's participation in the 32nd Olympics scheduled for Tokyo,” the statement said.

Fatoumata Yarie Camara, a freestyle wrestler, was one of the five Guinean athletes affected by the decision.

“The question I ask myself is why has Guinea decided not to participate in the Olympic Games on the grounds of coronavirus when the organising country like Japan hasn't canceled these Games because of this sickness,” she told the AP.

“Why? That's what I ask myself and I still can't find an answer.”

The other Guinean athletes are swimmers Mamadou Tahirou Bah and Fatoumata Lamarana Toure, 100-metre runner Aissata Deen Conte and judo competitor Mamadou Samba Bah.

a close up of a large body of water:  (REUTERS) © Provided by The Independent (REUTERS)

Mainline railway signal locations at ‘critical levels’ of staff, union leader warns

14:17 , Conrad Duncan

Some mainline railway signal locations are at "critical levels" in terms of staff due to workers having to self-isolate over Covid-19, a union leader has warned.

“We haven't got a number [for the amount of rail staff self-isolating] and we'll be meeting with the industry this week, and they will produce some numbers as they always do,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

“But we know that there are four of five very important signal locations on the mainline that are at critical levels - there is one location where 17 signallers have been told to isolate.

“We had a massive problem in Manchester over the weekend and it will grow no doubt.”

Mr Lynch added: “If it is train crew, you can cancel trains, which is inconvenient but you can run a service - you restructure the timetable.

“If you lose the control centres, you cannot run a service. We lost the Metropolitan Line in London on Saturday so in TfL, London Underground and on the main line we have got this problem which is being caused by an outbreak of infection.”

Tory MPs’ anger over Covid certification for party conference

14:01 , Conrad Duncan

Conservative MPs and delegates are set to be asked to show a Covid passport or negative coronavirus test in order to attend the party’s annual conference in October, setting up a clash between senior party officials and backbench rebels.

Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Independent that there would be a boycott of the conference by some delegates if they were required to show certification for entry.

Our political editor, Andrew Woodcock, has the full story below:

a hand holding a cell phone © Provided by The Independent

Tory MPs’ anger over Covid certification for party conference

Isolating voters in Isle of Man miss out on chance to cast ballots

13:48 , Conrad Duncan

Voters are missing out on the chance to cast their ballots in local elections on the Isle of Man due to being asked to self-isolate, it has been reported.

One councillor described the lack of voting options for those in isolation due to Covid as “infuriating” and warned it would mainly be younger voters who miss out.

Polling stations are open on Thursday for local authority elections on the island, where figures show there are 1,348 active coronavirus cases in the population of about 85,000.

Douglas town councillor Devon Watson said he missed the last week of campaigning after contracting Covid-19 and was now unable to go out and vote.

“It's enraging and infuriating but my biggest concern isn't for me as a councillor but for the people who don't have the ability to exercise their right to vote,” Mr Watson said.

He added that the numbers of those isolating were likely to be higher than official figures show because some people have been unable to access tests due to pressure on the system.

On Wednesday, Minister for Infrastructure Tim Baker said that the vote would go ahead as normal after looking at all the options that were “legally possible” for adapting the election for the pandemic.

“Clearly, anything that is introduced at this very late stage has to be easy to implement by returning officers, clear to the public and legally sound,” Mr Baker said.

“Any legal change would have had to be approved by Tynwald before the polling stations open at 8am, election day.

“We kept looking at the possibilities until the last moment but have had to accept that it was not possible to find a solution that was legal, workable and effective.”

Downing Street stresses food supply chain is ‘resilient’ amid shortage fears

13:31 , Conrad Duncan

Downing Street has said it is aware of the “impact” self-isolation rules are having on some industries as it stressed that the UK’s food supply chain was “resilient”.

“We are obviously aware of the impact that is being felt by some industries and we are working closely with them,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.

“Specifically on supermarket shelves and food, we have a robust and resilient food supply chain in the UK as you've seen throughout the pandemic.

“You will have heard the senior member from Iceland on the Today programme this morning talking about the fact these are isolated incidents but, as I say, we continue to work closely with industries.”

No 10 confirms details on isolation exemptions will be set out today

13:20 , Conrad Duncan

Downing Street has confirmed that details for how critical workers can apply for exemption from Covid self-isolation if they have been fully vaccinated will be set out “later” today.

“We will publish guidance online on which will set out in more detail how the process will work, how to apply and examples of the sectors where exemptions could apply,” Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said.

“We have already confirmed that a number of exemptions have been given, allowing critical services such as rail signalling, traffic control, as well as the NHS, which has been spoken about before, to continue.”

They added: “I would point you back to what the prime minister has already said about this - he said it will be a very small number of named fully vaccinated critical workers, but you will see the full guidance later.”

China rejects WHO plan for fresh probe on virus origins

13:06 , Jane Dalton

China has rejected plans by the World Health Organisation for a second phase of an investigation into the origins of coronavirus, the country’s senior health official has said.

Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the National Health Commission, said he was shocked by the plan, which includes investigating the theory that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory, writes Stuti Mishra:

a man holding a sign © Provided by The Independent

China shocked at WHO plan for Covid origins investigation

Covid passes will not apply in schools or universities

12:54 , Jane Dalton

The new NHS Covid pass, which will show people’s vaccination status or test results, will not apply to schools, universities or “any public buildings”, the government says.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi revealed the decision in response to a question from Conservative MP Chris Green, who asked: “Could he rule out now that this will not be used in educational settings, whether sixth-form colleges or universities? That should be excluded because the focus is on young adults and it shouldn’t be a passport to education or a denial of education.”

Mr Zahawi replied: “I give him the assurance that in education or in any public buildings that this will not be applicable.”

The minister later confirmed that the Covid pass would not apply to MPs and Parliament either, which he also described as a public building.

Public consent for self-isolation could be lost, ex-health secretary warns

12:25 , Jane Dalton

The government risks losing public consent for the strategy of self-isolation unless it’s made less stringent for people who have been double-vaccinated when they receive an app notification, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned.

Mr Hunt asked vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi: “Does he not think it’s time for the Government to listen to public opinion and scrap the 10-day isolation requirement immediately for people who are pinged who have been doubled-jabbed in favour of having to isolate until they have done a negative PCR test?

“Otherwise we risk losing social consent for this very, very important weapon against the virus.”

Mr Zahawi replied: “Public compliance is incredibly important.

“We’ve seen over the last few days an almost doubling of people going onto the NHS website to look and book appointments ...

“If you allow all these things to happen too rapidly and people then decide not to self-isolate, then I think you run the risk of infection rates running away with us and challenging the strategy of transition.”

Minister won’t rule out cuts to meet £1.5bn bill for higher NHS pay

12:05 , Conrad Duncan

A health minister has refused to say whether the £1.5bn bill for boosting NHS pay will be raised from budgets set aside for health or social care amid concern over who will pick up the tab for the rise.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt demanded a commitment on Wednesday to ensure that the cost would not mean “cuts” to wider spending in the health service.

Our deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has the full story below:

a person holding a sign © Provided by The Independent

Minister won’t rule out health or care cuts to meet £1.5bn bill for higher NHS pay

MPs will be allowed to vote on Covid vaccine passports, minister suggests

11:52 , Conrad Duncan

MPs will be allowed to have a vote on the mandatory use of Covid vaccine passports for venues if the government decides to move ahead with the policy, the vaccines minister has suggested.

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael raised questions on Thursday about the plans and sought assurances that MPs would be given an opportunity to “express a view” on the issue.

“Given the massive opposition there is amongst those who operate nightclubs and events, the decision of the government to make the introduction of Covid identity cards voluntary is probably a sensible one, but can I explore with the minister what he means when he says we reserve the right to mandate their use in the future?” Mr Carmichael said.

“We had hoped that the right the government sought to reserve was the right to seek the permission of this House to make their use mandatory in the future.

“I hope that this was just a small piece of ministerial arrogance that led the minister to mis-speak, but I would like his assurance that we will be given the opportunity to express a view on this before mandatory use of Covid identity cards is introduced.”

Mr Zahawi replied that the government would “come back to the House” if a decision is made to mandate vaccine passports.

Zahawi on vaccine passports: ‘There are no easy decisions with this virus’

11:41 , Conrad Duncan

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has insisted that there are “no easy decisions” on how to respond to Covid-19 following backlash against plans for vaccine passports in nightclubs and other settings.

Mr Zahawi told the Commons: “Nightclubs and other crowded, unstructured indoor settings - such as nightclubs and music venues - or large unstructured outdoor events, such as business events and festivals, or very large structured events, such as business events, music and spectator sport events, they are the ones we are most concerned about.”

He added: “We've seen in other countries, whether it's in Holland or in Italy, the opening of nightclubs and then having to reverse that decision rapidly.

“So what we're attempting to do - the reason we have the Covid vaccination pass in place - is to work with industry in this period whilst we give people over the age of 18 the chance to become double-vaccinated.”

The minister said it would be “hugely unfair” to bring in the policy immediately before young people can get fully vaccinated, despite concerns about rising infections right now.

Isolation chaos is symptom of Covid infections getting ‘out of control’, Labour says

11:28 , Conrad Duncan

Labour’s shadow health secretary has warned that the current problems with Covid self-isolation are “a symptom of what happens when ministers allow infections to get out of control”.

“The government is apparently U-turning today and agreeing a list of workers who could be exempt from isolation based on a negative PCR test,” Jon Ashworth told MPs.

“With infections running at more than 50,000 a day, possibly on the way up to 100,000 a day, can he absolutely guarantee that PCR testing capacity will be available to cope with the inevitably increased demand this summer?

“If he wants to avoid shutting society down, he needs to bring infections down.”

On PCR testing capacity, Nadhim Zahawi replied: “It's 640,000 per day as of the latest data I looked at.”

Data shows jabs have prevented ‘52,600 hospitalisations’ in England, minister says

11:24 , Conrad Duncan

Public Health England data estimates that England’s vaccination programme has prevented 52,600 hospitalisations, the vaccines minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi described the figure as a “fitting example of the protective wall” that vaccines have given the country as he defended plans to introduce Covid vaccine passports for nightclubs and other venues from the end of September.

“This is not a step we take lightly,” Mr Zahawi told the Commons.

“But all throughout this pandemic - just like governments all across the world, whether it's Singapore or Australia or Germany and France - we've had to adapt our approach to meet the threats of this deadly virus, and this is no different.

“We will always keep these measures - like all our measures - under review with the goal of returning to the freedoms that we love and cherish.”

He added that “34 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 have not had either dose” of the vaccine and urged people to come forward.

Vaccines minister lays out plans for UK-wide ‘NHS Covid pass’

11:04 , Conrad Duncan

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has laid out plans for a UK-wide “NHS Covid pass” which will be available via the NHS app, the NHS website or through a written document.

“This week, after a successful trial, we have rolled out the NHS Covid pass. This allows people safely and securely to demonstrate their Covid status, whether it is proof of vaccination status, test results, or natural immunity,” Mr Zahawi told the Commons.

“People will also be able to demonstrate proof of a negative test result. Although we don't encourage its use in essential settings like supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry where it is suitable for their venue or premises when they can see its potential to keep their clients or their customers safe.

“For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and likely to mix with people from outside their households for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do.”

He added: “The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and so we reserve the right to mandate its use in the future.”

a man wearing a suit and tie:  (PA) © Provided by The Independent (PA)

Record 618,000 people pinged by NHS Covid app in England and Wales in a week

10:54 , Conrad Duncan

A record 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales asking them to self-isolate in the week to 14 July, up from about 530,000 last week, official figures show.

Our reporter, Tom Batchelor, has more details on this breaking story below:

a close up of a sign © Provided by The Independent

Record 618,000 people pinged by NHS Covid app in England and Wales in a week

10:51 , Conrad Duncan

Our reporter, Tom Batchelor, has more details below on the call from major supermarkets for customers not to panic buy:

a close up of a shelf © Provided by The Independent

Public urged not to panic buy as ‘pingdemic’ blamed for supermarket shortages

10:39 , Conrad Duncan

London mayor Sadiq Khan has told LBC that he hopes Transport for London workers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be made exempt from self-isolation in order to address staff shortages in the city:

Supermarkets urge customers not to panic buy over reports of empty shelves

10:31 , Conrad Duncan

Supermarkets have urged customers not to panic buy in response to reports of empty shelves in shops due to issues around staff self-isolating.

The UK's biggest supermarkets described shortages on Thursday as “patchy” across stores but insisted there was no need for customers to change their shopping habits as gaps in supply would be temporary.

It is thought that a shortage of HGV drivers, the recent hot weather and staff members self-isolating were all contributing to delivery problems.

“We are sorry that we are running low on some products,” a Co-op spokesperson said.

“Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly.”

A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: “We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need.

“While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them onto the shelves as quickly as they can.”

Earlier today, Iceland managing director Richard Walker urged shoppers against panic buying as there was “no problem” with supply of stock.

“Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without,” Mr Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today show.

graphical user interface:  (PA) © Provided by The Independent (PA)

BP closes several sites due to Covid-related fuel shortage

10:07 , Conrad Duncan

Fuel retailer BP has said it has been forced to close several sites temporarily due to a shortage of fuel related to the number of lorry drivers self-isolating.

The company said that the main reason for the shortage was a lack of qualified lorry drivers but the issue had been “exacerbated” by issues with Covid isolation in recent days.

“We are experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades,” BP said in a statement.

“However, the vast majority of these temporary issues are being resolved within a day.”

It added: “Our supply chain has been impacted primarily by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK.

“The situation was exacerbated last week by the temporary closure for a number of days of our Hemel Hempstead fuel distribution terminal due to necessary Covid-19 isolations amongst staff there. The terminal is now operating as normal once again.

“We are working hard with our haulier supplier to deliver fuel into sites and minimise any disruption to our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

09:55 , Conrad Duncan

Our reporter, Chiara Giordano, has more details below on the “very narrow” list of industries which will be exempt from Covid isolation that is set to be published today:

Kwasi Kwarteng wearing glasses and a suit and tie © Provided by The Independent

‘Very narrow’ list of industries exempt from Covid isolation to be published today, says business secretary

Beta variant set to fade away globally due to Delta dominance, scientists predict

09:42 , Conrad Duncan

The Beta variant of Covid-19 is expected to fade away in the coming months due to the dominance of the Delta variant of the virus, first detected in India, scientists have said.

Data on genetically sequenced cases shows that very few countries are now detecting Beta, which first emerged in South Africa late last year.

Our science correspondent, Samuel Lovett, has the full story below:

a woman standing in a room © Provided by The Independent

Beta variant set to fade away globally due to dominance of Delta, scientists predict

Minister says he is confident government would win vote on vaccine passports

09:21 , Conrad Duncan

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said he is confident that the government would win a vote on the use of vaccine passports amid reports of a Tory backbench rebellion against the plans.

From September, ministers believe nightclub-goers should need to show proof of Covid vaccination to enter venues.

“You can never predict parliamentary votes but we've got a majority of 80 and I'm very confident we can pass the legislation we require,” Mr Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today show.

“I don't know what the proposed vote will be, you can never tell what the actual vote in the House of Commons in terms of the wording and what the position is.”

He added: “It might just be a general vote on the concept, even, of vaccine passports, these votes can take any form that you can imagine.

“If the vote does occur, I'm confident the government will preserve a majority.”

List of jobs exempt from isolation rules to be shared today, minister says

09:04 , Conrad Duncan

A list of jobs exempt from self-isolation rules will be published today, a minister has said, following anger from businesses and industry leaders.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “I don't think it's a question of applying for this.

“We're going to be publishing guidance today on who might be exempt.

“We're looking at different sectors and we will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected.”

When asked if the food industry would be included on the list, Mr Kwarteng added that he would not “pre-empt” the announcement.

Staff absence rates now double usual number, Iceland’s managing director says

08:54 , Conrad Duncan

Staff absence rates are now double the usual number, with the figure rising 50 per cent “week on week”, due to people being told to self-isolate by the NHS app, the managing director of Iceland has said.

Richard Walker told the Radio 4's Today programme: “We've now got over 1,000 staff off, who are who've been pinged. That's double the normal rates, and it's rising at 50 per cent week on week.

“Our big concern is that we've kept all of our shops open throughout the pandemic, but now we have had to close one or two shops and reduce hours in others.

“But that could get a lot worse a lot quicker, unless the country's system is sorted out.”

However, Mr Walker urged shoppers not to panic-buy as there was “no problem with supply of stock”.

“Panic-buying is only an option for those who can afford it and it often means that others go without,” he added.

Some food retailers ‘will be forced to close stores’ over self-isolation rules

08:46 , Conrad Duncan

Some food retailers will be forced to close stores due to the number of staff being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has warned.

Helen Dickinson told BBC Breakfast that some areas of the country were being hit harder than others and business owners were becoming increasingly anxious about the issue.

“Right now that [the change in self-isolation rules next month] feels a long time away given the rises that we're seeing in case numbers,” Ms Dickinson said.

“There will be many smaller businesses where if they only have one or two staff and they need to self-isolate, then that's them needing to close their doors completely.

“What is the most important thing is that people don't panic because there's no need to panic, because there's plenty of food in the country.”

Isolation rules for double-vaccinated Britons ‘may not be lifted on 16 August’

08:37 , Conrad Duncan

A pledge to lift self-isolation rules for double-vaccinated people who are close contacts of a Covid case on 16 August may not go ahead, a minister has admitted.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Thursday morning that no final decision would be taken until a week before the date but he insisted that he was keeping his “fingers crossed” that the policy change would be introduced.

Our deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, has the full story below:

a close up of a sign © Provided by The Independent

Isolation rules for double-vaccinated Britons may not be lifted on 16 August, minister warns

Food distribution company to move to testing system over self-isolation

08:24 , Conrad Duncan

A food distribution company struggling with staff shortages has advised workers who are “pinged” by the NHS app to follow a testing regime and continue working, instead of self-isolating.

“We know that they're critical workers as part of the food supply chain, so if people are obviously positive or contacted by Test and Trace then they will have to isolate,” Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“If they are pinged we ask them to take a PCR test, if that's positive then clearly they'll isolate, but if it's negative we ask them to come back to work and we have a process of doing lateral flow tests daily away from their workplace, and if that's negative they can proceed with their work.”

When told that this would be a breach of government advice, Mr Selley added: “We think that's appropriate and safe. The ping is advisory.

“We operate in Covid-safe workplaces and we're absolutely key workers in terms of the supply chain to hospitals, care homes, prisons, and therefore it's important for us to be able to keep offering that service to our customers.”

Covid app ‘pingdemic’ blamed for empty supermarket shelves

08:10 , Conrad Duncan

A spike in the number of food supply workers being forced to self-isolate due to close contact with a Covid-19 case is being blamed for empty supermarket shelves this week.

Shoppers across the UK have been alarmed to find shelves and fridges empty following a surge in workers being alerted by the NHS Covid app.

Our reporter, Jane Dalton, has the full story below:

a display in a store window © Provided by The Independent

‘Pingdemic’ blamed for empty supermarket shelves

NHS app may no longer be useful for Covid contacts, leading epidemiologist says

08:04 , Conrad Duncan

The epidemiologist behind the popular ZOE Covid symptoms study has suggested that the NHS app for tracking close contacts of cases may no longer be useful and potentially should be stopped.

Professor Tim Spector told Sky News on Wednesday evening that staff should still stay at home if they have “cold-like symptoms” but the scientist did not think that “saying that someone might have passed them by in a supermarket is actually that useful anymore”.

“It doesn't seem to be appropriate at the moment… it seems to be overkill,” Professor Spector said.

He added that experts were looking at how many people who were “pinged” by the app went on to catch Covid but said he thought the research was likely to show that the app is “not effective and should be stopped”.

“Money and tests could be spent better elsewhere, that's my gut feeling,” he said.

Government ‘very concerned’ by self-isolation chaos amid reports of staff shortages

07:51 , Conrad Duncan

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that the government is “very concerned” about the situation around Covid self-isolation following reports of shortages on supermarket shelves.

Mr Kwarteng told Sky News on Thursday that a list of critical workers who would be eligible for looser isolation rules if alerted by the NHS Covid app would be drawn up “very soon”.

“We're going to announce a list of exempt workers. The list of exemptions will be quite narrow because, obviously, you have to draw the line somewhere,” the minister said.

However, Mr Kwarteng refused to be drawn on who would be on the list or whether it would be released this week.

You can find his comments in full below:

Indian cricketer who tested Covid positive in UK recovers and joins team

07:12 , Akshita Jain

The Indian cricketer who had tested positive for Covid-19 during the team’s England tour has recovered from the virus.

Rishabh Pant has completed 10 days of isolation and has joined the Indian team in a “bio-bubble” in Durham, according to India Today.

India and England begin a five-match Test series starting 4 August.

119,000 children in India lost primary caregiver due to Covid-19, says study

06:57 , Akshita Jain

As many as 119,000 children in India and over 1 million globally lost their primary caregiver due to Covid-19 between 1 March, 2020 and 30 April this year, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

The Indian government had last month announced a number of schemes to support children who lost their parents to the virus. This included creating a corpus of Rs 10 lakh (£9,800) for each child when they reach the age of 18.

Australia warns of further surge in cases despite lockdown

06:15 , Akshita Jain

Authorities in Australia have warned that the number of Covid-19 cases in the country would see a spike and take a toll on the economy despite a lockdown in some states to curb the spread of the virus.

Cases have been increasing in Australia, driven by the Delta variant of Covid-19 which was first detected in India.

New South Wales reported 124 new infections on Thursday, a record for this year and the highest in 16 months. Victoria state logged 26 new cases.

Over 4,200 deaths from black fungus reported in India

06:04 , Akshita Jain

India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya has informed the Parliament that a total of 45,432 cases of mucormycosis, or black fungus, were reported in the country till 15 July. Of these, 4,252 died due to the infection, he said.

At least 84 per cent of the black fungus patients were infected with Covid-19.

Mucormycosis is a rare but serious fungal infection that is caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes. It mostly affects individuals with low immunity or increased blood sugar level.

05:10 , Akshita Jain

Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic for Thursday 22 July, 2021.


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