National News

Care home residents top the list for newly approved Covid-19 jab
Elderly people in care homes and their carers are top of the list to receive a Covid-19 vaccine after the UK became the first country in the world to approve a jab from Pfizer and BioNTech. The jab has been shown in studies to be 95% effective and works in all age groups.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, said vaccines should first be offered to elderly people in care homes and care home workers.

Next on the priority list are those aged 80 and above and frontline health workers.

All those aged 75 and over should be vaccinated next, followed by those 70 and over and clinically “extremely vulnerable” individuals, it said.

People aged 65 and over are next in line, alongside anyone aged 16 to 64 who has underlying health conditions which put them at a “higher risk of serious disease and mortality”.

Those aged 60 and over will be vaccinated next, followed by those aged 55 and over, and then those aged 50 and over.

No decisions have yet been made on priorities for under-50s.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people with two doses, given 21 days apart.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 800,000 doses of the jab will arrive next week.

He said millions more doses were due in the coming weeks.

Studies on the vaccine show it has to be stored at minus 70C but is also stable at 2C to 8C for a short time, meaning it could possibly be sent to different locations.

But it is thought operational reasons may prevent care home residents getting the jab first. The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the announcement was “fantastic” news, tweeting: “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved the jab after “months of rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts” from the regulator.

He said they have concluded that the vaccine has “met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness”.

Mr Hancock told Sky News the UK was the first country in the world to have a “clinically authorised vaccine” and it would be deployed as “quickly as it is manufactured”.

He added: “This is fantastic news.

“The MHRA, the fiercely independent regulator, has clinically authorised the vaccine for roll out.

“The NHS stands ready to make that happen.

“So, from early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country.”

Mr Hancock said that losing his step-grandfather to Covid-19 has “made him more determined” to tackle coronavirus.

He said: “I have a big and complicated and loving family, and losing a member of your family is obviously a big thing for anybody.”

Mr Hancock said until vaccines were rolled out people needed to stick to the rules, saying: “We’ve got to get from here to there and we’ve got to keep people safe in the meantime.”

There would be “three modes of delivery” of the vaccine, with hospitals, mass vaccination centres and GPs and pharmacists offering the jab to those most in need, he added.

“Fifty hospitals across the country are already set up and waiting to receive the vaccine as soon as it’s approved, so that can now happen.”

Mr Hancock confirmed vaccinations will start with the most elderly, people in care homes and their carers, with NHS staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable also high on the list.

He told BBC Breakfast: “2020 has been just awful and 2021 is going to be better, and help is on its way with this vaccine.

“I’m confident now with the news today that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better and we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy.”

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the vaccine approval is “excellent news and a step towards normality”.

He tweeted: “It will take until spring until the vulnerable population who wish to are fully vaccinated. We can’t lower our guard yet.”

Nadhim Zahawi, the newly-appointed minister responsible for overseeing the vaccination roll-out, tweeted: “Major step forward in the fight against Covid-19 today.”

Information obtained by the PA news agency on the jab’s roll-out says once the vaccine arrives in the UK from Pfizer’s plant in Belgium, batches will be checked at a central depot to ensure their quality.

The vaccine will then be unloaded and moved to storage freezers where it will undergo an additional temperature check.

Public Health England (PHE) will process orders placed by the NHS for next day delivery to hospital hubs around the UK.

Defrosting the vaccine for use takes several hours and then extra time is needed to prepare the vaccine for administering as doses.

Dr June Raine, head of the regulator which approved the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, said “no corners have been cut” in assessing its safety.

The MHRA chief told a Downing Street briefing: “The safety of the public will always come first.

“This recommendation has only been given by the MHRA following the most rigorous scientific assessment of every piece of data so that it meets the required strict standards of safety, of effectiveness and of quality.”

She said experts had studied more than 1,000 pages of data on the vaccines, reviewed storage and the information for prescribing.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma tweeted: “The UK was the first country to sign a deal with Pfizer/BioNTech, now we will be the first to deploy their vaccine.

“To everyone involved in this breakthrough: thank you.

“In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the UK led humanity’s charge against this disease.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “the best news in a long time”.

She tweeted: “@scotgov ready to start vaccinations as soon as supplies arrive.”

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England, said the vaccination programme would be the “largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history”.

Published: 02/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Covid-19 vaccine priority list set out
Vaccine experts advising the Government have published a detailed list of who should get offered the Covid-19 jab first. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said care home residents were among those who should be given the jab first.

The committee examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.

It published interim guidance earlier in the year, but this has now been amended slightly.

In the new guidance, those who are deemed to be “clinically extremely vulnerable” have moved higher up the priority list.

The priority list for “phase one” of the Covid-19 vaccination programme is:

– Residents in a care home for older adults and their carers

– All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers

– All those 75 years of age and over

– All those 70 years of age and over and people deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

– All those 65 years of age and over

– All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality

– All those 60 years of age and over

– All those 55 years of age and over

– All those 50 years of age and over

Published: 02/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Covid-19 vaccine: Who will get it, when and how?
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK. But what does this mean for people being vaccinated?

– What’s in the pipeline for the UK?

The Government has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with 10 million promised for the UK by the end of the year.

Patients need two doses, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the entire UK population.

– How will a vaccine be rolled out?

Work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure that NHS staff are ready to start delivering jabs to the most vulnerable, as well as health and care workers, as a priority.

The NHS Nightingale Hospitals have also been earmarked as sites for mass vaccination clinics – among other uses.

In addition, NHS leaders have said there will be “roving teams” deployed to vaccinate care home residents and workers.

Based on the current information, the vaccines being developed require two doses per patient, with a 21 day gap between doses.

New regulations allowing more healthcare workers to administer flu and potential Covid-19 vaccines have also been introduced by the Government.

– Who is top of the list to get a coronavirus vaccine?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.

But who will get a jab could depend on how easily one can be rolled out, with the Pfizer jab needing storage temperatures of minus 70C to minus 80C.

For now, the JCVI’s interim guidance says the order of priority should be:

1. Older adults in a care home and care home workers

2. All those who are 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers

3. All those who are 75 years of age and over

4. All those who are 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, excluding pregnant women and those under 18 years of age

5. All those who are 65 years of age and over

6. Adults aged 18 to 65 years in an at-risk group

7. All those aged 60 and over

8. All those aged 55 and over

9. All those aged 50 and over

– Don’t vaccines take a long time to produce?

In the past it has taken years, sometimes decades, to produce a vaccine.

Traditionally, vaccine development includes various processes, including design and development stages followed by clinical trials – which in themselves need approval before they even begin.

But in the trials for a Covid-19 vaccine, things look slightly different. A process which usually takes years has been condensed to months.

While the early design and development stages look similar, the clinical trial phases overlap, instead of taking place sequentially.

And pharmaceutical firms have begun manufacturing before final approval has been granted – taking on the risk that they may be forced to scrap their work.

The new way of working means that regulators around the world can start to look at scientific data earlier than they traditionally would do.

– Aren’t there other vaccines?

Yes, recent data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Moderna vaccine trials suggests their candidates also have high efficacy.

Oxford data indicates the vaccine has 62% efficacy when one full dose is given followed by another full dose, but when people were given a half dose followed by a full dose at least a month later, its efficacy rose to 90%.

The combined analysis from both dosing regimes resulted in an average efficacy of 70.4%.

Final results from the trials of Moderna’s vaccine suggest it has 94.1% efficacy, and 100% efficacy against severe Covid-19.

Nobody who was vaccinated with the vaccine known as mRNA-1273 developed severe coronavirus.

– Which jab is best?

The early contenders all have high efficacy rates, but researchers say it is difficult to make direct comparisons because it is not yet known exactly what everyone is measuring in the trials.

– How many doses has the UK secured?

The UK has secured access to 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, which is almost enough for most of the population.

It also belatedly struck a deals for seven million doses of the jab on offer from Moderna in the US.

The deals cover four different classes: adenoviral vaccines, mRNA vaccines, inactivated whole virus vaccines and protein adjuvant vaccines.

The UK has secured access to:

– 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine

– 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine

– Some 30 million doses from Janssen

– 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the first agreement the firms signed with any government

– 60 million doses of a vaccine being developed by Valneva

– 60 million doses of protein adjuvant vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur

– Seven million doses of the jab on offer from Moderna in the US.

– What do they cost?

Pfizer/BioNTech is making its vaccine available not-for-profit.

According to reports, the Moderna vaccine could cost about 38 dollars (£28) per dose and the Pfizer candidate could cost around 20 dollars (£15).

Researchers suggest the Oxford vaccine could be relatively cheap to produce, with some reports indicating it could be about £3 per dose.

AstraZeneca said it will not sell it for a profit, so it can be available to all countries.

However, the details of the deals made by the UK Government have not been made public.

– How do we know the vaccines are safe?

Researchers reported their trials do not suggest any significant safety concerns.

Published: 02/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

New commemorative 50p coin celebrates The Snowman
One of Britain’s most famous festive characters will feature on a new collectable 50p coin.
The Snowman, the much-loved animation created by illustrator Raymond Briggs, will feature on the commemorative coin this month.

The design was created by animator Robert Shaw, who was also the art director on The Snowman And The Snowdog, the sequel to the original Oscar-nominated film.

First published in 1978 and adapted for television in 1982, Raymond Briggs’ heartwarming story has become a Christmas tradition for many families and continues to delight young and old alike.

The 2020 Snowman coin, which comes in a range of finishes including silver proof, gold proof and colour, shows the character James and The Snowman hugging.

It is the third commemorative Snowman coin released by the Royal Mint, with previous coins released in 2018 and 2019.

Mr Shaw said: “In a year where many of us have been separated, The Snowman helps remind us of the importance of a hug and our love for one another.

“In creating the 2020 design I wanted to capture this unique bond between The Snowman and James in recognition of Raymond Briggs’ timeless tale which unites us each Christmas.”

To celebrate the new coin, the Royal Mint has worked with Mr Shaw to create a “sketch-a-long” for fans on its website, which will provide hints and tips to help budding animators create their own Snowman drawings to share online with the hashtag #SnowmanSketchalong.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the fantastic drawings created through our special The Snowman sketch-a-long,” Mr Shaw said.

“As a child I was inspired by Raymond Briggs’ 1978 book and the 1982 television adaptation, so I’m excited to see what this generation of budding illustrators and animators comes up with.”

Clare Maclennan, divisional director of the commemorative coin division at the Royal Mint, said: “Raymond Briggs’ classic characters are a tradition of the festive season for many families across the country, and we’re delighted to continue The Snowman and James’s adventures on a 50 pence.

“Each year our coins celebrating The Snowman prove incredibly popular with adults and children alike, and we hope this year’s design depicting a hug will be a poignant addition to the collection.”

The coin is for commemorative purposes only and will not be released into general circulation.

Prices range from £10 to £1,125 on the Royal Mint website.

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Commons backs Johnson’s Covid tiers despite threat of rebellion from Tory MPs
MPs have backed the new system of coronavirus tiers for England as Boris Johnson survived the threat of a significant revolt from Conservative rebels to pass the restrictions.
The support paves the way for 99% of England to enter the toughest Tier 2 and 3 restrictions when the second national lockdown ends on Wednesday.

The House of Commons voted by 291 votes to 78 – a Government majority of 213 – for the new restrictions on Tuesday evening.

With Labour ordering its MPs to abstain, the measures passed despite senior Tories having lined up to criticise the measures.

In an attempt to lessen the scale of the rebellion, the Prime Minister announced a one-off payment of £1,000 for pubs forced to remain closed under the restrictions, though the move was branded “derisory” by the trade.

Mr Johnson acknowledged concerns of a perceived “injustice” in the allocation of tiers but reassured MPs that the Government would look at a more focused approach in the future.

The House of Lords was expected to approve the plans later on Tuesday.

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Debenhams’ future in doubt as JD Sports pulls out of rescue talks
JD Sports has pulled out of rescue talks for troubled department store chain Debenhams, putting 12,000 workers at risk. It was the last remaining bidder for Debenhams, which has been in administration since April.
In a brief statement to the London Stock Exchange, the company said: “JD Sports Fashion, the leading retailer of sports, fashion and outdoor brands, confirms that discussions with the administrators of Debenhams regarding a potential acquisition of the UK business have now been terminated.”

Debenhams has already cut 6,500 jobs across its operation due to heavy cost-cutting after it entered administration for the second time in 12 months.

It is understood that the collapse of the deal is partly linked to the administration of Arcadia, which is the biggest operator of concessions in Debenhams stores.

Arcadia tumbled into insolvency on Monday evening, casting a shadow over its own 13,000 workers and 444 stores.

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Debenhams’ future in doubt as JD Sports pulls out of rescue talks
JD Sports has pulled out of rescue talks for troubled department store chain Debenhams, putting 12,000 workers at risk. It was the last remaining bidder for Debenhams, which has been in administration since April.
In a brief statement to the London Stock Exchange, the company said: “JD Sports Fashion, the leading retailer of sports, fashion and outdoor brands, confirms that discussions with the administrators of Debenhams regarding a potential acquisition of the UK business have now been terminated.”

Debenhams has already cut 6,500 jobs across its operation due to heavy cost-cutting after it entered administration for the second time in 12 months.

It is understood that the collapse of the deal is partly linked to the administration of Arcadia, which is the biggest operator of concessions in Debenhams stores.

Arcadia tumbled into insolvency on Monday evening, casting a shadow over its own 13,000 workers and 444 stores.

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Ireland eases out of second lockdown
Some non-essential retail and other businesses are reopening to the public as Ireland eases out of its second lockdown. A Government decision to lift Level 5 restrictions will also see the hair and beauty industry and gyms and leisure centres open their doors after six weeks of closures.

Restaurants and pubs that serve food will remain shut until Friday in line with the Government’s plans to reopen on a phased basis.

As Covid-19 restrictions ease country-wide, health chiefs have issued warnings not to gather in crowded areas.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan also said that office Christmas parties should not be happening and pointed out the link between infection and socialisation while urging people to reduce their number of contacts.

He said alcohol has been “a very significant common factor in a lot of the kinds of social experiences in which transmission has occurred”.

HSE boss Paul Reid said on Tuesday morning that the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital has come down to 222, with 30 people in ICU.

Mr Reid tweeted: “Today, as society and the economy opens up, let’s all take precautions to value and protect into December the great progress that we’ve made.

“We all want to open up and stay safe.”

Gardai will also scale back many of their check points as the country moves from Level 5 to Level 3.

The fixed checkpoints on motorway and dual carriageway routes will no longer be in place.

However, under Operation Fanacht more than 100 checkpoints will remain in place on main routes to monitor inter-county travel.

Gardai said there will also be patrols that will focus on the night-time economy.

As restrictions are eased, wedding guests and mourners at funerals will be limited to 25 while no organised indoors events are permitted.

Gatherings of up to 15 people are allowed outdoors, while non-contact training may take place outdoors and in pods of 15, while individual training is permitted indoors.

Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools were reopening for individual training from Tuesday.

Hotels, B&Bs and non-essential retail were also resuming trading.

People are still being urged to work from home and public transport is limited to 50%. People have also been advised to stay within their own county.

Places of worship, museums, galleries, libraries and cinemas will also reopen, but wet pubs are closed except for takeaways.

The Government has also recommended that the public should wear face coverings in crowded places.

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

Boris Johnson faces Tory revolt over new Covid controls
The Prime Minister is braced for a damaging Tory rebellion as MPs vote on a new toughened system of tiered coronavirus controls for England. The Government is expected to win today's Commons vote on the new rules – which are due to come into effect the following day – after Labour said it would abstain.
Sir Keir Starmer – who has previously backed Government measures – said while his party had “serious misgivings” it would not be in the national interest to vote them down when the virus still posed a “serious risk”.

However, with scores of Conservative MPs deeply unhappy at the extent of the restrictions, the vote is likely to throw Tory divisions into sharp relief.

Many backbenchers are furious their constituencies face stricter controls than before the latest lockdown which ends on Wednesday.

At a No 10 news conference on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped some areas could be moved into lower tiers when the restrictions come up for their first fortnightly review on December 16.

But scientists advising the Government have made clear they see little scope for any widespread easing before Christmas.

It could mean most areas of England will go into the new year in one of the toughest two tiers with a ban on households mixing indoors and strict controls on the hospitality sector.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have been designated for the lightest Tier 1 restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Government said a rapid coronavirus test that gives results in 20 minutes has been confirmed as having high sensitivity to the virus.

An evaluation carried out by NHS trusts and universities found the OptiGene RT-Lamp test to be effective in identifying infectious cases, including for people not displaying symptoms, in contrast to a report by the Guardian earlier this month claiming the test identified only 46.7% of infections during a trial in Manchester and Salford.

It comes as the head of operations for the mass community testing programme, General Sir Gordon Messenger, said the scheme may not be able to reach areas in Tier 3 until “January and beyond”.

The Government said a further 205 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 58,448.

On Monday the Government published its promised impact assessment of the health, economic, and social effects of the pandemic and its tiered approach.

But while it acknowledged there would be “significant costs” to individuals, society and the economy, it said the consequences for public health in allowing the virus to run unchecked would be “much worse”.

It said that without strong measures in place, the R number – the rate of reproduction of the virus – was likely to rise significantly above 1, leaving the NHS unable to cope.

However Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Research Group of Tory MPs opposed to tougher restrictions, said the document acknowledged the “precise size and duration” of any breach in the capacity of the NHS to cope was “not possible to predict”.

There was frustration among MPs that the analysis did not include a detailed breakdown of the effects of the measures on different sectors of the economy – particularly hospitality, which has been among the hardest hit.

Some relief was offered for drinkers hoping to get around restrictions in Tier 2, with Cabinet minister George Eustice saying that ordering a Scotch egg with a pint would constitute a “substantial meal” under the rules which will only allow alcohol to be served with food in Tier 2 areas from Wednesday.

And the minister responsible for the rollout of a vaccine said it would be not be compulsory to receive an injection but pubs and restaurants could demand to know if a customer has received a coronavirus jab before permitting entry.

Asked whether people who get the Covid-19 jab will receive some kind of “immunity passport” to show they have been vaccinated, Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC: “We are looking at the technology.

“I think you’ll probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system – as they have done with the (test and trace) app.”

Such a regime could result in people without the vaccine facing severe restrictions.

Mr Zahawi said: “I think people have to make a decision.

“But I think you’ll probably find many service providers will want to engage with this in the way they did with the app.”

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub

When will the Covid-19 tiers be reviewed and how are they decided?
MPs are due to vote later today on a tougher tier system in England to follow when the second national lockdown ends on December 2. The three-tier approach would see 99% of the country placed in the two highest levels of restrictions.

But when will the restrictions be reviewed and what will be considered when deciding an area’s tier?

– How many people are to face tough restrictions?

More than 55 million people will be placed into Tier 2 and Tier 3 measures on December 2, meaning mixing between households indoors will effectively be banned for the vast majority of the country.

Only the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – accounting for little more than 1% of England’s population – face the lightest Tier 1 coronavirus restrictions.

Large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West are in the most restrictive Tier 3, which accounts for 41.5% of the population, or 23.3 million people.

The majority of authorities – including London – will be in Tier 2, which will cover 57.3% of the country, or 32 million people.

– What are the key indicators that will primarily determine the restrictions in each area?

Five factors are considered:

– case detection rates in all age groups;

– case detection rates in the over-60s;

– the rate at which cases are rising or falling;

– the positivity rate – the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken;

– Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.

– Why are there not rigid thresholds?

The Government has said it needs to maintain flexibility to weigh the indicators against each other – such as whether hospital capacity in neighbouring areas is lower.

Another example given in the coronavirus winter plan is that case detection rates would need to be weighed against whether the spread of the virus is localised to particular communities.

The plan states “given these sensitivities, it is not possible to set rigid thresholds for these indicators, as doing so would result in poorer quality decisions”.

– Is there widespread support for the tier system?

A number of the PM’s Conservative colleagues have been openly critical of the three-tier system.

But the Government is expected to win Tuesday’s Commons vote on the new rules – which are due to come into effect the following day – after Labour said it would abstain.

Sir Keir Starmer – who has previously backed Government measures – said while his party had “serious misgivings” it would not be in the national interest to vote them down when the virus still posed a “serious risk”.

– If the vote is won and the tier system comes into effect, when can any changes be made to it?

The first review of the tiers is set for December 16.

Mr Johnson has said the allocation of tiers will be reviewed every 14 days from that date and suggested mass testing could make households exempt from restrictions.

He also said that at the first review of the measures in mid-December he would move areas down a tier where there is “robust evidence” that coronavirus is in sustained decline.

He has written to Tory MPs offering them another chance to vote on the restrictions early next year, saying the legislation will have a “sunset of February 3”.

That vote after Christmas will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March.

– What are the scientists saying about the prospect of easing measures?

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said it would be a “terrible mistake” to relax restrictions just months before vaccines “start to have an effect”.

Prof Openshaw, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: “We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage. The rates are still too high, there’s too many cases coming into hospitals, too many people dying.

“And if we take the brakes off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we would be making a huge mistake.”

Published: 01/12/2020 by Radio NewsHub


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