Britain today recorded another 5,605 coronavirus cases and 98 deaths, with both figures down on this time last week.
Positive Covid tests fell by 2.7 per cent from the 5,758 infections posted last Wednesday, while fatalities plunged 30.5 per cent from 141.
The positive news was accompanied by a record number of second vaccine doses being dished out by the NHS, with 170,000 people getting their top-up jab yesterday.
Covid cases have yet to spike, despite millions of extra tests being carried out because of schools reopening in England on March 8. If the promising trend continues, it means ministers will remain on track to relax restrictions further on April 12.
Today’s good vaccine news is tinged with concern, however, as supply issues loom larger and Europe doubles down on its threat to throttle exports.
Despite anxiety in many member states about undermining legal contracts, vice-president Valdis Dombrovkis complained at a press conference this afternoon that the EU had exported 43million doses to 33 countries since January — including 10million to the UK.
He said exports could be restricted to destination countries that limit their own exports of jabs or raw materials — whether by law or through other means.
In other coronavirus news:
A study has found seven out of 10 people hospitalised with Covid still have symptoms five months later;India claims it has spotted a new mutated strain of coronavirus that could escape immunity and spread faster – but scientists in the UK insist it is not a threat here;The Serum Institute of India has written to the country’s government to ask for permission to send five million doses of AstraZeneca’s jab to the UK ‘immediately’ amid confusion about the supply chain;Rapid Covid tests may miss up to 40 per cent of coronavirus cases among people with no symptoms, researchers say.
The export controls — backed by France and Germany — were today branded as ‘mind-blowingly stupid vaccine nationalism’ by Tory MPs.
And health committee chair Jeremy Hunt warned that the EU was being ‘idiotic’ and ‘destroying the possibility of a long-term partnership and friendship with its closest neighbour’.
The measures were also condemned by Bernd Lange, chairman of the European Parliament’s international trade committee, who said the bloc had ‘brought out the shotgun’ but risked ‘shooting itself in the foot’.
And asked about the controversial move as he was grilled by the powerful Liaison Committee this evening, Boris Johnson cautioned that there would be ‘long term damage’ from such a move.
The Prime Minister said the ‘partnership’ with the EU was ‘very important’ and he wanted to ‘continue to work with them’.
SEVEN IN 10 HOSPITAL PATIENTS STILL HAVE SYMPTOMS 5 MONTHS LATER
Seven in 10 patients hospitalised by coronavirus still suffer debilitating ‘long Covid’ symptoms five months after being discharged, scientists say.
Research laying bare the toll of the condition revealed survivors were plagued with problems including breathlessness, fatigue and muscle pain.
University of Leicester experts, who quizzed 1,077 long-haulers, found two in five had reduced their workload or were off sick because of their persistent symptoms.
They also found evidence of organ damage in sufferers, and that those who required mechanical ventilation took longer to recover from long Covid.
Separate data from Glasgow University released today further highlighted the plight of long Covid victims, saying women under-50 were worst affected.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, claimed the studies added to knowledge of long Covid, which is still surrounded in mystery.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was ‘determined’ to improve care for Britons suffering the ‘lasting and debilitating’ impacts of Covid — which is estimated to have infected around 15million people in the UK.
Estimates suggest long Covid strikes up to one in ten infected people, leaving them battling fatigue and brain fog for months.
NHS England has put aside more than £20million to treat the condition and set up a network of 72 sites across the nation to assist patients complaining of symptoms.
‘Vaccines as you know are the product of international cooperation,’ the premier said.
‘I don’t think that blockades either on vaccines or medicines, or ingredient for vaccines are sensible. The long term damage done by blockades can be very considerable.’
He went on: ‘I would just gently point out to anybody considering a blockade or an interruption of supply chains, that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investment in countries where arbitrary blockades are imposed.’
The row came amid extraordinary reports today that 29million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are being held at a plant in Italy after a raid by police.
Initially, briefings to European papers including La Stampa suggested the huge stocks were earmarked for the UK, but discovered by the authorities after a tip-off from Brussels.
However, AstraZeneca later insisted that none of the supplies are for Britain, and government sources said the reports were ‘not true’.
Sixteen million of the doses are due to be delivered to the European, while 13million are due to be delivered to developing countries, Astrazeneca said.
Meanwhile, in a major boost for the British drive the Serum Institute in India has indicated it could hand over another five million AstraZeneca doses that had been delayed and urged the India government to release the doses for export.
The wrangling comes amid mounting panic in Brussels at its shambolic rollout, with French officials swiping that Europe must not be a ‘useful idiot’ in the battle against the virus.
The EU is trying to maximise leverage on AstraZeneca to a bigger share of supplies, even though the UK has a stronger contractual position as it funded the initial development.
In a sign of the chaos, hundreds of people from the Republic are said to have been trying to book jabs in Northern Ireland, where availability is far better.
Mr Johnson risked fuelling the row last night by suggesting to Tory MPs that ‘greed’ was responsible for the UK being so far ahead – although he quickly tried to retract the comment, realising it might cause anger.
The UK currently gets the bulk of its vaccine supply from two AstraZeneca plants in England that produce approximately two million doses a week.
Ministers say that the country has enough doses on stream to cover second doses.
However, there have been hopes of additional doses from an Astrazeneca plant in the Netherlands, while Pfizer doses are imported from Belgium.
Both could be affected by an EU export ban, with some estimates suggesting a ban could delay Britain’s vaccine drive by two months and affect supply by 20 per cent.