Coronavirus UK news – India variant fears 'mean Brits should ignore lockdown lift and NOT sit inside pubs or hug family'

MILLIONS of lockdown-weary Brits have been told to ignore measures easing today and not sit inside pubs or hug relatives.

With fears growing over the threat the surging Indian variant poses to June 21's total unlocking, experts are sounding warnings over how cautious we should continue to be today.

Although new rules in force today mean we can sit inside pubs for the first time since 2020 and guidance on hugging relatives has changed, a former government chief scientific adviser, a leading public health specialist and the union representing Britain’s doctors urged the public to think twice.

Prof Sir Mark Walport, a former director of the Wellcome Trust and a chief scientific adviser until 2017, told Sky's Sophy Ridge “My personal judgement is that I will do things outside as far as possible… My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.”

Asked if that meant he would avoid going inside a pub, he replied: “For the moment, yes.”

Meanwhile Boris Johnson also warned Brits to be "cautious" as they enjoy hugs, indoor meals and holidays for the first time this year TODAY.

The PMsaid: “Together we have reached another milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution. We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising.”

Reading our coronavirus live blog below for up to the minute updates…

  • Caroline Mortimer

    NORTHERN IRISH TEENAGERS WILL SIT THEIR GCSE AND A-LEVEL EXAMS NEXT YEAR BUT IT WILL "NOT BE BUSINESS AS USUAL"

    Northern Ireland's Education Minister has announced the return of GCSE and A-Level examinations next year, but warned it would not be "business as usual".

    Mr Weir said that there would be significant reductions in assessment across a range of qualifications.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has led to severe disruption to examinations.

    Schools in Northern Ireland will calculate GCSE, AS and A-Level grades to be awarded to their pupils this year.

    The NI exams board CCEA will then review the grades.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    YOUTUBE HAS LAUNCHED A CAMPAIGN TO GET UNDER 35s VACCINATED

    YouTube has teamed up with the NHS to encourage young people to get the Covid-19 vaccine when they become eligible.

    It has launched a campaign, with the tagline Let’s Not Go Back, which will run on the video platform as well as on social media and in other outlets, comes as the vaccine rollout in England is set to be opened up to those aged 35 and over this week.

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, YouTube UK managing director Ben McOwen Wilson said the platform reached “98% of the UK’s 16 to 34-year-olds” and as the jab rollout began to reach younger adults it was vital they had “access to the facts about the vaccine”.

    “What our campaign is around is a light-hearted way to ensure that they’re reminded to inform themselves around what the vaccine is, what the risks of the vaccine are, and the best way for them to move forward through that vaccination process and we’re delighted to work with the NHS on that,” he said.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    COVID-19 SPIKES IN UK HOTSPOTS 'DRIVEN BY YOUNGER AGE GROUPS'

    Covid-19 rates in the UK's worst hotspots are being driven by a sharp rise in cases among younger age groups, new analysis shows, amid calls for the vaccine rollout in some parts of the country to be extended as far as teenagers.

    Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn with Darwen are currently recording the highest Covid-19 rates in the UK, with the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus driving a steep increase in cases.

    But in each of the three areas, case rates among younger people are running at a much higher level than those for older age groups, according to analysis of the latest data by the PA news agency.

    Bolton in Greater Manchester recorded 733 new cases of Covid-19 in the seven days to May 11, the latest data shows.

    This is the equivalent of 254.9 cases per 100,000 people – the highest anywhere in the UK and the highest for the area since February 12, up sharply from 99.8 per 100,000 one week earlier.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    LONG QUEUES AT HEATHROW AS PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE TO GET AWAY

    Holidaymakers prepare to jet off from the UK at Heathrow Airport this morning
    Heathrow and Gatwick are braced for their busiest day of the year so far Credit: The Sun

     

  • Caroline Mortimer

    WHICH COUNTRIES ARE ON THE SAFE-TRAVEL ‘GREEN LIST’?

    Portugal
    Gibraltar
    Israel
    Iceland
    Brunei
    Singapore
    Faroe Islands
    Falkland Islands
    South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
    St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
    Australia*
    New Zealand*

    *Closed to foreign visitors

  • Debbie White

    BRITS ENJOY 'UNBELIEVABLE' RETURN TO PORTUGAL

    Sun-hungry Britons landing in Portugal on Monday on the first flights since a four-month coronavirus travel ban was lifted were elated to be back on holiday.

    "It's fantastic. The feeling is unbelievable. We got the sun, the people, the beaches, the bars. Can't wait," said British tourist Matthew Bolden, giving the thumbs up at the arrivals gate at Lisbon airport.

    Twenty-two flights from Britain were due to land in Portugal on Monday, with most heading to the southern Algarve region, famous for its beaches and golf courses.

    "It feels amazing. Happy, everyone's happy. We were on the first flight out of the UK," said Kim, 27, who arrived from Manchester at Faro airport, where Algarve tourism office workers handed out packs of hand sanitiser and masks.

    Tourism businesses hope the return of Britons, who pumped around 3.2billion euros into Portugal's economy in 2019, will provide a much-needed boost to the sector.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    HALF OF BRITONS WANT PARLIAMENT TO CONTINUE WORKING REMOTELY

    Just over half of all Britons want remote working arrangements at Parliament to continue, even when the coronavirus pandemic is over, a new poll has found.

    A total of 51% of those questioned agreed that MPs should be able to take part in debates and vote on legislation remotely – compared to 35 who said that MPs should be required to be in Parliament to take part in debates and vote on new laws.

    The research, carried out for the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University, found that almost two thirds (61%) believed remote working at Parliament would encourage more women and people with caring responsibilities to put themselves forward to be MPs.

    In addition 64% of those polled said the change would allow MPs in rural areas or those who represent parts of the country a long way from Westminster to get more done.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    TRAVEL FIRMS CALL FOR GREEN LIST EXPANSION AFTER HOLIDAY BAN LIFTED

    Travel firms have welcomed the boost in demand as lockdown is lifted but called for more countries to be added to the green list.

    Portugal, one of just a handful of destinations on the Government's quarantine-free green list, will welcome 16 flights from England at Faro Airport in the Algarve on Monday.

    Tui is using aircraft normally reserved for long-haul routes to accommodate the surge of passengers.

    But Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of The Wellcome Trust charity, warned there "is a risk" that the coronavirus variant first identified in India could be transmitted by people travelling out of the UK.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    UK HOTELS REOPEN FROM TODAY

    Hotels across England can finally open their doors from today, welcoming guests once again.

    Not only that, but group holidays can also go ahead from today – meaning a trip with your friends and family.

    The latest lockdown restrictions have been eased even further, which originally only allowed self-catered holidays for single households.

    However, as England eases out of lockdown, more UK holidays can go ahead from today.

    The new group holiday rules allow groups of six from different households or unlimited people from two households to now go away together, and can now socialise indoors at pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues.

    Hotels have already opened in Wales, although this was only if they had en-suite facilities and room service – all holiday accommodation can now reopen.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    THE NETHERLANDS TO EASE COVID RESTRICTIONS

    The Netherlands will ease its coronavirus lockdown measures slightly this week as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has eased pressure on hospitals, health minister Hugo de Jonge said.

    Amusement parks and zoos will be allowed to reopen as of Wednesday, while outdoor service at bars and restaurants will be extended by two hours until 8 PM.

    The Netherlands is currently on the government travel 'amber list' meaning people must self-isolate for 10 days on entering the UK.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    TORY MP SAYS LOCKDOWN SHOULDN'T BE REIMPOSE TO PROTECT PEOPLE WHO WON'T GET VACCINE

     

  • Caroline Mortimer

    BUT RYANAIR BOSS WARNS PRICE HIKES ARE ON THE HORIZON

    Airline passengers will be hit by price hikes next year, the boss of Ryanair has warned.

    Chief executive Michael O’Leary said fares will be more expensive in 2022 due to a 25% reduction in the number of available seats than before the pandemic due to airlines reducing their operations.

    “There’s no doubt in my mind that prices will rise, particularly during the peaks of the bank holiday weekends, the school holiday travel period,” he told BBC Breakfast.

    “We will be urging people to book very early because I think there’s less seats and pricing will be higher.”

    He claimed flights “will never be cheaper” than they are this year, as “all the airlines are running with much lower advanced bookings than we have ever had before because of the travel restrictions”.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    EASYJET SAYS FLIGHT PRICES WILL NOT RISE

    EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren suggested prices of flights to green list countries will not be raised in the coming months.

    Speaking at Gatwick Airport near London on the first day that people in England and Wales have been allowed to go on holiday abroad, he said: “We have prices that start from £28.99 so you’re always going to find flights that are exceptionally affordable and provide a lot of value for money.

    “So the pricing is very dynamic as well, and we would like to ensure that we can get as much capacity out there to support the demand that we know is there.

    “Travel comes out as the number one thing that people want to do most in the pandemic and in lockdown, so it’s not about a lack of demand.

    “It all comes down to restrictions and to make sure that those can be (unwound) so that we can start travelling at a larger scale.”

  • Caroline Mortimer

    CRUISE LINERS ARE READY TO SAIL AGAIN

    Major cruises will resume this week with the maiden voyage of a vessel around the coast of the UK.

    MSC cruise line's Virtuosa will leave Southampton on Thursday for a four-night cruise, followed by three and four-night mini-cruises.

    From June 12, the 19-deck ship will start to operate longer seven-night sailings through to mid-September, offering guests additional embarkation ports in Liverpool and Greenock as well as calls at Portland in Dorset and Belfast in Northern Ireland.

    Antonio Paradiso, managing director of MSC Cruises UK & Ireland, said: "MSC Virtuosa is the latest, most-innovative and environmentally advanced to join the MSC Cruises fleet and we couldn't be more delighted to offer UK holidaymakers and their families the chance to discover her world class facilities.

    "We have all been waiting for something exciting to look forward to and this ship has lots of new features for our guests to experience including new speciality restaurants and a brand-new immersive entertainment lounge with a humanoid robotic bartender and much more."

  • Caroline Mortimer

    TOP SCIENTIST WARNS AGAINST SOCIALISING INDOORS

    Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that he would not meet indoors “at the moment”.

    He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring, mostly indoors, mostly in larger gatherings indoors with lots of different people, different families, different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment personally.”

    But he added: “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to lift the restrictions – we do need to lift the restrictions at some point, we’ve been in restrictions now for a very long time.”

  • Caroline Mortimer

    "LESS THAN 50% CHANCE" JUNE LIFTING OF LOCKDOWN WILL BE DELAYED

    There is less than a 50% chance that the June 21 plan for lifting all legal limits on social contact will be delayed, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said.

    Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, offered a degree of optimism about the summer though he stressed the Indian variant meant things were still uncertain.

    Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also insisted that the June 21 date for the ending of restrictions in England was likely to be met.

    He told Sky News that "people should have common sense, they should use judgment and I think if we act in a reasonable way, there is no reason to suppose that we can't reopen the economy entirely on June 21".

  • Caroline Mortimer

    WHERE CAN I GO ON HOLIDAY?

  • Caroline Mortimer

    BUSINESS SECRETARY SAYS IT IS “VERY LIKELY” RESTRICTIONS WILL EASE ON 21 JUNE

    Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he thinks it “very likely” that all coronavirus restrictions will be scrapped on 21 June, despite the threat of the Indian variant.

    Defending the decision to ease the lockdown, the Cabinet minister told Sky News: “Yes, things are opening up but people should have common sense, they should use judgment and I think if we act in a reasonable way, there is no reason to suppose that we can’t reopen the economy entirely on June 21.

    “I think there has to be a degree of common sense, a bit of caution and people shouldn’t be running away being too exuberant, I suppose.

    “I think we just need to be measured and cautious.”

  • Caroline Mortimer

    YOUTUBE HAS LAUNCHED A CAMPAIGN TO GET UNDER 35s VACCINATED

    YouTube has teamed up with the NHS to encourage young people to get the Covid-19 vaccine when they become eligible.

    It has launched a campaign, with the tagline Let's Not Go Back, which will run on the video platform as well as on social media and in other outlets, comes as the vaccine rollout in England is set to be opened up to those aged 35 and over this week.

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, YouTube UK managing director Ben McOwen Wilson said the platform reached "98% of the UK's 16 to 34-year-olds" and as the jab rollout began to reach younger adults it was vital they had "access to the facts about the vaccine".

    "What our campaign is around is a light-hearted way to ensure that they're reminded to inform themselves around what the vaccine is, what the risks of the vaccine are, and the best way for them to move forward through that vaccination process and we're delighted to work with the NHS on that," he said.

  • Caroline Mortimer

    FIRST TOURISTS CONTINUED

    Kevin and Pauline Nash from Essex were among the first to board a green-list flight to Portugal from Gatwick Airport on Monday.

    In the queue for the plane to Faro, Mr Nash, a company chairman, 66, said: "We're very excited to go on holiday, we haven't been since last September.

    "This is the first time we've booked and it's the first flight out, so we're delighted – and it's been a long, cold winter at home so we're looking forward to it."

    When asked about what it was like booking the journey and going through the airport with coronavirus measures in place, he added: "It's been a great experience so far, very smooth, the airport has been particularly empty which is nice, no hitch at all."

    When asked what they planned to do in Faro, he said: "Open the doors of our villa and look out to sea and just go 'Ahhh'."

  • Caroline Mortimer

    FIRST TOURISTS ARRIVE IN PORTUGAL

    Essy Kamaie, a passenger on the first green-list flight from Gatwick Airport to Faro in Portugal on Monday, said he was "excited" to travel abroad after having a previous holiday cancelled, and booked his ticket only two hours before the flight.

    Mr Kamaie, a 65-year-old property developer, said while waiting in the queue for the plane: "I'm excited, I was disappointed because I booked to go to Malaga but I've been refused, I have a property there and we couldn't go but I'm now going to Faro.

    "It was very easy actually, it was all online, we booked it this morning at about 7.30 – a few hours ago."

  • Caroline Mortimer

    GRAPH: NUMBERS OF COVID DEATHS AND CASES PER DAY

  • Caroline Mortimer

    BRITS ENJOY LATEST TASTE OF FREEDOM

    Thirsty Brits enjoyed their first pint inside a pub this year as the clock struck midnight.

    Boozers toasted their newfound freedom as indoor mixing was finally allowed across the country for the first time since November. 

    Drinkers head inside pubs at midnight as indoor socialising allowed for first time since November

     

  • Caroline Mortimer

    TOP PROFESSORS SAYS YOUNG PEOPLE MUST BE VACCINATED "AS FAST AS POSSIBLE"

    Professor Peter Openshaw said that it was important to vaccinate people as "fast as possible", including those under 18.

    The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in the UK among people over the age of 16 – the only vaccine in the UK currently available to people under 18. In the US, the vaccine is also being given to those aged 12 to 15.

    He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm not an expert in vaccine supply – my understanding is that the amount of vaccine that we're able to deliver at the moment is limited by the amount of vaccine that we are able to obtain and that we don't have vaccine sitting in warehouses waiting to be administered.

    "That being the case, if we're going to be vaccinating younger people in one area, that potentially might mean taking vaccines away from people who might otherwise be getting those vaccines and are at higher personal risk."

    But he added: "In Bolton, it looks like the cases are growing, particularly in those under the age of 45 – in other words, those who have not been vaccinated – so that I suppose is an encouraging signal for vaccination, extending down into those younger age groups is going to be effective in limiting spread."

  • Caroline Mortimer

    WHAT ARE THE NEW TRAVEL RULES?

    Going on holiday is no longer illegal, with May 17 marking the date that travel has finally been given the go-ahead.

    Anyone coming back to Britain will still have to take pre-departure tests up to 72 hours before they travel, which can be a lateral flow or PCR test.

    Quarantine or additional testing is not needed upon return, unless the post-arrival test is positive.

    The next review is set to take place in three weeks – so on May 28.

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