The Com Covid study of 800 volunteers – which are now being recruited – will initially look at mixing the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to check whether, together, they boost immune response. The trial’s lead Dr Matthew Snape said his team is looking for participants aged 50 and over, and that people with underlying health conditions could also take part.
Speaking alongside the Prime Minister at yesterday’s Downing Street briefing, Professor Chris Whitty declared that Britain was now ”past the peak” of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospital admissions.
However, he urged the public to continue following the rules to avoid plunging the NHS “back into trouble extraordinarily fast”.
Minister has spoken to Elton John about support for musicians
Oliver Dowden said he has spoken with Elton John about support for touring musicians.
SNP MP Owen Thompson (Midlothian) said: “The Government is very keen to blame the EU for the barriers being put in place for touring musicians, but Brexit was born and bred in the UK.
“Does the minister agree that the onus is on this Government to fix the abject failure in statecraft, and can he confirm what urgent steps are being taken to make sure touring musicians do not become yet another collateral damage of Brexit?”
Mr Dowden responded: “Well, first of all I would like to reassure touring musicians and all of those in the creative industry, I know how important the opportunity to tour is for them and it’s something that I discussed just yesterday with Elton John. I’ve discussed it with many others.
“It is a vital part of them building their careers. That is why we have set up this working group with musicians so that we can find ways of supporting them to continue to tour, not just I should say in Europe, but across the whole of the world.
“I think there are huge opportunities for the industry.”
Government to support musicians after ‘double-whammy’ of Brexit and Covid
The Culture Secretary has launched a working group looking at overcoming obstacles faced by British performers seeking to tour in EU countries now visa-free travel has ended.
During digital, culture, media and sport questions, former actor and Conservative MP Giles Watling (Clacton) said performers had been hit by a “double-whammy” of visa changes and Covid-19 restrictions.
He added: “There is more, so much we can do to help our cultural offer that isn’t just cash injection. I implore my right honourable friend to push the Government to re-engage with the EU on visa and carnet-free travel for performers, their kit and support teams.
“I know that the EU walked away from our offer but they must be brought back to the table. Touring performers will be left with a double-whammy of an industry devastated by Covid and the loss of an entire continent as a venue.”
Responding for the Government, culture minister Nigel Huddleston said: “The door always remains open should our European friends wish to reconsider our mutually beneficially proposals which would have allowed UK touring professionals to travel more easily but that they rejected.
“In the meantime, where visas apply our agreement with the EU contains measures designed to make the necessary travel processes as smooth as possible.
“A working group has been set up by the Secretary of State to look at any obstacles which might face British performers seeking to tour and we will continue to seek to co-operate with our European friends on this important issue.”
A&E waiting times continue to plunge after January peak
The number of patients waiting longer than an hour to be handed over from ambulance teams to A&E staff at hospitals in England has fallen to its lowest level this winter.
A total of 2,339 delays of more than 60 minutes were recorded across all acute trusts in the seven days to January 31, according to figures published by NHS England.
This compares with 3,283 in the previous week, and 5,513 in the seven days to January 10 – the highest weekly figure so far this winter.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust reported the highest number last week for an individual trust (214 delays of more than 60 minutes), followed by the Royal Wolverhampton Trust (125) and University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust (118).
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance. They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.
This map shows the spread of Covid cases across thee UK – with London still a key hotspot
If Switzerland doesn’t want to license Oxford jab that’s their decision but we know its effective – vaccine investigator
Asked about Switzerland’s decision not to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Professor Matthew Snape, who is chief investigator in the Com-Cov study into mixed doses, said the decision lies between AstraZeneca and the Swiss authorities.
Speaking on Times Radio, he said: “The (Oxford/AstraZeneca) vaccines have been licensed in many, many countries around the world now and been given to millions of people.
“We have published in peer-review manuscripts the effectiveness of this vaccine.
“The actual filing of the licensure is with Astra Zeneca, and that is between AstraZeneca and the Swiss authorities, so I can’t really comment on that.
“But the vaccine has been licensed in many countries around the world and is being used as it is.”
Has Europe’s over-65s reluctance ‘taken the shine’ off the Oxford jab?
Asked whether the decision made by certain European countries – such as Germany, France and Italy – to not use the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for older people is taking the shine off the vaccine, Professor Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the decision is up to those countries and AstraZeneca.
He said: “We are interested in preventing (Covid-19) disease as best we can with the vaccines, and we are thrilled they are being deployed here in the UK and in many other countries.
“The results continue to come out from the studies that have been done here in Oxford, showing the effectiveness of this vaccine – even with a single dose.
“So, I don’t think any shine has been taken off really at all.”
Wales can’t have lockdown ‘splurge’ despite falling cases – health minister
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething has said there cannot be a “huge splurge of reopening” in the country despite Covid-19 rates falling since before Christmas.
He told Times Radio that the “first priority” for the Welsh Government is to start a return to face-to-face teaching in some schools.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to start that after half-term, so from the week beginning February 22, and we think we’re going to be able to focus that on our youngest children in primary schools initially,” he said.
“That’s because we do have limited headroom. So, despite all the good news about our case rates falling, they’re still just under 125 which is actually still quite high.
“We had eye-watering levels before Christmas at nearly 700 cases per 100,000. So really good progress but still high and our NHS is still very pressured.
“Critical care today is operating at 130% of its normal capacity. So we can’t have a huge splurge of reopening because we really do think that would lead to a significant bounce-back in cases and potentially overwhelm our service.
“We’ve got to go in small steps and schools are the first priority and hopefully, straight after the half-term break, we’ll be able to see our youngest children return to face-to-face learning in primary schools.”
Wales looking into new cases of SA variant as minister resists mass door-to-door testing
Officials in Wales will meet later to discuss the South African variant after three cases with no clear link to travel were identified in the country.
Health minister Vaughan Gething told Times Radio that health experts will be examining who the cases had been in contact with and where they had been “to try to pinpoint” how they became infected with the variant.
“The three are quite different instances as well, so each of them will tell us something different,” Mr Gething said.
“We’re looking at targeted testing at this point to help us as we identify more people they’ve been in contact with.
“We don’t think there’s a sensible basis to have the wider community testing that you’re seeing in England.”
Sturgeon dismisses suggestions that Brexit boosted UK’s vaccine rollout
Nicola Sturgeon has labelled arguments that Brexit has brought a benefit to the UK procuring more coronavirus vaccines as “over-simplistic”.
During an interview on Good Morning Britain, Scotland’s First Minister was asked about comments made by SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford last July when she said the UK Government should be working with EU partners to find a vaccine.
Interviewer Susanna Reid suggested the UK now managing to get vaccines because it is not part of the EU vaccination programme “must be one of the most powerful arguments for Brexit”.
The SNP leader replied: “I think there’s a bigger point but I’m not going to sit here and say anything other than I think it’s really good that the UK has managed to procure as much vaccine and that the UK as a whole is getting ahead in terms of vaccine.
“We all have an interest in seeing all countries get the populations vaccinated because this is a global pandemic but I think the UK is in a very strong position.
“That the vaccination procurement and the approval of the vaccines started while the UK was still in the EU transition period, the rules around the European Medicines Agency would have allowed that to happen anyway.”
She added: “Of course you can make that argument but sometimes I think it’s a slightly over-simplistic argument, but we should all be pleased that the vaccination programme is going so well.
“The issues around Brexit are much wider and more fundamental but even on this narrow point I think if you were to apply really detailed scrutiny it wouldn’t be quite that simple.
“The UK, even if it had still been in the EU under the rules of medicines approval would still have been able to take decisions around vaccines as it has done.
“But it’s thoroughly a good thing that the UK has got such good supplies. Obviously all of us want to make sure those supplies keep flowing.
“The UK Government procures on a four nations basis – that is something we voluntarily signed into – but it’s a good thing, and we should be pleased about it.”
Ms Sturgeon also maintained Scotland’s vaccination rate had sped up this week and is being done proportionately “at a higher rate than England”.
When asked if she would change the date of school pupils returning in Scotland if it does not meet its target of vaccinating all over-70s by February 15, she said it was “a hypothetical question but we’re on track to meet that target”.
More than 60% of Wales’s four most vulnerable groups have now had their first jab
More than 60 per cent of the first four priority groups in Wales have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination, health minister Vaughan Gething has said.
He told Times Radio that more than 400 sites across Wales are now delivering vaccines, with the number of mass vaccination centres in the country expected to increase to 40.
“That’s happened because we work so closely between the health service and local government, and with the assistance of military planners too, so it’s been a real team Wales effort,” Mr Gething said.
He added that vaccinations at all older adult care homes in Wales, apart from a “handful” that had experienced an active Covid-19 outbreak, have been completed.
“We’ve now done over 60 per cent of priority groups one to four, so really rapid progress now,” he said.
— to www.standard.co.uk