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Britain has passed the milestone of vaccinating 20 million adults with two doses of the coronavirus jab, just a day before a raft of restrictions are lifted across most of the country.

According to government statistics, 20,103,658 million have now received their full two vaccine doses - 38.2 per cent of the adult population.

Still more have received a first dose - 36,573,354, or 69.4 per cent of the adult population - with a total of 56,677,012 million vaccines administered since the start of the UK's campaign on December 8.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccine program had made "extraordinary strides" in reaching the 20-million mark.

"Receiving a second dose is vital to ensure you have the ultimate protection from this deadly virus," he added, encouraging people to come forward to book their jab as soon as they were offered it.

Mr Hancock said the government had a "high degree of confidence" that those who had been vaccinated would be protected against the Indian variant, which is thought to be more transmissible.

"That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously, but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease," the health secretary told Sky.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the development was "another incredible milestone".

"It is inspiring to see the incredible public response to our call to arms to get the jab. We have one the highest vaccine uptake rates in the world, but our work is not done yet."

Britain, one of the first countries in the world to begin a mass COVID-19 vaccine campaign, opted to delay giving the second vaccine dose until 12 weeks after the first dose - instead of after four weeks as was done in clinical trials.

On Monday most of the UK will take a major step in reopening the economy, with restaurants and bars opening their indoors and entertainment venues like sports stadiums and cinemas reopening with some restrictions.

However the unlocking has coincided with the arrival of a more transmissible coronavirus variant from India.

To counter the new strain the government has said it will accelerate the rollout of second vaccines doses to over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, cutting the interval since the first jab to eight weeks.

Data from Public Health England shows the vaccines are already having a significant impact, reducing hospitalisations and deaths, saving more than 11,700 lives and preventing 33,000 hospitalisations in England by the end of April.

The government has said its goal is to give a first dose to all adults by the end of July.

 

ROYAL SUFFERS BLOOD CLOTS AFTER VACCINE

Princess Michael of Kent developed blood clots after having two COVID vaccine jabs, although no link has been established.

The royal, 76, has been recovering at home from serious ill-effects for almost a month. She is married to the Queen's cousin Prince Michael of Kent, 78.

The concern for her health emerged after she had both of her Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs earlier this year, a source close to the princess told The Sun.

The vaccine has been linked to cases of patients developing rare blood clots. The source added: "The princess has been unwell and has sought medical attention".

"It has been a worrying time for those around her," the source said, according to The Sun.

"It has been difficult for those close to her to see her suffering. She's really been through it."

Last November, The Sun revealed that Princess Michael had been diagnosed with COVID and was forced to self-isolate at her home in Kensington Palace, West London.

Her media spokesman Simon Astaire said: "I cannot comment on health issues".

Earlier this month, government advisers said those aged 30 to 39 should be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab "where practically possible" because of blood clot fears.

US MAKES MAJOR VIRUS STRIDES

Some of America's biggest retailers and chain stores including Costco, Walmart, Starbucks and Trader Joe's will no longer require vaccinated customers to wear masks indoors.

These retail giants will largely move to an honour system in which they trust only vaccinated people to shop indoors without masks on. Most say they will not ask customers for proof of vaccination.

The move comes after the CDC altered its guidance to recommend that masks only need to be worn by fully vaccinated people in transport, congregate or health care settings.

Some retailers such as Target, however, said it will still ask all of its customers to wear masks indoors.

The new freedom is hoped to encourage the vaccine hesitant to get inoculated and help the nation return to normal life.

In the New York Times, a survey of 723 epidemiologists said the pandemic won't be over until everyone, including small children, is vaccinated.

While COVID-19 cases are decreasing in the US, "herd immunity" will only be achieved when 70 per cent of Americans of all ages are vaccinated.

As of Saturday, local time, more than 120 million Americans had been fully vaccinated, which is almost 40 per cent of the total population.

On the other hand, 268 million total doses have been given, and with scientists saying even one shot provides some immunity, the downward trend in infections is likely to continue.

A majority of those experts remained positive and said they believed Americans will be able to celebrate July 4 outside, return to school in the northern hemisphere's autumn, and gather inside for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

RICH NATIONS, AUSTRALIA SHOULD NOT CHARGE FOR QUARANTINE: WHO

Wealthy nations including Australia have been called into question by the World Health Organisation over hotel quarantine schemes setting back citizens thousands of dollars.

The WHO's head of public emergencies program, Dr Mike Ryan, said stranded citizens "should not suffer economically from measures designed to protect the population as a whole".

"When you go into quarantine … you should get the support of the government and not have to pay for that," Dr Ryan said as part of the WHO's International Health Regulation.

Mr Ryan said the outlay - which in some instances is costing citizens $10,000 - is "unfairly burdening an individual with the cost of a public health action."

In Australia, the government bore the cost of hotel quarantine from the onset of the pandemic until July 1, 2020. Following that, all returning travellers have been required to pay for the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine stay, costing a minimum of $1000 per adult and $500 per child.

 

"It's a recommendation from the committee that all states should seriously consider the arrangements they put in place, how these arrangements are put in place, and the fairness of those arrangements vis-a-vis the traveller," Dr Ryan said.

The WHO noted that the costs applied to non-citizen travellers required to quarantine was "less clear".

UK REOPENING PLANS IN CHAOS

A rise in cases of the Indian coronavirus variant could "pose serious disruption" to Britain's reopening plans, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned.

England will take the next step of reopening on Monday as planned, but the final stage, currently scheduled for June 21, could be in doubt.

"I do not believe we need to delay our road map," said Mr Johnson.

But, "this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress," he said, adding, "We will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe."

The health ministry said the B1.617.2 variant is "beginning to spread increasingly rapidly" in northwest England and to a lesser extent in London, "and decisive action is being taken to further control its spread".

The new variant has been detected in London, with Hackney residents being asked to present for surge testing.

 

Second doses of vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable in a bid to keep the strain at bay, Johnson told the press briefing.

Surge testing and possible local restrictions are also in the mix after infections of the variant rose from 520 last week to 1,313 this week, officials said.

The British government is waiting on data that will indicate if the new variant is more transmissible than other strains currently circulating before deciding on its next step, said Mr Johnson.

Scientists believe it is more transmissible, but are unsure of by how much, revealed Britain's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

If only slightly, the country will reopen as planned, said Johnson. But if there is evidence of uncontrollable spread and the threat of increased pressure on the National Health Service (NHS) then more restrictions are likely, he added.

 

'TRUST OUR VACCINES'

Britain has driven down cases over the last few months thanks to a successful vaccine campaign, and officials are optimistic they will be effective against the variant.

"So far, there is no evidence that our vaccine will be less effective against serious illness and hospitalisations," said the prime minister, adding the country was "in a different position from the last time we faced a new variant."

"We should trust in our vaccines … while monitoring the situation very closely," he said.

The government last month added India, which is experiencing a devastating wave of deaths from COVID-19, to a travel red list, meaning travellers from the country have to quarantine in hotels on arrival in Britain.

In the northwest English city of Bolton, which has a sizeable population of South Asian origin, mobile testing units have been deployed and door-to-door testing is also on offer.

Britain has been gradually reopening its economy, after months of coronavirus restrictions.

On Monday, indoor mixing will resume in England, including in pubs and restaurants.

Deepti Gurdasani, senior lecturer in epidemiology at Queen Mary's University London, said that must now be postponed.

"Further, we may have to actually strengthen restrictions a bit more to get on top of this, because we need to remember this is actually growing with current restrictions in place and growing rapidly," she told Times Radio.

The Indian variant is also triggering concern in Scotland and Wales, which administer their own health policy.

Scotland announced on Friday (local time) it was going ahead with its next stage of reopening on Monday, except in Glasgow, where restrictions will remain unchanged due to a rise in cases of the variant.

 

 

 

TOKYO OLYMPICS UNDER THREAT

The mood also darkened in Japan where the coronavirus state of emergency took in another three regions just 10 weeks before the Olympics, while campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be cancelled.

With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, Hiroshima, Okayama and northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon, will now join them.

The move to combat a fourth wave putting Japan's medical system under strain comes with public opinion firmly opposed to holding the Games this northern hemisphere summer.

Kenji Utsunomiya, once candidate for Tokyo governor, urged Games organisers to "prioritise life" over ceremony as he submitted the petition to capital authorities.

The pandemic has killed at least 3,346,813 people worldwide since the virus first emerged in late 2019, according to a tally of official data.

There was bad news for Taiwan too with the capital indefinitely closing down entertainment venues, libraries and sports centres in the wake of an outbreak of infections first detected among pilots.

The island has been a global leader in containing the pandemic, with just 1290 confirmed cases and 12 deaths.

Taipei's decision, effective from Saturday, covers bars, dance clubs, karaoke lounges, nightclubs, saunas and internet cafes as well as hostess clubs and teahouses.

And in Europe, tourist hot spots are opening up.

Greece kickstarted its tourism season on Friday (local time), hoping to reverse last year's miserable summer.

"I hope to forget this damn COVID," said Jil Wirries, a 28-year old student from Hanover, Germany, collecting luggage on the island of Crete.

"Everything is terrible in Germany … people are depressed … I'm so happy to be here."

France and Spain launched tourism campaigns this week too while Italy said it was scrapping a quarantine requirement for visitors from the EU, Britain and Israel who test negative for the coronavirus.

And in the US, the top health agency on Thursday said it was lifting mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people.

 

 

Originally published as UK passes 'incredible' COVID milestone



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