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Covid-19 news: UK to give third doses in world’s largest booster trial

A member of the medical staff holds a sign indicating she has briefed a patient and is ready for a vaccine to be administered at the Hexham Mart Vaccination Centre on May 13, 2021 in Hexham, England.

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 19 May

Volunteers in the UK will be given a third dose of a covid-19 vaccine or a control to assess the impact on immunity

Almost 3000 fully vaccinated people in the UK will be given a third dose of a covid-19 vaccine in the world’s first large-scale clinical trial of covid-19 booster vaccines.

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The volunteers will be given a booster shot or a control and then have their immune systems tested to see whether the booster raises their antibody levels and increases immunity. Side effects will also be monitored. 

The data will inform UK authorities about whether to run an autumn booster campaign, and if so, which vaccine to use for this. It is not an admission that antibody levels are waning or that the vaccines do not protect against variants of concern, say the organisers of the Cov-Boost trial.

Half of the volunteers will have had the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for their first two jabs, while the other half will have received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The third shot will be one of the seven vaccines the UK has already secured supplies of, or a control jab. The seven vaccines are the approved shots from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna and the as-yet-unapproved vaccines from Janssen, Novavax, Valneva and CureVax. The control jab is a meningococcal vaccine. 

On 19 May, the Financial Times reported that unpublished research by the University of Oxford suggests that the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine works well as a third booster shot.

People in the UK who have already received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccines can sign-up to volunteer for the Cov-Boost trial at www.covboost.org.uk

Other coronavirus news

European Union countries have agreed to ease coronavirus travel restrictions on visitors from countries outside the bloc. EU ambassadors approved a European Commission proposal from 3 May to relax the criteria for “safe” countries and to allow fully vaccinated tourists to enter. They are expected to set a new list of safe countries in the coming days, increasing the current limit on case numbers per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days from 25 to 75. An “emergency brake” mechanism could still be used to limit the risk of new coronavirus variants entering the EU, however.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have said they will start offering third shots of China’s Sinopharm vaccine to people who received their second dose of the two-dose regimen more than six months ago, making them the first countries to introduce boosters. “The priority to receive an additional dose of Sinopharm is for the senior citizens and people with chronic diseases,” said the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority on 18 May.

India reported yet another record 24-hour increase in covid-19 deaths. There were 4529 deaths from covid-19 reported on 18 May, the highest daily death toll reported by any country since the pandemic began.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.40 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 164.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 720.2 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.

Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.

Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.

Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.

The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.

Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.

Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Previous updates

Injection of coronavirus vaccine

A health worker injects a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccine centre set up at City Hall in Hull, northeast England.

OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

18 May

More than half of people surveyed said their long covid symptoms improved after a first dose of covid-19 vaccine

Long covid symptoms may be eased by covid-19 vaccines, a survey suggests.

The survey, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, included 812 people with long covid (who experience long-term symptoms after the initial infection has passed) from around the world, and was conducted by advocacy group LongCovidSOS. It found that 56.7 per cent of respondents saw an overall improvement in their symptoms after receiving a first dose of covid-19 vaccine. About a quarter said their symptoms remained unchanged, while 18.7 per cent reported that their symptoms worsened following their first vaccine dose. The respondents were mainly white and female, and were contacted through social media.

The results add to findings from an earlier survey of 473 people with long covid carried out by film-maker Gez Medinger using Facebook groups in February. About 32 per cent of respondents to that survey said they either felt better or were completely recovered two weeks after receiving their first dose of a covid-19 vaccine. 

The mechanism by which covid-19 vaccination might help alleviate long covid symptoms isn’t clear, but some scientists have speculated that the vaccine helps boost the immune response so that it can fully eliminate any virus still lurking in the body following the infection. Premature ageing of the immune system and other persistent immunological problems caused by coronavirus infection have been proposed as potential causes of long covid, but further research is needed to fully understand the condition.

Other coronavirus news

The European Union’s medicines regulator says the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature for longer than previously recommended. In a statement, the European Medicines Agency said it has extended the approved storage period for an unopened, thawed vaccine vial when kept in a fridge between 2 and 8 degrees C from five days to 31 days. It said the change was approved following assessment of additional stability study data, and that the increased flexibility in storage would significantly impact planning and logistics of covid-19 vaccine rollouts in member states.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation said on 17 May that Gaza’s only coronavirus testing lab is no longer functional, following bombing in Al-Rimal by Israel. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the health situation in Gaza as “highly concerning”. He told reporters: “Covid-19 testing and vaccination has been severely impacted […] this creates health risks for the world as a whole.”

India reported a record daily increase in covid-19 deaths of 4329 on 17 May. There were 263,533 new coronavirus cases reported in the same 24-hour period, down from 281,386 cases on 16 May.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.39 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 163.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 711.4 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Health worker inoculates a man with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish church in Quezon City, Philippines. Philippines – 17 May 2021

Aaron Favila/AP/Shutterstock

17 May

Antibody levels could help predict the level of protection a person has to covid-19 following vaccination or after natural infection

A person’s levels of neutralising antibodies following covid-19 vaccination or natural infection could help predict their level of immune protection, a study suggests. Neutralising antibodies are able to successfully bind to a virus, reducing its ability to infect other cells. David Khoury at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues analysed data from seven covid-19 vaccine studies and one study of people who had been infected with the coronavirus and recovered. Using data on immune responses and observed protection from symptomatic coronavirus infection, the researchers modelled the relationship between neutralising antibody levels and protection from disease. The team found that neutralising antibody levels were highly predictive of immune protection, and could be used to predict the efficacy of a different covid-19 vaccine.

The research, published in Nature Medicine, suggests that neutralising antibody levels could be used as a way to quickly assess the level of protection a person will have to the virus – a so-called correlate of protection. This could accelerate vaccine trials by helping to rapidly identify vaccine candidates that are likely to confer protection. It could also help researchers predict how a person’s immunity may change over time. 

Based on their analysis, Khoury’s team predict that protection from infection will start to wane after a few months so booster shots may be required within a year of vaccination. However, protection from severe disease may be considerably more durable given other elements of the immune system that may play a more prominent role in the long run.

Other coronavirus news

COVAX, a global initiative aiming to ensure covid-19 vaccines are shared fairly between countries, is 140 million doses short as a result of India’s covid-19 crisis, the BBC reported on 17 May. The Serum Institute of India is the scheme’s largest single supplier and has made none of its planned shipments since exports from India were suspended in March. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation where we just don’t know when the next set of doses will materialise,” Gian Gandhi, Unicef’s COVAX co-ordinator for supply, told the BBC. “Our hope is, things will get back on track, but the situation in India is uncertain.”

A covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline was found to produce strong immune responses in a phase II trial. The two companies said a phase III trial involving more than 35,000 adults would commence in the coming weeks, with the hope of getting the vaccine approved before the end of 2021. 

Coronavirus restrictions were eased in England, Wales and most of Scotland on 17 May. People in England can now meet indoors in groups of up to six or with a maximum of two households.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.38 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 163.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 704.8 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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A public health digital board warns the public of a Covid-19 variant of concern affecting the community in Bolton, northwest England on May 14, 2021. – England remains on track for the latest easing of its coronavirus lockdown next week but is taking no chances after a doubling of cases of an Indian variant, the government said today.

OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

14 May

Indian variant could hinder progress to step 4, prime minister Boris Johnson warns

The next stage of lockdown easing in England will go ahead as planned on Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed, despite concerns over surging cases linked to the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant first detected in India. “But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June,” he said at a press briefing.

The UK will now aim to give people over 50 and those clinically vulnerable their second vaccine dose within eight weeks of the first, Johnson said. He added that there was “no evidence” that vaccines used in the UK are less effective against B.1.617.2.

Evidence suggests that the B.1.617.2 variant is more transmissible than the so-called Kent variant that is widespread in the UK, chief medical officer Chris Whitty said, but it is not clear by how much.

The UK could face another devastating wave of covid-19 if it fails to contain the spread of the Indian variant, according to modelling done by the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). The wave could be as big as the one in January, which at its peak was seeing over 50,000 new infections every day.

The leader of Bolton council said he had held talks with health secretary Matt Hancock about expanding vaccination coverage in the area to deal with a surge in infections linked to the B.1.617.2 variant. However, Blackburn with Darwen council – a nearby area with high cases connected to B.1.617.2 – said on Thursday evening the borough would not be making vaccines available to all adults, as media had reported earlier in the day.

In Scotland, Glasgow and Moray will remain under level 3 restrictions when the rest of the country moves to level 2 on Monday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced. Initial research suggests that Glasgow’s high infection rate may be driven by B.1.617.2, she said.

Indoor hospitality restrictions are being lifted in Wales on Monday, but plans to go further have been “paused” because of the worrying variant, first minister Mark Drakeford said.

Other coronavirus news

A second dose of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine produces a stronger antibody response if it is given 12 weeks after the first dose, compared with three weeks, according to a pre-print. The finding supports the decision taken in the UK to extend the time between doses beyond the interval tested in clinical trials. New data from Public Health England suggest that the vaccination programme prevented 11,700 deaths in people aged 60 and over by the end of April 2021.

In new guidance for the US, people fully vaccinated against covid-19 generally don’t need to wear face masks or practice social distancing inside or outside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

The Indian variant in the UK

The Indian variants of covid-19 (B.1.617, B.1.617.2, B.1.617.3) accounted for 8.8 per cent of all new cases in the UK in the week up to 12 May.

The UK/ Kent variant still accounts for the vast majority of new covid-19 cases in the UK (89.6 per cent in the week up to 12 May) but the combined Indian variants are growing rapidly and now account for 8.8 per cent of new cases.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.34 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 161.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 685.3 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

blackburn covid-19

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND – JANUARY 18: General view from inside the crypt of Blackburn Cathedral on January 18, 2021 in Blackburn, United Kingdom.

Peter Byrne – Pool/Getty Images

Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 13 May

Covid-19 vaccines to be offered to all adults in Blackburn and Darwen

Covid-19 vaccines will be offered to all adults in one area of Lancashire, UK, which has seen high numbers of cases linked to a coronavirus variant of concern. Extra vaccinations and surge testing will begin next week in Blackburn and Darwen, the local borough council said. The latest figures show 90.2 cases per 100,000 people in this area, the third highest rate of infections in England, with an 89 per cent increase from the previous week. Council leaders have urged the community to be extra vigilant about covid-19 precautions.

There is increasing evidence that the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant, first detected in India, is spreading more quickly than the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in southeast England, which is currently dominant in the UK. Figures from Public Health England show that the number of cases linked to the new variant have tripled in a week. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said today that the government is “anxious” about the variant and considering a range of measures to control it.

Other coronavirus news

South Africa’s true number of deaths from covid-19 is more than 133,000, much more than the official figure of 54,968, according to a report by the South African Medical Research Council. The total recorded deaths in the country in the last 12 months number 157,000, and 85 per cent are likely to have been caused by covid-19, the report says. 

Adults are more likely to report mild and moderate side effects after having a different covid-19 vaccine for their second dose to their first, according to a UK study looking at the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, published in The Lancet

Delaying second vaccine doses for people younger than 65 to prioritise people getting their first dose could lead to fewer people dying of covid-19, according to a modelling study published in the British Medical Journal

The governor of Ohio has said his state will give out $1 million prizes to five people, chosen by lottery, as an incentive for people to get a covid-19 vaccine. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.33 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 160.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 675.4 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Long covid: Premature ageing of the immune system may be responsible for persistent symptoms in some people who get infected.

Covid-19 italy

Medical workers in overalls stretch a patient under intensive care into the newly built Columbus Covid 2 temporary hospital to fight the new coronavirus infection.

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

12 May

International health experts suggest major reform at WHO to reflect lessons learned during covid-19 pandemic 

In a comprehensive review of global public health action taken during the coronavirus pandemic, an international panel of public health experts has recommended major reforms at the World Health Organization (WHO). The report, put together by a group convened by the WHO, argues that the covid-19 pandemic should trigger actions to prevent future pandemics of its kind, as well as actions to accelerate the end of the current pandemic, such as more sharing of covid-19 vaccine supplies by wealthy nations. It also recommends changes to the way the WHO operates, including giving the organisation more power to investigate emerging outbreaks with pandemic potential without needing to secure prior approval from the affected country or countries, as well as limiting the WHO director-general position to a single seven-year term.

Looking back at 2020 the report also notes that there was an eight-day delay in the WHO declaring the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, and describes February 2020 as “a lost month” during which many countries appeared to be hoping that they wouldn’t be affected by the virus. “Covid-19 is the 21st century’s Chernobyl moment,” says the report, referring to the world’s worst nuclear disaster. “It has shown so clearly the gravity of the threat to our health and well-being.”

“The shelves of storage rooms in the UN and national capitals are full of reports and reviews of previous health crises. Had their warnings been heeded, we would have avoided the catastrophe we are in today,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Liberian politician and one of the report’s co-authors.  “This time must be different.”

Other coronavirus news

The UK will hold an independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in 2022, UK prime minister Boris Johnson told parliament on 12 May. Johnson said the government was “fully committed to learning the lessons at every stage of this crisis”. He said that because of the threat posed by new coronavirus variants and a possible surge in infections during winter of 2021 in the UK, spring of 2022 would be the “right moment” to hold the inquiry. But Jo Goodman, co-founder of UK advocacy group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said 2022 is “simply too late to begin” the inquiry. “Lives are at stake with health experts and scientists warning of a third wave later this year,” Goodman told the BBC. “A rapid review in summer 2020 could have saved our loved ones who died in the second wave in winter,” she said.

A recent rise in coronavirus cases due to a variant first identified in India could delay England’s plans for reopening, scientists have warned. The variant, called B.1.617.2, is one of three that are closely related and has been designated as a variant of concern by Public Health England. Christina Pagel at University College London said the recent rise in B.1.617.2 cases is concerning enough to warrant a delay in the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions in England from 17 May. “We’ve done this so many times – waited until things got really bad before we realised we should have acted several weeks ago,” Pagel told the Guardian. On 12 May, Downing Street acknowledged that the government has conducted a “lessons learned” review of the covid-19 pandemic, which has not been made public.

Coronavirus cases are continuing to surge in Seychelles, despite the majority of the country’s population being vaccinated mainly with China’s Sinopharm covid-19 vaccine. Among those who are fully vaccinated in the country, 57 per cent received the Sinopharm vaccine and 43 per cent received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. Of all the new active cases, 37 per cent are in people who are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.32 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 159.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 666.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Covid-19 booster shots: The UK and Israel are already considering booster vaccine programmes and are buying up doses, but topping up on covid-19 vaccines isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

india coronavirus

Medical workers move a Covid-19 patient at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, on May 10, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Shutterstock

11 May

India’s government tells doctors to look out for signs of black fungus in covid-19 patients

A rare black fungus, which can invade the brain and cause deadly disease, is increasingly being detected in covid-19 patients in India amid its second surge of infections. The fungus, called mucormycosis, is commonly found in soil and on plants, and does not normally pose a threat as it can be dealt with by the body’s immune system. However, people with conditions that weaken the immune system, such as diabetes and some cancers, as well as, people who take medications such as steroids, which suppress the immune system, are more prone to the spores developing into an infection. Symptoms typically include a stuffy and bleeding nose, swelling and pain in the eye, drooping of eyelids and blurred or lost vision. People may also develop black patches of skin around the nose. 

India’s government has told doctors to look out for signs of the fungus in covid-19 patients, as cases appear to be on the rise. Raghuraj Hegde, an eye surgeon in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, told the BBC he had seen 19 cases of mucormycosis in the two weeks up to 9 May, and Mumbai’s Sion Hospital has reported 24 cases of the usually rare infection in the past two months. Hegde said he had previously never seen more than one or two cases a year in Bengaluru in more than ten years of practice. 

Experts think the treatment of severe covid-19 with steroids, such as dexamethasone, may be increasing the risk of mucormycosis by suppressing the immune system, particularly in patients with underlying health conditions like diabetes. “When your immune system can’t keep them [the fungus] under control they invade the base of your brain where it becomes a real problem, and really very serious,” Peter Collignon, who sits on the World Health Organization’s expert committee on antibiotic resistance and infectious diseases, told the Guardian.

Other coronavirus news

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12 to 15. “Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from covid-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” said Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, in a statement on 10 May.

Covid-19 deaths are continuing to fall across England and Wales. A total of 205 deaths mentioning covid-19 on the death certificate were registered in England and Wales in the week up to 30 April, the lowest number since the week up to 18 September last year and down from 260 the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The European Union has launched a second lawsuit against AstraZeneca over alleged breaching of a supply contract for covid-19 vaccines.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.3 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 159 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 655.4 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Variant of concern: A form of SARS-CoV-2 called B.1.617.2 which was designated a “variant of concern” by health authorities in England appears to be at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7, the “Kent variant” that now dominates in the UK but does not seem more dangerous.

Vaccine hesitancy: The CIA’s efforts to capture Osama bin Laden via a fake vaccination drive in Pakistan led to a significant decline in vaccine uptake in the country.

Previous updates

Post-lockdown soho London

People enjoy a drink in Berwick Street, Soho.

James Veysey/Shutterstock

10 May

Planned easing of rules in England as UK virus alert level lowered from four to three

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce further easing of coronavirus restrictions in England during a briefing on the evening of 10 May, including a relaxation of restrictions banning indoor mixing starting from 17 May. Indoor dining will be allowed for groups of up to six people or two households and venues such as cinemas and galleries will be able to reopen. Non-essential travel abroad is also expected to be allowed from 17 May, with some destinations given a “green light” meaning travellers returning from those places to the UK won’t be required to self-isolate. Restrictions are also gradually being lifted elsewhere in Europe, including in Spain and Greece.

The planned easing of restrictions in England comes as the UK’s coronavirus alert level is being lowered from four to three, following new advice from chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. An alert level of four indicates that transmission is high or rising exponentially, in which case social distancing should continue, whereas an alert level of three indicates the virus is in general circulation and warrants a gradual relaxation of restrictions. 

Cases, hospitalisations and deaths across the UK have been falling “thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme,” said NHS England medical director Stephen Powis. However, he urged people to remain vigilant. “It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it.” More than 35.3 million people in the UK have had a first dose of covid-19 vaccine as of 9 May, and more than 17.6 million have received their second dose.

Other coronavirus news

Nepal has asked climbers on Mount Everest to return their empty oxygen canisters rather than abandoning them on mountain slopes, as the country struggles with oxygen shortages amid surging coronavirus infections. “We appeal to climbers and sherpas to bring back their empty bottles wherever possible as they can be refilled and used for the treatment of the coronavirus patients who are in dire needs,” Kul Bahadur Gurung, an official at the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told Reuters.

US chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci said people in the country might choose to wear masks beyond the covid-19 pandemic to help limit the spread of other respiratory diseases, such as influenza. “We’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against covid-19,” Fauci told NBC on 9 May.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.29 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 158.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 649.8 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Vaccine patent waiver: The US support for lifting intellectual property rights on covid-19 vaccines is unlikely to boost vaccine supplies in the short term, but an IP waiver may increase vaccine production in more countries over the next year.

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A man receives an injection with a dose of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, at a vaccination centre in Baitul Futuh Mosque, amid the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, March 28, 2021

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

7 May

Rates of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccine seem to be slightly higher among younger people

People under the age of 40 in the UK are to be offered an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine where possible, in line with updated recommendations from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Previously, the JCVI only recommended that those under 30 be offered an alternative vaccine but it updated its guidance based on the latest evidence from the UK’s medicines regulator. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there have been 242 cases of rare blood clotting events among 28.5 million people who received the vaccine as of 28 April, 49 of which were fatal. But the rates appear to be slightly higher among younger people, with 10.1 cases per million doses of vaccine among people aged 40 to 49, compared with 17.4 cases per million doses among those aged 30 to 39. 

June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, said the benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for the “vast majority of people” but, because coronavirus infection rates in the UK are relatively low and the risk from covid-19 decreases with age, she said the risk-benefit equation is “more finely balanced for younger people”. The prevalence of the coronavirus is continuing to fall in much of the UK, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. Infection rates fell in England, Wales and Scotland and remained level in Northern Ireland in the week up to 2 May.

Meanwhile, in Germany a nationwide limit on the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot in people under the age of 60 will be lifted, the government announced on 6 May.

Other coronavirus news

A US-backed proposal to waive patents on covid-19 vaccines has been met with opposition from Germany. In a statement on 6 May, the German government said that “the limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high quality standards and not patents”. However, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen earlier said the EU was “ready to discuss” the proposal. 

Globally at least 46 million people, including asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people, are being left out of national covid-19 vaccination programmes, suggests World Health Organization research seen by the Guardian. COVAX, a global platform for sharing vaccines equitably, has allocated 5 per cent of its vaccine doses to a “humanitarian buffer” to go to the most vulnerable 20 per cent of people in these groups but it estimates that this would only cover a maximum of 33 million people.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.25 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 156.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 632.1 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

vaccine patent waiver

Demonstrators hold a rally to “Free the Vaccine,” calling on the US to commit to a global coronavirus vaccination plan that includes sharing vaccine formulas.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

6 May

WHO chief called the announcement of US support for a vaccine patent waiver a “monumental moment in the fight against covid-19”

The US has announced its support for a waiver of intellectual property protections on covid-19 vaccines in an effort to help boost global supply. “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said US trade representative Katherine Tai in a statement on 5 May. “We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen,” said Tai. Of the WTO’s 164 states, 100 are said to be in favour of the waiver proposed by India and South Africa, the BBC reported. World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the move by the US as a “monumental moment in the fight against covid-19” and a “historic decision for vaccine equity”. 

However, the waiver has faced strong opposition since it was first proposed in 2020 including from the previous US administration, the European Union and the UK. In response to the US announcement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said “the EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”, while French president Emmanuel Macron said he is now “absolutely in favour”. A UK government spokesperson told the BBC the UK is “in discussions with the US and WTO members to facilitate increased production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines”.

The pharmaceutical industry has also opposed the waiver, with representatives arguing that companies have already shared technology with qualified manufacturers globally and that current global supply issues are being driven by wealthy countries hoarding existing vaccines. “Waiving patents of covid-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis,” the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations said in a statement. But Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the WHO, told the Financial Times that the waiver “could be a game-changer in the fight against this pandemic” if accompanied by a scale-up of regional manufacturing capacity.

Other coronavirus news

Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they will provide covid-19 vaccine doses for Olympic athletes attending the 2020 Games scheduled to take place in Tokyo in July this year. “This donation of the vaccine is another tool in our toolbox of measures to help make the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 safe and secure,” the two companies said in a statement. Initial doses are expected to be delivered to participating delegations at the end of May, with the goal of ensuring delegations receive second doses before athletes travel to Tokyo.

Coronavirus infections are surging in Nepal amid vaccine shortages, with hospitals overwhelmed. The national test positivity rate, the proportion of coronavirus tests that come back positive, is being reported at 47 per cent, the Guardian reported on 6 May. 

New Zealand has suspended quarantine-free travel from New South Wales in Australia into the country after two covid-19 cases were detected in Sydney. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.24 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 155.3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 623.9 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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MAHE ISLAND, SEYCHELLES – APRIL 8, 2021: A woman holding an umbrella walks in a street in capital Victoria.

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5 May

The Seychelles reintroduces covid-19 restrictions despite high levels of vaccination

Restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19 have been reintroduced in the Seychelles due to rising cases, despite over 60 per cent of the population having been fully vaccinated. There are about 1000 active cases in the Indian Ocean archipelago, which has a population of 100,000. A third of the cases involve people who have had two vaccine doses, according to the country’s news agency. Schools have been ordered to close, shops and bars must close early and some gatherings have been banned. 

The Seychelles has fully vaccinated more of its population than any other nation. Around 60 per cent of vaccine doses used in the country were made by the Chinese company Sinopharm, and the rest by AstraZeneca. “It is fair to say that high vaccination rates alone are not necessarily enough to stop a surge in cases”, mathematician Christina Pagel at University College London said on Twitter. 

World Health Organization experts have expressed confidence that Sinopharm’s vaccine is effective at preventing covid-19 illness, but low confidence in the quality of evidence showing it has a low risk of severe side effects, according to a Reuters report.

Other coronavirus news

The UK government has pledged an extra £29.3 million towards research on coronavirus vaccines. The money will be invested in the Porton Down laboratories, enabling a doubling in their capacity to test blood samples to monitor the effectiveness of vaccines. “This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants,” said Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UK Health Security Agency, in a news release

India’s daily death toll continues to climb, with another 3780 deaths related to covid-19 reported today. According to the World Health Organization’s weekly epidemiological report, India accounted for 46 per cent of cases and 25 per cent of deaths worldwide in the past week. India’s delegation at the G7 meeting in London was forced to self-isolate after two members tested positive for the virus. 

The crisis in India has spread to Nepal, where 44 per cent of tests are showing positive results and many hospitals are overrun with covid-19 patients, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society. 

Brazil’s senate has approved a bill to suspend patent protection for covid-19 vaccines, tests and medications. The bill will now be considered by the lower house of congress.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.23 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 154.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. 

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

India’s covid-19 crisis: Michael Le Page and Clare Wilson explain how bad the situation is, how much worse it can get and which other countries could suffer a similar fate.

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Passengers are seen embarking Ryanair plane at nearly empty London Stansted Airport

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4 May

UK expected to release “green list” of countries for non-essential travel this week

People in the UK may be able to travel to Europe within weeks, as ministers are reportedly considering which countries would be on the UK’s initial “green list” for non-essential travel. The list of countries, from which returning travellers won’t be required to self-isolate, is expected to be released this week. It is illegal for people in the UK to travel abroad for a holiday until 17 May. “We will be able to confirm ahead of the 17th at the earliest what measures are used for those initial countries that are available for travel,” UK trade minister Liz Truss told Sky News on 4 May. The initial list is only expected to include about 10 countries, but Spain, France and Greece are among those that could be added to the list by the end of June, the Telegraph reported. On 3 May, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said putting too many countries on the list would risk an “influx of disease”.

European Union leaders are discussing plans for allowing non-essential travel to the bloc from outside countries. Under a proposal put forward by the European Commission on 3 May, fully vaccinated people or those travelling from countries with low enough case numbers would be able to travel to the EU for non-essential reasons. It isn’t yet known if the UK would be included.

Other coronavirus news

India has recorded more than 20 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, although this is likely to be an underestimate. More than 355,000 new cases were reported on 4 May, down from more than 400,000 daily new cases on 30 April. However, testing numbers have also fallen. Hospitals in India remain overwhelmed, with continuing oxygen shortages. New restrictions have been imposed in many states, with the northern state of Bihar one of the latest to announce a full lockdown.

Nepal is in urgent need of at least 1.6 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine for people who are due to receive their second dose. “People who have already got the first dose will be in difficulty if they don’t receive their second dose within the stipulated time,” said Samir Adhikari, an official from Nepal’s health ministry in Kathmandu. The country is appealing to other nations and international organisations to help supply the required doses.

A study, which analysed health records of 17 million people in England during 2020, has confirmed that people from ethnic minority groups were at an increased risk from covid-19 during the first and second waves of the epidemic compared to white people. The research, published in the scientific journal the Lancet, found that disparities for covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths narrowed for most ethnic minority groups compared to white ethnic groups between the first and second waves, but that disparities between white and South Asian groups widened over the same time period.

The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 to 15 by early next week, the New York Times reported.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.21 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 153.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 608.7 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

India’s crisis: As India’s death toll from covid-19 rises, it is a stark warning to us all of just how quickly a seemingly good situation can change.

Pfizer vaccine

A nurse prepares a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine.

FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

30 April

Single dose of Pfizer vaccine may not generate sufficient immune response against coronavirus variants

Most people in the UK who have received a coronavirus vaccine have so far only gotten a single dose, which may not produce a sufficient immune response against new variants if the person hasn’t already had covid-19. 

Danny Altmann at Imperial College London and his team studied blood samples from UK healthcare workers who had either received one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, previously been infected with the coronavirus or both. They found that people who had previously had a mild or asymptomatic infection produced a stronger neutralising antibody response against the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants after a single dose of vaccine, compared to people who hadn’t previously been infected but who had received one dose of vaccine. 

This suggests that people who have had their first dose of vaccine, and haven’t had a prior coronavirus infection, may not be fully protected against these variants, said Altmann at a press briefing on 30 April. “For a country like the UK, which has the majority of its vaccinated people on one dose and also has an eye on the horizon for variants of concern, that’s a potential vulnerability,” said Altmann. He said it will therefore be important to ensure that people in the UK get their second dose of vaccine. The results are published in the scientific journal Science.

Other coronavirus news

Coronavirus infections in England have fallen for the third consecutive week, according to the latest results from a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 1010 people were infected in England in the week up to 24 April, down from one in 610 the previous week. “This continued decline is good news and should be celebrated,” said Rowland Kao at the University of Edinburgh in a statement. But Kao said it will be important to continue monitoring infections as it may still be too early to see the impact of easing restrictions and of new coronavirus variants on infections. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the estimated incidences of infection during the same period were one in 940, one in 640 and one in 570 respectively. 

On 29 April, the UK’s medicines regulator released data on the incidence of a rare blood clotting disorder in people who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine across different age groups. As of 21 April, there had been 23 cases among people aged 18 to 29, 27 cases among people aged 30 to 39, 30 among those aged 40 to 49, 59 cases in people aged 50 to 59 and 58 cases among people 60 and older. In total there had been 209 cases, including 41 deaths, among about 22 million people who had received a dose of the vaccine by the same point in time. It emphasised that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks in the majority of people.

All people over the age of 40 in England are now being invited to book covid-19 vaccine appointments. More than 34 million people across the UK had received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 29 April, and more than 14 million people about 20 per cent of the UK population had received two doses.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.16 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 150.6 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 587.6 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Feet standing on a weighing scale.

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29 April

Higher BMI linked to increased risk of severe covid-19, particularly in younger people

An analysis of health records from almost 7 million people in England indicates that increases in body mass index (BMI) are associated with increased risk of severe outcomes with covid-19, including hospitalisation, intensive care unit admission and death. The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, found that the association was strongest for younger adults under 40 and stronger among Black people compared to white people. The risk of severe disease increased as BMI went up among those with a BMI of 23 or above. According to the NHS, a BMI of 25 or above is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or above is in the obese range. Age remains the biggest risk factor for developing severe covid-19 and dying from it. 

The findings add to growing evidence that excess body weight is a risk factor for severe covid-19, said Naveed Sattar at the University of Glasgow, UK, in a statement. “Whether the findings mean people who are living with obesity should get vaccines earlier should be looked at by relevant authorities,” said Sattar. “The more important question is whether helping people lose weight will lessen their chances of severe complications in subsequent waves. The overwhelming evidence, aided by this study, suggests this would be the case.”

Other coronavirus news

The European Union parliament approved a proposal for a temporary “EU covid-19 certificate” to prove that a person has been vaccinated against covid-19, recovered from the disease or recently tested negative for the coronavirus. It said EU countries “should ensure universal, accessible, timely and free of charge testing” to avoid discrimination against unvaccinated individuals. The UK and other countries are also considering the use of so-called vaccine passports. In February, Israel rolled out a green pass in the form of a QR code that people can present as proof they have been vaccinated, which some businesses and places of worship ask for as a condition of entry. However, concerns remain about how long protection from vaccines will last and whether boosters will be necessary.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply for EU approval of their covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 next week. The vaccine has already been approved for such use in the US. 

India reported 379,257 new coronavirus cases on 29 April and 3645 new deaths from covid-19, a new record for deaths in a single day. Elections in India are going ahead despite the current crisis

Turkey will enter its first full nationwide lockdown in the evening of 29 April in an effort to combat rising coronavirus cases. 

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.15 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 149.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 577.8 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Measuring immunity: Researchers are searching for a simple measure of the entire immune response that tells you whether somebody is protected against covid-19, in order to develop a true immunity test.

Lockdown impact: As some parts of Australia see a delayed surge of respiratory disease in children, there are concerns that young immune systems may be suffering due to lockdowns and social distancing.

funeral pyres India

Funeral pyres burn as the last rites are performed of the patients who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus at a cremation ground in Allahabad

SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty Images

28 April

Covid-19 deaths in India exceed 200,000

India continues to be engulfed by its second wave of covid-19, with cumulative deaths hitting a sobering milestone of 201,187. The country is fourth only to Mexico, Brazil and the United States for the highest numbers of deaths.

India again broke a global record for the highest number of cases in a day, with 360,960 reported in the past 24 hours. The figures are believed to be an underestimate, despite ramped-up testing. Hospitals and crematoriums are still struggling with the surge, with reports of oxygen shortages continuing despite aid by companies and other countries.

Doctors in an open letter in the BMJ journal today said that “mass gatherings need to stop urgently” in India, and the country’s government should consider whether to delay elections in favour of a lockdown. The authors said the “scale of need is almost immeasurable”.

In response to the crisis, the Indian government today opened registrations for everyone aged 18 and up to receive vaccination doses from Saturday. India has lagged behind other countries in the roll-out of its vaccination programme, with just 10.5 vaccine does given per 100 people, compared to 18.7 in Brazil and 69.3 in the UK. 

Other coronavirus news

India’s surge is driving the pandemic’s growth, with the World Health Organization reporting new cases have now increased worldwide for the ninth week in a row. Nearly 5.7 million new cases were reported last week, and more than 87,000 deaths, according to a new WHO report.

Vaccination programmes continue to create international tensions. Yesterday Brazil’s health regulator rejected imports of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, on the grounds there was a lack of data on its safety and efficacy. That sparked an angry response from Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which markets the vaccine – the Russian Direct Investment Fund called the decision “politically motivated.”

The EU had more positive news, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen today announcing a new contract with Pfizer/BioNTech would be agreed in the “next few days” to deliver 1.8 billion doses between 2021 and 2023. The UK has also ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in preparation for a booster programme in the autumn. The European Commission took the step this week of starting legal action against AstraZeneca over the rate at which it has supplied vaccines.

Meanwhile, new research published today by Public Health England found one dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced household transmission of covid-19 by between 40 and 50 per cent. The cut in transmission was detected at 14 days after vaccination, and follows “real world” evidence of how effectively the vaccines cut symptomatic infection and severe illness. The UK government also confirmed a National Health Service covid-19 app will be used for international travellers to demonstrate their testing and vaccination status.  

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.13 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 148.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. 

coronavirus india

Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall converted into a Covid-19 ward in New Delhi.

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27 April

Ventilators and oxygen concentrators arrive in India from the UK

International aid has started arriving in India, including a flight from the UK carrying vital medical supplies. Ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the UK landed in Delhi on 27 April but India is still in need of far more supplies, with many hospitals overwhelmed with covid-19 patients amid a devastating second wave. Six oxygen containers will be flown to India from Dubai on 27 April, and the US and European Commission have both said they would send oxygen and medicine. Zarir Udwadia, a health adviser to the government in India, told the BBC’s Today programme he is currently seeing “ward after ward full of patients struggling to breathe”. Udwadia said that during the crisis demand for covid-19 vaccines in India has risen, with long lines of people outside medical centres trying to get shots. On 26 April, the Biden administration said that the US will share up to 60 million doses from its Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine supply globally as they become available. India expects to secure the majority of the doses, two Indian government sources told Reuters.

India reported 323,144 new coronavirus cases on 27 April, down only slightly from a peak of 352,991 the previous day. In Delhi, makeshift pyres are being constructed in crematoriums as the city is running out of space to cremate its dead. Delhi reported 380 deaths on 26 April, although the true figures are likely to be significantly higher. An investigation by broadcaster NDTV found at least 1150 additional deaths that were not included in Delhi’s official tally in the week up to 24 April.

Other coronavirus news

Weekly deaths from covid-19 across England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since October, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. There were 362 deaths mentioning covid-19 on the death certificate in the week up to 16 April, a decrease from 345 the previous week. It is the lowest number of weekly covid-19 deaths recorded in England and Wales since the week ending 2 October, when 321 deaths were recorded. “This emphasises the impact of vaccines on covid-19 deaths,” said Kevin McConway at the Open University in the UK in a statement. More than 33.7 million people across the UK had received a first dose of a covid-19 vaccine as of 26 April and more than 12.8 million people had received two doses of vaccine.

The B.1.617 coronavirus variant first identified in India has been detected in Fiji. The country has managed to avoid significant community transmission of the coronavirus so far, recording a total of 109 cases and two deaths among its population of about 930,000 people. But James Fong, Fiji’s health secretary, warned that the presence of the new variant could result in a “tsunami” of cases. Fiji, the Philippines and Australia are among the latest countries to announce restrictions on travel from India.

All people aged 42 and over in England are now able to book covid-19 vaccination appointments, in a further extension of the vaccine rollout.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.12 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 147.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 562.3 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Previous updates

Coronavirus india

A patient wearing an oxygen mask looks on as his wife holds a battery-operated fan while waiting inside an auto-rickshaw to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ahmedabad, India, April 25, 2021.

REUTERS/Amit Dave

26 April

Countries deploy medical supplies to India amid critical oxygen shortages

Foreign governments are deploying resources to India in an effort to help the country cope with oxygen shortages amid surging coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths. India reported a record increase in daily new coronavirus cases for the fifth consecutive day on 26 April, with a rise of 352,991 cases. The UK has begun sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices to India, and the US and European Commission both said they planned to send oxygen and medicine. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the commission was “pooling resources to respond rapidly to India’s request for assistance”. Neighbouring Pakistan is also sharing medical equipment and supplies. 

The director of India’s Institute of Medical Sciences has appealed to people not to hoard medical supplies in private homes. “Hoarding of injections like remdesivir and oxygen in homes is creating a panic and this hoarding is causing a shortage of these medicines,” Randeep Guleria said in a statement released by India’s ministry of health on 25 April. 

On 24 April, Twitter confirmed it had complied with requests from India’s government to censor 52 tweets, many of which were critical of its handling of the country’s second wave. The move prompted further criticism of the government on social media.

Other coronavirus news

The European Union has launched legal action against AstraZeneca, which it alleges breached a contract concerning its supply of covid-19 vaccines to the bloc. “The European Commission has started last Friday legal action against the company AstraZeneca on the basis of breach of the advanced purchase agreement,” said a spokesperson from the European Commission on 26 April. In response, AstraZeneca said it “has fully complied with the advance purchase agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court”.

All people aged between 35 and 39 are now eligible for covid-19 vaccination in Northern Ireland. In England, the covid-19 vaccine rollout has been extended to all 44-year-olds. Across the UK, more than 33.6 million people had received a first dose of covid-19 vaccine as of 25 April and more than 12.5 million people had received two doses of vaccine. The gap in covid-19 vaccine uptake between white people and people from ethnic minority groups in England remains but has fallen slightly in recent months, the Financial Times reported. 

On 23 April, France became the first country to donate covid-19 vaccine doses from its domestic supply to the World Health Organization-led COVAX platform, a global platform for sharing vaccines equitably.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.11 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 147.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 555.1 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

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People wait to cross a street before a screen showing Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaking during a press conference to announce a new coronavirus state of emergency covering Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo regions, in Tokyo on April 23, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaking during a press conference to announce a new coronavirus state of emergency covering Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo regions.

PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

23 April

Japan to declare a state of emergency in big cities to try to halt a rise in cases ahead of the Olympics

With coronavirus case numbers rising three months before the Olympics are due to begin, Japan will declare a state of emergency in big cities including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto between 25 April and 11 May. This will allow the government to impose restrictions such as a ban on the sale of alcohol at all venues and the closure of many entertainment venues such as cinemas. People will be asked to work from home but schools will remain open. The restrictions cover the Golden Week holiday period when many people usually travel.

“If the Olympics are really going to be held in July, I think the infections need to settle down by late May or early June,” Haruka Sakamoto, a public health researcher at the University of Tokyo told the The Japan Times. “Therefore, the government is making stronger interventions relatively early on.”

Japan has been more successful at limiting the spread of the virus than many other countries. It has reported around 550,000 cases and 10,000 deaths, compared with 4.4 million cases and 130,000 deaths in the UK. It is currently reporting 36 cases per million people per day, compared with 37 in the UK, 200 in India, 250 in Germany and 700 in Turkey. However, new variants are spreading despite some local restrictions imposed after another state of emergency ended earlier this year. 

Other coronavirus news

Australia is imposing a three-day lockdown in Perth and the adjoining Peel region after a person who tested positive for covid-19 visited various sites in the region. The individual had been in hotel quarantine and tested negative at the end of it. But another test done five days later was positive.

A single dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of infection by two-thirds, according to an analysis of the test results of 350,000 people in the UK in the past few months. From 21 days after the dose, people were 57 per cent less likely to get asymptomatic infections and 72 per cent less likely to get symptomatic infections compared with those who had not been vaccinated.

India has reported 332,730 new daily coronavirus cases, setting a new global record for a second successive day. Hospitals in New Delhi are pleading with the government for more oxygen supplies and saying they may not be able to admit new patients.

Some mass vaccination sites in the US are being closed down as demand falls, according to The New York Times. More than half of adults in the US have now had at least one vaccine dose. “We got about 50 per cent of our people vaccinated,” the chief public health officer in Galveston County, Texas, told the paper. “We recognise that next 25 per cent is going to be a lot harder than the first.”

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.08 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 144.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 534 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine researchers have developed a malaria vaccine shown to be 77 per cent effective in trials – the highest level ever achieved – offering hope of controlling a disease that kills an estimated 400,000 people each year.

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Nigambodh Ghat crematorium during the cremation of multiple Covid-19 victims, on April 21, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

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22 April

The 314,835 new cases reported by India on Thursday is the highest daily rate ever in any country

India reported 314,835 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest daily number reported by any country since the pandemic began. According to the New York Times, the previous record was 300,669, reported by the US on 8 January. The true number of cases could be 20 to 30 times higher than the reported figures, meaning up to 9 million people are being infected in India every day. Last week, Gautam Menon at Ashoka University in India told New Scientist that he expected case numbers to keep increasing for another two or three weeks at least.

While India’s reported case numbers are the highest in the world, in terms of reported cases per million people it is only now overtaking countries such as the US, Germany and Canada, with around 200 cases per million per day. Turkey is reporting more than 700 cases per million per day, and Cyprus nearly 900. In October and January, Czechia reported around 1200 per million per day.

Other coronavirus news

The global scheme for sharing vaccines equitably, Covax, has so far delivered only a fifth of the doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine it estimated countries would have by May, according to an analysis by the Guardian newspaper. Some countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, have not received any doses via Covax so far. The problem is that the Serum Institute of India has produced fewer vaccine doses than it projected, which it blames on US export bans on key ingredients. India has also restricted vaccine exports as case numbers surge.

Covid-19 is no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales, according to the UK’s Office of National Statistics. In England, 10 per cent of deaths in March were due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In Wales, 12 per cent of deaths were due to heart diseases. Covid-19 caused only 9 per cent of deaths in both nations. Case numbers continue to fall in England, according to Public Health England.

A study claiming that smokers are 23 per cent less likely to get covid-19 than non-smokers has been retracted by the European Respiratory Journal after it emerged that two of the authors had undeclared links with the tobacco industry. “It was brought to the editors’ attention that two of the authors had failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest,” the journal states.

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Julie Fletcher administers a dose of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to housebound patient Gillian Marriott

OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

21 April

Research shows vaccines are working well at preventing hospital admissions in UK 

Further encouraging results have emerged on the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines used in the UK. Only 32 people have been admitted to hospital with covid-19 more than three weeks after receiving at least one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs, a study has found. The research, which looked at more than 74,000 hospital admissions between September and early March, found that nearly 2000 of these people had received a covid-19 vaccine. But for the vast majority of these, the vaccine would not have had time to kick in, as the three weeks thought necessary for maximum immunity to develop had not elapsed. 

The research was carried out by the UK’s Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium. “This is really good real-world data showing that this vaccine works and that one dose works really well,” Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told Radio 4’s Today Programme. The findings are significant because most of those who received a vaccine initially were frail and elderly people, in whom the jab is expected to work less well.

Other coronavirus news

India is experiencing oxygen shortages at hospitals as covid-19 cases continue to surge. At least 22 patients died when their oxygen supply was interrupted as a result of a leak from an oxygen tanker at Zakir Hussain Hospital in Nashik, a city in the western state of Maharashtra. There has also been looting of oxygen at a hospital in Madhya Pradesh, and in the state of Haryana, oxygen tankers are being given police protection.

Vaccine hesitancy in the UK in people in their thirties has only risen slightly since authorities said the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab is linked to a rare blood clotting syndrome. A survey by the University of Stirling found 85 per cent of 30-to-40-year-olds were planning to get the vaccine, compared with 87 per cent in a previous poll.

Counterfeit Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccines have been found in Mexico and Poland, says manufacturer Pfizer. The substance in vials seized in Poland contained an anti-wrinkle treatment.

Transmission of the coronavirus has taken place within a quarantine hotel in Perth. Two guests staying in rooms opposite each other tested positive for the virus. Initially they were thought to have caught the virus abroad, but genetic testing showed they caught it at the hotel.

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20 April

Sweden adds another layer of restrictions to the AstraZeneca jab in younger people

Sweden has said people under 65 who have had an initial dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should get a different jab for their second dose, due to the small chance of blood clots. France also has this rule, although there the upper age limit is 55.

Many other countries have restricted use of this vaccine to people over a certain age, as a rare syndrome of blood clots coupled with low levels of platelets – particles in the blood that stick together to form clots – has mainly been seen in younger people. The syndrome is called vaccine–induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia or VITT. Most other countries, however, say those who have had one dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should also get the second, due to the unknown effectiveness and safety of mixing vaccine types. That would be “voyaging into an evidence-free zone,” Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said in a press conference. Several trials where vaccine types are being mixed across the two doses are ongoing. 

Sweden’s move comes as the European Medicines Agency says it has found a possible link between eight cases of a similar blood clot syndrome after people in the US had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The same mechanism may be responsible, as both the J&J and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines work by delivering  the coronavirus spike protein within a DNA-based adenovirus. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use mRNA, a different kind of genetic material.

Other coronavirus news

The UK is to set up a taskforce to develop antiviral drugs against the coronavirus that could be taken at home by people who test positive for covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today. Such medicines could also be taken by people who live with someone who has tested positive to prevent them catching the virus. “There might be a tablet you can take at home that will stop the virus in its tracks and reduce the likelihood of severe disease,” said Johnson. An inhaled asthma medicine called budesonide has already been found to shorten duration of illness with covid-19 if taken by people at higher risk due to age or health conditions. 

Cleaning surfaces to try to reduce coronavirus transmission is often a waste of time and may even be harmful, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s because the virus is spread most often through tiny droplets in the air, rather than by people touching contaminated surfaces. The CDC’s Vincent Hill said in a briefing on Monday that frequent cleaning and disinfecting surfaces is merely “hygiene theatre” and could give people a false sense of security. There has been a long-running debate over the relative importance of airborne and surface transmission of the virus.

UK officials are visiting Israel to study the country’s covid-19 vaccine passport scheme, which is used to determine entry to venues such as gyms, restaurants and theatres. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove and England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam are investigating how coronavirus certification could work in the UK. Israel’s “green pass” scheme allows entry to people who have been vaccinated, have recently been infected with covid-19 or who have had a recent negative test. UK trials of vaccine passports are due to start next month at specific events, including the FA cup final.

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Covid-19

Coronavirus COVID-19 computer generated image.

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19 April

Volunteers will be exposed to the coronavirus to learn which immune components confer protection

Young adults who have recovered from covid-19 will have live coronavirus sprayed into their noses to see whether they can be reinfected as part of a new trial. The study, which is being run by  the University of Oxford, is one of two “challenge” trials in the UK. It is designed to reveal, among other things, the elusive “correlates of protection” against SARS-CoV-2– which means the levels of antibodies, T-cells and other immune system components that are required to protect people against infection. This is currently a significant gap in our understanding of the virus, and knowing the correlates of protection could lead to even more rapid vaccine development. That’s because some vaccines are approved based on whether they elicit these measures of protection, bypassing lengthy clinical trials. The other study, using volunteers who have not had covid-19, is already under way at Imperial College London.

Other coronavirus news

More people were diagnosed with covid-19 during the past seven days than any other week since the start of the pandemic, totalling more than 5.2 million globally for the week. The infection count was 12 per cent higher than the previous week. 

The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine has shown efficacy of 97.6 per cent in real-world data from 3.8 million people who have received two doses, according to the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow. The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

A week-long lockdown has been imposed in Delhi, India. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the measures were necessary to “prevent a collapse of the health system”. India’s rate of new infections is continuing to climb, with over 270,000 cases and 1619 deaths reported today. The UK will add India to the “red list” for travel from Friday, and prime minister Boris Johnson has cancelled a planned trip to India next week because of the country’s coronavirus situation.

Health officials in the UK are investigating whether a covid-19 variant first found in India spreads more easily and evades vaccines, after more than 70 cases were identified in England and Scotland.

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee has recommended that proof of vaccination should not be required as a condition of international travel. The panel cited limited evidence on whether vaccination against covid-19 reduces people’s ability to transmit the virus and “the persistent inequity in global vaccine distribution”.

Everyone aged 16 and over is now eligible for a vaccine in the US, president Joe Biden announced on Twitter. Almost 130 million people – just over half of adults in the US – have now had at least one covid-19 vaccine dose. The nationwide suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is likely to end by Friday, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci told ABC News.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg says her foundation will donate 100,000 euros to COVAX, the global initiative aiming to ensure vaccines are shared fairly between rich and poor nations.

Coronavirus deaths
As of 16 April, the worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 2.98 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 139.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 478.1 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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People sit in a restaurant on the roof of the Selfridges department store on Oxford street, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

16 April

An estimated one in 480 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April

Coronavirus infections in England have fallen to their lowest level since September, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 480 people in communities in England had covid-19 in the week up to 10 April, down from about one in 340 the previous week. It is the lowest prevalence rate recorded since the week up to 24 September, during which an estimated one in 500 people had covid-19. Equivalent prevalence estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were one in 500, one in 710 and one in 920 people, respectively, during the week up to 10 April. 

These numbers for England are “encouraging”, said James Naismith at the University of Oxford in a statement. “The lockdown has worked as expected as has the vaccination campaign,” he said, adding that robust testing and sequencing to identify coronavirus variant cases remain vital.

A total of 77 cases of a new coronavirus variant first detected in India were recorded in the UK as of 14 April, according to Public Health England. The new variant, called B.1.617, contains two types of mutation, each of which have been found separately in other coronavirus variants. These mutations may make the variant more infectious and boost its ability to escape the body’s immune responses.

Other coronavirus news

The world is seeing a “worrying” rise in coronavirus infections, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on 16 April. “Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months. This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic,” he said at a briefing. More than 139.2 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide since the start of the pandemic, with the global covid-19 death toll approaching 3 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, has said it is likely that people will need a third covid-19 vaccine dose within six to 12 months after they are first vaccinated, with a requirement for annual jabs also a possibility. “Variants will play a key role,” he said.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel urged lawmakers on 16 April to approve new powers that would enable her to impose coronavirus lockdowns and curfews on areas with high infection rates. Daily new case numbers in Germany are rapidly approaching those seen during the peak of its second wave in January.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 2.98 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 139.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 478.1 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Virus Outbreak Tokyo Olympics, Suita, Japan - 14 Apr 2021 The last Olympic torch relay runner for the Osaka leg concludes the event in Suita, north of Osaka, western Japan

Virus Outbreak Tokyo Olympics, Suita, Japan – 14 Apr 2021 The last Olympic torch relay runner for the Osaka leg concludes the event in Suita, north of Osaka, western Japan

Hiro Komae/AP/Shutterstock

15 April

As Japan battles fourth wave of infections, official says cancelling the Olympics is still an option

An official from Japan’s ruling party has said that cancelling the Olympics, scheduled to take place in Tokyo at the end of July, remains an option and will depend on the coronavirus situation. “If it seems impossible [to host the Olympics] anymore, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, told broadcaster TBS. He added: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?” Government and organising officials have previously said the postponed event would go ahead, but without international spectators.

The fresh doubts about hosting the Olympics come as Japan is grappling with a fourth wave of coronavirus infections. Japan’s western region of Osaka reported a record daily increase of 1099 infections on 13 April, with the surge thought to be driven largely by the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK. “The situation, with pressure on hospital beds, is severe. I have a strong sense of crisis about it,” Japan’s economy minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is overseeing the country’s pandemic response, told Reuters.

Other coronavirus news

Approximately 4.7 million people were waiting for routine operations and procedures in England in February, which is the highest number since 2007, according to NHS England figures. Almost 388,000 people had been waiting for more than a year for a non-urgent surgery compared with just 1600 people before the pandemic. “We’re going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs – as we’ve done throughout the pandemic to beat the backlog,” said UK prime minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth on 15 April. NHS England recently announced a £1 billion fund to go towards helping trusts to restore operations and other services.

The number of positive coronavirus tests in England fell by 34 per cent in the week up to 7 April, according to the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace. 19,196 people tested positive for the virus, continuing a downward trend in positive tests observed since the week up to 6 January, NHS Test and Trace said in its report. 

Mass testing for the B.1.351 coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, is being carried out in six London boroughs as well as in parts of Smethwick in the West Midlands in England, after a new case was detected there.

More than 200,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in India on 15 April, the highest daily case rate in the country since the pandemic began. Some hospitals, including those in the state of Maharashtra, have reported shortages of beds and oxygen supplies. India’s second wave of infections appears to be driven mainly by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 2.97 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 138.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 468 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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People rest in the waiting area after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a vaccination centre in Salisbury Cathedral

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14 April

A single dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine produced strong immune responses among over-80s in a preliminary study

Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccines produced a strong immune response after a single dose in people aged over 80 in a preliminary study. It showed that 93 per cent of people had produced coronavirus-specific antibodies after receiving the Pfizer vaccine and 87 per cent of people after receiving the AstraZeneca jab. This was the first study to compare the performance of the two vaccines.

Those who received the AstraZeneca vaccine showed a greater T-cell response, which forms another important arm of the body’s immune response to viruses. Just 12 per cent of people who had the Pfizer vaccine developed T-cells against the coronavirus spike protein compared with 31 per cent of those who had received the AstraZeneca jab. 

Overall immune responses were much higher in people who had previously had covid-19, compared with those who hadn’t. The study was carried out by Helen Parry at the University of Birmingham, UK, and her colleagues who analysed immune responses in a group of 165 volunteers aged 80 and over, each of whom had received a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine five to six weeks earlier. 

Other coronavirus news

The US, the European Union and South Africa are pausing rollouts of the Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine, following a small number of reports of rare blood clots in people who had received it. In the US, six cases of rare blood clots had been reported among 6.8 million people who had received the vaccine as of 13 April. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it is working closely with the US Food and Drug Administration and other international regulators to investigate all the cases reported and it expects to issue a recommendation next week. “While its review is ongoing, EMA remains of the view that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects,” it said in a statement on 14 April. 

Denmark has become the first country to completely stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the EMA concluded on 7 April that unusual blood clotting events should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine. However, the country’s health agency has not ruled out the possibility of resuming use of the vaccine in future if another wave of infections hits. Several European countries suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in March over blood clot concerns, but many have since resumed use of the vaccine for certain age groups.

About half of people in the UK may have antibodies against the coronavirus. An estimated 54.9 per cent of people in England had antibodies against the coronavirus in the week up to 28 March, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The equivalent proportions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were 46 per cent, 49.1 per cent and 54.5 per cent, respectively. “There is a clear pattern between vaccination and testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies but the detection of antibodies alone is not a precise measure of the immunity protection given by vaccination,” the ONS said in its report.

Coronavirus deaths
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 2.96 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 137.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 459.7 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Back to the office: Returning to work in offices brings concerns over office socialising and using public transport, but working together brings mental health benefits too.

Staying safe indoors: Good ventilation is one of the most effective measures offices can take to stop the spread of coronavirus, while relying on people to change their behaviour should be a last resort.

Rare clot concerns: Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccines have been paused in the US after rare reports of blood clots, similar to those linked with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in other countries. Could the cause of the clots be the same?

India’s second wave: India’s daily coronavirus cases are currently the highest in the world, with modelling suggesting the country’s total tally could be close to 450 million.

See previous updates from March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November/December 2020, and March to November 2020.

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