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Business

COVID-19: Ryanair boss accuses government of ‘mismanagement’ over pandemic

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has accused the government of “mismanagement” as he criticised plans for air passenger testing which will shorten quarantine periods.

From the middle of next month, travellers arriving from countries with high infection rates will be able to shorten their time in quarantine, currently 14 days, if they test negative for COVID-19 on the fifth day.

The roll-out of the tests – which will each cost between £65 and £120 and will have to be paid for by passengers themselves – is designed to boost travel without adding to strain on the NHS.

But Mr O’Leary told Sky News that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had failed to listen to industry over the plans, arguing it would be simpler for passengers to be tested a couple of days prior to departure instead.

He said Mr Shapps “doesn’t talk sufficiently to the industry and take on board our views”.

Mr O’Leary told Sky’s Ian King Live: “If people are willing to get their tests within the 72 hours prior to their departure or prior to arriving in the UK, it’s a much simpler, much easier way of ensuring that those people who fly in, particularly on short haul flights, are COVID-free.”

Without this, passengers would already be in the country and on the transport system without having been tested, he argued.

“It’s more of the mismanagement of COVID by the [Boris] Johnson government,” he said.

“If they just introduced simple and effective measures they’d be an awful lot better off.”

The aviation sector has been one of the worst hit by the crisis, with airports deserted and thousands of jobs axed thanks to travel restrictions designed to curb the spread of the virus.

Mr O’Leary voiced optimism on the cost of tests coming down, and hopes that vaccines will be widely available by Easter next year so that “things will return to much more like normal”.

He said he expected passenger levels at 60-70% of 2019 levels by the summer.

The airline boss reiterated his criticism that the aviation sector is not being given enough support by the UK government and his demand for a suspension of air passenger duty (APD) on flights.

“We are the orphan of UK government policy, nothing has been done to facilitate aviation,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Rishi Sunak has been running around doling out gifts like candies in the sweet shop and yet we still have APD, the highest and most regressive form of tax on air travel that exists in Europe.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye echoed Mr O’Leary’s criticisms on the testing plan.

“It’s better to test people before they travel,” he told Sky News.

“That’s what we have been calling for as the common international standard for getting people flying.”

However, Mr Holland-Kaye said the new rules were still a “good step forward” – helping people travelling for business or to visit friends and relatives to do so with more confidence.

“Even some people who need to go on holiday for some winter sun will be able to do so knowing that they won’t have to worry about whether their kids will be able to go back to school when it starts again,” he added.

But the Heathrow boss appeared to brush off any UK version of an idea floated by Alan Joyce, the boss of Australian carrier Qantas, that people will need to have had vaccines before they can fly.

He floated the idea in an interview with CNN.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the comments reflected the tougher travel rules in Australia.

“Some countries around have just closed their borders completely and won’t be opening them again until the entire country has been vaccinated,” he said.

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World News

Toronto enters virus lockdown as US looks to vaccine rollout

TORONTO, CANADA (AFP) – Canada’s biggest city entered lockdown on Monday (Nov 23) in the latest bid to curb coronavirus infections, with case numbers surging across North America even as US officials said vaccinations could be available within weeks.

Encouraging results from several vaccine trials have raised hopes of a decisive shift in the battle against a disease that has claimed around 1.4 million lives worldwide in the last year.

But seesawing restrictions and lockdowns in countries that successfully contained earlier outbreaks – shattering lives and economies in the process – have highlighted the ongoing risk of contagion.

Toronto banned private indoor gatherings and capped the size of weddings and funerals for four weeks from midnight, with officials warning that hospitals risked being overwhelmed without quick action.

“I’ve been clear on this: the situation is extremely serious and further action is required,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford had told journalists ahead of the lockdown.

Officials had forecast more than 400,000 new infections a week across Canada by the end of the year without new restrictions – more than the total number of cases recorded nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

Australia’s second-largest city, meanwhile, continued its slow emergence from a gruelling four-month lockdown that saw four million people confined to their homes, with authorities lifting a ban on travel across state borders.

Ms Margaret Forster of Melbourne told national broadcaster ABC that she had been allowed to drive into New South Wales for the first time since June.

“When I went across the border I beeped the horn, ‘Yahoo!,'” she said.

British media reports said Prime Minister Boris Johnson was preparing to partially ease social distancing measures in England at the beginning of next month, after concerns about the impact of lockdowns on the economy and mental health.

And staff at Shanghai’s biggest international airport were facing mass testing after the city reported a small Covid-19 outbreak linked to cargo handlers.

Life in China has largely returned to normal after strict testing and harsh lockdowns since the virus first emerged there late last year, but authorities have linked several isolated outbreaks to the import of goods.

Vaccine hopes 

China has been giving experimental Covid-19 vaccines to people, including state employees, international students and essential workers heading abroad since July.

The United States could begin its own vaccination programme as soon as next month, raising hopes of a looming end to the pandemic in the world’s worst-hit nation.

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Two leading vaccine candidates – one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and another by US firm Moderna – have been shown to be 95 per cent effective in trials, and Pfizer has already applied for emergency use approval from US health authorities.

“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunisation sites within 24 hours of approval” by the US Food and Drug Administration, Dr Moncef Slaoui, head of the US government virus vaccine effort, told CNN.

FDA vaccine advisers will meet Dec 10 to discuss approval.

Dr Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the US could be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that.

But top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci warned the country’s outbreak could get worse before getting better if people failed to take precautions in the coming holiday season.

With more than 12 million cases and 255,000 deaths nationwide, many Americans were nonetheless heading to airports to travel for this week’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Social distancing edicts and mask-wearing rules have spurred protests in the United States and elsewhere.

German protesters in Germany demonstrated against facemask rules in Berlin at the weekend in a rally that drew in far-left activists, conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists, who claim the measure infringes on their civil rights.

And in Paris, around 300 people attended a clandestine dance party in defiance of a national lockdown, with France now recording the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Europe.

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World News

U.S. FDA authorizes emergency use of experimental antibody drug Trump took

U.S. health officials Saturday agreed to allow emergency use of a second antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19, an experimental medicine that U.S. President Donald Trump was given when he was sickened last month.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. drug to try to prevent hospitalization and worsening disease from developing in patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.

The drug is given as a one-time treatment through an IV. The FDA allowed its use in adults and children 12 and over who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of age or certain other medical conditions.

Emergency authorization allows use of the drug to start while studies are continuing to establish safety and effectiveness. Early results suggest the drug may reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression, the FDA said.

Regeneron said that initial doses will be made available to roughly 300,000 patients through a federal government allocation program. Patients will not be charged for the drug but may have to pay part of the cost of giving the IV.

Initial supplies will likely be vastly outstripped by demand as the U.S. has surged past 10 million reported cases, with the country facing what health experts say will be a dark winter due uncontrolled spread of the virus.

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Antibodies are proteins the body makes to target and help eliminate viruses, but it can take weeks for the best ones to form after an infection occurs. The drugs are concentrated versions of ones that proved best able to do this in lab and animal tests, and in theory help the body start to fight the virus right away.

The Regeneron drug is a combo of two antibodies to enhance the chances it will prove effective. Earlier this month, the FDA gave emergency authorization to a single-antibody drug from Eli Lilly that also is still being studied.

There’s no way to know whether the Regeneron drug helped Trump recover; he received a host of treatments and most COVID-19 patients recover on their own.

FDA regulators authorized the Regeneron drug using their emergency powers to quickly speed the availability of experimental drugs and other medical products during public health crises.

In normal times the FDA requires “substantial evidence” to show that a drug is safe and effective, usually through one or more large, rigorously controlled patient studies. But during public health emergencies the agency can lower those standards and require only that an experimental treatment’s potential benefits outweigh its risks.

The emergency authorization functions like a temporary approval for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. To win full approval, Regeneron will have to submit additional research to fully define the drug’s safety and benefit for patients.

___

AP health writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report.

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World News

Why Covid-19 vaccines face a new obstacle course

(FINANCIAL TIMES) – The race to find an effective vaccine appears to be on the home straight. The same cannot be said of the race to roll it out everywhere.

Preparing to present a BBC radio series titled How To Vaccinate The World, I’ve been looking at the route ahead. It is less of a marathon, more of an assault course.

So, in no particular order, here is a brief guide to some of the obstacles that remain.

Efficacy (1)

Do these vaccines – of which there are more than a hundred in prospect and about a dozen in last-stage development – actually work?

The recent announcements that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to be 95 per cent effective and the Moderna one almost the same are very encouraging and bode well for other vaccines. The good news from Pfizer may be even better than it appears – reading between the lines, some statisticians speculate that the efficacy is closer to 97 per cent.

But the fact that every nerd in the world is trying to reverse-engineer the actual numbers behind Pfizer’s press statement is cause for concern.

It’s understandable that the announcement came by a press statement rather than a peer-reviewed paper; the news was just too big to be kept secret while drafts were circulated. But more data should have been released sooner.

Production lines

A vaccine is one of the most complex products in the world to produce, and the process of scaling up from tens of thousands of doses for a trial to hundreds of millions for mass vaccination is not a trivial one.

Efficacy (2)

Will these vaccines make people less infectious or will they simply prevent severe illness? Either would be good, but preventing the spread of infection would be ideal. The Pfizer press statement leaves us guessing for now.

Since the Sars-CoV-2 virus accumulates in the upper respiratory tract before causing symptoms, there is a real risk that vaccines will not prevent people from spreading the virus even if they are largely immune to the disease.

Missing links

Earlier in the pandemic, testing capacity was limited by the availability of suitable swabs. It’s often the simple stuff that trips us up. There were fears of a shortage of glass vials, but this was predicted and is being addressed.

But now trade publication Gasworld reports an “acute” shortage of dry ice, thanks to increased demand for food preservation this year. That’s a problem, because dry ice is also useful for keeping vaccines cold.

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Logistics

In a major and under-appreciated miracle, more than 85 per cent of children are now fully vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Rates of vaccination for tuberculosis, polio, hepatitis B and measles are similarly impressive.

So the cold chain needed to maintain many vaccines, which is the temperature of a beer fridge, is well established. We even have cold chains developed to support the distribution of the polio vaccine, which needs to be kept at minus 20 deg C, a temperature achievable by a domestic freezer.

But the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 deg C. This ultra-cold chain will not be trivial to maintain.

Brexit

I don’t want to kill the mood but the advisers surrounding British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been fighting like rats in a barrel. They seem woefully underprepared for – or perhaps indifferent to – the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on New Year’s Day.

The chemicals industry is seriously worried that cross-border transfers of pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals will be badly disrupted. If there is a fight to allocate syringes, vials or other hitherto overlooked components in the supply chain, I worry that Britain has made few friends in the past four years.

And even if there is nothing to worry about except a queue at the border, the Pfizer vaccine is going to be manufactured in Belgium and Germany and, remember, needs to be stored at a temperature of minus 70 deg C. Calais can get cold in January but it doesn’t get that cold.

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Crowd control

It would be nice if each vaccine were stored in a single-dose pack. A patient could stroll up to a clinic and get vaccinated at a convenient moment. But the ultra-cold chain will rely on fancy “thermal shippers” storing a thousand doses or more; each glass vial will contain five or 10 doses.

Break the seal on a big batch of vaccines and you’re going to want a large number of people coming through the door in short order.

Getting socially distanced people in the right place at the right time for their shots, especially in rural areas, may not be easy.

Paperwork

Most of the serious vaccine candidates require two doses. Not only do we have to figure out who is getting vaccinated when, but we need to get them back again for a second dose 21 days later. If this sounds like it shouldn’t be too much trouble for a modern healthcare system to handle, then I have an obsolete version of Microsoft Excel to sell you.

Efficacy (3)

How long does immunity last? Having to vaccinate the entire planet every six months would be quite a performance. Let’s hope the vaccine works for a longer period than that, but for obvious reasons it is far too early to tell.

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The Donald

Yes, him. US President Donald Trump was prominent in spreading the false idea that vaccines cause autism, but last year changed his tune, urging people “to get the shots”. Would an embittered Mr Trump, eager to spite his successor and win attention for his future media or political career, become a prominent anti-vaxxer again? To ask the question is to answer it.

Don’t be depressed about this far from exhaustive list. It is a miracle that, less than a year after the virus was sequenced, we seem to have two effective vaccines and many more on the way.

I am excited and optimistic. But this story has a few twists in it yet.

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World News

AstraZeneca starts new Covid-19 prevention trials of antibody cocktail

LONDON (REUTERS) – AstraZeneca started late-stage trials on Saturday (Nov 21) of an experimental long-acting monoclonal antibody combination drug it hopes could be used as a so-called prophylactic to prevent Covid-19 infection in at-risk people for up to 12 months.

The Phase III international clinical trial will recruit a total of 5,000 people across countries in Europe and the United States to assess the safety and effectiveness of the antibody cocktail, known as AZD7442.

The prophylactic treatment differs from a vaccine in that it introduces antibodies, rather than prompting the body’s immune system to make them. It may prove useful in people whose immune systems are weaker or compromised, and who don’t respond to vaccination. Separately, AstraZeneca is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in conjunction with researchers at Oxford University.

In Britain, where the trials of the monoclonal antibody combination kicked off on Saturday, 1,000 participants will be recruited at nine sites, researchers leading the UK arm said.

“What we are investigating in this study is whether we can provide protection by giving antibodies that have been shown to neutralise the virus, by injection into the muscle,” said said Andrew Ustianowski, a professor and chief investigator on the UK study.

“The hope is that this will then provide good protection for many months against infection.” Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies that the body generates to fight off infection. They can be synthesised in the laboratory and are already used to treat some types of cancer.

AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 cocktail – which combines two monoclonal antibodies – has the potential both to treat and prevent disease progression in patients already infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and to be given as a preventative medication prior to people such as healthcare workers being exposed to the virus.

“These have been engineered specifically to have what we call a long half-life, (so) we think they will confer protection for (at least) six, but more likely closer to 12 months,” Mene Pangalos, AstraZeneca’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, told reporters at a briefing.

He said this made the cocktail, “in effect, almost like a passive vaccination.” Alongside the 5,000-participant trial assessing the drug’s potential as a preventative, AstraZeneca also plans to evaluate AZD7442 as a post-exposure preventative and pre-emptive treatment in roughly 1,100 participants in trials in Europe and the United States.

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The US government last month awarded US$486 million to AstraZeneca to develop and secure supplies of up to 100,000 doses of the Covid-19 cocktail.

The UK government also has an in-principle agreement with AstraZeneca which it says secures access to a million doses of AZD7442 if it is successful in Phase III trials.

Under a plan to set up a global production network, Astra in October enlisted contract manufacturer Lonza to produce the drug in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, starting in the first half of 2021.

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COVID-19: Pfizer boss says company aims to send out vaccine within hours of approval

The head of Pfizer has told Sky News his company is poised to send out doses of its COVID-19 vaccine “within hours” of it receiving official approval.

Chief Executive Albert Bourla said his company would be applying for permission from regulatory authorities across the world “very, very soon – within a couple of days” and was then ready to start shipping the first of 20 million vaccine doses that have already been made.

He told Sky News doses would be sent out to countries as soon as their health authorities gave permission, raising the possibility of a “race to regulate”, but said the world would have to be “patient” because demand would outstrip supply.

“The light is real – there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

“I believe that the second half of 2021 will be a very different experience for many of us.”

Mr Bourla spoke to Sky News exclusively, shortly after his company had concluded its Phase 3 study into its COVID-19 vaccine, created in partnership with the German firm BioNTech.

The study showed it to be 95% effective, a figure he described as “spectacular” and “a great moment for science but, more importantly, for humankind”. He said the day when he was told about the vaccine’s success was “the most brilliant day of my life”.

His company has already produced more than 20 million doses of the vaccine and expects that figure to have reached 50 million by the end of the year. Another 1.3 billion doses are planned to be manufactured in 2021.

Before it can be used, the vaccine needs regulatory approval from health authorities.

Mr Bourla said: “It is a question of days before we apply to send the requested information to regulatory bodies around the world. Then it is their call. They need to take their time and follow their processes.

“Once they give us the green light, our goal is to start shipping in a couple of hours.

“The major regulatory authorities of the world listen to each other, but they are powered scientifically.

“They are independent. It’s not likely that one agency takes time and another comes to a conclusion much faster.”

However, Mr Bourla confirmed his company would react to each decision in turn – meaning that the faster a country grants regulatory approval, the faster it would receive the vaccine.

“If someone approves faster than the other, then I believe the ethical thing to do is to start sending vaccines to the citizens of this jurisdiction because every day means lives,” he added.

The Pfizer boss’s prediction is that “if we would be able to vaccinate the populations, I think we will be able to go back” to a normal life, but he urged patience and caution.

“Until the time when we reach herd immunity, people need to be very careful. They need to follow the instructions of the health authorities – to wear masks and respect social distancing,” he said.

With each person requiring two doses of the vaccine for it to be effective, the company’s estimate of 1.3bn doses by the end of 2021 would only cover around 9% of the world’s population. So, would he consider sharing production with rival companies?

“Oh yes, we are not bound by our own infrastructure,” Mr Bourla said.

“It is very challenging to transfer manufacturing to GSK or Sanofi. It’s not that easy. But we will explore any possible avenue. That will need to involve other manufacturing networks of other corporations.”

He said he would also offer support to other companies, working on separate vaccine projects, and said that the level of collaboration across the industry “is something that will redefine the industry right now, for the world and for all of us, there’s only one competitor – the virus”.

Mr Bourla said poorer countries would receive the vaccine on a “not-for-profit” basis, which means “the lowest possible price so we can make it accessible for them”.

He said Pfizer had already worked on contingency plans in the event of customs disruption caused by Brexit.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that our company, together with all the corporate world, was not fascinated with the idea that the UK will separate from Europe, but it is the will of the United Kingdom’s people and we have been working for years now to come to a solution when this transition happens,” he said.

During our conversation, Mr Bourla, who is Greek and has worked for Pfizer for 27 years, was awash with optimism and happiness. There was only one moment when his mood darkened, and that was when he reflected on the experience of one country – the United States.

“Something went wrong and that something was in the US – and that was the politicisation of this process,” he said.

“It became a political statement – if you wore a mask; if the vaccine will come quickly or not. That didn’t help at all.

“Everybody started discussing scientific topics with political instead of scientific terms, and people got confused. They didn’t know who to believe, or what to believe, and that is the situation we face right now.

“I hope all the things that we did were a demonstration of the ultimate transparency we placed, all together as an industry. We follow the strictest guidelines. We publish the protocols, we started publishing the data.”

He also issued a message to those who were dubious about the value of vaccines, saying that anyone who refused a vaccine risks “becoming the weak link that allows this virus to replicate. I hope that a lot of the people who were sceptical before will reconsider”.

My last question to him was about his own reflections, about the process of leading Pfizer, a company valued at more than $200bn, over this tumultuous year.

It was only his second year as the company’s chief executive, but he told me that pressure was “not at all the political pressure that some people were speculating but the pressure of billions of people, millions of businesses and hundreds of governments – they are investing in our industry, in Pfizer, to find a solution – so you feel that on the shoulders”.

“The moment when I received the call to say we had an effective vaccine…and ten minutes later I was informed that the level of efficacy was 95,96%, it was the most brilliant day of my life,” he said.

“I couldn’t describe with words the relief and the feeling of purpose, but I felt at this moment that this is a decision that determines the future of the world – not of my company or my family. And I was very lucky to be in this position, and to be able to do what I did.”

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Business

COVID-19: One in seven UK companies fear they are at risk of collapse, ONS survey finds

One in seven companies fear they are at risk of collapse in the next three months, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics.

The survey found that some 14% of British businesses said they have “low or no confidence” that they will survive the next 12 weeks.

The least positive were accommodation and food services, with 34% saying they had no or low confidence in their three-month survival prospects.

Across all industries, 7% of businesses said they expected to temporarily or permanently close a site in the next two weeks, including 25% of accommodation and food service firms.

The survey was based on the period between 19 October and 1 November 2020, when 82% of businesses were trading.

The ONS also estimated that 9% of the workforce was on furlough during the two weeks to 1 November, including 34% of people in the arts, entertainment, and recreation.

Earlier on Thursday, the government said it had given banks guarantees on £65.48bn of lending to businesses hit by the pandemic.

The figure, as at 15 November, was up from the £61.93bn a month earlier.

Most of the lending (£42.18bn) was to small businesses, for which banks get a 100% government guarantee.

Also on Thursday, the Confederation of British Industry called for at least seven days’ notice of any government plan for ending the lockdown brought in by the government earlier this month.

The lobby group said firms will need time to activate supply chains and call in staff ahead of the expected reopening in England on 3 December.

The financial quarter leading up to Christmas is vital for retailers, who were already struggling to recover from the harsher lockdown earlier in the year.

The coronavirus pandemic pushed Britain’s economy into the worst recession on record in the first half of the year and GDP is expected to shrink again in the fourth quarter.

Redundancies have risen to a record high, prompting the government to extend its furlough scheme.

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World News

COVID-19: South Australia begins six-day lockdown after cluster of 22 coronavirus cases

The state of South Australia is beginning a six-day lockdown in response to a cluster of 22 coronavirus cases.

Schools, universities, bars and cafes have been ordered to close since midnight local time on Wednesday (1pm Tuesday UK time).

Only one person from each household is allowed to leave home each day and and only for specific reasons.

The restrictions also require most factories to close, elderly care homes to go into lockdown, and weddings and funerals to be put on hold.

Outdoor exercise is banned, and wearing masks is compulsory.

Officials announced the severe move on Wednesday after a cluster of new coronavirus cases grew to 22.

Premier Steven Marshall said he believes the lockdown will act as a “circuit-breaker” and reduce the risk of the outbreak spreading further.

Officials plan a further eight days of restrictions following the lockdown.

Authorities in Tokyo later announced nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus, the biggest daily increase in the Japanese capital since the pandemic began.

Japan is experiencing a nationwide spike in cases as the country discusses with Olympic officials how to hold next summer’s games.

The Tokyo metropolitan government reported 493 new cases on Wednesday, surpassing the city’s previous high of 472 recorded on 1 August, during the peak of Japan’s earlier wave of infections.

The record number of new cases came as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach ended his visit to Japan to discuss with Olympic officials how to safely host the games, which were postponed until next July due to the pandemic.

Japan has seen a steady climb in new cases nationwide in recent weeks, and experts have urged officials to step up preventive measures.

It has confirmed 120,815 cases overall, including 1,913 deaths, according to the health ministry.

South Korea has also recorded its largest daily rise in coronavirus infections in about 80 days as officials prepare to tighten social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

Officials on Wednesday reported 313 new virus cases over the previous 24-hour period – the first time the daily caseload exceeded 300 since late August.

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South Korea is struggling to contain a spike in new cluster infections since it eased stringent physical distancing rules last month.

Under rules taking effect on Thursday for two weeks, no more than 100 people can attend rallies, festivals and concerts.

People will have to sit at least one seat apart at theatres, concert halls and libraries, while sporting events are limited to 30% of a stadium’s capacity.

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Politics

COVID-19: Boris Johnson tests negative – but will do PMQs remotely as he continues to self-isolate

Boris Johnson has tested negative for coronavirus but will continue to self-isolate and answer this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions remotely, Number 10 has said.

Downing Street revealed the prime minister took a rapid turnaround lateral flow test as part of a pilot scheme for Number 10 staff.

“The prime minister took a test yesterday and that test was negative,” Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“But he will, in accordance with the rules on self-isolation, continue to self-isolate.”

Live updates on coronavirus from UK and around world

The prime minister will remain in self-isolation until 26 November.

He has been quarantining after meeting with a group of Conservative MPs – one of whom later tested positive for COVID-19.

Lateral flow tests, which use similar technology to a pregnancy test and have a turnaround time of under an hour, have been used in Liverpool as part of a mass testing trial.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said Number 10 is now among a number of other settings – including schools, universities and workplaces – to also pilot the tests.

“In Number 10 we are taking part in a pilot where some staff have access to a lateral flow test if they wish to,” the spokesman said, adding that the pilot scheme had been operating for around two weeks.

Mr Johnson’s self-isolation has disturbed plans for a “reset” of his premiership, following the departure of his controversial chief adviser Dominic Cummings – as well as his director of communications Lee Cain – last week.

Mr Johnson had hoped to use the next couple of weeks to make a series of announcements – including on coronavirus, education, the economy and climate issues – that Number 10 said would be a clear signal of his ongoing ambitions for the country.

But Number 10 has stressed the prime minister intends to continue to speak to the country.

That will continue with his remote appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday – the first time a prime minister will have ever answered questions in the House of Commons virtually.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Johnson chaired a remote cabinet meeting at which his senior ministers were updated on post-Brexit trade negotiations.

At the meeting, the prime minister admitted it was “far from certain” that an agreement with the EU would be possible and that “time is now very short” ahead of the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

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Politics

COVID-19 vaccine: UK orders five million doses of new Moderna jab by spring next year

Five million doses of the Moderna vaccine to battle coronavirus have been ordered, the health secretary has announced.

Matt Hancock said preliminary trials showing it to be 94.5% effective were “excellent news” and that, if it proves safe, the jabs can start to be rolled out across the UK by spring 2021.

“We can see the candle of hope,” he declared, but cautioned that people must keep following COVID-19 restrictions until a scientific breakthrough.

The vaccine, which Moderna produced in collaboration with the US government’s “Operation Warp Speed”, is particularly attractive given it can be stored relatively easily.

It has been shown to last for up to 30 days in household fridges, at room temperature for up to 12 hours, and remains stable at -20C – equal to most household or medical freezers – for up to six months.

That would make storage and transportation of it more attractive than a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was last week announced to be 90% effective at protecting people from coronavirus and needs to be stored at around -70C.

So far, the UK government has secured early access to seven candidate vaccines – totalling more than 355 million doses.

Mr Hancock said Moderna’s progress is an “encouraging step forward”, though cautioned: “This is preliminary, the safety data is limited and their production facilities are not yet at scale.”

Addressing the nation from a Downing Street news conference, he added: “Great advances of medical science are coming to the rescue…

“While there is much uncertainty, we can see the candle of hope and we must do all we can to nurture its flame.

“But we’re not there yet; until the science can make us safe we must remain vigilant and keep following the rules that we know can keep this virus under control.”

Asked by Sky News if the government should have acted earlier to secure more doses from Moderna, Mr Hancock said he had ordered different types of vaccine from other companies already “to make sure that we have a good spread”.

The Moderna results were hailed even more by Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, also speaking from Number 10.

“Do I feel more encouraged?” he asked aloud. “It’s brilliant news, absolutely brilliant. It’s the second penalty now – that’s also gone into the back of the net, so we’re starting to feel in a better position.”

But on a more sombre note, Dr Susan Hopkins, the interim chief medical officer of Test and Trace, said when England’s second national lockdown ends on 2 December, the rules could be tougher than they were when the country went into it.

“We will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone,” she said, adding: “We see very little effect from Tier 1.”

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