Experts in child development are calling on the government to support a “summer of play” to help pupils in England recover from the stress of lockdown and a year of Covid upheaval, writes Sally Weale, the Guardian’s education correspondent.
Instead of extra lessons, catch-up summer schools and longer school days, they said children should be encouraged to spend the coming months outdoors, being physically active and having fun with their friends.
Psychologists have reported behavioural changes in some children following the first lockdown last year. After months of isolation from friends, some struggled to share and play together, teachers reported more fights and fallings-out, and Ofsted observed a worrying drop in physical fitness.
As the government draws up its latest education catch-up plans, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, a group of academics calling themselves PlayFirstUK have written to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, appealing for a new emphasis on play, mental health and wellbeing as children emerge from lockdown.
Covid-19 has apparently claimed the lives of two 11-week-old white tiger cubs who died in a zoo in Pakistan last month.
The cubs died in the Lahore Zoo on 30 January, four days after beginning treatment for what officials thought was feline panleukopenia virus, Reuters reports. It is a disease that zoo officials said is common in Pakistan and targets cats’ immune systems.
But an autopsy found the cubs’ lungs were badly damaged and they were suffering from severe infection, with pathologists concluding they died from Covid-19. They are believed to have caught the virus from their handler.
Kiran Saleem, the zoo’s deputy director, told Reuters:
After their death, the zoo administration conducted tests of all officials, and six were tested positive, including one official who handled the cubs. It strengthens the findings of the autopsy. The cubs probably caught the virus from the person handling and feeding them.
Pakistan’s zoos are frequently criticised by animal rights activists, who say hundreds of animals have died from poor living conditions in them.
A UK health expert has called for the opening of long Covid clinics, saying that as many as 10 to 20% of cases of Covid-19 have resulted in people reporting long symptoms of long Covid.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the figure of one in 20 people with long Covid, which was reported in October by King’s College London, was “a bit low”.
Speaking on Times Radio, he said:
Many people would have 10-20% as their range if you look at the papers on how many people are still reporting significant symptoms several months afterwards … The UK has been fairly speedy at recognising it (long Covid), the problem is recognising it and doing something aren’t necessarily the same things.
Altmann said he made the case for long Covid clinics at a World Health Organisation meeting this week, adding:
The point I was trying to make was really a call to arms for some really good solid research and mechanisms here, because there’s no point just having the banner above the clinic if we haven’t got the doctors to sit in them.
Oxford vaccine to be tested on children in new clinical trial
The efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in children is set to be tested in a new clinical trial in the UK, PA Media reports.
Researchers will use 300 volunteers to assess whether the jab – known as the the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine – will produce a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
The Oxford jab is one of three to have been approved for use in adults in the UK, along with those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. It has, however, been found to be less effective at providing immunity to some strains of coronavirus.
Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said:
While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.
These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.
The perennial debate about the reopening of schools is rearing its head in England again this morning after reports indicating that the government intends to send children back to class on 8 March.
The chair of the NHS Confederation, Victor Adebowale, said the target date was too early, warning that the NHS workforce was “on its knees” and that ministers needed to be “very cautious” about any easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Lord Adebowale told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4:
We have to be really careful, really systematic about easing any lockdown. What we cannot afford is another peak. I understand the pressure to open schools. We need to do so very safely. I think mid or late-March is when we should be re-assessing.
We have had a number of false dawns when we have set dates, taken the action, then find ourselves having to row back very quickly.
Meanwhile, Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis called for a relaxation of controls on schools as part of a “stepwise” easing of coronavirus restrictions. He told Today:
I think we have got to do a stepwise change. I think we are going to have to relax the schools, that is the first thing to do. It is probably the lowest risk.
What I don’t want to see is yet more stop-start – relax it and then go back again, relax it and go back.
We are unlikely to get full freedom until April/May or maybe even a touch later than that, but we have to start soon.
Extra coronavirus testing will be carried out in Middlesbrough, in the north east of England, following the detection of a case of the South African variant of the virus which is feared to be resistant to some vaccines.
Any resident over the age of 16 from the districts of Marton and Coulby Newham is being urged to get tested. An additional test centre has been opened in Coulby Newham to increase capacity, with no appointments needed.
According to Public Health England data analysed by the PA news agency, Middlesbrough currently has the fifth highest infection rate in England.
Esther Mireku, consultant in public health in Middlesbrough, told PA:
I urge everyone over the age of 16 in the Marton and Coulby Newham areas to come forward for a test. This will help us understand more about the potential spread of this new variant.
While the overall Covid infection rate in Middlesbrough has now halved from its peak in early January, it has still not decreased as much as we would have liked.
The high prevalence of Covid in the town, combined with the reporting of this variant, are a reminder to everyone of the importance of staying at home as much as possible and following hands-face-space when out for an essential reason.
According to this morning’s Times, internal UK government projections are predicting a halving of the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals over the next month.
Estimates presented to the prime minister reportedly showed infection rates falling faster than anticipated, with numbers expected soon to drop to October levels. According to the paper:
The projections are likely to lead to more pressure on Boris Johnson from Conservative MPs to accelerate the reopening of the economy. They have called for all restrictions to be lifted by May. Ministers remain concerned, though, that the emergence of mutant strains could derail plans to ease lockdown restrictions. Social-distancing restrictions are expected to remain in place until the autumn.
The august Times’s tabloid stablemate, the Sun, carries a similarly hopeful message on its front page. According to the red top, pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers outdoors by April if coronavirus cases continue to fall at the same rate.
As the paper’s political editor puts it, in typically jaunty Sun style:
The reopening of hospitality is being fast-tracked in a major boost to the blighted sector – and thirsty Brits.
Both the Times and the Sun are known for their proximity to power, with messages from top government officials often recycled through their pages. With public patience over lockdown measures apparently wearing thin, it seems that there is a major communications campaign underway to persuade Britain that we’re nearly there.
The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said he hopes that Covid-19 will become “another illness that we have to live with” like ‘flu.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Hancock said:
I hope that Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year. If Covid-19 ends up like flu, so we live our normal lives and we mitigate through vaccines and treatments, then we can get on with everything again.
He also said he was confident that all UK adults will have been offered coronavirus vaccines by September at the latest.
The Telegraph is not the only UK paper to strike an optimistic tone this morning. Most today are leading on predictions of an end to coronavirus lockdowns in the next couple of months.
The Guardian’s print edition is this morning leading on fears that many at risk people could miss out on vaccinations amid confusion over who to target next in the mass Covid vaccination programme.
Thousands of vulnerable people in the UK are at risk of being overlooked for vaccination amid confusion over who is to be included in the crucial next wave of the programme, a Guardian analysis has found.
People with a range of conditions said they had been told repeatedly they were at a heightened risk from coronavirus, with some even being told to shield, only to discover they were being left out of the “at risk” group next in line for a jab.
Charities called for clarity on who should be included, urging ministers to err on the side of caution by casting the net as widely as possible to avoid needless Covid deaths.
Hullo, this is Damien Gayle taking charge of the blog now, on a clear and chilly morning in lockdown London. Over the next eight hours or so I’ll be bringing you the latest coronavirus-related news and updates from the UK and around the world.
What we’ve learned so far today
Let’s recap what has happened in the past few hours:
- A survey by the British Medical Association found fewer than one-third of UK doctors feel they are fully protected from Covid-19 at their place of work.
- In Australia, Victoria has recorded one new case of Covid-19, bringing a cluster associated with a quarantine hotel run out of the Holiday Inn at Tullamarine airport to 14. Victoria went into a five-day lockdown on Friday because the cases are the highly infectious UK variant, B117.
- New Zealand authorities say a man who died after testing positive to Covid-19, the first such death in months, was in hospital for another serious medical condition and his death is not being attributed to the coronavirus.
- Authorities in Victoria have disputed a claim that a man who used a nebuliser in the Holiday Inn, believed to be the source of the airborne transmission, was told it was fine to use the machine. The man is now in ICU.
- The Australian state of New South Wales is chasing 7,000 people who went through Melbourne airport on 9 February, after a worker at a popular cafe in terminal 4 tested positive.
- Russia has reported 14,861 new cases of Covid-19 and 502 deaths.
- Mexico has reported 10,388 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,323 fatalities.
- China has reported eight new cases of coronavirus, down from 12 the day before.
- Authorities in South Korea have attributed a dip in daily coronavirus figures to a slowdown in testing over the Lunar New Year.
- International flights to Melbourne are suspended for five days, and the Victorian government is pushing for the number of returning travellers to be reduced until the vaccine is broadly distributed.
With that I’ll hand over to Damien Gayle. Stay safe, stay well.
Russia has reported 14,861 new cases of Covid-19 and 502 deaths on Saturday, authorities have said.
Some 1,963 of the new cases are in Moscow. It brings the number of cases in Russia since the pandemic began to 4,057,698. The death toll stands at 79,696.
Back in Australia, the Greens party in Victoria has urged the state government to consider setting up hotel quarantine facilities made up of portable cabins to allow for better ventilation, rather than cutting the number of interstate and international arrivals.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has suggested the number of international arrivals be reviewed in light of the more transmissible UK variant of the virus, saying “this is not the virus of 2020”. Victoria is currently in a five-day lockdown because 14 people in a contained outbreak have tested positive to strain B117.
The outbreak is believed to be linked to aerosol spread of the virus, after a nebuliser was used in a quarantine hotel. Staff in quarantine hotels are now required to wear N95 masks when on floors that host returning travellers, instead of surgical masks.
The Victorian Greens said quarantining returning travellers in “separate cabins that open to the outdoors”, similar to the facilities on a military base at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, where Australians repatriated by the government are quarantined, would reduce the risk of transmission.
Leading Australian epidemiologists have said the same thing. The thing is, there are not many facilities like Howard Springs in close proximity to both an international airport and a major hospital.
The Greens suggested that “portable cabins like those in holiday parks could be assembled sufficiently close to a hospital and airport as an alternative to CBD hotels”.
Spokesman Dr Tim Read said:
Bringing home stranded Victorians and staying on top of a potential Covid-19 outbreak shouldn’t be mutually exclusive ideas.
Let’s set up rows of quarantine cabins, separated by fresh air, to reduce the risk of transmission to guests and staff.
The state government shouldn’t have to shut the door on thousands of interstate or overseas Victorians to handle this pandemic.