November 24, 2020

Covid news – live: Christmas travel plan for students ‘filled with holes’, Russia claims 92% effective vaccine – The Independent

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/covid-news-live-uk-update-lockdown-deaths-b1720898.html

Fresh plans to allow students a one-week window to travel home for Christmas are “riddled with holes”, the government has been warned.

Jo Grady, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, highlighted the tight timescale for a mass movement of people, adding: “Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error.”

The government promised Covid-19 tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they head home but, according to an executive dean at Durham University, this will be a “massive undertaking” for campuses across the UK.

The criticism comes as Russia confirms, via early data from its first 16,000 trial participants, that the Sputnik V Covid vaccine is now 92 per cent effective.

The announcement follows results posted earlier this week by vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech, who said their US-German jab was more than 90 per cent effective at preventing disease.

Check out The Independent’s live updates and coverage below.

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The Independent’s political editor, Andrew Woodcock, has more on the JVT presser:

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 10:56

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JVT: ‘Test of confidence for coronavirus vaccine is the Mum test’

Jonathan Van-Tam says the test of confidence for coronavirus vaccine is the ‘Mum test’

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 10:52

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‘Public safety always comes first’, says MHRA chief exec

Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, told a Sky News press conference: “The safety of the public will always come first.

“A Covid-19 vaccine will only be approved once it has met robust standards of effectiveness, safety and quality.”

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 10:45

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No timeframe for ‘normality’ or ‘shortcut to future’, warns deputy chief medical officer

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said he does not know if the UK will be “back to normal” by Easter, stressing that we will still need to push second wave down by social distancing and other restrictions.

“There’s no shortcut to the future,” he stressed. During a press conference, Prof Van-Tam also responded to a question about private routes to vaccination. Vaccines need to be “prioritised for those who need them not those who can pay for them privately”, he said.

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 10:33

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Tory MPs form backbench group to fight further lockdowns

Around 50 Conservative MPs have formed a backbench group to fight further lockdowns, arguing they “risk being worse than the disease”.

The Covid Recovery Group demands that Boris Johnson publish a cost-benefit analysis of the economic and wider health costs of restrictions continuing beyond the 2 December expiry date.

The PM is also being urged to end the “monopoly” of advice given by the government’s scientists, while a third demand is to improve the measures already in place to tackle the virus such as revamping the heavily critiqued test-and-trace system.

The Independent’s deputy political editor, Rob Merrick, reports:

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 09:24

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‘Vaccines are exceptionally safe medicines’, Infectious diseases expert warns anti-vaxxers

Professor Robin Shattock, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said the longterm side effects of Covid-19 are “way more dramatic” than those from a vaccine.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The current vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, has been studied in 43,000 individuals, so we know it’s safe in terms of it doesn’t cause any acute problems.

“Longterm side effects will be studied for the next two years. I think they are likely to be rare, but it’s something that will be followed very carefully.

“And it’s always worth putting it in context – the long-term side-effects of Covid-19 are way more dramatic than anything that we get from a vaccine.

“So, when you’re balancing that risk, obviously it’s going to prevent you from getting Covid-19, and it’s going to prevent you from all the risks of long Covid, or serious illness.”

Prof Shattock added: “So that equation is very clear in my mind. Vaccines are exceptionally safe medicines and they prevent really serious disease.”

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 09:16

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Sputnik V Covid vaccine is 92% effective, Russia claims

Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine is 92 per cent effective, according to its sovereign wealth fund.  

The announcement follows results posted on Monday by vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech, who said their US-German jab was more than 90 per cent effective at preventing diseases.

Follow Samuel Lovett for the latest updates:

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 09:32

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Barnaby Fournier, a student at the University of Manchester, told Zoe Tidman:

“I’m personally very angry at the decision to send us home early. We’re already missing out so much on the traditional uni experience so sending us home early is another blow. I doubt we will get accommodation refunds for the time we’re sent home.

“Our tuition fee also pays for things like access to library study spaces which we don’t have at home. Some flatmates live in France and Belfast. They have already booked flights home for when term ends, on the 19th.”

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 09:05

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Parents react to news of week-long window for students to get home

Parents have taken to Twitter to react to the news this morning that students will be given staggered times, within a one-week period, to return home for Christmas.

One mother said she was “relieved”, but others were not as pleased. One said her daughter had already booked her travel home, and asked whether the university she was studying at intended to reimburse her for having to change her travel plans.

Another Twitter user wondered how much universities themselves had contributed to the latest decision, and what will happen come January – when students must return to campus. 

With a take on the popular phrase, used to warn off parents giving dogs as Christmas presents, he used the hashtag: “#astudentisnotjustforchristmas.”

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 08:49

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Christmas travel plan for students ‘riddled with holes’, government warned

Plans to create a travel window for students to return home for Christmas are “riddled with holes”, the Government has been told.

Universities in England have been told to switch from in-person teaching to online classes by early December and set staggered departure dates between December 3 and 9 to allow families to be reunited.

Jo Grady, the University and College Union general secretary, highlighted the tight timescale for a mass movement of people, adding: “Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error.”

The Government said Covid-19 tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home but the establishment of testing capacity will be a “massive undertaking”, an executive dean at Durham University said.

Students will have enough time to complete the self-isolation period and return home for Christmas if they test positive for Covid-19 before the travel window.

But if a student decides to remain on campus later into the month, they will need to remain in self-isolation in their student accommodation for 10 days if they test positive for coronavirus.

Universities will be asked to provide additional help and support – including affordable food – to students who remain on campus over Christmas.

Dr Grady said the plans were “riddled with holes” and “raise as many questions as they answer”.

She added: “If the Government instead told universities to move online now it would provide much more time to stagger the movement of students and better protect the health of staff, students and their wider communities.”

The “student travel window” will begin just as England’s lockdown finishes on December 2 and it is hoped this will reduce the risk of transmission.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The mass movement of students across the country at the end of term presents a really significant challenge within the Covid-19 response.

“The measures announced today will help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas. It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to.”

Durham University is already running a pilot project for rapid Covid-19 testing – including identifying those who might be infectious but have no symptoms.

The Lateral Flow Tests, which deliver results in just 30 minutes, uses a nose and throat swab and they are self-administered.

After a voluntary pilot, the university is now exploring whether it is feasible to roll out mass testing across the whole institution before Christmas.

On the Government’s plans to establish mass testing capacity on campuses, Professor Jacqui Ramagge, executive dean for Science at Durham University and project sponsor, said: “I don’t think very many [universities] will be prepared for this because I think it’s a massive undertaking.”

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “We know this Christmas will feel different, and following this incredibly difficult year we are delivering on our commitment to get students back to their loved ones as safely as possible for the holidays.

“We have worked really hard to find a way to do this for students, while limiting the risk of transmission.

“Now it is vital they follow these measures to protect their families and communities, and for universities to make sure students have all the wellbeing support they need, especially those who stay on campus over the break.”

Sam Hancock11 November 2020 08:52