A pigeon on an empty Deansgate in Manchester, UK

A pigeon on an empty Deansgate in Manchester, UK

Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 5 January

Lockdowns imposed in England and Scotland to try to curb surging virus cases

Strict new nationwide lockdowns came into force in England and Scotland, which cabinet office minister Michael Gove said could last in some form until March. UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced the new lockdown rules for England during a televised address on Monday evening, saying that vaccination of key groups of people by mid-February could allow the restrictions in England to be eased. But on Tuesday, cabinet office minister Michael Gove told Sky News: “We can’t predict with certainty that we’ll be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing [15 to 22 February]. What we will be doing is everything we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin progressively to lift restrictions. I think it’s right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions but not necessarily all.” The top four priority groups for vaccinations include older care home residents and their carers, people over 70, frontline health and social care workers, and clinically extremely vulnerable people.

The UK reported 60,916 new daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday, surpassing 60,000 daily new cases for the first time since the start of the pandemic. One in 50 people in England and one in 30 in London are estimated to have the coronavirus, according to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said during a televised briefing on Tuesday. By comparison, one in 900 people were infected in early September. 


In Tuesday’s press conference, Johnson said that 1.3 million people in the UK have so far received the first dose of a covid-19 vaccine. However, more than 4 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech were delivered to the UK before the end of 2020, the Financial Times reported, prompting questions about the gap between the number of vaccine doses secured and the number of people who have been vaccinated. Asked about the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford, of which the government has said it hopes to have 2 million doses a week by the end of January, NHS England director Stephen Powis told the Financial Times: “Certainly this month we’ll be able to get up to that sort of number but that would depend on supplies. We’ll be delivering it as soon as we get it.”

Other coronavirus news

Researchers in South Africa are investigating whether a new variant of coronavirus spreading in the country might be resistant to existing covid-19 vaccines. “It’s a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern […] that the South African variant might be more resistant,” Shabir Madhi, who led trials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC. Madhi said it was unlikely that the mutation in the South African variant would render current vaccines useless but said it might weaken their impact.

Germany will extend its nationwide lockdown until at least the end of January. After a partial lockdown introduced in early November failed to sufficiently reduce infections, Germany entered a second nationwide lockdown on 16 December, which was originally due to be lifted on 10 January.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.85 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 85.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

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 of different vaccine candidates and 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 on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

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.

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

Two paramedics transport a patient on a cart next to an ambulance

Paramedics transport a patient to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, London on 4 January

James Veysey/Shutterstock

4 January

England expected to tighten restrictions and Scotland announces national lockdown

Much of the UK faces new lockdown measures as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is “no question” that restrictions in England will be tightened, and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a strict new lockdown in Scotland starting at midnight on 5 January. Johnson is expected to announce tougher restrictions in England this evening in a televised appearance, which could include schools being closed and Tier 4 restrictions across the country. The UK recorded 58,784 new coronavirus cases on Monday and 407 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre is expected to be raising the country’s covid-19 threat level to 5 – the highest level.

Most primary schools in England reopened today, despite calls from teaching unions and some councils to keep schools shut. Primary schools in London and south-east England remain closed until 18 January. Council leaders in many areas including Manchester and Birmingham said they would support the decision of head teachers who think it is unsafe to reopen their schools.

First Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines administered in the UK

An 82-year-old man became the first person to receive the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with AstraZeneca, as part of the UK’s mass vaccination programme. Brian Pinker received the jab at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford and 530,000 doses were ready for use on Monday. AstraZeneca has said it expects to supply about 2 million doses of the vaccine every week by the middle of January in the UK.

Other coronavirus news

Coronavirus cases in the UK are continuing to surge, with concern growing about a variant of the virus first detected in South Africa. “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” UK health minister Matt Hancock told BBC radio. “It’s even more of a problem than the UK new variant,” he said. John Bell at the University of Oxford told the Telegraph there was “a big question” as to whether existing vaccines would be effective against the South Africa strain, which contains mutations that affect part of the virus that is recognised by antibodies. However, he added that it should be possible to make new vaccines quickly, if this or any future variant of the coronavirus emerges that is resistant to the current ones. “It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm. It’s going to be fine,” he said. “We’re now in a game of cat and mouse, because these are not the only two variants we’re going to see. We’re going to see lots of variants.”

India approved two coronavirus vaccines for emergency use on Sunday, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and a vaccine called Covaxin being developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech. Gagandeep Kang at the Christian Medical College, Vellore in India expressed concerns about India’s approval of Covaxin, as phase III trials of the vaccine haven’t yet been completed. Kang told the Times of India newspaper that she had “never seen anything like this before”, adding that “there is absolutely no efficacy data that has been presented or published.”

Coronavirus deaths

New Scientist Default Image

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.84 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 85.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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A shopper walks past an Evening Standard newspaper stand in central London on 16 December, as new guidance on Christmas during the coronavirus pandemic was announced by the government. A poster advertising the newspaper stand reads: "Christmas chaos: now it's up to you"

A shopper walks past an Evening Standard newspaper stand in central London on 16 December, as new guidance on Christmas during the coronavirus pandemic was announced by the government

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

17 December

Regions in the east and south-east of England face tier three rules from Saturday

Almost 70 per cent of England’s population will be living under strict tier three coronavirus rules from Saturday as “pressures on the NHS remain”, said UK health minister Matt Hancock on Thursday. Regions in the east and south-east of the country, including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire will move into tier three one minute after midnight on Saturday 19 December, as will parts of Surrey, East Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire. “I know that tier three measures are tough, but the best way for everyone to get out of them is to pull together, not just to follow the rules, but to do everything they possibly can to stop the spread of the virus,” Hancock told parliament. There will be 38 million people in the country living in tier three from Saturday, including other parts of England already under tier three rules.

Hancock said cases in the south-east of England had risen by 46 per cent in a week, with hospital admissions up by more than a third, while cases in the east of England had gone up by two-thirds in a week and hospital admissions had risen by nearly half. He also announced that Bristol and North Somerset would be able to move down to tier two on Saturday and that Herefordshire would also be able to move down, to tier one. “I think this is a wise precautionary measure – to damp down virus transmission in the lead up to the Christmas 5-day relaxation – and afterwards, to restrict wider virus  transmission coming out of this break,” said Julian Tang at the University of Leicester, UK, in a statement

Yesterday, the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments released a joint statement with advice on household mixing during Christmas. “The safest way to spend this Christmas is with your own household or your existing support bubble in your own home – and we strongly recommend that this is what you do if at all possible,” the statement said. It also stressed that “scientific advice is clear: the longer you meet others for, the higher the risk of you catching and spreading the virus” and that “if you do intend to form a bubble, you should keep the bubble small and your visits short”. 

Other coronavirus news

Two healthcare workers in Alaska developed allergic reactions after receiving the coronavirus vaccine developed by US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, including a woman who did not have a history of allergies to vaccines and who was admitted to hospital. Both individuals received treatment and have recovered. The woman’s reaction appears to be similar to the allergic reactions experienced by two healthcare workers who were vaccinated in the UK last week. Following the two allergic reactions in the UK, US Food and Drug Administration officials said they would require Pfizer to monitor severe allergic reactions and submit data on this later on.

French president Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the coronavirus. In a statement, the Élysée Palace said Macron would “self-isolate for seven days in line with the health protocol applicable to everyone” and that he would continue to work remotely. 

Coronavirus deaths

New Scientist Default Image

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 1.65 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 74.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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