Exclusive: Oxford study indicates AstraZeneca effective against Brazil variant, source says

By Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Preliminary data from a study conducted at the University of Oxford indicates that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC is effective against the P1, or Brazilian, variant, a source with knowledge of the study told Reuters on Friday.

The data indicates that the vaccine will not need to be modified in order to protect against the variant, which is believed to have originated in the Amazonian city of Manaus, said the source, who requested anonymity as the results have not yet been made public.

The source did not provide the exact efficacy of the vaccine against the variant. They said the full results of the study should be released soon, possibly in March.

Early results indicated the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective against the South African variant, which is similar to P1. South Africa subsequently paused the use of the vaccine in the country.

The information comes as a small-sample study suggested the COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac may not work effectively against the Brazilian variant.

Responding to a request for comment, Fiocruz, which sent the samples that formed the basis of the study, told Reuters it did not have any information on the study, as it was being led by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Representatives for AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brazil is currently confronting a brutal and long-lasting second wave of the coronavirus, hitting a daily record of 1,910 deaths on Wednesday.

The P1 variant is among the factors that epidemiologists believe is contributing to a rise in cases and deaths, and there has been concern in the scientific community about the variant’s resistance to vaccines.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Exclusive: Canada deporting thousands even as pandemic rages

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada deported thousands of people even as COVID-19 raged last year, data seen by Reuters shows, and lawyers say deportations are ramping up, putting people needlessly at risk in the midst of a global health emergency.

Like many other countries, Canada is struggling to stop a second wave from spiraling out of control, and its political leaders are begging residents to stay home to prevent the spread.

Lawyers and human rights advocates are decrying Canada’s November decision to resume deportations. Until now, the extent of the country’s pandemic deportations was not known, but recent interviews with immigration lawyers and scrutiny of government numbers has shed light on the situation.

Canada counted 12,122 people as removed in 2020 – 875 more than the previous year and the highest number since at least 2015, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data seen by Reuters. The government says this was necessary and done safely.

The CBSA says the high number last year is because it includes people who decided to leave on their own, termed “administrative removals.” In 2019 there were 1,657 administrative removals, compared with 8,215 last year.

Even subtracting those numbers, that leaves thousands of people deported as the pandemic raged and governments cautioned against travel of any kind for safety reasons.

Even as Canada continues to deport non-citizens during a health crisis, U.S. President Joe Biden paused deportations for 100 days within hours of being sworn in on Wednesday.

Canada officially imposed a moratorium on deportations in March that it lifted at the end of November.

“As much as a human rights concern it’s a common sense concern,” said Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Rights Program.

Countries’ deportation practices have varied over the course of the pandemic. Several, including the United Kingdom, suspended deportations before resuming them. Others, like Ireland, have kept suspensions in place.

The CBSA said it has been prioritizing deportations for reasons of “serious admissibility,” including criminality.

The vast majority of people deported in 2020 were for reasons of “noncompliance.” Even taking into account administrative removals, more than 1,000 people were deported during the suspension, the data shows.

‘IT’S UNBELIEVABLE’

Public health experts have warned that travel of any kind can spread COVID-19 from one place to another, a risk that grows with the advent of more highly transmissible COVID variants.

Many of the deportation trips involve transfers at multiple airports and flights during which people are placed in enclosed space in close quarters with other people for hours at a time, a situation ripe for transmission.

Since August Canada has been conducting deportations with CBSA escorts, so Canadians are also making thousands of these round-trip flights for deportation purposes.

Organizations including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers spoke out against Canada’s decision to resume deportations.

“As everybody is putting in place more restrictions in an effort to flatten the curve … CBSA made a shocking decision to simply go back to business as usual,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“Canada has taken the position that nonessential travel is barred yet people are now being removed and there’s no indication that those removals are essential.”

The CBSA said in a statement it lifted the moratorium on deportations because foreign government offices and borders had reopened, airlines restarted their routes and public-health protocols “have contributed to a high degree of safety for persons being removed by air.”

“Canada continues to uphold both its human rights and public safety obligations in relation to the removal of inadmissible foreign nationals,” the statement said. “The removal process includes many checks and balances to ensure that the removal is conducted in a fair and just manner.”

But these deportations are endangering not only the people being deported but the government officers tasked with accompanying them to their destination, lawyers say.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman’s Toronto office went from getting no removal cases to getting three or four in the space of a week, he said. He is now fighting for a failed refugee claimant with two young Canadian children who faces deportation to Egypt Monday.

“They’re ramping it up as if there was no pandemic,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

As coronavirus stalks Brazil’s Amazon, many die untreated at home

By Bruno Kelly and Gabriel Araujo

MANAUS (Reuters) – Shirlene Morais Costa died at her home in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday, likely the latest victim of a devastating new wave of COVID-19 that has returned to this isolated city deep in the Amazon rainforest.

The 53-year-old went to hospital with a cough and a fever, both symptoms of the coronavirus, but was sent home, according to her stepfather, Esteliano Lopes Filho, 74.

“Her death was swift… We called the ambulance, but it only arrived after she was dead,” he said. “We’re seeing death after death… It really is a terrible calamity.”

Brazil is home to the world’s second deadliest coronavirus outbreak after the United States, and Manaus was one of the first Brazilian cities to creak under a spiraling death and caseload from the first wave of the pandemic last year.

So many were infected that some scientists thought the city of 2 million people might have been approaching herd immunity. But that projection has proved well wide of the mark.

The state of Amazonas, where nearly 6,000 people have died from COVID-19, is now suffering a devastating second wave that is pushing emergency services to breaking point. Many people, like Morais Costa, are dying at home.

Beds for COVID-19 patients in the state reached an occupancy rate of over 98% this week, according to data from the Amazonas state health department. Occupancy in temporary facilities that provide assistance to critical patients for later referral to other points of the health network was at 131%.

There are currently 1,391 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, in addition to a further 603 people hospitalized with suspected cases, the data shows.

Last week, refrigerated containers were placed outside the main hospitals in Manaus for the first time since the pandemic’s April peak. The containers are used to store bodies as the city’s healthcare and burial services again become overwhelmed.

(Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Rosalba O’Brien)

Chinese city of Langfang goes into lockdown amid new COVID-19 threat

BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese city of Langfang near Beijing went into lockdown on Tuesday as new coronavirus infections raised worries about a second wave in a country that has mostly contained COVID-19.

The number of new cases in mainland China reported on Tuesday remained a small fraction of those seen at the height of the outbreak in early 2020. However, authorities are implementing strict curbs whenever new cases emerge.

The National Health Commission reported 55 new cases on Tuesday, down from 103 on Monday. Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, accounted for 40 of the 42 locally transmitted infections.

In a village in the south of Beijing that shares a border with Hebei, residents were stopping vehicles and asking to see health-tracking codes on mobile phones.

“We have to be careful as we’re near Guan, where COVID cases were reported today,” said a volunteer security officer surnamed Wang.

At a highway checkpoint, police in protective gowns ordered a car entering Beijing to return to Hebei after the driver was unable to show proof of a negative coronavirus test.

China’s state planning agency said it expected travel during next month’s Lunar New Year period to be markedly down on normal years, with a bigger share of people choosing cars over other transport. Many provinces have urged migrant workers to stay put for the festival.

HOME QUARANTINE

Langfang, southeast of Beijing, said its 4.9 million residents would be put under home quarantine for seven days and tested for the virus.

The government in Beijing said a World Health Organization team investigating the origin of the coronavirus would arrive on Thursday in the city of Wuhan, where the virus emerged in late 2019, after a delay that Beijing has called a “misunderstanding”.

Shijiazhuang, Hebei’s capital, has been hardest hit in the latest surge and has already placed its 11 million people under lockdown. The province has shut sections of highway and is ordering vehicles to turn back.

A new guideline from the Beijing Center for Disease Prevention and Control recommended that taxi and ride-hailing operators suspend car-pooling services, and that drivers should get weekly DNA tests and be vaccinated in order to work, the ruling Communist Party-backed Beijing Daily reported.

As of Jan. 9, China had administered more than 9 million vaccine doses.

Across the country, the number of new asymptomatic cases rose to 81 from 76 the previous day. China does not classify asymptomatic cases as confirmed coronavirus infections.

The total number of confirmed cases reported in mainland China stands at 87,591, with an official death toll of 4,634.

(Reporting by Jing Wang and Andrew Galbraith in Shanghai and Sophie Yu, Roxanne Liu and Lusha Zhang in Beijing; writing by Se Young Lee and Ryan Woo; Editing by Sam Holmes and Kevin Liffey)

Germany introduces tougher restrictions in pandemic battle

By Andreas Rinke and Holger Hansen

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is extending its nationwide lockdown until the end of the month and introducing tougher new restrictions in an effort to curb surging coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.

“We need to restrict contact more strictly… We ask all citizens to restrict contact to the absolute minimum,” Merkel told reporters after a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states.

The new rules restrict for the first time non-essential travel for residents of hard-hit areas all over Germany.

They limit movement to a 15-kilometre (nine-mile) radius in towns and districts where the number of new coronavirus cases is above 200 per 100,000 residents over seven days.

Members of any one household will be allowed to meet only one other person in public. That compares with a current rule under which public gatherings are limited to five people from two households.

Like many other European countries, Germany is struggling to contain a second wave of the virus. Britain began its third COVID-19 lockdown on Tuesday with citizens under orders to stay at home.

Concern is growing that hospitals in Germany will struggle to cope, and Merkel said a new mutation of the coronavirus first detected in Britain increased the need to be more cautious.

SHOPS, SCHOOLS TO STAY SHUT

Shops and restaurants will remain shut until the end of January. Schools are also to remain closed, with classes to be held online, until at least the end of the month.

“We believe these measures are justified, even if they are hard,” Merkel said.

The chancellor said she and the state leaders would review the new measures on Jan. 25.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 11,897 to 1.787 million in the last day, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday. The death toll rose by 944 to 35,518.

Germany had imposed a partial lockdown in November but was forced to close schools, shops and restaurants in mid-December after the initial steps failed to have the desired impact.

Germany is rolling out a vaccine against COVID-19 but the media and some officials have criticized the government for a slow start and for ordering too few doses. By Tuesday, around 317,000 people had received a shot.

(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers, Joseph Nasr and Sabine Siebold; writing by Madeline Chambers and Maria Sheahan, Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Gareth Jones)

New York City public schools to close on Thursday as COVID-19 cases rise: mayor

(Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that the city’s public school district, the largest in the U.S., would be closed for in-person learning starting on Thursday to ward off the increasing spread of COVID-19.

“New York City has reached the 3% testing positivity 7-day average threshold. Unfortunately, this means public school buildings will be closed as of tomorrow, Thursday Nov. 19, out (of) an abundance of caution. We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19,” the mayor said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Fears of COVID-19 resurgence spread to East Coast as grim U.S. records mount

By Maria Caspani and Anurag Maan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the United States, more signs emerged that a second wave could engulf areas of the Northeast, which managed to bring the pandemic under control after being battered last spring.

In New Jersey, one of the early U.S. hotspots, a spike in cases in Newark, the state’s largest city, prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to implement aggressive measures, including a mandatory curfew for certain areas, to contain the spread of the virus.

New York state and city officials also reported a worrying rise in the seven-day average infection rate that raised the specter of stricter mitigation measures adopted at the height of the pandemic.

“This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter on Wednesday as he announced the seven-day average positivity rate citywide was 2.52%. The city’s public school system, the largest in the country, would have to shut down if that figure reached 3%.

“We can do it, but we have to act NOW,” he said.

The United States as a whole reported more than 1,450 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day count since mid-August, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed for seven days straight to reach more than 136,000 as of late Tuesday while hospitalizations, a key metric of the pandemic, crossed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

In Newark, the positivity rate hovered at 19%, more than double the state’s 7.74% seven-day average, Baraka said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread,” he said.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced some restrictions on Monday in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and outbreaks among bartenders.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release on Tuesday that New York’s positivity rate had climbed above 3% for the first time in weeks.

In Maryland, where the positivity rate stood at 5.6% on Wednesday, officials warned about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. More than 800 people were being treated for the coronavirus at state hospitals as of Wednesday, according to Mike Ricci, the communications director of Governor Larry Hogan, the highest daily count since April, a Reuters tally showed.

A record number of people died of coronavirus in several Midwest and western states on Tuesday, including in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Officials in states hardest-hit by the virus pleaded with residents to stay home as much as possible and heed the advice of experts by wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“It’s not safe to go out, it’s not safe to have others over — it’s just not safe. And it might not be safe for a while yet,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said during a primetime address on Tuesday. “So, please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Editing by Nick Macfie)

Germany’s COVID-19 monitoring app shows second wave unbroken

By Douglas Busvine

BERLIN (Reuters) – A fitness tracker app launched this spring in Germany to monitor the spread of COVID-19 indicates that recently imposed social-distancing measures have yet to slow a second wave of infection, the scientist leading the project told Reuters.

Over half a million people have connected their smartwatches and fitness trackers to the Corona-Datenspende (Corona Data Donation) app, making it possible to construct a ‘fever curve’ based on readings such as pulse or steps taken.

An elevated pulse can reveal that a person is running a high temperature, while they would take fewer steps if they feel unwell. Taking the readings together can serve as a basis for estimating COVID-19 infection trends.

Crunching that raw data requires adjustments and, after tweaks to the app’s algorithm to take into account that people tend to exercise more in good weather, that fever curve now serves as a reliable leading indicator of COVID-19 trends.

“At the moment we can see that the fever curve seems to precede the case count by between three days and a week,” said Dirk Brockmann, of the Institute for Theoretical Biology at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that extensive social restrictions announced last week and imposed across Germany from Monday – including shutting restaurants, gyms and theatres – have yet to have a decisive impact.

“The curve is still heading upwards – it looks more linear but we don’t see a bending of the fever curve,” added Brockmann, who also leads a project group at the Robert Koch Institute that models how infectious diseases spread.

Brockmann emphasized that the fever curve does not provide an accurate forecast of infections – but it can flag important shifts in trend or turning points.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s center for disease control, reported a record daily COVID-19 caseload on Friday of 21,506, bringing the total since the outbreak of the pandemic to 619,089. The death toll rose by 166 to 11,096.

The Corona Data Donation app, developed with healthtech startup Thryve, works on wearable devices such as Apple Watches or Fitbit fitness trackers.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Keith Weir)

Countries turn to rapid antigen tests to contain second wave of COVID-19

By John Miller, Caroline Copley and Bart H. Meijer

ZURICH/BERLIN (Reuters) – Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays and shortages that have plagued efforts to diagnose and trace those infected quickly.

Germany, where infections jumped by 4,122 on Tuesday to 329,453 total, has secured 9 million so-called antigen tests per month that can deliver a result in minutes and cost about 5 euros ($5.90) each. That would, in theory, cover more than 10% of the population.

The United States and Canada are also buying millions of tests, as is Italy, whose recent tender for 5 million tests attracted offers from 35 companies. Switzerland, where new COVID-19 cases are at record levels, is considering adding the tests to its nationwide screening strategy.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now recommends antigen tests to complement existing molecular PCR tests, which have become the standard for assessing active infections but which have also suffered shortages as the pandemic overwhelmed laboratories and outstripped manufacturers’ production capacity.

PCR tests detect genetic material in the virus while antigen tests detect proteins on the virus’s surface, though both are meant to pick up active infections. Another type of test, for antibodies the body produces in response to an infection, can help tell if somebody has had COVID-19 in the past.

Like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, antigen tests require an uncomfortable nasal swab. They can also produce more “false negatives,” prompting some experts to recommend they only be used in a pinch.

Still, the alarming rise in new infections globally has health officials desperately pursuing more options as the winter influenza season looms.

The World Health Organization reported more than 2 million new cases last week, bringing the total worldwide to 37 million, with more than 1 million deaths from COVID-19.

“These point-of-care tests could make a big difference,” said Gerard Krause, epidemiology department director at Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.

NO TEST NO FLIGHT

Krause said low-priority patients – those without symptoms – could initially be screened with antigen tests, leaving the more accurate PCR tests for those showing signs of the disease.

Antigen tests have already gained traction in the travel industry. Italian airline Alitalia offers Rome-Milan flights exclusively for passengers with negative tests and Germany’s Lufthansa has announced similar testing plans.

But the pandemic’s vast scale has strained the ability of countries to test all of their citizens, making it difficult to track the twisting paths of infection comprehensively and prevent a resurgence.

In the United States, for example, reliance on automated PCR machinery over the summer left many patients frustrated as they waited for a week or more for results.

Testing in Europe has also suffered glitches.

France does over a million tests a week but its free-for-all testing policy has led to long queues and delays in results, prompting French researchers to come up with a test they say can produce results in 40 minutes, without using a swab.

Italy does between 800,000 and 840,000 tests a week, more than double April’s levels, according to the Ministry of Health. But a government adviser, University of Padua microbiology professor Andrea Crisanti, said the country needs 2 million tests a week to really get on top of the virus.

In the Netherlands, where infection rates are among Europe’s highest, the government has been scrambling to expand weekly testing and lab capacity to 385,000 by next week from 280,000 now. The target is nearly half a million tests a week by December and just under 600,000 by February.

But people have been waiting days for a test. The authorities blame the overwhelming demand from those without clear symptoms for clogging up the system.

In response, the authorities have restricted rapid antigen tests to health workers and teachers, while others go on a waiting list.

‘GOLD STANDARD’

The various hitches highlight a conundrum for governments: how to get people back to work while tracing the virus within the population quickly – without running out of supplies.

Siemens Healthineers, which on Wednesday announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe that can deliver a result in 15 minutes, said the volumes of such diagnostic tests being circulated globally now are “at the limits” of what manufacturers can supply.

Rivals including Abbott Laboratories and Becton Dickinson also offer numerous COVID-19 diagnostic tests, with more and more companies jumping in.

Swiss diagnostics maker Roche, announced plans on Tuesday to launch a new antigen test by the end of the year. Its fully automated systems can provide a test result in 18 minutes and a single lab machine can process 300 tests an hour.

By early 2021, the Basel-based company said it could make some 50 million of the new tests a month, on top of the rapid point-of-care tests it already sells.

Roche said the test could be deployed in places such as nursing homes or hospitals, where speedy results could thwart a potentially lethal outbreak.

“The primary use case is the testing of symptomatic patients,” a Roche spokeswoman said. “The secondary use case is the testing of individuals suspected of infection … which could also include asymptomatic patients.”

Expert opinion, however, on just how to use antigen tests is evolving and remains the subject of debate.

Switzerland, where reported new infections spiked to 2,823 cases on Wednesday from as low as three per day in June, is only now validating the accuracy of the rapid tests.

“Deployment of the rapid tests – where it makes sense – will be integrated into our testing strategy,” a spokesman for the Swiss federal health ministry said. “We’ll update our testing recommendations in November.”

Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology at the University Clinic in Frankfurt, Germany said rapid antigen tests could be an option for asymptomatic patients planning to visit elderly patients at nursing homes.

But people should refrain from using them as a definitive substitute to judge their infection status.

“The PCR test remains the gold standard,” Ciesek said. “An antigen test should only be used as an alternative if PCR is not possible in a timely manner.”

(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Caroline Copley in Berlin, Emilio Parodi and Giselda Vagnoni in Milan, Josephine Mason in London, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by David Clarke)

Second UK lockdown? PM says second wave inevitable, new restrictions possible

By Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did not want another national lockdown but that new restrictions may be needed because the country was facing an “inevitable” second wave of COVID-19.

Ministers were on Friday reported to be considering a second national lockdown, after new COVID-19 cases almost doubled to 6,000 per day, hospital admissions rose and infection rates soared across parts of northern England and London.

That rise in cases was part of a second wave that was now unstoppable, the prime minister said.

“We are now seeing a second wave coming in…It is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” Johnson told UK media.

Asked about whether the whole of the country should brace for a new lockdown, rather than just local restrictions, he said: “I don’t want to get into a second national lockdown at all.”

But he did not rule out further national restrictions being brought in.

“When you look at what is happening, you’ve got to wonder whether we need to go further than the rule of six that we brought in on Monday,” he said, referring to the ban on gatherings of more than six people.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

The UK’s official number of new positive cases shot up by nearly a thousand on Friday to 4,322, the highest since May 8, after a separate ONS model pointed to about 6,000 new cases a day in England in the week to Sept. 10.

That was up from modelling of 3,200 cases per day in the previous week, with the North West and London seen as hotspots.

Health Minister Matt Hancock called a second national lockdown a last resort earlier on Friday and when he was asked about it said: “I can’t give you that answer now.”

SPREADING WIDELY ACROSS ALL AGES

The UK said its reproduction “R” number of infections has risen to a range of 1.1-1.4 from last week’s 1.0-1.2.

“We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading widely across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people,” said Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England.

“This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”

Britain imposed new COVID regulations on the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday. More than 10 million people in the United Kingdom are already in local lockdown, and restrictions for millions more could be on the way.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said later on Friday that it was “increasingly likely” that additional measures would soon be required in Britain’s biggest city. He said he had seen evidence about the spread of the virus in London which was “extremely” concerning.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. This is still some way behind France, which is seeing more than 10,000 new cases a day.

“COVID-19 infection rates have increased in most regions, particularly the North West and London,” the ONS said.

The ONS said there had been clear evidence of an increase in the number of people testing positive aged 2 to 11 years, 17 to 24 years and 25 to 34 years.

Johnson was criticized by opposition politicians for his initial response to the outbreak and the government has struggled to ensure sufficient testing in recent weeks.

Asked by LBC radio why the testing system was such a “shambles”, Hancock said Dido Harding, who is in charge of the system, had done an “an extraordinary job.”

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Sarah Young; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mike Collett-White, Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean)