The move is part of efforts to “normalise” testing in the workplace and identify asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19.

Meanwhile research shows Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offers less protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of coronavirus.

Live updates

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Nationwide vaccine rive launches in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive with the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday, aiming to inoculate 3.5 million people in the first month.

“The wait is over. Today is a historic day for us after such a difficult year,” Health Minister Zahid Maleque told Reuters. “I took the vaccine today. I am feeling good. Everyone must take the vaccine,” he said.

The south Asian country is seeking to inoculate 80% of its population of around 170 million, with each person getting two doses administered four weeks apart.

However, the government has nearly halved its target for the first month from 6 million people as only a little over 328,000 people had registered for the vaccine by Saturday.

Bangladesh has received 5 million of the 30 million doses of the Covishield vaccine it has ordered from the Serum Institute of India, which is the world’s biggest vaccine producer and is making the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The country has also received 2 million doses of Covishield as a gift from India.

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Surge testing underway to monitor coronavirus variant, DHSC says

‘Surge testing’ is being deployed in several areas in the UK where cases of coronavirus variants have been found, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a tweet.

The DHSC highlighted areas in Worcestershire (WR3), Sefton (PR9), and in Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

In gov.uk release, they said that “ surge testing is in addition to existing extensive testing, and in combination with following the lockdown rules and remembering hands-face-space, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.

“Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand coronavirus (COVID-19) variants and their spread within these areas”.

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Hundreds protest Covid restrictions in Denmark

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Copenhagen on Saturday night to protest against Denmark’s Covid-19 restrictions and its plans for a digital vaccination certificate, AFP reports.

Organised by a group calling itself “Men in Black Denmark”, 600 or so people gathered in the in front of the parliament building to protest the “dictatorship” of Denmark’s partial lockdown.

The authorised protest, which was largely peaceful, was to fight against the plans of a digital vaccine “passport” for travel, which could also be potentially used for sports and cultural events and restaurants.

Protest organisers say such a passport implied an obligation to be vaccinated and amounted to a further restriction on individual freedom.

The demonstrators marched with torches in the centre of the Danish capital, chanting “We have had enough” and “Freedom for Denmark.”

Non-essential shops, bars and restaurants are closed in the Scandinavian country and the government has extended the restrictions until at least 28 February.

Primary schools can reopen on Monday.

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Greece extends restrictions on flights

Greece has announced that it is extending restrictions on domestic and international flights until February 15 and February 22 to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Under the restrictions, passengers flying to Greece must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test 72 hours prior to their arrival and undergo random testing for the coronavirus. All foreign travellers are quarantined for seven days.

Travellers from Britain will continue to be required to take a rapid test upon their arrival, while flights from Turkey remain suspended, the civil aviation authority said.

Most flights from non-EU countries are banned, with the exception of 10 countries including the UK. On domestic flights, only essential travel is permitted.

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Changes to large gatherings likely to be in place for ‘the next few years’

Changes to large gatherings are likely to remain for “the next few years,” a professor has said.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, told Times Radio that he can’t see the UK having large gatherings without regulations for the next few years, saying “those days are gone”.

“I can’t see us suddenly having another Cheltenham Festival with no regulations again, I can’t see us having massive weddings with people coming from all over the world, I think for the next few years those days are gone”.

“I think we should still continue to do the easy things, keeping our distance from each other in public, masks, handwashing etc, these things don’t cost really anything to do.”

He added: “I think we need to get used to that and that will allow us to do the things we really want to do more easily and more readily.”

Addressing infection rates as seen in his Zoe Covid Symptom Study UK Infection Survey, he said: “We’re moving towards where rates are generally much lower everywhere, we’re seeing about one in 170 people on average affected.”

Asked at what level he would say it is sensible to start easing restrictions, he replied: “I think around one in 250 would be where I start to become more comfortable, but it also depends on the context at the time and things like hospitals and death rates as well, because I don’t think we should be fixated on any one particular parameter, we’ve got to look at the overall picture.”

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Wales: 589,622 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine now given

Public Health Wales said a total of 589,622 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given.

The agency said 2,606 second doses were also given.

In total, 85.3% of those over 80 have received their first dose of the vaccine, along with 78.4% of care home residents and 81.9% of care home staff.

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Rio’s Sambadrome becomes a vaccination centre

The pandemic has disrupted carnival plans in Rio de Janeiro, with the city’s Sambadrome instead being used for immunizations:

In a normal year, Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome would be preparing for its great moment of the year: the world’s most famous Carnival parade.

But a week before what should be the start of Carnival, the pandemic has replaced pageantry, with the great celebration put on hold until next year as Rio struggles to quash a rise in COVID-19 cases.

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Current vaccines ‘have a reduction in efficacy against some of the variant viruses,’ says Oxford researcher

Oxford vaccine lead researcher Professor Sarah Gilbert has said that the current vaccines “have a reduction in efficacy against some of the variant viruses”.

Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she added: “What that is looking like is that we may not be reducing the total number of cases but there’s still protection in that case against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease.”

“Maybe we won’t be reducing the number of cases as much, but we still won’t be seeing the deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease.

“That’s really important for healthcare systems, even if we are having mild and asymptomatic infections to prevent people going into hospital with Covid would have a major effect.”

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Annual vaccines or a ‘booster in the autumn’ could be required to combat Covid-19 variants

Nadhim Zahawi said annual vaccines or a “booster in the autumn” could be required to combat Covid-19 variants.

The vaccines minister said Boris Johnson’s instructions are to roll out the jabs currently approved to help protect the most vulnerable people as quickly as possible.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “That’s the immediate task. At the same time, it’s also plan for the future, which is why we’ve talked to all the manufacturers.”

Mr Zahawi went on: “I was speaking to (deputy chief medical officer) Jonathan Van-Tam this morning. We see very much probably an annual or booster in the autumn and then an annual (jab), in the way we do with flu vaccinations where you look at what variant of virus is spreading around the world, rapidly produce a variant of vaccine and then begin to vaccinate and protect the nation.”

This comes as researchers working on a new vaccine designed to combat the South African variant are hopeful it will be ready to administer by the autumn.

Oxford vaccine lead researcher Professor Sarah Gilbert told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show her team currently has “a version with the South African spike sequence in the works”.

“It’s not quite ready to vaccinate people with yet, but as all of the developers are using platform technologies, these are ways of making a vaccine that are very quick to adapt,” she said.

“This year we expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies that recognise the new variant. Then it will be very much like working on flu vaccines.

“It looks very much like it will be available for the autumn.

Professor Gilbert added that they’re already working on the first part of the manufacturing process in Oxford, that will be “passed on to other members of the manufacturing supply chain as we go through the spring”.

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Social media companies doing ‘quite a bit’ to curb anti-vaccination messages, says vaccines minister

Asked about concerns over anti-vaccination messages spreading on social media, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said social media companies were doing “quite a bit” but work continues.

“We set up a unit across Government that looks at all the anti-vax messages and alerts the social media platforms to them to help take them down as quickly as possible,” he said.

“We want them to do as much as they can, as quickly as they can, and we’ll continue to work with them very closely, but we can always do more because there is too much.”

Mr Zahawi stressed the need for concerned people to get information from their GPs, particularly black and ethnic minority groups.

He added: “I’ve done numerous roundtables with black and ethnic minority practitioners, nurses, doctors, who have been jabbed themselves, because the best experience is from someone you trust that’s already taken the vaccine.”

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