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hose in desperate need of a haircut may be in for a long wait as hairdressers could be shut until late April, according to reports.

Government sources told The Sun the beauty industry still has “some time to go” before reopening.

It means businesses may have to wait until late April before they get the green light to open again.

Businesses providing treatment “where contact is inherent” such as waxing and pedicures, may have to wait even longer, the paper claims.

The prime minister will announce plans to lift restrictions on Monday and is expected to reveal how two households will be able to meet outside by Easter.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) said: “We know that it is too early to put a specific date on the return of international travel and that there will be a need for flexibility in the approach, but what we need are some principles for restarting travel – recognising that the return to normal life will never be entirely risk free.”

The ABTA said the travel industry could not afford to wait until everyone is vaccinated so “a practical and cost-effective testing regime” should be introduced.

Live updates

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Brazilian variant of Covid-19 discovered in Ireland may be more transmissble, says health chief

The newly-discovered Brazilian mutation of coronavirus in Ireland may be more transmissible, a health chief said.

Three cases of the mutation have been detected in the Republic for the first time and all of them are directly associated with recent travel from the South American country, the authorities said.

Dr Colm Henry, HSE chief clinical officer, told RTE Radio 1: “It may well be more transmissible. As to whether or not it is more resistant to the neutralising antibodies that is created by vaccines, we don’t know yet.

“We know from the South African variant that shares some traits that it has a greater resistance but is still susceptible to vaccines. But of course it is worrying.”

The cases are being followed up by public health teams and enhanced measures have been put in place.

The Brazilian variant could be much more contagious or easy to catch than the original version of coronavirus because it has undergone changes to its spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells, after it first emerged in July.

Around 90% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland are associated with the UK variant.

The Republic recently passed the grim milestone of 4,000 dead from the disease during the latest wave of the virus.

Next week, ministers are expected to update their Living with Covid plan and Ireland has also ramped up its vaccination programme.

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Wales: Over 850,000 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine given

A total of 853,904 first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had now been given, an increase of 14,839 from the previous day, Public Health Wales confirmed.

They also confirmed another 32,002 second doses of the covid-19 vaccine has been given, an increase of 6,569.

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Wales: 363 new cases of coronavirus and 16 deaths

There have been a further 363 cases of coronavirus in Wales, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 201,352.

Public Health Wales also reported another 16 deaths, taking the total in the country since the start of the pandemic to 5,221.

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London GP calls all patients who refuse Covid jabs to tackle vaccine hesitancy

A London-based GP is taking the fight against vaccine hesitancy into her own hands by phoning every patient from her surgery who has been offered but not yet accepted their jab, as part of the NHS’ battle against vaccine hesitancy.

Dr Farzana Hussain, who is based at the Project Surgery in east London, kicked off her drive in recent days and has already called more than 50 patients from the most at-risk groups of people, urging them to take up the offer of getting their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Hussain, who has had the vaccine, is among a number of senior medics and other public figures to raise concerns about a lack of uptake among certain ethnicities, including people of African, eastern European and south Asian heritage, and is calling on anyone with concerns to come forward for reassurance and reliable advice.

“I want to drive out hesitancy and drive up vaccination among my patients,” Dr Hussian said.

“I’m phoning everyone at my practice who is eligible but yet to get the vaccine to talk to them about why and have already reached more than 50 people aged 65 and older so far, with many of them now looking to take up the invite.

“In the vast majority of cases there is a hesitancy rather than outright rejection of the vaccine.

Dr Hussain added that many of the concerns which came up included misinformation around infertility and the use of animal products, which she says “are both completely untrue”.

“Often people are concerned about the speed the vaccine has been developed, but more than 13 million people in England have had it now, and it’s great to be able to say that with proof there are no issues,” she added.

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Outdoor family gatherings could be allowed within weeks as lockdown eases

Outdoor family reunions could be allowed within weeks while care home residents will be able to hold hands with a loved one again under the Government’s road map for easing coronavirus restrictions.

Downing Street said it wanted to make social contact easier as soon as possible as Prime Minister Boris Johnson spends the weekend finalising plans for relaxing measures in England.

Several newspapers reported that new rules allowing two households to meet outdoors – regardless of the total number of people – are set to be introduced from April, while six people from six different households would also be able to gather.

Number 10 dismissed as speculation reports that pubs could be permitted to serve customers outdoors from April, with the Daily Mail saying that people could be served indoors in May.

Schools look set to reopen to all pupils from March 8, with both primary and secondaries said to return in just over three weeks.

The move comes despite a coalition of education unions and professional bodies warning that a full return of all pupils would be a “reckless” course of action.

A relaxation of the rules around care home visits has been given a cautious welcome by the sector, with calls for clarification on the details of the new arrangements.

Care home residents will be allowed to hold hands with a regular indoor visitor from March 8 under the Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions in England.

Visitors will be required to take a coronavirus lateral flow test – which gives quick results – before entry and personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn.

Residents will be asked not to hug or kiss their relatives, and guidance for care homes is expected to be published in the next fortnight.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “pleased” that it would soon be possible for people to be “carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes”.

Mr Johnson will set out the blueprint for relaxing measures in England on Monday – the final details of which will be agreed at a meeting of the “Covid O” committee on Sunday.

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NHS staff to be offered more support, says defence secretary

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said burnt-out NHS staff will be offered more support from military medics as they prepare to cope with a new wave of non-Covid patients.

Mr Wallace told Sky News “exhausted” staff would be given help as they start to come out of the worst of Covid-19.

He said: “I know people are going to be exhausted in this hospital and that means we have to care for them and give them respite, so when hopefully things get back to normal they are not running on empty.

“So we will be looking in defence at how we can help them deliver that, how defence can just find the right people to relieve some people to give them that break, that will make all the difference.”

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Philippines: 239 new deaths

The Philippines’ health ministry has reported 239 new deaths, the second-highest daily increase in casualties since the pandemic started, Reuters reports.

The agency says there were also 2,240 new infections.

The previous daily high death toll was 259 deaths, reported on 14 September. The ministry said total confirmed cases have increased to 559,288 while confirmed deaths have reached 12,068.

The president, Rodrigo Duterte, will decide next week whether to further loosen curbs in the capital, Manila, to allow more economic activity.

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Scotland: Regular visiting to resume in March

Regular visiting will resume in Scottish care homes from early March, with residents allowed to have two designated visitors each.

Each designated visitor will be able to see their relative once a week, the Scottish Government says, due to the progress of the vaccination programme.

Care home visiting has been tightly restricted during the pandemic.

However, data released on Wednesday showed care home coronavirus deaths had fallen by 62% in the last three weeks, with the figure cited by Nicola Sturgeon as the first “hard evidence” of the vaccine’s impact.

Almost all residents have received the jab, along with 92% of care home staff.

The government says that with the extra protection in place, the greater risk to residents’ wellbeing is from a lack of family contact.

Further guidance on the visiting system will be published on Wednesday.

Visitors will be “strongly recommended” to take a coronavirus test on-site and will have to wear PPE.

Cathie Russell, who has been campaigning with the Care Home Relatives Scotland group, said: “We look forward to working with care home providers, public health and oversight teams to ensure that the new guidance allows residents to enjoy meaningful contact with their closest relatives and friends once more.

“It has been a very difficult year.

“The deepest ties of love are important and we can never thrive without them.”

Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman said the decisions around care home visiting had been some of the hardest during the pandemic.

She said: “We deeply regret the deaths and other harm caused by coronavirus in our care homes, but we also recognise the harm caused to the wellbeing of residents and families as a result of an inability to see those they love.

“We must remain vigilant about the risks but with multiple layers of protection now in place the balance is in favour of allowing visits.

“Everyone, including visitors, has a responsibility to ensure that visits take place as safely as possible by continuing to follow safety advice.”

She added: “The guidance we are publishing sets out an expectation that providers will put in place arrangements to enable regular visits to resume from early March and from the discussions I have had with providers, I now expect all care homes to have embraced this guidance by mid-March.”

Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said: “The Covid pandemic has presented frontline care home staff and managers with many challenges but undoubtedly the hardest has been keeping residents apart from family and friends.

“We have now reached a very different place and with a range of Covid-19 protections in place, including vaccination and testing, combined with the use of PPE and IPC, we are at a stage where we can reintroduce safer indoor visiting to Scotland’s care homes.

“This day has been long-awaited and we understand that it will be an emotional time for many.”

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‘Strong case’ for vaccine passports as soon as possible, says Oxford professor

A professor of medical ethics at Oxford University has said there is a “strong case” for vaccine passports to be rolled out as soon as possible.

Appearing on the Today programme, Professor Dominic Wilkinson said: “I think there’s a strong ethical case for exploring immunity passports as a way forward, as a way of looking forward to more freedoms.

“The obvious application of vaccine passports is having evidence that you’re vaccinated would open up some options in travel that are not there at the moment. If there was good evidence that you weren’t at risk of spreading the virus, such a passport might then allow you to be waived from quarantine”.

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Care home visits: ‘A welcome step forward,’ says National Care Association chair

Nadra Ahmed, who chairs the National Care Association, welcomed the news on care home visits after a “gruelling” year, but said the approach must be one of caution.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I think it is a welcome step forward. I think we need to be very careful and cautious and make sure that everybody understands the implications and the risks that might be attached.

“But if everybody does what they’re asked to do and follows the rules then certainly we hope that this will be the start of a bit more as we go forward.”

Ms Ahmed said having just one nominated person is about “mitigating risks” and that she understands it could be “up to the resident sometimes to nominate that person”.

She said the biggest issue will be having enough staff to sort testing and cleaning after visits.

“It’s doable as much as we possibly can and it will depend on the resources. Staff resource is our biggest problem. We have staff who are exhausted, we’ve got staff who are going down with Covid and also getting long Covid,” said Ms Ahmed.

“We have no insurance in our services for Covid-related risks – that still hasn’t been sorted out by Government in any way, so there will be all sorts of things about mitigating risks, but the default is we want to enable this visiting.”

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