Additional 1.7m people told to shield in England under new Covid risk model

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte asks Netherlands to respect curfew despite court ruling it illegal

People walk past shops and market stalls, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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An additional 1.7 million people have been asked to shield in England after scientists developed a new model to identify people at risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

It means almost four million people in the country have been asked to shield, with 2.3 million already on the list before Tuesday’s announcement.

Shielding – whereby a person should take extra precautions to protect themselves, such as avoiding crowds and staying at home as much as possible – will run until March 31 at the earliest.

Those newly identified as being at serious risk from Covid-19 will be pushed up the priority list for vaccines if they have not been offered one.

In an attempt to determine who is at higher risk of dying from Covid-19, the new model developed by Oxford University takes into account factors other than health, such as weight, age, ethnicity and postcode.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that the new group includes 800,000 adults aged between 19 and 69 who will now be prioritised for vaccines. The 900,000 others were already prioritised for inoculation.

Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the approach was "risk-averse" to "protect as many people as possible".

The UK recorded 10,625 new coronavirus cases and 799 deaths on Tuesday.

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on his country to respect a night-time curfew after a court ruled the policy lacked legal basis.

The Hague District Court called the curfew a “far-reaching breach of the right to freedom of movement and privacy”.

FILE PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leaves the Royal Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged his country to keep following the night-time curfew despite a court ruling it illegal. Reuters 

The court said the government, which said it would appeal against the ruling, had failed to make clear why it was necessary to use emergency powers at this stage of the pandemic.

Mr Rutte insisted that the curfew was needed to prevent a surge in infections caused by more transmissible variants.

"It would be very unwise to lift the curfew at this moment," he said. "We installed it in order to control the coronavirus as much as possible and to make it possible to regain our freedom in a safe way."

The measure, which allows only people with a pressing need to be outdoors between 9pm and 4.30am, was extended last week until March 3 at the earliest.

In Germany, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said that he would lay out a path for easing lockdown measures to address the concerns of struggling businesses.

Frustration boiled over after authorities last week failed to reveal a strategy to reopen hotels, restaurants and shops.

Hard-hit firms also accused the government of botching aid payments and causing unnecessary delays in distributing the cash.

“The despair is growing and it’s increasingly leading to anger,” German hotel and restaurant association head Guido Zoellick said.

Meanwhile, the EU’s executive arm wants to adapt existing vaccine contracts and strike new agreements with pharmaceutical companies to protect against Covid-19 variants.

The contracts would include safeguards to avoid earlier missteps that tarnished the current vaccine distribution plan.

"Existing agreements may have to be updated to cover protection against variants," the document reads. "Based on the lessons learned, a detailed and credible plan showing capability to produce vaccines in the EU if needed."

The proposal, which is subject to change, is to be published on Wednesday.

In pictures - coronavirus across Europe