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Coronavirus live news: Matt Hancock says he hopes UK can live with Covid like flu by end of the year; WHO cautions against relaxing restrictions

Coronavirus R number falls below 1 in UK; Cuomo faces calls to resign amid allegations of hiding nursing home deaths; High-risk groups missed off UK’s vaccine priority list. Follow the latest updates live

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The perennial debate about the reopening of schools is rearing its head in England again this morning after reports indicating that the government intends to send children back to class on 8 March.

The chair of the NHS Confederation, Victor Adebowale, said the target date was too early, warning that the NHS workforce was “on its knees” and that ministers needed to be “very cautious” about any easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Lord Adebowale told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4:

We have to be really careful, really systematic about easing any lockdown. What we cannot afford is another peak. I understand the pressure to open schools. We need to do so very safely. I think mid or late-March is when we should be re-assessing.

We have had a number of false dawns when we have set dates, taken the action, then find ourselves having to row back very quickly.

I think we have got to do a stepwise change. I think we are going to have to relax the schools, that is the first thing to do. It is probably the lowest risk.

What I don’t want to see is yet more stop-start – relax it and then go back again, relax it and go back.

Extra coronavirus testing will be carried out in Middlesbrough, in the north east of England, following the detection of a case of the South African variant of the virus which is feared to be resistant to some vaccines.

Any resident over the age of 16 from the districts of Marton and Coulby Newham is being urged to get tested. An additional test centre has been opened in Coulby Newham to increase capacity, with no appointments needed.

I urge everyone over the age of 16 in the Marton and Coulby Newham areas to come forward for a test. This will help us understand more about the potential spread of this new variant.

While the overall Covid infection rate in Middlesbrough has now halved from its peak in early January, it has still not decreased as much as we would have liked.

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