Covid latest LIVE: Tests scramble as Nightingale ‘surge hubs’ thrown up amid Omicron spread

·28-min read
Covid latest LIVE: Tests scramble as Nightingale ‘surge hubs’ thrown up amid Omicron spread

NHS Nightingale “surge hubs” are being set up in hospitals across England as a leading GP warned Omicron is “spreading like wildfire”.

The eight temporary “Nightingale” units will each house about 100 patients, with building starting this week and there are plans for a further 4,000 beds if needed.

The chairman of the Royal College of GPs, east London-based Professor Martin Marshall, said growing numbers of staff being forced to self-isolate combined with the challenges of ramping up the vaccination programme has put practices under strain.

It comes as ministers are under pressure to ramp up coronavirus testing capacity after people across the UK found themselves unable to order PCR and lateral flow tests online.

Meanwhile, a further 189,213 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, the Government said, another new record for daily reported cases. The total includes reported figures for Wales covering a two-day period.

The Government said a further 332 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Officials acknowledged that during periods of exceptional demand there could be “temporary pauses” in ordering or receiving tests, in an attempt to manage distribution across the system. The UK Health and Safety Agency said about 8 million test kits would be available in pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.

Follow the live updates below.

Key points

  • Ministers under increasing pressure to up testing capacity as case levels reached their highest level yet

  • NHS sets up Nightingale ‘surge hubs’ at hospitals across England to prepare for potential wave of Omicron patients

  • Prospect of people partying over New Year without Covid test ‘very worrying’, says leading scientist

  • 189,213 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK on Thursday - another new record

Hospital numbers rise as Covid-19 cases hit new high

21:46 , Lizzie Edmonds

The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital soared during Christmas week according to new figures.

There were 11,898 Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals as of 8am on December 29, Government data shows, up 44% compared to the previous week, and the highest number since March 2.

In England alone, the number of patients in hospital has climbed to its highest level since February.

Calls for NHS staff to be given priority access to lateral flow tests

21:08 , Lizzie Edmonds

The Government is facing calls to give NHS staff priority for lateral flow tests amid a shortage.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the British Medical Association (BMA) said health workers should come first when trying to access the rapid Coronavirus tests in a bid to ease staffing issues.

The BMA said there are more than 18,000 staff absent from acute hospital trusts in England, either with Covid-19 or because they are self-isolating, adding it expected that figure to be much higher when the most recent data is published later this week.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said: “The Government has pledged that eight million lateral flow kits will be sent to pharmacies before New Year’s Eve – which is only 24 hours away.

“That’s a step in the right direction but there is no assurance that key workers will be offered them first.

“The BMA is urging the Government to do everything possible to ensure that enough tests are available for key workers as a priority.

“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has no doubt had a massive impact on demand for lateral flow test kits and PCR tests, however it is vital that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority.

“Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work, and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to MPs over concerns about a dearth of lateral flow tests, saying the supply was being tripled in January and February from a pre-Omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.

However, he said ministers expect a need to “constrain” supply for two weeks.

20:52 , Lizzie Edmonds

A further 189,213 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Thursday, the Government said, another new record for daily reported cases.

The total includes reported figures for Wales covering a two-day period.

The Government said a further 332 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

There were 11,898 Covid-19 patients in UK hospitals as of 8am on December 29, Government figures show.

This is the highest number of patients since March 2, when there were 12,139 in hospital.

This is up 44% week-on-week, when the figure on December 22 stood at 8,254 patients.

For the full story, click here.

Covid-19 testing and self-isolation guidance changed in Ireland

20:07 , Lizzie Edmonds

Self-isolation and Covid-19 testing advice has been changed in Ireland as for the fourth time this week the country recorded its highest number of daily cases.

A further 20,554 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were notified on Thursday.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has urged the public to avoid mixing indoors with people from different households to stem the spread of the virus.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced guidance changes on Thursday evening.

Testing advice has been changed from seeking a PCR test with symptoms to using antigen testing at home.

Those who test positive with an antigen test should seek a PCR test to confirm the result.

Self-isolating advice for those who test positive for Covid-19 has also changed.

Those aged 12 and over, who have had their booster vaccine jabs for at least seven days, should self-isolate for seven days instead of the previous advice of 10 days.

Mr Donnelly said transmission is continuing to rapidly increase in Ireland and daily case numbers are substantially exceeding the highest previously reported in the pandemic to date.

“The 14-day incidence is now estimated at over 2,300 per 100,000 population,” he said.

France suspends travel ban for Britons driving across the country

19:45 , Lizzie Edmonds

UK nationals will be able to pass through France as they return home to EU countries.

France has suspended a travel ban on British people returning to their homes in the EU after spending Christmas with friends and relatives in the UK.

Non-essential travel from the UK to France has been largely prohibited since December 18, in a bid to limit the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

But those rules effectively created a ban on travellers attempting to return to any EU country other than France by Eurotunnel, Eurostar or ferry.

The UK Government’s advice, as published on its website, says: “The French authorities confirmed on December 30 that UK nationals who are resident in other EU member states and who have travelled to the UK for the Christmas period will be able to transit France over the New Year period in order to return home to their country of residence.

“Transit for less than 24 hours in the international zone of an airport is listed under ‘essential reasons’ to travel.”

A spokesman for the French interior ministry confirmed the policy reversal, news agency AFP reported.

Germany to lift UK travel ban

19:14 , Lizzie Edmonds

A ban on British tourists travelling to Germany is to be lifted, the German embassy has announced.

From midnight on Tuesday, January 4 – or 11pm Monday UK time – people coming from the UK who are fully vaccinated or who have an important reason for travelling will be allowed to enter the country.

Those who are fully vaccinated will not need a negative Covid test or need to quarantine for 14 days, the embassy said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps described it as a “welcome development from our German colleagues”.

Germany announced earlier this month it was tightening restrictions on travel from the UK in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

The rules, which came into force on December 19, banned carriers such as airlines transporting British tourists to Germany.

Only German citizens and residents, their partners and children, and transit passengers, were allowed to travel to the country from the UK and anyone entering Germany needed a negative PCR test and was required to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status.

France imposed similar restrictions for UK travellers from December 18.

Tory MP warns Britons not to stockpile lateral flow tests

19:08 , Daniel Keane

Senior Tory MP Sir Roger Gale has warned people must not stockpile lateral flow tests, and to only order what they need.

Sir Roger, the MP for North Thanet, had spoken about problems accessing tests in this constituency and told Times Radio: “I think what happened was a lot of people woke up to the fact that they were going back to work and they needed tests in a hurry and then couldn’t get them.

“I spoke to the Secretary of State at 10 o’clock yesterday morning and he was very frank about the situation and said there’s no quick fix but to keep on trying. And we kept on trying. We put the system to the test.

“It took about seven hours but we finally were able to order a delivery. So it is worth trying.

“And I think the big message has to be only order what you need. What we don’t want is people stockpiling because if they stockpile them, there won’t be enough to go around.”

He added: “The difficulty, of course, is that people have listened to the Prime Minister’s advice, the Prime Minister said go out and get tested. So they’re going out and getting tested.”

Up to 71% of patients in hospital primarily being treated for Covid

18:31 , Daniel Keane

NHS data on hospital admissions suggests that 71% of Covid patients in hospitals in England on December 21 were primarily being treated for the virus.

The remaining 29% were there “with Covid”, suggesting they tested positive on arrival for another ailment or tested positive during their stay.

More up-to-date figures are expected from NHS England on Friday.

Israel approves fourth jab dose

17:48 , Daniel Keane

Israel is to go ahead with second Covid vaccine booster shots for people with weakened immune systems, the top government health official said on Thursday.

An Israeli hospital administered fourth shots to a test group of health workers on Monday, in what it called the first major study into whether a second round of boosters will help contend with the Omicron variant. Results are expected within two weeks.

Israel was the fastest country to roll out initial vaccinations a year ago, and became one of the first to launch a booster programme after observing that immunity waned over time.

Concerned about the rapid spread of Omicron, a Health Ministry expert panel last week recommended that Israel offer a fourth jab of the Pfizer vaccine to medical workers and those over 60 or with compromised immune systems.

Highest number of hospitalisations since January in London

17:21 , Daniel Keane

In London, 456 admissions were reported on December 28, up 49% week-on-week and the highest number since January 28.

Admissions during the second wave peaked in London at 977 on January 6.

The number of Covid-19 admissions includes people admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours who were known to have Covid-19, plus patients diagnosed in hospital with Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours.

17:00 , Daniel Keane

There were 2,082 Covid-19 hospital admissions in England on December 28, NHS England said.

This is up 90% week-on-week and is the highest number since February 3.

During the second wave of coronavirus, admissions peaked at 4,134 on January 12.

Wales comes to Government’s rescue with four million Covid tests

16:35 , Daniel Keane

The Welsh Government has come to the aid of Westminster by loaning England four million lateral flow tests, as ministers scramble to secure supplies from around the world.

There has been a surge in demand for Covid tests as people try to comply with advice to limit the spread of the Omicron variant by ensuring they do not have coronavirus before socialising.

But the Welsh Government has agreed to loan four million more tests to the NHS in England, bringing the total the country has given England to a total of 10 million.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Wales has a significant stock of lateral flow tests, sufficient to meet our needs over the weeks ahead.”

Daily cases and deaths data delayed

16:20 , Daniel Keane

The Government’s daily update on Covid cases and deaths has been delayed.

A message on the Government website reads: “Because of a delay in receiving deaths data for England, today’s update is delayed.

“The current estimate for release is 7:30pm. Further updates will be provided here.”

Portugal cuts isolation period

15:54 , Daniel Keane

Portugal on Thursday cut the mandatory isolation period for people who test positive for Covid but are asymptomatic from 10 days to seven, even as new infections hit record highs.

The move, which also applies to high-risk contacts, came after health experts urged the government to rethink its policy amid concerns that the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant and lengthy quarantines could paralyse the country.

“This decision is aligned with guidelines from other countries and is a result of a technical and weighted consideration, given the incubation period of the now predominant variant, Omicron,” the DGS health authority said in a statement.

South Western Railway also suffering Covid-related shortages

15:39 , Daniel Keane

South Western Railway (SWR) has said it is also experiencing delays due to staff shortages caused by Covid.

SWR said it was suffering a shortage of staff “across our business” such as drivers, guards, engineers and controllers.

The firm warned passengers that its services were “subject to short-notice cancellations”.

It would introduce a reduced timetable from January 17 in an attempt to improve reliability.

Wales follows NI to cut self-isolation period from 10 to seven days

15:13 , Elly Blake

This follows the same decision by Northern Ireland earlier on Thursday, and brings Wales in line with England.

In all three nations, people who test positive for coronavirus will only have to self-isolate for a week if they receive negative lateral flow results on days six and seven.

Germany to reopen to British travellers in the New Year

14:40 , Elly Blake

Germany will reopen its borders to British travellers from Tuesday, January 4.

A travel ban was imposed on arrivals from the UK on December 19 in response to the amount of Omicron cases Britain was recording, leading it to be placed on a list of “areas of variants of concern”.

British tourists, business travellers and people making family visits are currently banned from entering Germany.

Only German citizens and British residents of Germany are allowed to enter, and face two weeks of mandatory quarantine.

But the Robert Koch Institute, which assesses Covid-19 risks for the German government, said that from January 4, the UK will be moved to the less severe “high risk” list – along with eight southern African nations from which visitors have been banned since November 28.

No further Covid-19 restrictions following Stormont Executive meeting

14:36 , Elly Blake

No further Covid-19 restrictions are set to be imposed in Northern Ireland at this stage, Paul Givan has said.

The self-isolation period has also been reduced from10 to seven days.

The First Minister was speaking following a virtual meeting of the Stormont Executive on Thursday.

He said ministers agreed that no further restrictions should be introduced at this time.

Booster data revealed - more than 435,000 third doses administered on Wednesday

14:32 , Elly Blake

A total of 435,293 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported in the UK on Wednesday, new figures show.

This is the highest daily figure since December 23.

More than 33.5 million booster and third doses have now been delivered in the UK, with 1.8 million in the past seven days.

Around 63 per cent of all adults in the UK have now received a booster or third dose.

The figures have been published by the UK’s four health agencies.

Scotland sees another day of record Covid cases

14:29 , Elly Blake

Daily coronavirus cases in Scotland are the highest on record at 16,857, according to the latest data.

The figures published by the Scottish Government on Thursday show 71,612 new tests for Covid-19 reported results and 27.1 per cent of were positive.

The figures include a note advising of delays in between tests being taken and results being reported but saying Public Health Scotland believe turnaround times are improving.

Scotland recorded a further nine Covid-related deaths in the past 24 hours.

Responding to the news, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Yet another record tally of reported cases in today – reflecting fact that Omicron is very, very infectious.

“Likelihood of getting it just now if you mix with others is high. Tho remember – being boosted gives you significant protection against becoming v ill with it.

“Just as notable than cases is the steep rise in hospital occupancy, the largest single day increase in a while – a reminder that even if there is a lower % hospitalised through Omicron, sheer volume will still put acute pressure on NHS – and result in serious illness for many.

“Concerning those these numbers are, they would be even higher but for good compliance with public health advice.

“As we approach the New Year, I am appealing to everyone to keep following this advice – for you own sake and also to help the NHS.”

Around the world

14:07 , Daniel Keane

- Italy on Wednesday scrapped self-isolation rules for those coming into contact with someone testing positive providing they have either had a booster shot, recently recovered or been vaccinated

- Top US infectious disease adviser Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday the surge in the Omicron variant in the United States was likely to peak by the end of January

- The Chinese city of Xian reported on Thursday another 155 local cases, taking the total number to the highest seen in any Chinese city this year, as infections keep spreading eight days into a lockdown

NHS chief says staff absences are increasing pressure to cut isolation period

13:54 , Daniel Keane

Pressure to reduce isolation time will mount if NHS staff absence rates from Covid and risk to care quality and patient safety rises, a health leader has warned.

But NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said that a decision to cut the period from seven to five days was a “risk judgment” the Government will need to take.

In a Twitter thread on Thursday, Mr Hopson said staff absences due to Covid-19 were “clearly now having a significant impact” across the whole economy and parts of the health service.

He added: “NHS experience suggests that the impact varies considerably depending on how many staff are isolating, driven by local community infection rates; ability to rapidly source temporary replacement staff; and ability to flex existing staff to cover work of those who are absent.

“For example, some NHS ambulance trust CEOs are saying their current staff absence rates mean significant numbers of ambulances (are) off the road, given the need to have appropriately trained staff in each ambulance.”

Rail staff ‘working in difficult circumstances'

13:37 , Daniel Keane

Following the announcement of Southern Rail’s cancellations, a spokesman for industry body the Rail Delivery Group said: “Our staff are working in difficult circumstances and, like everyone else, they are susceptible to the virus.

“As they demonstrated last year in the height of the pandemic, our people are dedicated to keeping the country moving so that other key workers can get to where they need to be.

“We may not be able to run every train we had planned and there might be changes to some services.

“We would advise anyone travelling to check online before they set out on their journey or to sign up for automatic alerts from National Rail Alert Me.”

Patel ‘being updated’ on investigation into anti-vax protest

13:19 , Daniel Keane

Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: “I am being kept updated on (Thames Valley Police)’s investigation into the incident involving an anti-vax protest yesterday.

“It is more important than ever that people have their vaccinations and booster jabs and it is completely unacceptable that conspiracy theorists are intimidating and harassing those administering tests or delivering the life-saving vaccine programme.

“The police have my full support to take swift action where necessary.

“We’ll always give the police the powers & resources they need to keep the British people safe.

“That’s why we’re bringing forward measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill to crack down on public nuisance & disruptive protests that impact the law-abiding majority.”

Health Secretary says anti-vax protest outside NHS testing centre ‘vile’ and ‘unacceptable’

12:55 , Elly Blake

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I was appalled to see Piers Corbyn and his mob threaten NHS test and trace staff who are working so hard to keep people safe.

“This kind of vile behaviour is unacceptable.”

Police are appealing for information after anti-vaccine protesters targeted an NHS testing centre, shouting abuse at staff and appearing to damage equipment.

Dozens entered the site in Milton Keynes on Wednesday, and were captured in videos shared on social media.

One appeared to take test kits and equipment away with her.

Thames Valley Police said it was aware of the protest but no arrests had been made as yet.

Three-quarters of people with cold symptoms likely to have Covid - study

12:48 , Elly Blake

Three-quarters of people with cold-like symptoms are likely to have Covid but the exponential growth in cases appears to have stopped, according to a study.

The Zoe Covid study, which is based on reports from about 840,000 weekly contributors, estimates there are currently 192,290 new daily symptomatic cases of Covid in the UK on average - up 33 per cent from last week.

It found while the rise in cases appeared to be slowing in under-55s, it was “rising sharply” in the more vulnerable 55 to 75-year-old age group.

Dr Claire Steves, a scientist on the study, says the rise is now “more steady” and “exponential growth in cases appears to have stopped”.

Southern Rail cancels all services into London Victoria until mid-January as staff self-isolate

12:40 , Elly Blake

All Southern Rail services into London Victoria have been cancelled until mid-January due to Covid-related staff shortages, the firm confirmed on Thursday.

No Southern services will call at Victoria, Battersea Park, Clapham Junction or Wandsworth Common until January 10 as the company struggles with a surge in Covid cases among employees.

The routes from Clapham Junction to Milton Keynes, East Croydon to London Bridge, and Epsom to London Bridge will also not be running during this period.

Routes from further afield will also be affected, with services from Southampton, Hove, Hastings and East Grinstead all being diverted. The Gatwick Express has already been suspended until January 4 due to engineering works.

Construction of Nightingale ‘surge hub’ under way in Tooting

11:39 , Elly Blake

These images show construction of one of the Nightingale “surge hubs” in the grounds of St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London.

It is one of the eight temporary field hospitals which will house around 100 patients across England.

Record Covid case numbers were reported in the UK on Wednesday and NHS medical director Prof Stephen Powis said the service was on a “war footing”.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Ministers in Northern Ireland to hold virtual meeting today

10:49 , Elly Blake

Ministers in Northern Ireland will meet later on Thursday to review the latest coronavirus data for the region.

They will consider the restrictions that came into effect on Monday, which limited bars and restaurants to table service only and reintroduced social distancing rules in workplaces.

The meeting of Stormont ministers comes after the UK yesterday reported 180,000 daily coronavirus cases, it’s highest tally of the pandemic so far.

Scots warned of longer waits for PCR tests if they are not essential workers

10:42 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s Health Secretary has told people they may have to “wait a little bit longer” for PCR testing as the system comes under “significant pressure” amid surging levels of coronavirus infections.

With Scotland reporting a record of almost 16,000 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday – the highest daily total in the pandemic so far – Humza Yousaf warned that the testing system does “not have an infinite capacity”.

Only a “very few” slots for PCR testing were available in Scotland on Wednesday, according to the UK Government website.

ONS: 755 deaths in England and Wales in week ending December 17

09:38 , Elly Blake

A total of 755 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending December 17 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is down 1 per cent on the previous week and is the lowest number of deaths since the week to October 15, when the total was 713.

Around one in 16 (6.1 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to December 17 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

Omicorn ‘spreading like wildfire’ says health boss

09:37 , Elly Blake

Omicron is still “spreading like wildfire” and causing “massive problems” for doctors surgeries, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs has said.

Professor Martin Marshall said growing numbers of staff being forced to self-isolate combined with the challenges of ramping up the vaccination programme has put practices under strain.

Efforts to increase vaccinations have been particularly difficult in London, the epicentre of the Omicron spread, because uptake is slower in the capital, he told Times Radio.

Prof Marshall, who works as a GP in east London, said: “Covid is still spreading like wildfire and that’s having massive implications on the health service generally.”

NHS leader says staff shortages having ‘significant impact’ on health service

09:36 , Elly Blake

Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers which represents trusts, said staff absences due to Covid-19 were “clearly now having a significant impact” across the whole economy and parts of the health service.

“NHS experience suggests that the impact varies considerably depending on how many staff are isolating, driven by local community infection rates; ability to rapidly source temporary replacement staff; and ability to flex existing staff to cover work of those who are absent,” he said.

“For example, some NHS ambulance trust CEOs are saying their current staff absence rates mean significant numbers of ambulances off the road, given the need to have appropriately trained staff in each ambulance.”

It was “obviously a particular issue for NHS trusts if they can’t provide right quality of care due to Covid absences” and he added that if the pressures continued to rise then so would calls to reduce the self-isolation period to five days, as has happened in the US.

But Mr Hopson warned there were “difficult trade offs” because of the potential for an increased infection risk both in hospitals and the community.

The shift from a 10-day self-isolation period to seven days, with two negative tests, had been approved following analysis by the UK Health Security Agency showing it offered the same level of protection, he said.

“If they were able to say the same about a reduction to five days that would be a clinching argument. But the suspicion must be that, if the science was clear, we would already know that by now.”

Director of Oxford Vaccine Group describes ‘enormous pressure’ of developing Covid vaccine

08:41 , Elly Blake

The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group has spoken of the “extraordinary moment” in vaccine development as the UK marks one year since becoming the first country to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Professor Andrew Pollard said the team of researchers had felt an “enormous amount of pressure” to complete the process, which would usually have taken up to 15 years.

Prof Pollard praised the work of scientists and volunteers for helping to speed up the development of the jab against expectations.

He described the process as “an extraordinary moment to be involved in vaccine development with the enormous connection of the work we do here at Oxford University with the public”.

“(It) is usually a laborious process that takes 10 to 15 years, and so it was a fairly daunting task, not least because most of the commentary at the time was (that) we won’t have a vaccine for years and we really were absolutely aware that if we didn’t have a vaccine there would be many millions more people in the world who would have died, and so an enormous amount of pressure,” he said.

‘Very worrying’ shortage of Covid tests could lead to infectious people mixing over NYE - scientist

08:21 , Elly Blake

A leading scientist has warned it is “very worrying” that a shortage of Covid-19 tests could lead to people mixing over the New Year without being able to see whether they are infectious.

Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the conditions at a New Year’s Eve gathering were “perfect” for spreading coronavirus.

Asked about the prospect of untested people mixing due to a shortage of lateral flow devices, he said: “I think it’s very worrying indeed.

“We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don’t think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He added: “But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.”

Read more here.

India imposes stricter Covid measures ahead of New Year’s Eve

08:02 , Elly Blake

Indian authorities are imposing stricter measures to prevent mass gatherings at parties and public venues ahead of New Year celebrations amid a spike in Covid infections.

Night curfews have been imposed in all major cities and restaurants ordered to limit customers, officials said.

However, state authorities were finding it difficult to limit crowding in markets, religious sites and holiday destinations as they were allowed to remain open, they added.

India reported 13,154 new Covid cases and 268 deaths in the last 24 hours - the highest number since October, according to official figures.

Urban centres have seen a surge in cases.

Confirmed cases of the Omicron variant rose to 961 across India.

UK marks one-year anniversary of approving Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

07:48 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson has praised the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for saving “many millions of lives” as the UK marks becoming the first country to approve the Covid vaccine exactly one year ago.

On December 30, 2020, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vcacine became the second coronavirus jab to be approved by the UK’s independent medicines regulator - after Pfizer/BioNTech’s.

Vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine (PA Archive)
Vials of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine (PA Archive)

To date, almost 50 million Oxford/AstraZeneca doses have been administered in the UK, saving countless lives, keeping people out of hospital, and reducing the pressure on the NHS.

Good morning

06:53 , Elly Blake

Good morning, it is Thursday, December 30.

We will be bringing you the latest Covid-19 updates from across the globe.

What happened yesterday?

The UK reported a record daily total of 183,037 Covid cases on Wednesday, according to the latest figures.

Nearly three-quarters of pharmacies in London currently have no lateral flow tests, a survey by the Standard found.

There are signs London’s surge in cases is levelling off after weekly cases almost doubled in the lead up to Christmas.

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