Covid latest news: France to bring back masks as it unveils new restrictions

·13-min read
Covid latest news: France to bring back masks and pushes all adults to get boosters  - THOMAS COEX /AFP
Covid latest news: France to bring back masks and pushes all adults to get boosters - THOMAS COEX /AFP

France is set to make masks mandatory once again in many places including all indoor settings, under a raft of new restrictions to counter rising infection rates.

Olivier Veran, France's health minister, also announced on Thursday that booster jabs will be available to all adults from this weekend, and that the country's vaccine passport will become invalid without a third vaccine.

The vaccine pass is required to gain access to a variety of public settings, including restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas. The policy will come into effect from January 15.

"We can get through this wave without using the most restrictive tools" used by some European countries to fight the spread of the virus, Mr Veran said.

He ruled out imposing another lockdown or a curfew at this stage in the fight against the latest wave of infections, which he described as "stronger and longer" than the previous wave this summer.

Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel renewed her call for tougher curbs to halt record coronavirus infections, stressing that "every day counts" as the country's Covid-19 death toll passed the 100,000 mark.

"We need more contact restrictions," the outgoing German leader said, adding that she had "today clearly told" her successor at the chancellery, Olaf Scholz, that "we can still manage this transition period together and look at all necessary measures".

Meanwhile, Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that the cases and hospitalisations in his country are "higher than the most pessimistic curves" experts had projected last week.

While the Dutch health minister said he intends to unveil a set of "heavy measures" to slow the current record wave of new cases the Netherlands is facing.

04:36 PM

New variant to be kept under 'close investigation', No 10 says

A new variant identified in cases in South Africa and Botswana will be be kept under "close investigation", Downing Street has said.

A Number 10 spokesman said: "We continue to monitor new variants as they emerge with our partners around the world.

"We have one of the largest genomic sequencing programmes here in the UK that allows us to spot and track variants as they emerge and, as we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to keep an eye and keep this particular variant under investigation."

Asked whether travel restrictions would be needed before Christmas as a result of the variant, the spokesman said: "We will continue to keep the latest situation, the latest scientific evidence and data, under review, as we have done throughout the pandemic.

"We have said before if we believe we need to take action we will, but we will continue to monitor this variant and other variants in the same way that we have done throughout the pandemic."

04:16 PM

Morocco to suspend flights from France

Morocco will suspend all flights to and from France starting Nov 26 due to the latest wave of coronavirus cases, the state news agency said on Thursday.

Morocco had previously canceled flights with Russia, the UK and the Netherlands over Covid concerns.

The country has also imposed a vaccine pass for access to public places after it vaccinated over 50 per cent of its population.

03:55 PM

Covid rates on the rise among schoolchildren in England

Covid case rates among schoolchildren in England are continuing to rise, but levels in people aged 60 and over have dropped, figures show.

A total of 932.3 new cases per 100,000 people aged five to nine were recorded in the seven days to November 21, up week-on-week from 741.8. The rate for 10- to 19-year-olds is 814.6, up from 712.8.

The figures, from the Health Security Agency weekly surveillance report, also show rates have increased slightly among all adult groups up to the age of 59. But they have fallen for people aged 60-70, 70-79 and 80 and over, with rates for the over-80s dropping from 81.0 to 63.6.

Booster vaccines - ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Booster vaccines - ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

This may reflect the impact of booster vaccines, which began to be rolled out to double-jabbed people in the oldest age groups from the end of September.

Rates among schoolchildren have increased in the most recent two weeks, following a dip at the end of October that coincided with the half-term holiday.

The current rate for five to nine-year-olds is the highest for this age group since data was first published in summer 2020.

Across England, rates have increased in all regions except the North East and Yorkshire and Humber. The South East has the highest rate, at 530.5 cases per 100,000 people, up from 450.5. London has the lowest rate at 318.1, up from 283.9.

03:43 PM

Covid vaccines are safe in pregnancy, data shows

Experts are urging more expectant mothers to have a Covid-19 vaccine as new data for England shows the jabs are safe in pregnancy.

Figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show women who have had a Covid vaccine are no more likely than the unvaccinated to suffer stillbirth, premature birth or have babies with low birthweight.

One in five of the most critically ill Covid patients in hospital since July have been pregnant women who have not been vaccinated. Of all pregnant women in hospital with the virus, 98 per cent are unvaccinated.

Around a fifth of pregnant women who end up in hospital with Covid need to deliver their baby early so they can recover, while one in five of their babies needs care in a neonatal unit. Despite the risks, just 22 per cent of women who gave birth in August had opted for a vaccine.

The new data for England published by the UKHSA covers the eight-month period between January and August this year. It looked at 355,299 women who gave birth, of whom 24,759 had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

The data found no woman who was fully vaccinated and pregnant was admitted to intensive care with Covid between February and the end of September.

03:36 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

Covid - MARTIN DIVISEK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 
Covid - MARTIN DIVISEK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Covid - Wattie Cheung 
Covid - Wattie Cheung
Russia - Kirill Kukhmar/TASS/Getty Images
Russia - Kirill Kukhmar/TASS/Getty Images
COvid - MURAD SEZER /REUTERS
COvid - MURAD SEZER /REUTERS

02:59 PM

Netherlands plans 'heavy measures' - minister

The Dutch government plans a set of "heavy measures" to slow the current record wave of new Covid-19 cases the country is facing, health minister Hugo de Jonge said, but it has not made a final decision on what they will be.

"That heavy measures will be needed is beyond doubt," De Jonge told reporters in The Hague after health authorities reported more than 20,000 new cases in the past 24 hours. The government is expected to announce new restrictions on Friday.

02:50 PM

Covid rebound worse than 'most pessimist' projections, says Belgian PM

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said the cases and hospitalisations in his country are "higher than the most pessimistic curves" experts had projected last week.

"The latest data gathered show that the... situation has considerably deteriorated these last few days," he said in a statement, ahead of an urgent meeting Friday to discuss imposing new measures.

02:35 PM

'We need more contact restrictions', says Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel has renewed her call for tougher curbs to halt record coronavirus infections in Germany, stressing that "every day counts" as the country's Covid-19 death toll passed the 100,000 mark.

"We need more contact restrictions," the outgoing German leader said, adding that she had "today clearly told" her successor at the chancellery, Olaf Scholz, that "we can still manage this transition period together and look at all necessary measures".

Calling Thursday a "sad day" over the grim death toll, Mrs Merkel said she had sought dialogue with Mr Scholz and the leaders of his coalition partners Greens and FDP because of the gravity of the situation.

"The situation is still too serious, because we are still in a phase of exponential (infections) growth and because the cases that are falling ill today will make up the intensive care patients in 10 or 14 days," she said.

"We must really be careful to ensure that our hospitals are not overwhelmed."

02:21 PM

Denmark to offer booster jabs to those over 18

Denmark has joined other European nations in offering a third Covid-19 vaccination shot to everyone over the age of 18 amid a rise in coronavirus cases.

The Danish Health Authority said the "decline in immunity is also happening for people in the younger age groups."

Helene Probst, deputy head of the government agency, said "revaccination is offered at the same interval to everyone over 18 years of age."

Denmark, like many other countries in Europe, has seen an uptick in infections, with health authorities saying the numbers of cases and hospitalisations have risen faster than expected.

"When we see the epidemic flare up right now, it is primarily due to the transition from summer to autumn and winter, and at the same time we have an open society with only a few restrictions. Combined with the fact that the effect of the vaccines decreases over time, it is expected that the infection will increase," Ms Probst said in a statement.

01:57 PM

New Covid variant spreading in South Africa is ‘reason for concern’

A new coronavirus variant found in 22 cases in South Africa is a “reason for concern”, according to researchers.

Three cases of the variant - B.1.1.529 - have also been found in Botswana and there has been one case in Hong Kong, in a patient who had recently visited South Africa, report Jennifer Rigby and Peta Thornycroft.

Scientists have flagged the variant’s unusually high levels of mutations, particularly in the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect cells.

Unlike other variants, including delta, which is now dominant globally, and beta, which was detected by Prof de Oliveira’s team in South Africa earlier this year, the new variant has not yet been officially classified as a variant of concern.

Prof De Oliveira said the significance of the variant was still unknown, with scientists monitoring it to assess whether the mutations would have an impact on transmissibility or how dangerous it is. Viruses mutate all the time, and only some of the mutations change how the virus behaves.

Experts around the world urged caution, pointing out the small numbers of cases found so far.

You can read our report on the new variant in full here.

01:32 PM

'Why I’m not selfish for refusing to wear a mask'

Mixed messaging over face masks and their effectiveness is causing all kinds of problems – and we cannot live in a two-tier world, says Kate Mulvey.

Last week I was in Waitrose, doing my food shopping. Bare-faced and mask-free, I spied an old friend. As I wheeled my trolley over to her, smiling, our eyes met for a millisecond, before she looked off in the other direction and scurried off, disappearing – pink mask and all – into the frozen food aisle.

I’m finding uncomfortable incidents like this are becoming increasingly common, ever since masks were made voluntary back in the summer. What could have been a freedom day of sorts rapidly turned into a moral maze; with “to mask or not to mask” becoming one of the most divisive of all pandemic restrictions. A new survey shows that some older people even say they are restricting social mixing because of a “selfish” lack of face coverings, with many pensioners backing the return of mandatory masks.

You can read Kate's views in full here.

12:55 PM

Dutch health experts advise tighter lockdown

Dutch health experts have advised the government to close restaurants and non-essential stores by 5 p.m. as part of tighter lockdown measures to slow the spread of Covid-19, national broadcaster NOS reported.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to announce new measures to slow new infections, which are currently at record highs, on Friday.

The previous announcement of restrictions was met by a wave of nationwide protests and some violence.

12:26 PM

EU watchdog approves Pfizer jab for children aged 5-11

The EU's drug regulator has approved Pfizer's coronavirus jab for children aged 5 to 11, clearing the way for the vaccination in a cohort where the virus is rapidly spreading.

The European Medicines Agency said that a panel of experts "recommended granting an extension of indication for the Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11", using the jab's brand name.

The companies have said their vaccine showed 90.7 per cent efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial of children aged 5 to 11.

Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine has been approved for European Union use in teenagers between 12 and 17 years old since May.

While final approval is up to the European Commission, it typically follows EMA recommendations.

12:00 PM

Coronavirus around the world, in pictures

covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - LOIC VENANCE /AFP
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - LOIC VENANCE /AFP
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - Julian Stratenschulte /DPA
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - Julian Stratenschulte /DPA
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - LUC GNAGO /REUTERS
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - LUC GNAGO /REUTERS
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - Nikolai Trishin /TASS
covid latest news coronavirus covid-19 deaths lockdown vaccine - Nikolai Trishin /TASS

11:39 AM

Planet Normal: Dismissing Wuhan lab leak theory was a ‘shocking episode in the history of science’

When Matt Ridley started writing his new book on the origins of the Coronavirus pandemic, he and his co-author, Canadian molecular biologist Dr Alina Chan, felt the possibility that the virus was an engineered escapee of the Wuhan Institute of Virology was unlikely.

But both their views have changed.

“I thought I’d probably be able to dismiss it after a couple of months’ work,” he tells Telegraph columnists Liam Halligan and Allison Pearson on their weekly podcast, Planet Normal, which you can listen to using the audio player below.

11:17 AM

Dutch hospitals postpone chemotherapy, organ transplants due to Covid-19 surge

Some Dutch hospitals have halted chemotherapy treatments and organ transplants to free up intensive care beds for a surging number of Covid-19 patients, an official said on Thursday.

The Dutch Hospital Association for Critical Care said it had asked Health Minister Hugo de Jonge to escalate the national Covid-19 plan to a stage under which regular care requiring an overnight stay would be cancelled.

The number of coronavirus patients in hospital has hit levels not seen since early May, and experts have warned that hospitals will reach full capacity in little more than a week if the virus is not contained. Several Covid-19 patients were transferred to German hospitals this week.

Responding to record high infection rates, the government's leading Outbreak Management Team convened an emergency meeting Wednesday night and new lockdown measures are expected to be announced on Friday.

"There are hospitals in several regions scaling back care," a spokesperson for the hospital association said. "We are talking about care that requires a bed. That means a lot of appointments are being cancelled."

Under the next phase of the crisis response plan, hospitals could also request the assistance of military personnel and students to help nurse patients.

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