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- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
Boris Johnson has slammed anti-vaxxers for putting out “complete mumbo-jumbo” about Covid vaccines as he urged Britons to come forward and get their jab.
The prime minister said those opposing vaccination and spreading disinformation online were “totally wrong”.
“It’s time that I, government, call them out on what they’re doing, it is absolutely wrong,” he told ITV News.
Meanwhile, transport secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday hinted that all international travel tests could eventually be scrapped in favour of vaccination status.
The cabinet minister suggested that Britons could soon travel abroad without having to take a test as the pandemic recedes.
Speaking to Times Radio Breakfast, he said: “I think I could see a world in which you didn’t need to do testing at all.
“I do imagine that we will, for the foreseeable future, be living in a world where vaccination status is something that countries are looking for.”
It comes as airlines reported a 150 per cent surge in bookings after the PM announced the requirement for pre-departure tests for inbound travel will be scrapped from Friday morning.
In other developments...
Hugh Jackman hails health workers as isolation ends
20:27 , Michael Howie
Hugh Jackman has praised the "next level" dedication of health workers around the world after his 10-day coronavirus isolation ended.
The Greatest Showman star thanked hospital employees for their ongoing work and acknowledged the "unimaginable" impact of the pandemic on both their mental and physical health.
In a video posted on Instagram, wearing a thick coat, hat and mask, he said his freedom felt "amazing and cold" and that he was "so excited" to return to the theatre to continue working.
"I know so many people are going through this but I just want to give a shout out again to our healthcare workers," he said.
"I cannot imagine how you guys are coping after two years of this exhausting, never-ending story that is Covid.
"Hospitals are struggling again and you guys just continue day in day out to take care of so many people".
Captioning the video, he added: "The mental and physical toll this pandemic must be taking on you and your families is unimaginable.
"Your dedication to help those in need is next level. I am grateful for all of you."
The 53 year-old Wolverine actor revealed he had tested positive for the virus just before new year but was only suffering from "mild symptoms".
He is currently performing in a Broadway revival of The Music Man which cancelled performances until the end of his isolation period.
Covid-19 case rates for over-80s climb above second-wave peak
18:17 , Anthony France
The rate of new cases of Covid-19 among the very elderly in England is now higher than at the peak of the second wave of the virus last winter, new figures show.
A total of 640.9 cases per 100,000 people aged 80 and over were recorded in the week to January 2, up sharply from 286.7 the previous week.
The rate for this age group peaked at 620.4 during the second wave at the start of 2021.
People over 80 had previously been the only age group in England whose case rate during the current surge had remained below its second-wave peak.
All other age groups passed their peak in recent weeks.
Case rates are still lowest among those over 80, however.
The highest rates are for 20- to 29-year-olds, with 2,780.7 cases per 100,000 in the week to January 2.
The figures have been published by the UK Health Security Agency.
They also show that the highest rate of hospital admissions for Covid-19 in England is for people aged 85 and over, at 121.5 per 100,000 people. This is up week-on-week from 62.8.
Flight bookings take off as pre-departure Covid tests scrapped
17:58 , Anthony France
Airlines have seen bookings take off by around 150 per cent after pre-departure Covid tests for travellers arriving in England were scrapped.
Boris Johnson also announced the requirement for flyers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test is being dropped, in a major boost for the beleaguered travel industry.
Jet2holidays and Jet2.com reported a massive surge in bookings following the easing of restrictions on Thursday.
Customers behind the 150 per cent daily spike are planning trips to Spain, the Canaries, the Balearic Islands, Turkey and Greece.
Virgin Atlantic said searches were up 150 per cent week on week, peaking at 8pm on Wednesday soon after Mr Johnson addressed the Commons.
The most popular destinations departing from the UK were Orlando, New York and Barbados, it said.
British Airways was delighted with data from its 2022 holidays website increasing by nearly 40 per cent with New York, Dubai and Barbados the most searched.
Number of UK Covid-19 hospital patients up by half in a week
17:27 , Anthony France
A total of 17,988 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 5, Government figures show.
This is up 50 per cent week-on-week and is the highest number since February 18.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 39,254 on January 1, 2021.
There were 2,078 Covid-19 hospital admissions on January 2, the latest UK-wide figure available, up 37 per cent in seven days and slightly below the 2,585 admissions on December 29.
Admissions during the second wave peaked at 4,583 on January 12 2021.
Record 9.5million cases last week.....but deaths declined
17:08 , Michael Howie
The World Health Organisation has revealed a record 9.5 million cases of COVID-19 were tallied around the world last week, marking a 71 per cent weekly surge that amounted to a "tsunami" as the new Omicron variant sweeps worldwide.
However, the number of recorded deaths - 41,178 - was down on the 44,680 in the week before.
34.8 million booster jabs and third doses given, latest data shows
16:28 , Elly Blake
A total of 51,874,548 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by January 5, Government figures show.
This is a rise of 29,030 on the previous day.
Some 47,565,340 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 41,664.
A combined total of 34,834,288 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 247,478.
Separate totals for booster and third doses are not available.
Breaking: More than 179,000 more Covid cases reported in the UK
16:16 , Elly Blake
A further 179,756 coronavirus cases were reported in the UK in the last 24 hours, alongside 231 deaths.
The latest data compares to 189,213 daily infections which were confirmed a week ago on December 30.
Read the full article here.
Care home boss calls for end of isolation for asymptomatic Covid patients
16:01 , Daniel Keane
The boss of a care home group with 2,300 staff said people with Covid who are asymptomatic should not be required to isolate.
Tony Stein, chief executive of Healthcare Management Solutions (HCMS), which has around 60 care homes in the UK, said around 500 of its workers have had to isolate at some point during the pandemic, despite most having no symptoms.
The Birmingham firm, which owns some care homes and runs others for investors, currently has more than 100 staff isolating, a spokesman said.
Mr Stein said: “We now have had more than 500 team members - around a quarter of our workforce - who have tested positive for Covid.
“Most of them have been asymptomatic.
“The removal of the PCR element of the isolation period is welcome but we should go a step further and remove isolation periods entirely for these people.
“In a highly vaccinated population like the UK, where a drastically milder version of Covid is becoming prevalent, it is time for the Government and public to accept that asymptomatic people shouldn’t isolate.”
Fewer than half of adults have received booster in England’s biggest cities
15:51 , Daniel Keane
Fewer than half of all adults in some of the biggest cities in England have received a booster or third dose of Covid vaccine, new figures suggest.
Take-up of the extra dose of vaccine among all people aged 18 and over is estimated at 49.1 per cent in Liverpool, 46.9 per cent in Birmingham, 45.7 per cent in Manchester and 42.8 per cent in Nottingham.
The figures, which have been published by NHS England, are for vaccinations delivered up to January 2.
They also suggest that Newham in London is the local authority in England with the lowest take-up of booster and third doses among all adults (38.5 per cent), followed by the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets (38.6 per cent), Barking & Dagenham (39.2 per cent) and Westminster (40.3 per cent).
Evidence on effectiveness of masks in schools ‘inconclusive'
15:35 , Daniel Keane
Scientific studies on the impact of using face masks in schools to reduce the spread of Covid are “not conclusive”, the Government has admitted.
An evidence review published by the Department for Education (DfE) found that studies have provided “mixed results” on the effectiveness of face coverings in education settings.
All pupils must now wear face coverings in every area of schools, including the classroom.
Despite the findings, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said face masks in school will “help reduce transmission at a time when rates of infection are high”.
Secondary schools where face coverings were used saw their average Covid absence rate fall from 5.3 per cent on October 1 to 3.0 per cent on the third week of October - a drop of 2.3 percentage points.
In secondary schools that did not use face masks, the average Covid absence rate fell from 5.3 to 3.6 per cent- a fall of 1.7 percentage points.
Test and trace voicemail that sounded like ‘people having sex’ is investigated
15:10 , Daniel Keane
He said he has made a complaint, and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it was investigating together with an employment agency.
Mr Ryan told BBC Essex that the voicemail sounded like “two people talking then two people having sex”.
More on that story here.
Covid: Around the world
14:35 , Daniel Keane
- More than 85 per cent of Indonesia’s population has antibodies against Covid, a government-commissioned survey showed. However, officials warned it was not clear whether this would help contain a fresh wave of Omicron infections
- More cities in central China’s Henan province imposed restrictions as infections there rose sharply
- Africa’s top public health official said on Thursday that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain Covid, praising South Africa for its approach when responding to its latest infection wave driven by the Omicron variant. “We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa during this period where they look at the data in terms of severity (of infections),” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference
Scotland records over 11,000 Covid cases
14:18 , Daniel Keane
Scotland recorded 18 Covid-linked deaths and new 11,360 cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data.
The figures published by the Scottish Government on Thursday show 57,217 new tests, with 23.1 per cent of these returning a positive result.
This is down from from 26.9 per cent on Wednesday.
The newly recorded deaths take the toll under this measurement, of people who tested positive for the virus in the past 28 days, to 9,890.
Number of Tube fines in late 2021 revealed
13:57 , Elly Blake
Hundreds of people have been issued fines for failing to wear masks on London’s transport network, according to the Mayor of London.
Face coverings were made mandatory in November as the Omicron variant began to sweep through the UK.
A total of 536 people were given penalty notices of up to £200 between November 30 and December 21.
A further 287 people have penalties being processed by Transport for London.
PM: It is ‘not true’ NHS does not have enough staff to cope
13:25 , Elly Blake
Boris Johnson has denied claims the NHS does not have enough staff to cope with the pressures it is facing.
He said: “First of all, yes, I appreciate that the NHS is under huge pressure and yes, you’re quite right in what you say about the way it’s been continuous over the last 18 months – we’ve had wave after wave of Covid and our NHS has responded magnificently and they’ve kept going.
“And of course I understand how frustrating it is to see another wave coming in, and I thank doctors, nurses, all health staff, everybody, for what they’re doing to keep going.”
But he said staff numbers had been increased, and that combined with the calling back of retired staff and volunteers would ease the strain.
Boris Johnson hits at ‘mumbo jumbo’ anti-vax campaigners
13:17 , Elly Blake
Boris Johnson has hit out at the “mumbo jumbo” and “nonsense” of anti-vaccine campaigners against coronavirus jabs.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton, the Prime Minister said: “I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong.
“You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach.”
He said other European countries are going for “coercion”, and added: “What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing and we’ve got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.
“They are totally wrong, and I think it’s time that I, the Government, call them out on what they’re doing. It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.”
Ministers claims Omicron will peak ‘relatively soon'
13:06 , Daniel Keane
Environment Secretary George Eustice has claimed the country will get past the Omicron peak of infections “relatively soon”, with NHS struggles set to be “quite short lived”.
Speaking to Sky News, the Cabinet minister said: “This is a difficult situation.
“It will be quite short lived because obviously we will get past this peak of infections relatively soon, but in the meantime we’ve taken that step to reduce the isolation period and we’re doing all we can to make sure we can redeploy resources (in the NHS).”
Asked when hospitals are likely to return to “normal”, he added: “We’ve seen growing numbers of infections over the last couple of weeks but people will start to return.
“So even as some start to go off work, there will be others returning. As I say, it won’t be too long where you’ll have more people returning to work than those who are isolating.”
Downing St says it is right to look at definition of ‘fully vaccinated'
12:45 , Daniel Keane
Downing Street has said it is right to continue to look at what it means to be fully vaccinated against Covid.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked whether entry to large venues or being free from quarantining after travel would be dependent on having the booster jab.
He said: “I think the Prime Minister’s talked about this on a number of occasions and we’ve always said that, given what we know about waning immunity, it’s right to look at what constitutes being fully vaccinated.
“As the Prime Minister said in the press conference, I think just this week, we also want to make sure that those who had Covid and are more than willing to get their booster but just haven’t been able to because of contracting Covid, we want to give them an opportunity to do that.
“So we’re keeping that under review, but obviously we would confirm if there were any further changes.”
Infections in Israel reach record high amid Omicron surge
12:11 , Daniel Keane
Israel is grappling with a surge in Covid case numbers driven by the Omicron variant - though hospitalisations remain low.
Total hospitalisations on Wednesday stood at 363 patients, after the Health Ministry reported more than 16,000 new cases - a record high in Israel since the start of the pandemic.
“Our initial data, which is not yet entirely accurate, points to seven to eight people hospitalised for 1,000 infected, two of whom will fall severely ill or worse,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s head of public health, told Army Radio.
“This is a significant change from Delta which saw far more - at least 10 severely ill for every 1,000 infections,” she said.
Hospitality firms see weakest growth in 10 months amid Omicron surge
11:51 , Daniel Keane
Problems faced by the travel, leisure and hospitality businesses across the UK deepened last month, according to a respected monthly survey.
Growth in the service sector slowed to its lowest point since February, as the Omicron variant of Covid prompted a raft of cancellations of Christmas parties and nights out.
The closely watched IHS Markit/CIPS UK Services PMI survey was 53.6 last month, from 58.5 in November.
Any score above 50 represents growth, so the sector is growing, but at its weakest rate in the 10 months since the economy started to reopen after the winter lockdowns.
Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) said: “This not-unexpected turn of events was the direct result of increased pandemic restrictions as the number of festive activities were reduced by Covid-concerned consumers.”
NHS in Scotland facing ‘difficult decisions’ as Omicron peaks
11:26 , Daniel Keane
The NHS faces “really difficult decisions” in Scotland in the coming weeks as Omicron infections reach their peak, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said.
Mr Yousaf said Scotland is “absolutely heading into that peak”, adding this is expected to happen “over the course of the next few weeks”.
“We’re clearly into the worst case scenario in terms of levels of infection,” Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday.
However, he said that “thankfully” the variant appears to be less severe and this could “give us a more optimistic picture in terms of hospitalisations”.
But he warned: “Even a small percentage of a big number is itself a big number at a time when the NHS doesn’t have much headroom at all, and that is putting real pressure, coupled with staff absences, on our NHS and social care system.”
One in 50 experiencing long Covid, according to study
11:06 , Daniel Keane
Around 1.3 million people in the UK - one in 50 - are likely to be suffering from long Covid, the highest number since estimates began.
This includes more than half a million people who first had Covid-19, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households.
Responses were collected in the four weeks to December 6 - before the recent surge in coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant.
The estimate of 1.3 million people with long Covid is up from 1.2 million at the end of October and 945,000 at the start of July.
Of the 1.3 million, 892,000 people (70 per cent) first had Covid at least 12 weeks previously, while 506,000 (40 per cent) first had the virus at least a year earlier.
All travel testing could eventually be scrapped
10:33 , Daniel Keane
All international travel tests could eventually be scrapped in favour of vaccination status, Grant Shapps has said.
Speaking to Times Radio Breakfast, he said: “I think I could see a world in which you didn’t need to do testing at all.
“I can’t guarantee it will be the same the other way around because that depends on what other countries around the world decide to put in place.
“I do imagine that we will, for the foreseeable future, be living in a world where vaccination status is something that countries are looking for.
“Certainly when I speak to a lot of my opposite numbers around the world. That’s what they ask about”.
Scottish minister ‘frustrated’ at PM’s travel rule announcement
10:11 , Daniel Keane
Scotland’s Health Secretary has told of his “frustration” about changes to the Covid testing regime for international travel being announced for England only.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced pre-departure tests would be scrapped for those travelling out of England.
The rules will instead revert to the system in place in October, with people required to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two after their arrival.
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said of the changes: “Although we engaged in a conversation with the UK Government, it is a source of frustration that if the UK Government unilaterally decides to move in a certain direction we end up with potentially a double whammy if we don’t align.
“It would be helpful if these discussions could not just happen on a four-nations basis, but any announcements could take place on a four-nations basis.”
NHS workers ‘retiring early due to stress and pressure’, says Hunt
09:48 , Daniel Keane
Elsewhere during his interview with LBC, Mr Hunt said NHS workers are retiring early because of the “stress and pressure” they are facing.
He said: “I think one of the things that will make a difference is to do things that stop people leaving the NHS.
“We’re getting a lot of people leaving the NHS, we’re getting a lot of people who are retiring early because of the stress and pressure.
“Some people find that it doesn’t pay to work beyond a certain age because of the pension arrangements, which are very perverse at the moment, so we could attack those.
“But I would say, most of all, what people want to know is that the pressure of not having enough doctors and nurses is not going to go on forever.”
Hunt: ‘We must train more doctors’ to fix staffing crisis
09:24 , Daniel Keane
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said major staffing shortages across the NHS are not due to money but “finding the staff to spend the money on”.
Mr Hunt, chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, told LBC the “number one solution” to the issue would be to train more doctors and nurses.
It comes as the health service faces widespread staff shortages due to a surge in cases of the Omicron variant.
There are “permanent staffing shortfalls” in every major specialty that go beyond the problems caused by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, he said.
“We have not just the Omicron staff absence issue but we have permanent staffing shortfalls in every major specialty now across the NHS,” he added.
‘Growing number of staff’ in isolation, GP warns
09:07 , Daniel Keane
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, told Sky News, that a “growing number” of NHS staff are in isolation amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.
He said: “We’ve got a growing number of clinicians and administrative staff in general practice who are either unwell or who are isolating, and are unable to contribute to the growing number of consultations that we’re providing and the vaccination programme that we’re contributing to as well. So we’ve got a significant crisis on top of a long-standing one.”
Prof Marshall added that there is a need to communicate to the general public “the pressure that general practice is under and explain why it isn’t possible to provide the service, the access and the quality of care that we would expect and want to be able to provide”.
He continued: “We also need to be able to direct patients who’ve got minor self-limiting problems to other resources, whether it be online, whether it be pharmacies...
“We also, I think, need to be able to help our patients to self-care wherever that’s possible.”
India sees surge in Omicron cases though hospitalisations remain low
08:53 , Daniel Keane
Indian megacities Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in Covid cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations.
India reported 90,928 new daily infections on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year.
“We are watching the situation in the districts and rural belts where the numbers are also growing,” said Ajay Chakraborty, director of the West Bengal health services who has isolated himself at home after contracting the virus.
India has confirmed at least 2,135 Omicron cases and one death linked to the variant, in an elderly man who was suffering from diabetes.
Health officials have warned even a large number of mild cases could put pressure on the health system.
Over 4,000 patients in London hospitals
08:35 , Daniel Keane
There were 4,074 people with the disease in the capital’s hospitals, as of Wednesday.
This was the highest number since February 11 last year during the second wave to hit the city, and compared to a peak of 7,917 on January 18.
Daily admissions rose to 401, as of Monday, and they may increase further as Covid cases continued to rise among older Londoners at the end of December, and may still be going up.
You can read our full story by our political editor Nic Cecil here.
Government ‘trying to find compromise’ on restrictions
08:19 , Daniel Keane
Mr Shapps defended the Government’s decision to not go further than Plan B restrictions for England despite the pressure on the NHS.
“We are always trying to find the right compromise on going too tight on restrictions - lockdowns, let’s face it, they have a lot of costs connected,” he added.
“Then again, not wanting our hospitals to be overrun.
“This is where I think Plan B has been shown to be the right approach so far.”
Shapps confirms 24 hospital trusts have declared critical incidents
08:07 , Daniel Keane
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that 24 hospitals have declared critical incidents as the NHS battles a wave of Omicron infections.
He told Sky News: “There are 137 trusts, there are 24 which are critical, it’s not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter with things like the flu pandemic.
“But there are very real pressures which I absolutely recognise.”
Short-term measures needed to tackle NHS backlog, says Hunt
07:50 , Daniel Keane
Mr Hunt said short-term measures would be needed to tackle the backlog in the NHS caused by the pandemic.
He told the Today programme: “We need to go a lot further. We’ve got six million people on the waiting list, we’ve got a crisis in our A&E department, record number of 999 calls, double the referrals to children and young people’s mental health in some areas.
“If we’re going to tackle all of that we need a lot of short-term measures as well, and what we don’t have is a workforce plan that says how we are going to get these 4,000 doctors, and unless we do that, we’re going to find this incredible frustration from taxpayers’ point of view, that they’re putting the money in, but they’re not getting the results out that they were promised.”
Italy makes vaccination compulsory for over-50s
07:35 , Daniel Keane
Italy will make the Covid vaccine compulsory for everyone aged over 50 in a bid to reduce pressure on its health service amid a rise in infections.
The Cabinet on Wednesday announced anyone aged over 50 in the workforce will need to show a health pass to prove they have been jabbed or face suspension from mid-February.
The measure is immediately effective and will run until June 15.
Prime minister Mario Draghi had already made vaccination mandatory for teachers and healthcare workers in October, with all employees needing to show evidence of vaccination or show a negative test.
Howevef under new measures, workers over the aged of 50 will not be able to show a negative test and must show proof of vaccination.
Jeremy Hunt announces new NHS report
07:21 , Daniel Keane
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, a member of the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a new report will look at how the pandemic has caused a backlog for the NHS.
He said: “The one thing people are not talking about is a shortage of funding. What they’re talking about is not being able to find the staff to do the work.
“And that’s why we say in this report the biggest gap at the moment in the Government’s plans to deal with this huge six million waiting list is a lack of doctors and nurses and a lack of a plan to find those doctors and nurses.
“You need about 4,000 more doctors, 17,000 more nurses to deal with this backlog, and what we have argued is that you need to have independent forecasts to make sure that we are training enough doctors and nurses.
“But the trouble is that the number of doctors and nurses training, it takes seven years to train a doctor, 10 years actually to train a GP, and so it’s always low in the priorities for health sectors.”
Covid isolation period cut in Scotland
07:09 , Daniel Keane
Good morning and welcome to our coverage of the Covid pandemic.
Scotland’s Covid self-isolation rules have come into line with the rest of the UK.
From January 6 new cases will be advised they can end self-isolation if they do not have a fever and test negative on a lateral flow device (LFD) on day six and again at least 24 hours later.
In addition, household contacts of confirmed cases will no longer have to self-isolate for 10 days, instead taking lateral flow tests for seven days and isolating if any of these are positive.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs taking part in a special virtual session of Holyrood on Wednesday that the changes are “significant and not completely without risk”.
It comes weeks after England made a similar change, reducing the isolation period to seven days for those with a negative lateral flow test.