Covid news – live: Deaths up 16% in a week as England hospital admissions hit highest since February

·32-min read

The rate at which people are being admitted to English hospitals with Covid-19 has hit its highest since February.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said the rate was 8.44 per 100,000 people in the week to 24 October, up from 7.5 a week prior and the highest since 21 February.

Separate figures released by the government showed a further 165 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 140,206. The data revealed that the seven-day total for deaths was up 16.2 per cent compared with the previous week.

And as of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 39,842 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the government said. In brighter news, this meant cases reported between 22 and 28 October were down 9.8 per cent compared with the previous seven days.

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Key points

  • England’s Covid-19 hospital admissions highest since February

  • Brexit overtakes Covid as the British public’s biggest concern

  • UK’s situation remains uncertain, says Vallance as he warns of ‘difficult winter’

  • Hospitals told ‘catastrophic’ ambulance waits must end

  • Exclusive: Whistleblowers reveal chaotic and ‘dangerous’ working conditions at lab behind Covid testing fiasco

  • Deaths up 16 per cent week on week while cases fall

Covid deaths up 16% in England as hospital admissions hit highest rate since February

21:05 , Chris Baynes

The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions in England has risen to its highest level since February, new figures show.

The number of people dying from the virus is also up 16 per cent compared with the previous week, according to government data, although cases are falling, reports Tom Batchelor.

Here’s his round-up of the main Covid news today:

Covid deaths up 16% in England as hospital admissions hit highest rate since February

Singapore probes unusual surge in Covid cases

19:56 , Tom Batchelor

Singapore is looking into an “unusual surge” of 5,324 new infections of Covid-19, the city-state’s health ministry said, its highest such figure since the beginning of the pandemic, as beds in intensive care units fill up.

Ten new deaths on Wednesday carried the toll to 349, after 3,277 infections the previous day, while the ICU utilisation rate is nearing 80 per cent, despite a population that is 84 per cent fully vaccinated, with 14 per cent receiving booster doses.

“The infection numbers are unusually high today, mostly due to many Covid-positive cases detected by the testing laboratories within a few hours in the afternoon,” the health ministry said in a statement.

“The Ministry of Health is looking into this unusual surge in cases within a relatively short window, and closely monitoring the trends for the next few days,” it added in Wednesday’s statement.

Moscow shuts most workplaces as infections and deaths soar

19:26 , Tom Batchelor

Moscow city authorities on Thursday ordered most people to stay off work for at least 11 days to stem coronavirus infections, as new daily cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Russia surged to all-time highs.

The government’s coronavirus task force reported 1,159 deaths in 24 hours, the largest daily tally since the pandemic began. The official death toll from the pandemic, by far the highest in Europe, now stands at 235,057. But the state statistics agency, which tallies deaths more broadly, has reported about 418,000 Covid-19 related deaths as of 1 August.

Either way, it puts Russia among the worst-hit nations in the world during the pandemic.

To slow the spread of the virus, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a nonworking period from 30 October to 7 November, when most state organisations and private businesses are to suspend operations.

He encouraged Russia’s worst-hit regions to start sooner, and some ordered most residents off work earlier this week.

Reporting by AP

'Red list torn up’

19:06 , Tom Batchelor

Deaths up 16 per cent week on week while cases fall

18:47 , Tom Batchelor

A further 39,842 new Covid infections were reported on Thursday, according to the latest government data, meaning cases reported between 22 and 28 October were down 9.8 per cent compared with the previous seven days.

A further 165 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid, meaning the seven-day total was up 16.2 per cent from the previous week.

Changes in the number of deaths typically lag those for cases.

Wales to lift travel restrictions

18:31 , Tom Batchelor

The Welsh Government has confirmed it will follow England in removing the remaining seven countries from the travel red list, but said it is “concerned” by the speed international travel is opening up given the increase in coronavirus cases in the UK.

Fully-vaccinated travellers from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela will no longer have to quarantine in a hotel when visiting the UK from 4am on November 1.

Wales’ Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said the country would also adopt the changes, but warned they “are not without risk”.

“We have consistently urged the UK Government to take a precautionary approach towards reopening international travel but it has decided to push ahead,” Ms Morgan said.

“We remain concerned about this approach and the speed with which international travel is being opened up, at a time when cases of coronavirus are increasing at home and abroad.

“These changes are not without risk,” she added.

‘Too early to say we have reached a peak,’ says Prof Ferguson

18:05 , Tom Batchelor

Sage expert Professor Neil Ferguson has said it is “too early to say we have reached a peak” in cases.

“Maybe because this week is half-term week, and so we know lots of people have gone on holiday, testing patterns are different than usual,” he told a press briefing.

“We will have to wait probably at least another couple of weeks if not closer to three to be sure.

“But there are some encouraging signs in terms of the dip in case numbers.

“If it isn’t peaking now then most of the modelling, Sage modelling out there, would suggest it should peak so long as we keep getting boosters into people’s arms and achieve a reasonably high - 90 per cent or so coverage - of boosters.

“Then we should start to see a sustained decline in the coming weeks, but there is a lot of uncertainty in the modelling.”

Ireland to target non-English speakers for Covid jabs

17:48 , Tom Batchelor

The Irish government is considering launching a campaign to encourage greater vaccination uptake among non-English speakers.

Figures published by the Central Statistics Office show that eastern European nationals in Ireland have among the lowest rates of vaccination in the country.

The data shows that 44 per cent of people from Eastern Europe working in Ireland have come forward for the vaccine.

On Thursday afternoon, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said that the Government is considering a campaign to encourage vaccination uptake among communities in Ireland who don’t speak English.

United Airlines restoring flights from London Heathrow to the US as Covid travel restrictions are eased

17:26 , Tom Batchelor

One of the world’s biggest airlines is to restore some of the links between London Heathrow and the US that were cut during the coronavirus pandemic, writes Simon Calder.

The carrier will offer seven daily flights to and from its hub at Newark, New York. United claims the highest frequency of any US airline from Heathrow to New York, but British Airways flies more often – serving both Newark and JFK.

Read more about this and other Covid-related travel news in our liveblog here:

All seven countries come off red list – follow live

Plan B might not be needed if cases continue to decline, says Sage expert

17:10 , Tom Batchelor

Measures in the government’s plan B for tackling coronavirus may not be needed if data continues to show a decline in cases, a leading scientist has suggested.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told a press briefing there is no apparent growth in case numbers.

Plan B measures for England include guidance to work from home, the mandatory use of face masks indoors and vaccine passports for some events.

Prof Ferguson said: “At the moment we don’t actually have any growth in case numbers but we have continued growth in hospitalisations, but at a relatively slow rate.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political decision about what the NHS can cope with, but we’re not in the same position we were, for instance, a year ago with very rapidly increasing hospitalisations.

“So in some sense, there is some time to see whether the apparent drops in case numbers now being seen are sustained, in which case such measures shouldn’t be necessary.”

Rise in face-to-face GP appointments, figures show

16:51 , Tom Batchelor

There has been a jump in the number of appointments offered by GPs in England, and a rise in those that are face-to-face, data shows.

Figures from NHS Digital show that 28.5 million appointments were estimated to have taken place in September - around 8 per cent higher than for the same month in 2019, and up around 3million on the figure for August.

Some 43.2 per cent of appointments in September took place on the same day they were booked and 61 per cent of appointments were in-person.

This 17.3 million total for face-to-face contacts is the highest figure recorded since February 2020 and is up around 3.5 million on the figure for August when 58 per cent of appointments were face-to-face, the data suggests.

Before the pandemic, around 80 per cent of general practice appointments were conducted face-to-face.

Reporting by PA

UK families travelling long distances in pursuit of Covid vaccines

16:36 , Tom Batchelor

Families across England have been forced to travel up to 50 miles to get their children vaccinated at walk-in centres due to a lack of local options.

More than 80,000 children from the 12 to 15 age group have booked an appointment since last Friday.

However some have been unable to access nearby centres, parents claim.

Here is the story:

Families travelling up to 50 miles to get children vaccinated at walk-in centres

WHO appeals for £17bn Covid war chest

16:21 , Tom Batchelor

The World Health Organisation and other aid groups have appealed to leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies to fund a $23.4bn (£17bn) plan to bring Covid vaccines, tests and drugs to poorer countries in the next year.

The ambitious plan outlines the strategy of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) until September 2022, expected to include use of an experimental oral antiviral pill made by Merck & Co for treating mild and moderate cases.

Equal budgets of $7bn are earmarked for both vaccines and diagnostic tests, with a further $5.9bn for boosting health systems and $3.5bn for treatments including antivirals, corticosteroids, and medical oxygen.

New curbs in Ukraine as cases rise – and televised stings on vaccine fraudsters

16:08 , Jon Sharman

Kiev is to introduce tighter lockdown restrictions because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Ukraine’s capital, said that from Monday, cafes, restaurants, gyms, shopping and entertainment facilities will only be allowed to operate if all staff are vaccinated.

At the same time, these venues are banned from accepting visitors who do not have vaccination certificates or negative Covid-19 tests. A negative Covid-19 test or vaccine certificate will also be mandatory to use public transport.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is cracking down on the sale of fake vaccine certificates, even putting raids on television to publicise its battle against the flourishing, and lucrative, black market for forged documents.

After a lull in the summer, Ukraine is experiencing some of the highest death rates from Covid-19 in the world.

Additional reporting by Reuters

90% of people in Delhi have antibodies against Covid-19, says sero survey

15:49 , Jon Sharman

More than 90 per cent of people in India’s capital city have developed antibodies against the coronavirus, according to a latest serological survey.

A Delhi government official said: “We have found Covid antibodies in more than 90 per cent of the samples collected during the sixth round of the survey.” However, the official cautioned that “we cannot say Delhi has achieved herd immunity despite such a high level of seroprevalence.”

Experts say this high level of seroprevalence indicates that Delhi might not suffer any devastating Covid waves anytime soon. But they cautioned it all depends on whether any other variant of the virus emerges in the city, writes Maroosha Muzaffar.

90% of people in Delhi have antibodies against Covid-19, says sero survey

US posts encouraging unemployment figures

15:30 , Jon Sharman

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a pandemic low last week, another sign that the job market and economy continue to recover from last year's coronavirus recession.

Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 281,000, lowest since mid-March 2020, the Labour Department said on Thursday. Since topping 900,000 in early January, weekly applications have steadily dropped, moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels just above 200,000.

In all, 2.2 million people were collecting unemployment cheques in the week of 16 October, down from 7.7 million a year earlier.

By last month the US had regained some 17 million of the jobs lost during the pandemic, five million short of the total before Covid-19 struck.

Figures showed hiring slowed last month to just 194,000 new jobs after averaging a 607,000 a month the first eight months of the year, partly because companies cannot find, or make themselves sufficiently attractive to, new workers.

Additional reporting by AP

England’s Covid-19 hospital admissions highest since February

15:25 , Jon Sharman

The rate of Covid-19 hospital admissions in England stood at 8.4 per 100,000 people in the week to 24 October, up from 7.5 and the highest rate of admissions since the week to 21 February.

Covid hospital admission rate in England hits highest since February

No update on the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England will be reported by Test and Trace this week due to a "data quality issue", the UK Health Security Agency has said.

Last week's report said 257,196 people had tested positive at least once in the seven days to 13 October 13, the highest number since the seven days to 21 July.

Meanwhile, case rates among schoolchildren are falling as parts of the country enjoy a half-term holiday.

However, rates among those aged between 40 and 79 are now at their highest since January.

Additional reporting by PA

Fiscal watchdog says economic hit from Covid-19 was half that of Brexit

15:21 , Jon Sharman

The UK left the EU at the end of January last year, with a transition period keeping the economic situation unchanged until 1 January this year.

As a result the economic effects of the UK’s departure have hit this year, writes Jon Stone.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has warned Brexit is doing twice as much long-term damage to the economy as the Covid-19 pandemic, and has exacerbated the supply chain crisis hitting the UK.

Rishi Sunak laughs off Brexit damage to UK economy: ‘It was five years ago’

WHO seeking £17bn from G20 countries for Covid war chest

15:13 , Jon Sharman

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is asking, along with other aid groups, for some £17bn in contributions from G20 countries to supply Covid-19 tests, vaccines and medicines to poorer nations next year.

The WHO’s new strategy, in place until September 2022, is expected to include use of an experimental oral antiviral pill made by Merck for treating mild and moderate cases. If the drug is approved by regulators it could cost as little as £7.25 for a course of treatment.

“The request is for $23.4bn (£16.97bn). That's a fair amount of money, but if you compare with the damage also done to global economy by the pandemic it is not really that much," said the WHO’s Carl Bildt.

“So we do expect a strong signal from [the G20] coming out of the meeting in Rome over the weekend.”

Opinion: Making the Covid vaccine compulsory for NHS staff is not an easy choice – but it is the right one

15:02 , Jon Sharman

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, is “leaning towards” making vaccination against Covid-19 a condition of employment for NHS staff.

Obviously any NHS staff who fall into the category clinically vulnerable and cannot take the vaccine even if they want to will have to be redeployed to less sensitive roles or just kept out of the way of high-risk patients, but there need be no other major exemptions.

Indeed the rule should apply to agency staff and of course care homes, which Javid has already acted on, writes Sean O’Grady.

Making the Covid vaccine compulsory for NHS staff is the right choice | Sean O’Grady

Covid cases highest among teens, say UK officials

14:52 , Jon Sharman

The UK Health Security Agency says today that new Covid-19 infections are highest among people aged between 10 and 19, and lowest among those over 80.

However, hospital admissions remain highest among the over-85s, while the West Midlands is the region of England with the highest number of new inpatients this week.

Separately, Scotland announced 20 new coronavirus deaths and 2,153 new infections on Thursday. It brings the total death toll north of the border to 9,119.

Only five African countries likely to hit 40% vaccination target

14:33 , Jon Sharman

Just five African countries are likelhy to hit the target of fully vaccinating 40% of their populace unless the inoculation campaign speeds up, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Health officials fear an “imminent shortfall” of syringes will slow the rollout despite an increasing amount of actual vaccine available, and the devices are expected to remain in short supply until at least the end of the first quarter of next year.

Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa have already experienced problems getting hold of syringes.

The WHO had warned early in the global drive for vaccination that poorer countries were at risk of being left behind as richer ones snapped up early batches of vaccines.

Brexit overtakes Covid as the British public’s biggest concern

14:18 , Jon Sharman

Brexit has overtaken Covid as the number one concern of the British people for the first times since the pandemic began, new polling has found.

The supply chain crisis which has seen labour shortages and empty supermarket shelves has pushed the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU back to the forefront of the public imagination, writes Adam Forrest.

Some 28 per cent of people said Brexit was now the biggest issue facing the nation – a rise of eight per cent since last month, according to the latest Ipsos MORI survey.

Brexit overtakes Covid as the British public’s top concern

EU expects to make 3.5 billion vaccine doses in 2022

13:59 , Jon Sharman

The EU wlil manufacture more than 3.5 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines in 2022, according to Ursula von der Leyen.

The European Commission president said most of those jabs would be shipped abroad.

Government denies red list will be scrapped

13:49 , Jon Sharman

England has no plans to abolish its “red list” of high-risk countries for Covid, which requires travellers to quarantine in hotels on arrival, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson has said.

But the spokesperson did not rule out the possibility that the final seven countries on the list will be removed when transport secretary Grant Shapps unveils the latest update on travel restrictions later today, writes Andrew Woodcock.

Red list will remain, says government

Partially closed Tube line restores full service for first time since March 2020

13:30 , Jon Sharman

Full weekday service will be restored to the Waterloo and City line of the London Underground from mid-November, after it was cut back in March 2020 due to coronavirus.

The link connects the City of London with Waterloo railway station.

Peak weekday services were reintroduced in June as people began to return to in-person work, but no trains run at off-peak times.

Transport for London has now said services will run throughout the day from 22 November.

The transport body said it had been unable to resume full weekday services before now because drivers were needed on the busier Central line.

Exclusive: Whistleblowers reveal chaotic and ‘dangerous’ working conditions at lab behind Covid testing fiasco

13:20 , Jon Sharman

Whistleblowers from a Covid lab that sent out thousands of incorrect test results across England have shed new light on the site’s chaotic working conditions, revealing how machines were poorly maintained, concerns over quality control dismissed and untrained staff regularly “left to their own devices”, writes Samuel Lovett.

Samples at the privately run Wolverhampton lab, owned by Immensa Health Clinic, were wrongly processed or cross-contaminated, leading to incorrect test results, while faulty air conditioning and fluctuating humidity levels within the site also led to spoiled tests, one source said.

Whistleblowers reveal chaotic working conditions at lab behind Covid testing fiasco

No plans to scrap travel red list

13:01 , Jon Sharman

Downing Street has said there are no plans to scrap the travel red list which forces arrivals to Britain to quarantine in a hotel.

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson appeared to slap down reports the list would go, ahead of an expected update today.

There are seven Latin American countries still on the list after it was heavily cut back earlier this month: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The PM’s spokesperson did not rule out that the red list may continue to exist, without any countries on it.

Long read: Hunting viruses before they’re dangerous

12:51 , Jon Sharman

In the summer of 2020, half a year into the coronavirus pandemic, scientists traveled into the forests of northern Laos to catch bats that might harbour close cousins of the pathogen.

In the dead of night, they used mist nets and canvas traps to snag the animals as they emerged from nearby caves, gathered samples of saliva, urine and faeces, then released them back into the darkness, writes Carl Zimmer.

Hunting viruses before they’re dangerous

First vaccine dose could alleviate long Covid symptoms, study suggests

12:24 , Jon Sharman

#icymi

A first vaccine dose appears to alleviate symptoms in long Covid sufferers, a new study has suggested, although it is unclear whether this improvement lasts until a second dose, writes Samuel Lovett.

People aged 18 to 69 who had received a first dose were 12.8 per cent less likely to report that they were still experiencing persistent symptoms, according to experimental findings published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

A second dose was associated with a further 8.8 per cent drop, with “statistical evidence” of a sustained improvement afterwards.

First vaccine dose could alleviate long Covid symptoms, study suggests

US buys 50 million vaccine doses for children

11:56 , Jon Sharman

Pfizer and BioNTech are preparing to ship some 50 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the US government as Washington sets up its child vaccination campaign.

The shots will be shipped by the end of April.

No new NI lockdown expected this winter

11:50 , Jon Sharman

Northern Irish ministers do not expect to impose a fresh Covid-19 lockdown this winter, even though times are “uncertain” in the province regarding its fight against the virus.

Conor Murphy, the finance minister, said nonetheless that a cautious approach was still needed.

"I don't expect that we will end up in another lockdown," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"And certainly any of our discussions at executive level have not pointed in that direction. I think we were right to be cautious where others wanted further restrictions removed in a quicker move into ending restrictions.

"It's an uncertain time in terms of the virus and we've seen increases in the south as well as in Britain and here as well.

"And so I think we have to be cautious, we have to continue with the message of people social distancing, washing their hands and wearing face coverings."

Mr Murphy was speaking ahead of the easing of hospitality restrictions, which will see nightclubs reopen and social distancing rules in pubs lifted.

Additional reporting by PA

Hotel quarantine could be scrapped today

11:31 , Jon Sharman

The travel red list could be scrapped today, ending the hotel quarantine scheme, according to reports.

There are seven Latin American countries still on the list after it was heavily cut back earlier this month: Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

There is widespread speculation that they will all be taken off the list following an update on Thursday.

The announcement will only apply to England, but the devolved administrations have recently implemented Westminster's changes to international travel rules. The move would bring the UK into line with most of the rest of Europe.

Travellers arriving from a red list destination are currently required to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285.

Additional reporting by PA

Inexpensive antidepressant can cut Covid hospitalisation risk, says study

11:21 , Jon Sharman

Early treatment of Covid-19 patients with the commonly prescribed antidepressant fluvoxamine can cut hospital admissions by up to 30 per cent, and potentially save lives, a new study has suggested.

The inexpensive drug could provide low-cost protection against severe Covid infection or death in low-income countries that are yet to receive adequate doses of vaccines, according to researchers from Brazil, US, Canada and Australia,writes Vishwam Sankaran.

This cheap antidepressant could cut Covid hospitalisation risk

Update on Covid in Europe

11:02 , Jon Sharman

A number of European states are still seeing rising Covid-19 rates a week or more after the World Health Organisation warned the continent had become a hotbed for the resurgent virus.

Germany's coronavirus caseload took its biggest jump in two weeks on Thursday, with more than 28,000 new infectiony. New infections have been steadily creeping up since mid-October.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) has risen 15 per cent in a week, the head of the German Hospital Federation, Gerald Gass, told the Redaktionsnetwork Deutschland media group.

If the trend continues, he said, there could be 3,000 cases in the ICU in two weeks. "Even if the hospitals could handle it, it would not be possible without constraints on normal operations," Mr Gass said.

Meanwhile, Slovakia’s parliament has cancelled proceedings until 2 November after a politician from the ruling coalition tested positive for coronavirus.

Slovakia has been reporting elevated numbers of daily new cases of the illness in recent weeks, as the country of 5.5 million has one of the lower rates of vaccination in the European Union.

As of Wednesday about 43 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated. On 27 October there were 4,981 new cases reported, the highest daily tally since December 2020.

Elsewhere, Hungary is to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for state employees, as well as empower private firms to require inoculation. Masks will be mandatory on public transport from 1 November.

Scottish health board asks patients to reconsider A&E trips

10:43 , Jon Sharman

Scots have been urged to consider whether they really need to go to A&E by health bosses who say the system is under “extreme pressure”.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has asked people to use other services like their GP, pharmacy or NHS 24 if possible.

The health board said a combination of staff absences, high volumes of frail and ill patients needing complex care, and delayed transfers was contributing to the problems.

Emergency departments “are there for those who need it most – those with life-threatening emergencies and injuries”, said Hazel Borland, the board’s chief executive.

Opinion: Working from home does not set a bad example to kids – it makes me a better parent

10:33 , Jon Sharman

Unless you’re a key worker who has had to be in at a hospital, supermarket, school or other workplace over the past 18 months, chances are you’ve gotten used to working from home, writes Victoria Richards.

I, for one, can’t forget the way it felt to be working during Covid-19 lockdown 1.0; trying to focus on my laptop screen while one of my children diligently stuck my feet down to the floor with electrical tape, and the other practised the recorder directly into my right ear. RIP, home schooling – gone (for now, at least) but never, ever forgotten.

Crucially, though, I wouldn’t change a thing – particularly not now the kids are back at school (though how long they’ll stay there is anyone’s guess, judging by the current Covid rates).

Opinion: Working from home isn’t a ‘bad example’ – it makes me a better parent

Australians urged to be cautious abroad as border reopens

10:14 , Jon Sharman

Australians travelling abroad have been told to be careful as the country prepares to reopen its borders after more than a year and a half.

Fully-inoculated Australians will be allowed to travel from Monday.

Australia’s foreign affairs department released travel advice for 177 destinations and none of those countries was given a rating less strict than: “Exercise a high degree of caution”.

International travel will be initially restricted to Sydney's airport because New South Wales has the highest vaccination rate of any state. More than 86% per cent of the population of Australia's most populous state aged 16 and older is fully vaccinated.

Initially only Australian permanent residents and citizens will be free to travel. Fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas will be given priority over international tourists.

However, the government expects Australia will welcome international tourists back before the end of the year.

Additional reporting by AP

Politics explained: Ministers know it’s only a matter of time before the return of Covid restrictions

09:55 , Jon Sharman

During the early part of his Budget speech the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made one very pointed remark about the pandemic: “Today’s Budget does not draw a line under Covid. We have challenging months ahead.”

Indeed not, writes Sean O’Grady.

More than most, Sunak realises that whatever economic progress has been made this year and will be made in the coming years will be jeopardised by another Covid spike, with all that implies for restrictions on social and economic life, for the public finances and, not to be forgotten, the Conservatives’ political prospects and his own chances of succeeding Boris Johnson.

Ministers know it’s only a matter of time before the return of Covid restrictions

Covid remains a significant risk, says Vallance

09:36 , Jon Sharman

Patrick Vallance has continued his round of interviews this morning, warning that although Covid-19 will eventually become an endemic disease we will have to deal with every winter, and that immunity would rise naturally, that is not yet the case.

He told BBC Breakfast: “As this infection becomes gradually becomes endemic, it will occur year on year, we will see this circulating every winter, I suspect, in particular.

“And so, gradually, as immunity builds, the protection will be there, the consequences will be reduced, but we’re not not there yet.

“We’ve still got, clearly, people going into hospital, it’s still a significant risk.”

Sir Patrick added in an interview with Sky News: “I think we've got a pretty difficult winter ahead of us."

Earlier, the chief scientific adviser had said the UK remained in a “very uncertain phase” of the coronavirus pandemic and must be prepared to clamp down in order to reduce the virus’ spread.

Sir Patrick told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “There is considerable uncertainty into which direction this goes.

“It’s wrong to think that the build up of immunity is an all or nothing – it’s a sort of protective barrier that will reduce the spread of the virus so we need to monitor this carefully over the next weeks and months.”

He added: “You need to absolutely be prepared [for ‘plan B’] and as soon as you start thinking, ‘Am I, or am I not going to do this? It looks close,’ is the time you need to push beyond your natural reluctance to do it and do it.

“This is obviously something the government will have to consider carefully but we need to be ready to move fast if that occurs.”

Moscow’s toughest lockdown since June 2020 comes into force

09:26 , Jon Sharman

Moscow brought in its strictest lockdown measures since June 2020 on Thursday as hospitals confronted a rising wave of coronavirus cases that has sent one-day pandemic deaths to record highs.

The Kremlin has blamed soaring fatalities on Russia’s low vaccination rate. On Thursday the government reported 40,096 new infections, up more than 3,000 on the day before, and 1,159 deaths – a record high.

The partial lockdown, in which only essential shops like pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open, while schools and state kindergartens are shut, comes ahead of a nationwide week-long workplace shutdown from 30 October.

Like Moscow, some regions decided to begin their partial lockdowns on Thursday or earlier, ahead of the nationwide initiative.

Moscow's residents are allowed to leave their homes freely, unlike the lockdown of summer 2020.

Additional reporting by Reuters

New Zealand to loosen restrictions on returning travellers

09:07 , Jon Sharman

New Zealand is set to gradually relax its tough border quarantine rules, making it easier for New Zealanders stranded abroad to return.

Hoewver, officials have not said when tourists might be able to visit again.

Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, said that from next month most people arriving in New Zealand would need to spend seven days in a quarantine hotel run by the military, down from 14.

He said some new arrivals from low-risk Pacific island countries could skip quarantine altogether and isolate at home.

The new rules are an interim step ahead of broader reopening measures that are intended for introduction after more than 90 per cent over-12s in New Zealand have been fully inoculated.

So far, 72 per cent of eligible people have had both doses of a vaccine.

Additional reporting by AP

Opinion: I’m a medical doctor but I oppose Covid vaccine mandates. This is why

08:57 , Jon Sharman

Basketball player Kyrie Irving made the news recently when he was not allowed to play in New York because of the state’s vaccine mandate, writes Marcos Del Rosario Santiago.

Like most medical doctors, I am obviously pro-vaccine. I promote its use, its effectiveness and the benefits it has brought to humanity; for instance, the eradication of smallpox (not a small feat).

I am not, however, in favor of vaccine mandates for the general public. I am also not in favor of the public shaming of people who chose not to get vaccinated: I don’t think it is effective and I also believe it is absolutely unethical to taunt and harass people who have different views about what goes into their body.

I’m a medical doctor and I oppose vaccine mandates. This is why

Covid restrictions return in parts of China

08:47 , Jon Sharman

Parts of northeastern China where Covid-19 has broken out again have declared a “pre-war” model of anti-viral vigilance, with new restrictions on movement.

China reported 23 locally transmitted symptomatic cases on Wednesday, official data showed on Thursday, down from 50 a day earlier. It brought the total number to 270 since 17 October, when the current outbreak began.

Though the figures are small compared to infections clusters in other countries, they are spread widely and a zero-tolerance policy is in effect, meaning local officials have been forced to restrict travel and public gatherings.

For example, Heihe city in northeastern Heilongjiang province, which shares a border with Russia, detected one local confirmed infection plus three asymptomatic cases on 27 October.

The city of 1.3 million demanded the suspension of manufacturing activities and business operations in urban areas, except for essential ones.

It banned people and vehicles in those urban areas from leaving and suspended entry into the areas for non-essential reasons via public roads, while halting bus and taxi services.

Additional reporting by Reuters

UK’s situation ‘uncertain’, says Patrick Vallance

08:37 , Jon Sharman

The UK remains in a “very uncertain phase” of the coronavirus pandemic and must be prepared to clamp down in order to reduce the virus’ spread, according to the government’s chief scientific adviser.

Patrick Vallance told BBC Radio 4’s Today: "There is considerable uncertainty into which direction this goes.

"It's wrong to think that the build up of immunity is an all or nothing – it's a sort of protective barrier that will reduce the spread of the virus so we need to monitor this carefully over the next weeks and months.”

He added: "You need to absolutely be prepared [for ‘plan B’] and as soon as you start thinking, 'Am I, or am I not going to do this? It looks close,' is the time you need to push beyond your natural reluctance to do it and do it.

"This is obviously something the government will have to consider carefully but we need to be ready to move fast if that occurs."

Hospitals told to stop ‘catastrophic’ ambulance delays as patients die in queues

08:27 , Jon Sharman

Hospitals across England have been told to “immediately stop all delays” for ambulances stacking outside A&E units to handover patients as one ambulance trust warned the problem had reached “catastrophic” levels, writes Shaun Lintern.

The message from Mark Cubbon, NHS England’s chief operating officer, was sent to leaders on Tuesday night after it emerged a patient had died while waiting over an hour in the back of an ambulance outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.

At a meeting of the board of West Midlands Ambulance Service on Wednesday, nursing director Mark Docherty told bosses patients were dying before paramedics could reach them because of delays at hospitals.

Hospitals told to stop ‘catastrophic’ ambulance delays as patients die in queues

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