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Covid news: Omicron now spreading in community ‘across multiple UK regions’, says Javid

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Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said there is confirmed “community transmission” of the omicron variant across the UK.

The announcement means cases are being detected in people who have not travelled to southern Africa.

Mr Javid told MPs on Monday that “multiple regions of England” were seeing cases of the variant that were not linked to international travel.

It comes as more than 51,000 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK in the last 24 hours as official data showed another rise in omicron cases.

The latest figures revealed a further 51,459 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK, with 90 new omicron infections.

The official data also showed that there were a further 41 people who had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. The figures tend to be lower on a Monday due to a lag in reporting data over the weekend.

Read More

Omicron symptoms: What to look out for as doctor says new variant may not fit ‘clinical picture’ of delta

Omicron: Everything we know about the new Covid variant

What are the latest Covid travel rules and why has Nigeria been added to red list?

Two hippos at Belgian zoo test positive for Covid in first for species

Key points

  • Scottish primary school closed after suspected outbreak of the omicron Covid variant

  • 1,000 omicron cases may already be in UK as ‘variant spreads faster than Delta,’ expert warns

  • Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

  • Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

  • Daily Covid cases in US highest in two months

  • UK vaccine inventor urges caution as variant likely has ‘increased transmissibility’

  • Get tested and avoid Christmas parties if you have cold symptoms, Covid expert says

  • 90 new omicron cases, taking total to 336

  • Omicron spreading within the community, says Javid

WHO advises against blood plasma treatment

Monday 6 December 2021 23:49 , Tom Batchelor

The World Health Organisation has advised against using the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from Covid-19 to treat those who are ill, saying current evidence shows it neither improves survival nor reduces the need for ventilators.

The hypothesis for using plasma is that the antibodies it contains could neutralise the virus, stopping it from replicating and halting tissue damage.

Several studies testing convalescent blood plasma have shown no apparent benefit for treating Covid-19 patients who are severely ill.

A US-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate Covid-19 patients.

The method is also costly and time-consuming to administer, the WHO said in a statement on Monday.

Mixing vaccines works against Covid, finds study

Monday 6 December 2021 23:36 , Tom Batchelor

A first dose of the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine followed by a second dose of the Moderna or Novavax jabs generates strong immune responses against Covid, say researchers.

According to the study, participants who received a first dose of the Oxford or Pfizer jab generated a robust immune response when given a second dose of vaccines manufactured by Novavax or Moderna nine weeks later.

No safety concerns were raised in this study of 1,070 participants, the University of Oxford-led Com-COV study found.

Researchers say the study supports the flexible use of these vaccines in primary immunisation schedules, which is crucial to help their rapid deployment especially in low-and middle-income countries where vaccine supply may be inconsistent.

Matthew Snape, associate professor in paediatrics and vaccinology at the University of Oxford, and chief investigator on the trial, said: “Thanks to studies such as these, we are now getting a more complete picture of how different Covid-19 vaccines can be used together in the same vaccine schedule.

“Encouragingly, all these schedules generated antibody concentrations above that of the licensed and effective two-dose Oxford/AstraZeneca schedule.

“When it comes to cellular immunity, having a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine followed by any of the other study vaccines generates a particularly robust response.”

Brazil reports 4,385 cases, 108 deaths

Monday 6 December 2021 23:13 , Tom Batchelor

Brazil has had 4,385 new Covid cases reported in the past 24 hours, and 108 deaths from Covid-19, the health ministry said on Monday.

The South American country has now registered 22,147,476 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 615,744, according to ministry data, in the world’s third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

With 65 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, the rolling 14-day average of Covid deaths has fallen to 211 per day, compared to the toll of almost 3,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic in April.

Here is more on Brazil’s Covid rates.

Omicron ‘spreading extraordinarily fast'

Monday 6 December 2021 22:46 , Tom Batchelor

“The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast, very rapidly,” explained Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute.

“If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced.

“This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus, which is what is being predicted.”

New contract rules unveiled by government after fury over Covid ‘VIP lane’ scandal

Monday 6 December 2021 22:24 , Tom Batchelor

Boris Johnson’s government has unveiled a series of changes to public procurement rules in a bid to avoid a repeat of the controversy over a “VIP lane” set up for Covid contracts.

Ministers have faced accusations of cronyism after it emerged that some firms were given access to a high priority lane for lucrative personal protective equipment (PPE) deals during the pandemic.

The government is now planning to tighten the rules so emergency public contracts can no longer be given without competition.

Here is the story:

New contract rules unveiled after fury over Covid ‘VIP lane’ scandal

Theresa May warns govt against ‘stopping and starting economy’

Monday 6 December 2021 22:04 , Tom Batchelor

Former prime minister Theresa May has warned the government against responding to new variants by “stopping and starting sectors of our economy”.

Ms May was joined in the House of Commons by other senior Conservatives on the backbenches who questioned the government’s response to the omicron variant – particularly when it comes to travel restrictions.

But the former PM said: “The early indications of omicron are that it is more transmissible but potentially leads to less serious illness than other variants.

“I understand that would be the normal progress of a virus. Variants will continue to appear year after year.

“When is the government going to accept that learning to live with Covid, which we will all have to do, means we will almost certainly have an annual vaccine and that we cannot respond to new variants by stopping and starting sectors of our economy which leads to businesses going under and jobs being lost?”

US advises against travel to France and Portugal

Monday 6 December 2021 21:41 , Tom Batchelor

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised Americans against travel to France, Portugal, Jordan and Tanzania, over Covid concerns.

The CDC now lists 83 destinations at “Level 4: Very High” classification and also on Monday added Andorra, Cyprus and Liechtenstein to the highest travel advisory level.

The United States imposed new rules from Monday requiring international air travelers to obtain a negative test within one day of travel.

Under the prior rules, vaccinated international air travelers could present a negative test result obtained within three days of their day of departure.

German scientists complain about tabloid coverage of pandemic

Monday 6 December 2021 21:20 , Tom Batchelor

A group representing Germany’s main scientific groups has accused the country’s biggest-selling newspaper of contributing to public hostility against scientists during the pandemic, reports Reuters.

In a statement on Monday, the Alliance of Scientific Organisation criticised a recent report by the Bild tabloid for singling out three researchers who had called for tougher restrictions to reduce Covid-19 infections in Germany.

The paper published pictures of the three scientists Saturday with the headline: “Trio of experts give us frustration for the holidays.”

It came days after German officials agreed to tighten existing restrictions, particularly for unvaccinated people, amid a surge of new cases.

The alliance said making it seem like the three researchers personally were responsible for unpopular measures could “easily contribute to a climate of opinion that has elsewhere already led to scientists being subjected to or threatened with physical or psychological violence”.

Covid disruption leads to additional 69,000 malaria deaths - WHO

Monday 6 December 2021 21:05 , Tom Batchelor

Disruption to healthcare linked to the pandemic contributed to an additional 69,000 deaths from malaria in 2020 compared to the previous year, but a worst-case scenario was averted, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

In total over 627,000 people globally – most of them babies in the poorest parts of Africa – were killed by malaria last year compared with 558,000 in 2019, the WHO said in its annual malaria report.

The number eclipses the 224,000 people reported to have died from the coronavirus in Africa since the start of the pandemic.

About two thirds of the additional malaria deaths in 2020 were due to Covid restrictions disrupting prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria, the WHO said.

South African cruise crew member among 17 Covid cases

Monday 6 December 2021 20:50 , Tom Batchelor

A South African crew member suspected of having the omicron variant is among 17 Covid cases detected on a cruise ship that disembarked in New Orleans over the weekend, the cruise line said on Monday.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd said the crew member on the Norwegian Breakaway vessel was in isolation for the entirety of the cruise that departed New Orleans on 28 November carrying more than 3,200 individuals and made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.

Louisiana health officials said all passengers were tested for Covid-19 before leaving the ship, and those who tested positive would either travel to their residence in a personal vehicle or self-isolate in accommodations provided by Norwegian Cruise Line.

Opinion | I’m a proud pro-vaxxer – but mandatory vaccinations still make me uneasy

Monday 6 December 2021 20:24 , Tom Batchelor

What is going on in Germany? Even for a militant pro-vaxxer – I’m proud to be such – the idea of a general population-wide “mandatory” vaccination makes one uneasy, writes Sean O’Grady.

I can well understand why it is being introduced in Germany, and Greece and Austria for that matter, because of their depressingly low coverage; but I do fear how far they’ll take the policy – and if it will actually have the desired effect.

Read his full op-ed below:

Germany has no right to enforce mandatory vaccines | Sean O’Grady

NYC’s employers must get workers vaccinated, says mayor

Monday 6 December 2021 20:09 , Tom Batchelor

All private employers in New York will have to require their workers to get vaccinated against Covid, the city’s mayor announced Monday in the most stringent vaccine rules of any US state or big city.

Bill de Blasio’s decree comes as cases are climbing again and the omicron variant is gaining a foothold.

“We in New York City have decided to use a preemptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” he said.

Mr De Blasio, who has just weeks left in office, said the rules will take effect from 27 December, with in-person workers needing to provide proof they have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

They will not be allowed to get out of the requirement by agreeing to regular Covid testing instead.

France to tighten Covid rules but lockdowns ‘not needed to save Christmas'

Monday 6 December 2021 19:54 , Tom Batchelor

France is to close nightclubs ahead of Christmas and tighten social distancing measures in response to the omicron variant, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Monday – but there is no need for new lockdowns or curfews.

Mr Castex said a fifth wave of the pandemic was now surging through the country, but with 52 million people now vaccinated - nearly 90 per cent of those eligible - the situation is better than in previous outbreaks and there is no need for drastic measures to save Christmas.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said the combination of booster jabs and stricter social distancing would allow France to avoid renewed lockdowns currently being imposed in several European countries.

“We want to get through this wave of the pandemic without new constraints on the whole of the French population, whether they are vaccinated or not,” he said.

From Friday, nightclubs will be shut for four weeks and the government also called on citizens to voluntarily limit private and professional gatherings, while tightening requirements for mask-wearing in schools.

From 15 December, children aged five to 11 who are overweight or who have a serious health condition will be offered access to vaccination. Children over the age of 12 can already be vaccinated.

Opinion | Downing Street ‘Christmas party’ is not about hypocrisy. It’s about criminality

Monday 6 December 2021 19:39 , Tom Batchelor

Shall we start by saying it’s got nothing to do with hypocrisy. Nothing at all. The Downing Street Christmas Party is not about there being one rule for them and another for everybody else, however screamingly obviously true that might be. It is about straightforwardly outrageous and almost certainly criminal behaviour, writes Tom Peck.

Read his full piece here:

Downing Street ‘party’ is not about hypocrisy. It’s about criminality | Tom Peck

Javid dismissed No 10 Christmas party questions as not ‘serious’

Monday 6 December 2021 19:24 , Tom Batchelor

The health secretary has suggested questions over an alleged Christmas party held in No 10 during lockdown restrictions were not based on “serious” concerns.

Sajid Javid was responding to questions in the Commons on the omicron variant of coronavirus when he was challenged over reports about the alleged party on 18 December last year.

He was told by Labour MP and shadow minister Karl Turner that people would be “more enthusiastic” about any new measures if he “accepts there was a knees-up in No 10” and was to “fess up to that and apologise on behalf of the prime minister”.

Mr Javid said: “I thought it was going to be a serious question.”

Javid vows to keep restrictions for travel as minimal as possible

Monday 6 December 2021 19:09 , Tom Batchelor

Sajid Javid has agreed with a call for him to “face down the more conservative elements of the scientific community” and keep restrictions for travel as minimal as possible, reports PA.

Conservative former transport secretary Chris Grayling echoed concerns about the travel and aviation sector, telling Mr Javid: “This is a real blow for them.

“He will remember back in June the government - or July - took a decision that it would remove restrictions in the face of heavy scientific advice that he needed to carry on with restrictions. That decision was the right one.

“Please will he give an undertaking that this time around he will also face down the more conservative elements of the scientific community, do the right thing and keep the restrictions as minimal as possible?”

Mr Javid, in his reply, said: “Yes, I’m happy to give that commitment for all the excellent reasons he makes.”

Go ahead with Christmas parties, says health secretary

Monday 6 December 2021 18:47 , Tom Batchelor

The health secretary has encouraged people to “go ahead” with nativity plays and Christmas parties, while continuing “to follow the guidance that was always there”.

Conservative MP Steve Brine said in the Commons: “As feared, last week my constituency like many others, I’m sure, is seeing Christmas events cancelled, moved online, and that includes in all manner of festive performances in schools. Local authority guidance is often what’s quoted.”

The Winchester MP asked: “Who should headteachers and other event organisers follow: the town hall, or this place?”

Sajid Javid said: “I would encourage everyone to look seriously at the national government guidance. Our guidance is clear.

“Even before the emergence of this new variant, we all knew that Covid-19 likes the colder, darker days that winter brings, and there’s plenty of guidance there.

“I would encourage people to go ahead with, whether it’s nativity plays or Christmas parties, but just continue to follow the guidance that was always there.”

Javid questioned over No 10 Christmas party

Monday 6 December 2021 18:27 , Tom Batchelor

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting also raised questions about an alleged Christmas party held in No 10 during coronavirus restrictions.

The MP for Ilford North told the Commons: “I am sure the secretary of state will agree with me that the effectiveness of the government’s response to the pandemic and public compliance with the rules will depend on public confidence in those setting the rules.

“Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on December 18 2020, and rightly so.

“Isn’t it time that the government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broke the rules and apologise - or does the secretary of state believe, as the prime minister appears to, that it’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else?”

Sajid Javid replied: “In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.”

Javid says government is cracking down on ‘misleading’ test providers

Monday 6 December 2021 18:16 , Tom Batchelor

On concerns over increased testing costs for international travellers, Sajid Javid said more than 100 providers have been removed from the government’s website in recent weeks for “showing misleading prices and we will continue to take a tough and hard line”.

It comes amid concerns that some providers were gaming the system by advertising very low fees for tests that turn out not to be available.

350 military personnel deployed to support booster programme

Monday 6 December 2021 18:10 , Tom Batchelor

Sajid Javid said about 350 military personnel will be deployed in England this week to “support the vaccine booster programme”, adding there are more than 100 personnel deployed in Scotland for a similar aim.

The health secretary added: “When the virus adapts, we must adapt too. We cannot say for certain what Omicron means for our response, but we can say that we’re doing everything in our power to strengthen our national defences.”

New shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the Commons: “We want everyone to be able to enjoy Christmas this year.

“To make that happen the government needs to bring forward the common-sense measures which can limit the spread of the new variant while having a minimal impact on our lives, jobs and businesses - especially in the busy pre-Christmas trading period.”

He suggested the government should introduce as a “standard response” to future variants emerging overseas “stronger border controls, testing and contact-tracing so the government isn’t again accused of locking the door after the horse has bolted”.

Javid warns of risk of future variants

Monday 6 December 2021 17:52 , Tom Batchelor

Sajid Javid has warned about the risk of future variants.

The health secretary said it was “reasonable to think there will be future variants but we will reserve judgment on those until we come across such issues”.

Omicron could ‘knock UK off road to recovery', says Javid

Monday 6 December 2021 17:38 , Tom Batchelor

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned again about the risk that the new variant could make vaccines less effective.

“We can’t say for certain at this point whether omicron has the potential to knock us off our road to recovery,” he said.

Mr Javid also said the restrictions on travel were “balanced and proportionate”.

He said 21 omicron cases were linked to travellers returning from Nigeria, which was added to the red list today, meaning people need to quarantine in hotel. The cabinet minister said the number of quarantine hotel rooms would be doubled this week amid concerns there were not enough beds for red list travellers.

Omicron spreading within the community, says Javid

Monday 6 December 2021 17:33 , Tom Batchelor

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said there is “community transmission” of the omicron variant in multiple regions of the country.

The announcement means cases are being detected in people who have not travelled to southern Africa.

“This is a global battle and we are playing a leading role,” Mr Javid said, as he revealed conversations had taken place between UK officials and the WHO to discuss the new variant.

100,000 ‘ghost children’ who have not returned to school post Covid

Monday 6 December 2021 17:15 , Tom Batchelor

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Select Committee, has warned there are 100,000 “ghost children” who have not returned to school.

Mr Halfon said putting aside the 200,000 children who have been been sent home with Covid, “there are another 100,000, what I call the ghost children, who are lost in the system and who haven’t returned to school for the most time, who are subject to potentially safeguarding hazards, county lines gangs, online harm and, of course, awful domestic abuse”.

Mr Halfon asked the education secretary to “proactively” make a “real effort to work with the local authorities, to work with the schools and the regional commissioners to make sure that those 100,000 children who are mostly not in school are returned to school and are being watched by those authorities when they need to be watched”.

Nadhim Zahawi replied: “He is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is a concerning issue and it is a focus for my department. I am working closely with other departments and agencies to work through this.”

More than 51,000 new cases

Monday 6 December 2021 16:43 , Tom Batchelor

There have been a further 51,459 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the government has announced.

The official data also showed that there were a further 41 people who had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19. The figures tend to be lower on a Monday due to a lag in reporting data over the weekend.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 170,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

90 new omicron cases, taking total to 336

Monday 6 December 2021 16:27 , Tom Batchelor

The UK Health Security Agency has said there have been a further 90 omicron cases detected on Monday, bringing the total number in the country to 336.

Some 64 additional confirmed cases of the omicron variant have been reported across England (a total of 261), while there are 23 new cases in Scotland (total 71) and three in Wales (4 in total) and still no cases in Northern Ireland.

Scottish primary school closed after suspected outbreak of the omicron Covid variant

Monday 6 December 2021 15:46 , Joe Middleton

A Scottish primary school has been forced to close for the week after a suspected outbreak of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Parents at Todholm Primary School, in Renfrewshire, were told the school would be shut for the next five days after the suspected cases of the new variant.

Two class groups in P1, and another in P2, were self-isolating, Renfrewshire Council said.

In an email sent to parents, it said the decision to close the school until Monday, December 13, was “due to the difficulty in operating the school with reduced teaching and support staff and maintaining an appropriate staffing level for the school”.

And the statement added: “Please be reassured the temporary closure is not a public health issue and the health and safety measures in the school have been confirmed as very robust.”

The outbreak at the school comes after Scotland recorded 23 new cases of the Omicron variant within the past 24 hours, taking the overall number to 71.

Figures published by the Scottish Government on Monday showed there were 3,894 new coronavirus cases recorded and no deaths within the past 24 hours.

New contract rules unveiled by government after fury over Covid ‘VIP lane’ scandal

Monday 6 December 2021 15:26 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson’s government has unveiled a series of changes to public procurement rules in a bid to avoid a repeat of the controversy over a “VIP lane” set up for Covid contracts.

Ministers have faced accusations of cronyism after it emerged that some firms were given access to a High Priority Lane which fast-tracked their bids for lucrative personal protective equipment (PPE) deals during the pandemic.

The government is now planning to tighten the rules so emergency public contracts can no longer be given without competition.

Adam Forrest reports.

New contract rules unveiled after fury over Covid ‘VIP lane’ scandal

One probable omicron case among 17 Covid patients on Norwegian ship docked in US

Monday 6 December 2021 15:10 , Joe Middleton

At least 17 cases of Covid virus have been detected among crew members and passengers on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, including one probable infection with the omicron variant, the Louisiana health department confirmed.

The Norwegian ship with more than 3200 people on board docked in New Orleans, Louisiana — the state with one of the nation’s lowest immunisation rates against the coronavirus.

The ship had ten people aboard who tested positive for the virus on Saturday before disembarking in New Orleans.

Shweta Sharma has the details.

One probable omicron case among 17 Covid patients on Norwegian ship docked in US

New York mayor imposes vaccine mandate on private sector employers

Monday 6 December 2021 14:55 , Joe Middleton

All New York City employers will have to mandate Covid-19 vaccinations for their workers under new rules announced by mayor Bill de Blasio.

The vaccine mandate for private businesses will take effect on December 22 and is aimed at preventing a spike in Covid-19 infections during the Christmas holidays and the colder months, said the Democratic mayor.

“We in New York City have decided to use a pre-emptive strike to really do something bold to stop the further growth of Covid and the dangers it’s causing to all of us,” Mr de Blasio said. “All private-sector employers in New York City will be covered by this vaccine mandate as of December 22.”

Vaccinations are already required for city employees including teachers, police officers and firefighters, and a vaccination mandate for employees of private and religious schools was announced last week.

Mr de Blasio said he expects the new mandate to survive any legal challenges.

Current New York City Covid-19 rules also include at least one vaccine dose for indoor restaurant dining, entertainment venues and fitness centres.

Monday 6 December 2021 14:44 , Joe Middleton

1,000 omicron cases may already be in UK as ‘variant spreads faster than Delta,’ expert warns

Monday 6 December 2021 14:33 , Joe Middleton

There may already be over 1,000 omicron Covid cases in the UK, a leading scientist has suggested.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said there were concerns the omicron variant of coronavirus was “spreading rather more quickly than the delta variant”.

“How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least,” Prof Hunter told BBC Breakfast on Monday morning.

Tim Wyatt reports.

1,000 omicron cases may already be in UK as ‘variant spreads faster’, expert warns

Scotland records 23 new cases of Omicron

Monday 6 December 2021 14:21 , Joe Middleton

Scotland has recorded 23 new cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the past 24 hours, taking the overall number to 71.

The figures published by the Scottish Government show there were 3,894 total coronavirus cases recorded and no deaths in the past 24 hours.

The Covid-19 death toll in Scotland under the daily measure - of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days - remains at 9,649.

The daily test positivity rate was 12.8%, up from 9.6% the previous day.

There were 591 people in hospital on Sunday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up five on the day before, with 43 in intensive care, down two.

A note on the daily figures said the statistics are higher than expected due to a backlog of tests.

Get tested and avoid Christmas parties if you have cold symptoms, Covid expert says

Monday 6 December 2021 14:09 , Joe Middleton

Anyone with a cold should take regular Covid-19 tests and avoid Christmas parties amid the spread of the omicron variant, a leading scientist has warned.

Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who runs the Covid Zoe app, said that up to a third of those with cold symptoms could have coronavirus infections.

The professor suggested there are many of these undetected cases in the UK, adding that things could get worse as the omicron strain becomes more widespread in the country.

Rory Sullivan reports.

Covid expert asks people with cold to get tested and avoid Christmas parties

Sean O'Grady: I’m a proud pro-vaxxer – but manadatory vaccinations still make me uneasy

Monday 6 December 2021 14:00 , Joe Middleton

I can well understand why it is being introduced in Germany and elsewhere, but I do fear how far they’ll take the policy – and if it will actually have the desired effect, writes Sean O’Grady.

I’m a pro-vaxxer – but manadatory vaccinations still make me uneasy | Sean O’Grady

Duke of Sussex claims job resignations accelerated by Covid ‘aren’t all bad'

Monday 6 December 2021 13:25 , Joe Middleton

The Duke of Sussex has described how job resignations accelerated by the pandemic “aren’t all bad” and the fact that people are putting their mental health and happiness first should be “celebrated”.

Harry was speaking as chief impact officer for professional coaching and mental health firm BetterUp.

In a Q&A with Fast Company, the duke, who quit from his own role as a senior working royal in 2020, said: “I’ve actually discovered recently, courtesy of a chat with (BetterUp science board member) Adam Grant, that a lot of the job resignations you mention aren’t all bad.

“In fact, it is a sign that with self-awareness comes the need for change.

“Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated.”

He added: “While on the surface it looks like these last couple of years brought all these issues to the foreground, the reality is these struggles and issues have been brewing for quite some time.

“We’re just at the beginning of the mental health awakening.”

Sajid Javid will give Commons update on Monday afternoon

Monday 6 December 2021 13:15 , Joe Middleton

Health Secretary Sajid Javid will update MPs on the latest Covid-19 developments in a Commons statement on Monday afternoon.

It follows decisions over the weekend to require pre-departure tests for people travelling to the UK as part of the effort to contain the Omicron variant.

No10 confirms it will hold Christmas party for staff

Monday 6 December 2021 13:00 , Joe Middleton

Downing Street has said it intends to hold a Christmas party for staff this year.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment. I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.”

It comes after two events reportedly took place in No10 last year in the run-up to the festive season, including Boris Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.

At the time, the Tier 3 rules in place in London explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”.

PM denies that Covid travel plans to stop Omicron are like ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’

Monday 6 December 2021 12:45 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson has denied a scientist’s allegation that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron is like “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

The Prime Minister insisted the UK was the first country to take “decisive measures” in relation to the new strain.

From Tuesday all travellers arriving in England will be required to take a Covid-19 pre-departure test in an attempt to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

On a visit to Merseyside on Monday, Mr Johnson told reporters: “What we’re doing is responding to the pandemic.

“We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

“We’re now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.”

The Prime Minister added that the Government does not believe it needs to change the “overall guidance and advice we’re giving about Omicron in this country”.

He added: “We’re still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.”

Monday 6 December 2021 12:30 , Joe Middleton

Things ‘aren’t great right now in hospitals’ and medics are facing a ‘grumbling wave’ of Covid

Monday 6 December 2021 12:13 , Joe Middleton

Croatia confirms first cases of Omicron

Monday 6 December 2021 11:57 , Joe Middleton

Croatia confirmed today its first two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the state health institute said.

“We are not sure about the source of the infection as neither of those two people had travelled abroad. We believe they got infected at a business meeting at which both participated,” said Bernard Kaic, an epidemiologist at the state health institute.

Guests from abroad had been present at the business meeting, he added.

Government must do ‘whatever it can’ to make PCR tests cheaper for travellers, says Starmer

Monday 6 December 2021 11:44 , Joe Middleton

Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to do “whatever it can” to lower the price of Covid-19 pre-departure tests for travellers.

The Labour leader made the comments at the Macey Chemist vaccination centre in London on Monday.

On Saturday, it was announced that all travellers arriving in England will be required to take a pre-departure test from Tuesday.

Sir Keir said: “I would have liked to see the Government act more quickly. As ever, they are behind the curve. As soon as we saw the scientific evidence saying that (there) should be pre-departure tests, we called on the Government to do this last week. The Government delayed, as they always do.

“They’ve done it now, that’s a good thing. But the Government needs to get ahead instead of being behind.”

Monday 6 December 2021 11:30 , Joe Middleton

Omicron: Expert answers to 9 of your most pressing Covid variant questions

Monday 6 December 2021 11:13 , Joe Middleton

To help answer questions around the situation which faces us now cases of the latest Covid variant omicron cases have arrived in the UK an expert in virology held an ask me anything event with The Independent.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, answered questions live on the article below for those who are registered with The Independent.

Expert virologist answers 9 of your most pressing omicron questions

South Africa president says omicron is fuelling a fourth wave of Covid

Monday 6 December 2021 10:58 , Joe Middleton

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has said that omicron is driving the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in the country and there had been a five-fold increase in daily infection rates over the last week.

Describing the situation as “concerning,” he said omicron is dominating new infections in most provinces and nearly a quarter of all Covid samples have now come back positive compared to two weeks ago.

“As the country heads into a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, we are experiencing a rate of infections that we have not seen since the pandemic started,” Mr Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter.

Shweta Sharma reports.

South Africa president says omicron is fuelling a fourth wave of Covid

Russia reports first case of Omicron

Monday 6 December 2021 10:43 , Joe Middleton

Russia on Monday reported its first confirmed cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Russian news agencies reported, in two people who returned from South Africa.

Interfax cited consumer health regulator Rospotrebnadzor as saying that 10 people who returned from South Africa had tested positive for Covid-19. RIA said Omicron had been detected in two arrivals from South Africa.

President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the government to prepare an action plan to fight Omicron, saying it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

Don’t let misinformation put you off getting a Covid jab, says Labour leader

Monday 6 December 2021 10:24 , Joe Middleton

Sir Keir Starmer urged people not to allow “misinformation” to put them off getting their Covid-19 vaccinations, after he received his booster jab.

The Labour leader made the comments at the Macey Chemist vaccination centre in London on Monday.

He said: “I would encourage absolutely everyone who is eligible to come forward and have their booster. Don’t be taken in by the misinformation.

“Come forward, have your booster, think of yourself, think of others, think of your communities. Places like this are open. It’s quick, it’s easy. Please do it.”

Keir Starmer receives Covid booster jab at London pharmacy

Monday 6 December 2021 10:11 , Joe Middleton

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PM denies scientists’ claims that travel restrictions are ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'

Monday 6 December 2021 09:52 , Joe Middleton

Boris Johnson has denied scientists’ allegations that introducing travel restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron is like “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Visiting police in Merseyside, the Prime Minister told reporters: “No, I think what we’re doing is responding to the pandemic.

“We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.

“We’re now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.

“I don’t think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we’re giving about Omicron in this country. We’re still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.”

Monday 6 December 2021 09:39 , Joe Middleton

Travel testing chaos as government gives conflicting timings on pre-departure tests

Monday 6 December 2021 09:31 , Joe Middleton

As travellers try to comply with the new demand for pre-departure testing to return to the UK, they face conflicting versions of the timeframe in which they must take a test.

On Saturday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said tests “will be required a maximum 48 hours before the departure time”.

The press release that accompanied the statement made the same assertion, claiming the timing was “no earlier than 48 hours before departure”.

But the official statement of the rules is: “From 4am 7 December, you can take the test any time in the two days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs.”

The implication is that the test can be taken on either of the two days before departure to the UK, or on the day of travel, writes The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder.

Travel testing chaos as government gives conflicting timings on pre-departure tests

It could be five years before Covid-19 ICU patients ‘reach their normal lives again’, says consultant

Monday 6 December 2021 09:20 , Joe Middleton

Critical care consultant Dr Zudin Puthucheary said it could be five years before Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) patients “reach their normal lives again”.

The member of the Intensive Care Society Council raised concerns that there are not enough staff to rehabilitate patients who are treated in ICUs.

He told Sky News: “People who have chosen to be unvaccinated make up the vast majority of patients on the intensive care unit at the moment, and certainly most of our pregnant patients are unvaccinated.

“These are the young people - the vast majority of them do survive, 60% of our patients are currently surviving.

“But that survival comes with a huge cost and that needs rehabilitation. We don’t have the staff, have the resources to rehabilitate these patients, and it may be up to five years before they reach their normal lives again.

“But 40% of these people are dying, and they don’t need to die had they been vaccinated.”

Asked about winter pressures on the NHS, he said: “Things aren’t great in hospitals right now. As we gear up for winter, we have intensive care units that are full, wards that are full and a dropping number of stuff.”

People with ‘cold-like symptoms’ should self-isolate for the first few days, says top scientist

Monday 6 December 2021 09:02 , Joe Middleton

Professor Tim Spector said people with cold-like symptoms should isolate for the first few days while they are most contagious.

“That’s when you’re most contagious, that’s when you’re most likely to transmit,” the professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London told Times Radio.

“Whether it’s a respiratory virus, you’re just giving someone a cold, or you might be giving them Omicron or Delta, then it’s those first few days.

“And so we should really be encouraging people not to come in to the office, not to go to that Christmas party if they’re feeling unwell.

“Take a test and then, when the symptoms subside, then they can come out - it doesn’t have to be 10 days but just those first few days are probably the most crucial.

“I think we need to get that message out there if we’re going to really have an impact in the next few weeks.”

Police must investigate ‘historic crimes’, says minister after Raab suggests No 10 parties should be ignored

Monday 6 December 2021 08:47 , Joe Middleton

Police should investigate whether Christmas parties were held in Downing Street in violation of Covid restrictions if a report is made, the policing minister has suggested.

Home Office minister Kit Malthouse said forces “should be investigating anything that is a historic crime to them”, amid claims that festive events were held at No 10 while strict curbs were in place last year.

It follows criticism of justice secretary Dominic Raab after he suggested on Sunday that police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.

Adam Forrest reports.

Police must investigate ‘historic crimes’, says minister amid Raab row

Concerns Omicron ‘is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant', says top scientist

Monday 6 December 2021 08:34 , Joe Middleton

Professor Paul Hunter, from the school of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was current concern that Omicron “is spreading rather more quickly than the Delta variant”, and there were probably more than 1,000 cases in the UK at the moment.

He told BBC Breakfast it was not clear how evidence from South Africa would translate to the UK as we have a highly vaccinated population.

He added: “How it’s likely to spread in the UK still uncertain, but I think the early signs are that it will probably spread quite quickly and probably start outcompeting Delta and become the dominant variant probably within the next weeks or a month or so at least.

“The big remaining question is actually how harmful it is if you do get Covid with this Omicron variant, and that’s the question that we’re struggling to answer at the moment.”

He said travel restrictions would have a minor impact, adding that “one of the problems with travel restrictions like this is that it then de-motivates other countries to actually be open about their own situations for fear of what they would see as economic sanctions. So I think once the infection is spreading within a country, then border restrictions don’t really add anything.”

“We’ve known that long before Covid. This has been knowledge that we’ve had for decades, if not centuries, to be honest.”

Police should investigate No10 Christmas party claims, suggests policing minister

Monday 6 December 2021 08:16 , Joe Middleton

Policing minister Kit Malthouse suggested officers should investigate whether a party was held in No 10 Downing Street during coronavirus restrictions, if a report is made.

He told Sky News: “No 10 are reassuring everybody that all rules were complied with during that period and I take that reassurance at face value but no doubt if the police are alerted they will have a look and they will form a view and we’ll learn more about it in the days to come.

“The police should be investigating anything that is a historic crime to them.

“If reports are made then inquiries should follow and let’s see where it goes after that.”

Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

Monday 6 December 2021 07:58 , Joe Middleton

Ministers’ plans to sell off the UK’s vaccine manufacturing plant would leave Britain vulnerable to emerging Covid variants, the head of the centre behind the Oxford jab has warned.

The government is considering a number of bids from the private sector for the Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Harwell – a “surprising” decision that has drawn criticism from one of the leading scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, compared the sale of VMIC to “having been in a terrible war and you suddenly cut your defence budget substantially”.

Samuel Lovett has the details.

Government accused of weakening UK’s defences against future variants and pandemics

South Korea’s Covid rules sparks concerns among foreign embassies

Monday 6 December 2021 07:37 , Shweta Sharma

As South Korea continues to report a rise in daily Covid cases, the country has imposed tougher measures to contain infections including the omicron variant, leaving several foreign residents effectively barred from public places.

Foreign embassies in the country are demanding a review of policies that do not recognise the vaccination status of foreigners who were vaccinated overseas unless they entered the country under a quarantine exemption.

This has left some foreigners in the country effectively barred from places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.

“We continue to argue for urgent review of the guidance in order to ensure equitable treatment of foreign and Korean nationals vaccinated overseas,” Stephen Burns, a spokesman for the British embassy in Seoul, told Reuters.

On Monday, Australian ambassador Catherine Raper pushed for changed in policies and said the embassy is in contact with the South Korean government over the matter.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the policy affects only a small number of people and is necessary given rising Covid-19 cases.

“A cautious approach is required at this time with locally and globally confirmed cases of the omicron variant and the possibility of further community spread,” a spokesperson said, adding that officials will review the rules depending on the domestic outbreak situation.

Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

Monday 6 December 2021 07:35 , Joe Middleton

Another pandemic in the future could be “more lethal” than the present Covid-19 pandemic that has killed over 5 million people across the globe, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, also warned that current set of vaccines being deployed across the world could be less effective against the newly discovered omicron variant of the coronavirus.

She said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both.”

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar reports.

Next pandemic could be more lethal than Covid, warns Oxford vaccine creator

South Africa races to prepare hospitals as omicron threatens fourth wave

Monday 6 December 2021 07:06 , Shweta Sharma

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said hospitals are preparing for more admissions while stressing supplies are currently sufficient, as the omicron variant is threatening the country with a fourth wave of the Covid pandemic.

In a weekly newsletter, Mr Ramaphosa said that the new variant appeared to be dominant in the new cases in most of the country’s nine provinces while urging more people to get vaccinated against Covid.

“South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines... vaccination is essential for our economic recovery because as more people are vaccinated more areas of economic activity will be opened up,” he said.

The government would convene the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic, he added.

Thailand detects first case of Omicron variant

Monday 6 December 2021 07:04 , Shweta Sharma

Thailand has detected its first case of omicron variant of coronavirus, a health official said on Monday.

An American citizen who had travelled to the country from Spain in late November tested positive for the omicron variant of the virus, but has mild symptoms.

Thailand has become the 47th country to have found the new variant, Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control, told a news conference.

“This first confirmed case of Omicron variant is a 35-year-old man who is a US citizen who lived in Spain for a year,” Opas said adding that the patient had mild symptoms.

He said health authorities are conducted contact tracing of the man.

Opas said health authorities were conducting further tests of people who had come into contact with the man, but said all contacts so far were low risk.

Thailand banned travellers from eight African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe at the start of December amid concerns about the Omicron variant.

It has reported 4,000 new Covid cases and 22 deaths on Monday, taking the tally to more than 2.1 million cases since the pandemic began last year.

India achieves 50% vaccinations milestone

Monday 6 December 2021 06:25 , Shweta Sharma

India has completed vaccination of more than 50 per cent of its adult population with two jabs, within 11 months of the launch of its drive.

India has exceeded 1.27 billion vaccinations across the country as of Sunday, with 85 per cent of the 18 plus population receiving at least one vaccination.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi stressed that it is “important to keep this momentum to strengthen the fight” against the deadly virus.

“And yes, keep following all other Covid-19 related protocols including masking up and social distancing,” he added.

Daily Covid cases in US highest in two months

Monday 6 December 2021 05:58 , Shweta Sharma

The US is averaging 100,000 new Covid infections a day for the first time in months as scientists race to track the spread of the new omicron variant.

Data from Johns Hopkins University showed the seven day rolling average for cases per day rising to about 121,437 on 2 December, higher than at any point since 26 September.

Figures showed the US crossing the threshold of 100,000 cases per day on Thursday, having stayed below that level since 6 October.

The Independent’s Io Dodds has more details.

US averaging 100,000 new Covid infections a day for first time in months

Sharp rise in omicron cases in India

Monday 6 December 2021 05:43 , Shweta Sharma

India’s cases linked to the new omicron variant shot up to a total of 21 so far on Monday, after 17 more cases were added.

A cluster of nine people from the same family tested positive in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, seven tested positive in Maharashtra’s Pune city and a case was detected in a fully vaccinated man who arrived in Delhi from Tanzania.

According to official data, India reported 8,306 new Covid cases as a whole on Monday, as the country’s active caseload stands at 98,416 — its lowest in 552 days.

India’s weekly Covid infections have continued to fall but the downward trend slowed to about three per cent the week ending Sunday. This comes as nine states reported a rise in infections amid renewed fears from the omicron variant.

UK vaccine inventor urges caution as variant likely has ‘increased transmissibility’

Monday 6 December 2021 05:23 , Shweta Sharma

Dame Sarah Gilbert, who was one of the inventors of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, has urged officials to be “cautious” and keep taking preventive measures until more is known about the variant.

“The spike protein of this variant contains mutations already known to increase transmisability of the virus but there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with omicron,” she said.

She also warned the next pandemic could be “more contagious” and “more lethal.”

“We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness,” she said.

Ms Sarah Gilbert urged that the “advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost”.

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Omicron cases 'likely to rise in US'

Monday 6 December 2021 05:00 , Shweta Sharma

Dr Rochelle P Walensky, the director of the CDC, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the number of omicron infections in the US was “likely to rise” as cases related to the variant have been detected in at least 16 US states.

She noted that the main concern right now remains the dominant delta variant in the US, which has led to more hospitalisations.

“We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9 per cent of them are the delta variant,” she said.

Monday 6 December 2021 04:51 , Shweta Sharma

Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live blog on the Covid-19 pandemic for Monday 6 December.

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