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Covid omicron news – live: Don’t cancel Christmas parties, PM says as UK sees highest daily cases since July

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has attempted to clear up confusion about whether people should still hold Christmas parties by insisting that the events should not be cancelled.

The government is once again facing accusations of mixed messaging on coronavirus.

It comes after business minister George Freeman admitted he had cancelled his team’s in-person Christmas party in favour of a Zoom gathering amid concerns about the transmissibility of the omicron variant.

Mr Johnson has said there is no need to cancel Christmas parties or nativity plans, speaking after he received his Covid booster jab.

“People shouldn’t be cancelling things...there’s no need for that at all,” he said.

When asked about the Christmas and Hanukkah gatherings held at Downing Street during lockdown restrictions last year, he reiterated that the events were “accordance with the rules”.

Meanwhile, the UK has recorded 53,945 new Covid cases today – the highest daily figure since 17 July.

A total of 141 Covid-linked deaths have also been reported.

On Wednesday, 48,374 new cases and 171 deaths were recorded.

Read More

Omicron symptoms: What to look out for as doctor says new variant completely different to Delta

Will Omicron be more contagious than Delta? A virus evolution expert explains what we know

New Covid laws: The latest rules for face masks and self-isolation amid rise of omicron cases

Key Points

  • UK records highest number of cases since July

  • Seven more omicron cases in England and three in Scotland

  • ‘Don’t cancel Christmas dos,’ No 10 says in bid to clear confusion

  • Germany bars unvaccinated from non-essential shops

  • Omicron transmissibility data expected ‘in days,’ says WHO official

  • Ministers buy millions more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines

  • PM should apologise for No 10 party during lockdown – Lammy

  • Israel halts phone tracking for omicron contact tracing

Omicron transmissibility data expected ‘within days’

Wednesday 1 December 2021 16:59 , Sam Hancock

Health officials are expecting to have more information about the transmissibility of omicron “within days”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Covid-19 technical lead also said there is no current evidence to suggest vaccines in use at the moment “won’t work” against the new variant.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove stressed the vaccines that are currently in use have “very strong protection” against the dominant virus - delta - that is still circulating, and that “even if there is a reduction in efficacy [against omicron], it’s still better to have the vaccine because it will save your life”.

“Vaccines are saving lives. And we need vaccines to get into the arms of all of those who are at risk in every single country, not just in some countries, and not adding more vaccines to people who are already protected, but getting that first and second dose to those individuals who are at risk in all countries,” she told the same WHO press briefing as in my last post.

“And this is really important that this is crystal clear today because there is still a lot of uncertainty around omicron, and this data will come in and there are scientists around the world that are studying this.”

WHO Covid technical lead Maria van Kerkhove (AFP via Getty Images)
WHO Covid technical lead Maria van Kerkhove (AFP via Getty Images)

Advisers ‘can’t rule out’ omicron causing biggest wave yet of infections

Wednesday 1 December 2021 17:32 , Sam Hancock

The omicron variant could see a surge in new Covid-19 infections across Britain even bigger than previous waves, a key group of government advisers has warned.

Scientists in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises Boris Johnson’s government, met last week to discuss the impact of the new variant in the UK.

“We cannot exclude that this wave would be of a magnitude similar, or even larger, than previous waves,” the advisers stated in minutes from the 25 November meeting, finds Adam Forrest.

Government’s Nervtag advisers ‘can’t rule out’ omicron causing biggest wave yet

Watch: Couple stranded in South Africa facing £3,700 quarantine bill

Wednesday 1 December 2021 17:33 , Sam Hancock

Austria extends Covid lockdown by 10 days

Wednesday 1 December 2021 17:47 , Sam Hancock

Austria’s national lockdown has been extended until at least 11 December, amid early data signalling the current restrictions are working to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The only significant change to the measures – which will take effect from Thursday – are that essential shops will now have to close by 7pm, instead of 9pm, and that the sale of Christmas trees will be permitted.

It comes after a parliamentary committee voted on Wednesday to extend the lockdown, which started on 22 November as a result of rising deaths and hospitalisations – pushing some of the country’s hospitals to the brink.

Read our full report:

Austria extends Covid lockdown by 10 days – but permits sale of Christmas trees

PM should apologise for No 10 Christmas party – Lammy

Wednesday 1 December 2021 18:05 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson is being urged to apologise following allegations that a Christmas party was held in Downing Street last year, when the rest of Britain was under strict coronavirus restrictions.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy became the latest senior politician to warn the PM over his failure to say sorry as No 10 continues to insist “all Covid guidance” was adhered to.

The Daily Mirror said in its exclusive report that the PM gave a speech at a “packed leaving do” for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown.

The newspaper claims members of his Downing Street team then held their own festive party days before Christmas, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme about the reports, Mr Lammy said: “He should at the very least apologise. I didn’t spend last Christmas with my family because the lockdown came, I was here in the UK and my family had already left to go abroad.

“Many, many families have suffered sacrifices over this time because they’ve stuck to the rules. And time and time again with this government, it’s one rule for them, and that’s particularly government ministers, and another rule for everybody else.”

Mr Johnson has not denied that a “boozy” Christmas party was held, but claimed no rules were broken.

The PM visits a bread stall at a Christmas market outside No 10 earlier today (EPA)
The PM visits a bread stall at a Christmas market outside No 10 earlier today (EPA)

‘Plenty of reason’ to think omicron ‘worst variant yet,’ says Sage member

Wednesday 1 December 2021 18:17 , Sam Hancock

A professor has acknowledged the “timing” of omicron’s emergence “couldn’t be worse” but warned “we can’t change that”, while advising the government to do its bit to help already-struggling businesses.

“We have plenty of reason to think this could be the worst variant yet,” Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told Sky News this evening.

“So yes, I think the government should be footing the bill to help those in the hospitality sector.”

‘Cancellation after cancellation’: Hospitality bosses fear another ruined Christmas

Wednesday 1 December 2021 18:26 , Sam Hancock

Every day, Richard Hibbert does something which, as a restaurateur, he never imagined he would have to do: he gets on his phone and checks local hospital admission figures.

Having had a year struggling through lockdowns and restrictions, he is desperate to glean any clue about potential future disruption at his three Retreat venues in Bolton and Lancashire.

“They’ve been steady since the summer,” he says of those figures. “And they’re still steady now but…”

The ‘but’ is omicron, write Thomas Kingsley and Colin Drury.

‘It’s cancellation after cancellation’: hospitality leaders face omicron fears

Further 48,374 Covid cases and 171 deaths in UK

Wednesday 1 December 2021 18:41 , Sam Hancock

The latest government data shows that, in the last 24-hour period, 48,374 more Covid cases were detected across the UK.

There were also 171 deaths recorded within 28 days of someone testing positive for the virus.

Focus should be on first vaccines - not boosters, says WHO

Wednesday 1 December 2021 19:04 , Sam Hancock

More from the WHO now, after the agency’s chief scientist suggested this evening the focus around the world should be on encouraging people to take up their first Covid vaccine - not on giving booster jabs, as is the case in the UK.

She told a press briefing: “I just want to reiterate what was just said, that our goal should be really to protect those who have not yet received their primary cause of vaccination.

“And this is true in all countries.”

She added: “Some countries are doing, as a precautionary principle, providing additional doses to people because they have adequate supplies, and they’re just doing it.

“There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that everybody over the age of 18, or for that matter above any age, is going to benefit from this.”

It comes after the UK government announced it would be inviting all adults, 18 and over, to get a third so-called booster jab amid concerns over the new Covid variant, omicron.

First US case of omicron found in California

Wednesday 1 December 2021 19:15 , Sam Hancock

Over to the US now, where the first case of the omicron Covid variant has been identified in California.

“The individual was a traveller who returned from South Africa on 22 November,” the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement.

“The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-isolating and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative.”

CDC identifies first case of omicron Covid variant in US

Watch: Dr Fauci confirms first US omicron case

Wednesday 1 December 2021 19:25 , Sam Hancock

Opinion: ‘PM can’t afford for mixed messaging over Covid’

Wednesday 1 December 2021 19:35 , Sam Hancock

Our political columnist Andrew Grice writes about the worsening Covid situation at an already-turbulent time for Boris Johnson.

A new Covid-19 variant was the last thing the PM wanted for Christmas but could omicron provide the firebreak that ends his terrible run in recent weeks?

Mr Johnson would much rather take ownership of the booster campaign than answer questions about his Peppa Pig speech, “Tory sleaze” or people crossing the Channel in small boats – on which he refused to speak at his press conference last night.

Some allies hope the huge booster jab effort could literally boost the prime minister who loves boosterism, while denying a revived Labour opposition media space. Ministers point out that the UK is ahead of Europe on boosters, as it was during the initial vaccine rollout. Yet Johnson cannot be sure he will get another “vaccine bounce,” which helped the Tories open a 10-point opinion poll lead by May.

Read Andrew’s thinking in full here:

Johnson can’t afford for mixed messaging over Covid to take hold again | Andrew Grice

Professor ‘doesn’t see’ omicron replacing delta as dominant variant

Wednesday 1 December 2021 19:57 , Sam Hancock

A leading epidemiologist has questioned whether the new variant of Covid will be able to replace the current, dominant strain.

Speaking to Sky News this evening, Prof Tim Spector said in order for this to happen, omicron would have to “displace delta” altogether – which he added will be hard considering the large majority of people have now built up immunity to it.

This is important as it is so-called “displacement” that could potentially allow omicron to take hold and cause another mass wave of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

“So, we are going to so more cases [of omicron],” Prof Spector said, “but I don’t see it ‘exploding’ in perhaps the way it would’ve done if we hadn’t been infected with other [variants] , or before most of the country got vaccinated.”

ICYMI: Watch Sajid Javid say Britons ‘don’t need to change their Christmas plans’

Wednesday 1 December 2021 20:15 , Sam Hancock

First US omicron case found in person without booster – Fauci

Wednesday 1 December 2021 20:30 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (7.15pm), Dr Anthony Fauci announced that the first case of omicron found in the US was in someone who had been double jabbed – but did not have a booster.

The individual who tested positive was a traveler who returned to San Francisco, in California, on 22 November from a trip to South Africa, where the variant was first identified.

The results were confirmed via genomic sequencing at the University of California San Francisco, and verified by the California and San Francisco departments of public health, as well as the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Josh Marcus reports:

Omicron: First US case found in person who got vaccine but not booster, says Fauci

Anger in Scotland amid confusion over booster jab advice

Wednesday 1 December 2021 20:55 , Sam Hancock

MSPs have accused the Scottish government of sending out “mixed messages” on booster vaccine eligibility, which they say is leaving the public “frustrated and confused”.

New guidance published this week by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says booster doses now should be given no sooner than three months after people have had their second dose of an original vaccine. Previously, the advice said boosters should be given six months after a second dose.

However, concerns have been raised in Scotland that the outdated advice is still being applied, with some people reporting on social media they have been turned away for appointments.

A Scottish government spokesperson said instructions have been issued to health boards to vaccinate in line with the JCVI’s latest guidance.

Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for health Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “Patients are rightly frustrated and confused over mixed messages coming from the SNP Government on booster vaccine eligibility. We are facing an urgent and developing situation that requires immediate action.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie added the situation was “nothing short of a shambles”. She added: “The change to JCVI guidance is clear, and all those eligible should be able to receive their booster as quickly as possible.”

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government responded by apologising in a statement “to those people who have been keen to get their booster vaccination and attended before the necessary protocols were in place”.

Watch: Everything we know so far about omicron strain

Wednesday 1 December 2021 21:15 , Sam Hancock

Experts concerned over impact of omicron on drugs for vulnerable patients

Wednesday 1 December 2021 21:37 , Sam Hancock

Scientists fear the omicron coronavirus variant will reduce the effectiveness of key drugs that are used to treat Covid-19 in vulnerable patients.

As with the vaccines, it remains unclear as to what extent omicron will dent the protective levels provided by lab-made antibodies – a treatment that is available via the NHS for those people who struggle to mount a strong immune response against Covid-19.

But due to the high number of mutations in the variant’s spike protein, which is targeted by the antibodies, it’s expected that this type of treatment may need to be tweaked to better identify and neutralise omicron, reports our science correspondent Samuel Lovett.

Experts fear Omicron will impact effectiveness of key drugs for vulnerable patients

ICYMI: Watch Starmer accuse PM of ‘taking Britons for fools’ over Christmas party

Wednesday 1 December 2021 21:52 , Sam Hancock

No ‘snogging under the mistletoe’ for strangers this Christmas, Coffey says

Wednesday 1 December 2021 22:18 , Sam Hancock

A Cabinet minister has advised Britons against “snogging” people they “don’t know” under the mistletoe this year, to help limit the spread of the new omicron Covid variant.

Asked if she sided with the government or Dr Jenny Harries over the approach to socialising over the festive period, Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary told ITV’s Peston programme that “we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us”.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe,” she quipped, clarifying: [You] don’t need to do things like that.”

She also said the government was “working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible” to allow people to enjoy the festive period.

When it was put to her that it sounded like she was backing Dr Harries, Dr Coffey said: “No, Christmas we should continue to plan for and enjoy.” But, she added “snogging” should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

Coffey has been work and pensions secretary since 2019 (Peston/ITV)
Coffey has been work and pensions secretary since 2019 (Peston/ITV)

Ministers buy millions more Pfizer and Moderna vaccines

Wednesday 1 December 2021 22:59 , Sam Hancock

Sajid Javid announced this evening that the government agreed deals to buy 114 million more Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid vaccines, saying ministers had sped up signing the new contracts in light of the new omicron variant.

The deal involves an additional 60 million Moderna shots and 54 million Pfizer doses for next year and 2023, and will also include access to any modified vaccinations if they are needed to combat the omicron strain or any other variant.

“These new deals will future proof the Great British vaccination effort - which has so far delivered more than 115 million first, second and booster jabs across the UK - and will ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead,” the health secretary said in a statement.

So far, nearly 51 million people in the UK have received their first Covid vaccine - almost 89 per cent of the population aged over 12 - more than 46 million have had two doses, and some 18.6 million have received a booster shot.

Omicron could fuel largest wave of pandemic, advisers warn

00:00 , Sam Hancock

The omicron variant could cause the biggest wave of Covid cases yet in the UK if allowed to spread unchecked, leading government scientific advisers have warned.

Sage advisers cautioned that a “very stringent response” from Downing Street may be needed, while scientists in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) said a spike in cases could overwhelm the NHS.

The warnings emerged as nine new cases of the more transmissible omicron variant were identified in England, bringing the total to 22, report Adam Forrest and our science correspondent Samuel Lovett.

Omicron could fuel largest wave of pandemic, government advisers warn

JCVI member ‘more positive’ about Christmas this year than last

01:00 , Sam Hancock

Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has given a positive outlook on the festive period.

Speaking to Sky News, he said he was feeling “more positive” about Christmas this year than the situation in 2020 due to vaccines carrying out “a lot of the heavy lifting”.

Prof Harnden said: “I think if people ... get vaccinated with the booster and are sensible with their precautions - that’s social distancing and mask wearing - then I don’t see any reason why we can’t enjoy Christmas”.

He said this was only at risk should “this [omicron] variant take a turn for the worse”. But, he stressed scientists “really aren’t going to know that for a couple of weeks”.

Ask an expert virologist about the omicron variant

02:00 , Sam Hancock

The country is currently bracing itself for the coming weeks as the omicron variant could see a surge in new Covid-19 infections across Britain even bigger than previous waves.

Results of detailed laboratory studies on omicron are expected in the coming days and weeks, but both Sage and Nervtag groups have warned it is likely the new variant can escape immunity from existing vaccines “to some extent”. But, what does it all mean?

To help answer questions around the situation which now faces us with omicron cases having been confirmed in the UK, an expert in virology will be on hand on this page to answer your questions.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, will be answering your questions about the Covid variant in the comments section of the below article tomorrow (2 December) between 1pm and 2pm.

Register here:

Ask an expert virologist anything about the Covid omicron variant

Britons must ‘test the hell out of’ themselves over Christmas – Hancock

03:00 , Sam Hancock

Matt Hancock appeared on ITV’s Peston last night, saying “we should test the hell out of ourselves” to “keep things open” over the Christmas period.

The former health secretary also said it was “really important” that lateral flow tests “stay free”.

“We’ve got the lateral flow tests that anybody can take, I took one this morning and then I ordered another box of seven. They are available free, it’s really important that they stay free, the tests,” Mr Hancock told the political show.

Asked if Dr Jenny Harries, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief, was right to warn against unnecessary social interactions, he said: “Saying things like we may need to go further on working from home is perfectly reasonable. But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Airlines told to keep data on travelers from southern Africa

03:42 , Arpan Rai

Airlines will be asked to gather information on travellers headed to the United States from southern Africa in the last two weeks, as the federal health officials move to strengthen the contact-tracing database.

This will help in preventing “the importation and spread of a communicable disease of public importance,” the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

The order by the CDC asks airlines to keep information on these passengers for 30 days and pass it on to the CDC within 24 hours if requested by the health body.

Information such as a passenger’s full name and date of birth, their place of stay in the US, email address in regular use and two phone numbers — main and secondary — will be saved by the airlines now.

Additional information like the passenger’s flight number, seat number, departure and arrival cities will also have to be preserved.

This guidelines by the US CDC will apply for travellers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe.

Watch: Prince Harry compares Covid vaccine inequity to HIV struggle

04:00 , Sam Hancock

Japan withdraws ban on new international flight bookings

04:01 , Arpan Rai

Japan on Wednesday retracted its blanket ban on fresh flight bookings from international destinations after it received heavy criticisms from inside and outside the country for adopting a too strict ban.

This comes just a day after Japan’s transport ministry asked all international flights to stop taking new bookings until this year’s end as it raised its guard against omicron, the new high risk variant of coronavirus.

So far, Japan has seen two cases of the omicron variant first identified by the scientists in South Africa last week for the global community.

On 24 November, the World Health Organization dubbed the omicron as a “variant of concern.”

Is omicron infecting infants more than other variants? South African scientists look for an answer

04:37 , Arpan Rai

As the number of hospitalisations of infants under two years old surge in South Africa, medical experts and scientists are trying to establish a link between omicron and infants’s illness.

At least 52 infants under the age of two, out of a total 452 Covid-19 patients, have been admitted in a hospital in Tshwane between 14 to 28 November, data by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) showed.

However, only a small fraction of Covid-19 positive test samples are sent for genomic sequencing to detect the omicron variant, owing to a limited capacity in the country.

This suggests that there’s no confirmation of spread of omicron among the infected infants, NICD scientists say.

Professor Anne von Gottberg, clinical microbiologist at the NICD, has said that they also cannot link all the cases to omicron because some of these hospitalisations may have occurred before omicron was detected.

“We are concerned enough that we are looking at the data very, very carefully, but at the moment I’m not too sure that we can link it definitively to Omicron,” the professor said.

Asian markets mixed as omicron concerns loom large

05:09 , Arpan Rai

Omicron concerns continue to cast a shadow on Asian markets as Shanghai and Tokyo slid, while shares in Hong Kong and Seoul advanced.

A loss of 0.3 per cent to 3,567.70 rocked Shanghai Composite Index, while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo dipped by 0.7 per cent to 27,760.67. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng made an abysmal gain of 0.1 per cent to 23,680.79.

Seoul’s Kospi saw an increase by 1 per cent to 2,930.31 while Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 suffered a loss of 0.1 per cent to 7,227.90. Trends of retreating shares were witnessed in New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets.

The S&P 500 dipped to 4,513.04, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 1.3 per cent to 34,022.04. The Nasdaq also plunged 1.8 per cent to 15,254.05.

On Thursday, the markets showed a sliding range and witnessed a ripple effect after the United States confirmed its first omicron case in California.

While it remains unclear how much of a damage omicron can cause to global economies and health care infrastructures, the administrations across the world have amped up their fight by banning international travel and resorting to lockdowns.

Australia reports omicron case from traveller who did not come from south Africa

05:47 , Arpan Rai

The tally of omicron variant of Covid-19 in Australia increased on Thursday, sending authorities in a state of caution over domestic border restrictions.

A fresh case, seventh since the variant was discovered last week, was reported from New South Wales in a person who travelled from Doha, Qatar. The authorities have noted that the person does not have a recent travel history to South Africa, indicating that he caught the virus in transit on a flight.

New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard urged people to not take this virus, which keeps mutating, lightly.

“We know this virus is dangerous, it does come out in some different forms,” Mr Hazzard said.

Australian administration has abstained from implementing nationwide lockdown, a common preventive measure that has been adopted by several nations, but has asked the health authorities to watch out for the omicron variant’s virulence by exercising maximum caution.

Indonesia braces for omicron with tighter travel restrictions

06:31 , Arpan Rai

Without sealing its borders tightly amid omicron worries, Indonesian authorities have decided to roll out strict measures like increasing quarantine duration and reducing traffic volume on roads.

Officials have banned travellers from 11 countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria, barring the Indonesians returning to the country.

These returnee travellers will have to undergo a mandatory 14 days of isolation.

The domestic measures will see restrictions in traffic volume on toll roads in a bid to bring down social interaction among people, the transport minister said.

New domestic travel measures include limiting the volume of traffic on toll roads to reduce people movement, according to the transport minister.

Indonesia has not reported any case of omicron variant so far.

The Asian country has recorded a sharp dip in its daily new infections which currently stands at an average of 400 for daily count.

This is in stark contrast with the country’s tally in July when the cases surged to 40,000.

'Stunned at response, especially from Britain,' says South African doctor who reported omicron variant

07:27 , Arpan Rai

The South African doctor who first attended a patient showing symptoms of the omicron variant of the coronavirus is stunned at the response of western countries, especially Britain.

Recounting her 33 years of experience as a general practitioner, Angelique Coetzee, the chair of the South African Medical Association, said nothing prepared her for the “extraordinary global reaction that met her announcement this week of a man in her surgery with a case of Covid-19 which later turned out to be the omicron variant”.

“...Let me be clear: Nothing I have seen about this new variant warrants the extreme action the UK government has taken in response to it,” Dr Coetzee wrote in The Daily Mail.

Pointing to the heavy travel restrictions on scores of African countries, she said, “The simple truth is: we don’t know yet anywhere near enough about Omicron to make such judgments or to impose such policies.”

Stating that virulency and the risk of omicron variant is still being monitored, Dr Coetzee said that if some evidence states that it is a “fast-spreading virus with mostly mild symptoms for the majority of the people who catch it, that would be a useful step on the road to herd immunity.”

But this can only be learnt in the next two weeks and globally, “that is not where we are at the moment,” the doctor said.

Antibody drug approved by UK regulator

07:45 , Jon Sharman

A drug treatment which, the makers claim, works against the new omicron variant of coronavirus has been approved by UK regulators.

Xevudy, also known as sotrovimab, is made by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

It has been found to cut hospital admissions and deaths by 79 per cent in at-risk groups.

The monoclonal antibody has now been authorised by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for people with mild to moderate Covid-19 who are at high risk of developing severe disease.

GSK and Vir Biotechnology said preclinical data suggested the drug "retains activity against key mutations of the new omicron Sars-CoV-2 variant".

The UK has ordered about 100,000 doses of the drug.

Read more:

UK approves new Covid drug that cuts risk of death by 80%

Scientists identify possible trigger of blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccine

08:16 , Jon Sharman

Scientists believe they may have found the “trigger” behind the extremely rare blood clot complications stemming from the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

According to an international team of researchers from Cardiff and the US, the reaction can be traced to the way the adenovirus used by the vaccine to shuttle the coronavirus’ genetic material into cells binds with a specific protein in the blood, known as platelet factor 4 (PF4).

Researchers think this may spark a chain reaction in the immune system which can culminate in the development of blood clots – a condition known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia.

Ministers discuss wisdom of ‘snogging under the mistletoe’ this Christmas

08:31 , Jon Sharman

Sorry if you were eating your breakfast when you read that headline. Anyway...

Following Therese Coffey’s admonition that people should avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” at Christmas in light of the omicron variant, another minister has been asked what he made of the advice.

George Freeman joked on LBC radio that he had not enjoyed such an encounter “for years”.

He added: “We’re trying not to tell everyone who they should kiss or where they should go.

“I think Therese Coffey was making the point that we’re all going to have to exercise some common sense and I think the British public know that, in the end, it is up to all of us.

“If we can prevent the virus from spreading, we’ll all be able to enjoy more freedoms and that’s why we have taken the steps we have.

“I can tell you that my parliamentary team and I normally have a Christmas party. We’ve decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won’t be the best party in the world.

“But ... we don’t want to be telling every individual business what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It is a matter for them.”

It comes amid continuing fallout from reports that Boris Johnson hosted Christmas parties in Downing Street in violation of his own Covid-19 rules.

We’ll have more on those allegations for you later this morning.

In the meantime, please enjoy this write-up of the exchange between journalists and Mr Johnson’s spokesperson regarding the claims:

Annual Covid booster jabs will be needed, says Pfizer boss

08:50 , Jon Sharman

Annual vaccines to tackle Covid-19 are likely to be needed, the boss of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has said.

Dr Albert Bourla said yearly vaccinations could boost population immunity, adding that the company is already working on a new jab for the Omicron variant.

He told the BBC: “Based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations… are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection.”

Annual Covid booster jabs will be needed, says Pfizer boss

Downing Street staff ‘repeatedly held banned Christmas lockdown parties’

09:09 , Jon Sharman

Multiple Christmas parties were held in Downing Street while indoor mixing was banned under Covid rules, according to the latest reports.

Boris Johnson on Wednesday refused to deny that a large party was held in No.10 in late December – breaking the regulations.

But there are now new claims that staff repeatedly gathered after work to drink alcohol and play party games in their offices, despite rules banning mixing between household bubbles, writes Jon Stone.

Downing Street staff repeatedly held Christmas lockdown parties

Starmer tries to leverage reports of No 10 parties

09:14 , Jon Sharman

Keir Starmer has attempted to heap pressure on Boris Johnson following claims the PM hosted Christmas parties in defiance of lockdown rules.

Sir Keir said the government had one rule for itself and another for the public.

‘I’ve only been in government six weeks, I don’t know,’ says minister wheeled out to defend Boris Johnson over No 10 parties

09:33 , Jon Sharman

The minister wheeled out for the morning interview round has insisted No 10 staff followed Covid-19 guidance in relation to Christmas parties, while at the same time claiming that because “I’ve been in government six weeks” he is unable to comment in any detail about the leading issue of the day.

Boris Johnson stands accused of allowing Downing Street staff to break lockdown rules on gatherings last Christmas. He has not denied reports that festive parties took place at No 10.

However, the government insists the rules were followed, and George Freeman did likewise during an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

He said: “I can absolutely assure you that No 10 staff followed the guidance.”

But he also admitted that I wasn’t there. I’ve been in government six weeks - I was nowhere near No 10 a year ago.”

Mr Freeman said he was taking the government’s word for it, adding: “I can’t tell you who was in the room or what happened - I wasn’t there - but I’ve checked before coming on and I’m told very clearly that the guidance was followed.”

After being told there was public frustration at the reports given that many people could not see loved ones this time last year, Mr Freeman said: "I totally understand that people around the country expect that, when we make sacrifices, that we all make them."

He added: "I can't get drawn into who was or wasn't in the room and who was drinking which cocktail. You'll understand I wasn't there."

Ask an expert virologist anything about the Covid omicron variant which has arrived in the UK

09:52 , Jon Sharman

The country is currently bracing itself for the coming weeks as the omicron variant could see a surge in new Covid-19 infections across Britain even bigger than previous waves.

Scientists in the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises Boris Johnson’s government, met last week to discuss the impact of the new variant in the UK.

Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, will be answering your questions about the omicron variant in the comments section of the article below today between 1pm and 2pm.

Get involved here:

Ask an expert virologist anything about the Covid omicron variant

France logs first omicron case

10:11 , Jon Sharman

France has recorded its first case of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

The infection was detected near Paris in a person who returned from Nigeria, the health body for the Ile de France region of greater Paris said in a statement.

This followed a case found in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion last month.

The French government's top scientific adviser said omicron could become dominant in the country by the end of January.

However, Jean-Francois Delfraissy told BFM television the "true enemy" for now was still Delta, spreading in a fifth wave.

"We should see a progressive rise of the omicron variant, which will take over from Delta," possibly by the end of January, he said.

"Christmas is not at risk if the population and decision-makers are all very cautious," he added, reiterating that social distancing and a third, booster shot of vaccines were key weapons.

France recorded nearly 50,000 new conformed Covid-19 cases over 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Germany expected to heap restrictions on unvaccinated people

10:30 , Jon Sharman

Germany is expected to impose restrictions on unvaccinated people today as it seeks to break a dramatic surge in daily coronavirus infections.

Angela Merkel and her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, will discuss with leaders of Germany's 16 states blocking the unvaccinated from accessing all but the most essential businesses, such as food shops, pharmacies and bakeries.

Eager to avoid lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery of Europe's biggest economy, they are expected to keep businesses open to the near-69 per cent of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection.

Virologists have blamed the fourth wave, which risks overwhelming intensive care units and on Thursday resulted in more than 73,000 new infections and 388 deaths, on resistance to vaccination by a large section of society. They have also criticised politicians for acting too late.

Germany's vaccination rate is around the EU average but lower than countries such as Portugal and Ireland.

Making vaccination compulsory and restricting the number of people at large events such as football matches are among the measures to be discussed.

Reuters

Government fails to adopt Sage recommendation of ‘valuable’ pre-departure travel test

10:49 , Jon Sharman

The UK’s scientific advisory group, Sage, highlighted the value of pre-departure Covid tests in a meeting on Monday, in a series of recommendations that have not been adopted by the government, writes Lucy Thackray.

In minutes from a meeting seen by the BBC, the group - which is made up of epidemiologists, statisticians, doctors and the nation’s scientific advisors - said demanding pre-departure tests from arrivals to the UK would be “valuable” in the current stage of the pandemic.

Government fails to adopt Sage recommendation of ‘valuable’ pre-departure travel test

Covid: Confusion as government gives mixed messages on Christmas party cancellations

11:08 , Jon Sharman

Government ministers are giving mixed messages on whether to cancel Christmas parties this year, amid concern about the rise of the new omicron Covid variant, writes Jon Stone.

Business minister George Freeman on Thursday morning revealed he has cancelled his own party for his parliamentary staff – and suggested larger companies might consider following suit.

But it comes after health secretary Sajid Javid said there was no need for people to "change their plans", other than consider taking a test or wearing a mask.

Confusion as government gives mixed messages on Christmas party Covid cancellations

US tightens travel testing rules as omicron spreads

11:27 , Jon Sharman

The US is set to tighten testing requirements for travellers entering the country in a bid to stem the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

International arrivals will now have to take a Covid test within 24 hours of their departure to the US, regardless of vaccination status, as opposed to the previous 72-hour time allowance.

The new restrictions will be introduced “early next week”, according to an official statement from the White House.

US tightens travel testing rules as omicron spreads

India detects first two omicron cases, health ministry confirms

11:46 , Jon Sharman

India has detected its first two cases of the omicron variant of Covid, the country’s health ministry said on Thursday, with both cases recorded in the southern state of Karnataka, writes Stuti Mishra.

India detects first two omicron cases

Dutch health authorities call for mandatory pre-flight Covid tests

12:00 , Rory Sullivan

Health authorities in the Netherlands are calling for compulsory pre-flight coronavirus tests for passengers travelling from outside the EU, after it emerged that almost everyone who tested positive for Covid-19 on two flights from South Africa last week had been jabbed.

Around 90 per cent of the 62 people onboard the flights were vaccinated, according to health figures in Kennemerland, the area where Schiphol airport is located.

This comes as Jaap van Dissel, the infectious diseases boss at the Dutch Institute for Health (RIVM), told politicians that testing could make things safer.

“By a combination of requiring tests before departure...and retesting five days after arrival, and knowing what happened, you can make flight safer,” he said.

More the 1 million people in UK have long Covid, ONS says

12:15 , Rory Sullivan

Around 1.2 million people in the UK are currently suffering from long Covid, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figure is up from the estimated 1.1 million who had the condition in September.

Over one in three of those affected contracted Covid-19 more than a year ago.

Almost two-thirds of people self-reporting long Covid told the ONS that it was adversely affecting their daily lives.

Fatigue is the most common symptom, followed by shortness of breath and loss of smell.

Finland registers first omicron case

12:25 , Rory Sullivan

It is not just India that has reported its first omicron Covid case today...

Finland has just followed suit, announcing that it has identified an infection caused by the variant.

In recent days, countries including Ireland, Nigeria, South Korea and the US have detected their first omicron cases, amid fears that the newest variant of concern could evade vaccines.

‘Don’t cancel Christmas dos,’ No 10 says in bid to clear confusion

12:45 , Lamiat Sabin

Downing Street has reiterated its wish for people to not cancel Christmas parties despite government departments choosing to forgo their celebrations this year.

It comes after the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) deciding to ditch plans for a pre-Christmas gathering.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear on this.

“On Christmas parties, we don’t want people to cancel such events. There is no government guidance to that end.

“It is right that post-Step 4 (of the road map out of lockdown), we returned to the position where people can use their individual judgment, but there is certainly no government guidance to that end, and the Prime Minister has been very clear.”

Asked what Mr Johnson made of BEIS deciding to cancel the party, the spokesman said he had not spoken the PM him about it.

Here’s the full story:

Don’t cancel Christmas parties and kiss whoever you like, says No 10

Russia imposes quarantine for arrivals from southern Africa

13:00 , Lamiat Sabin

Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine for travellers from some African countries including South Africa, the Interfax news agency quoted Anna Popova, the head of the consumer watchdog, as saying today.

Russia said earlier this week that people coming from high-risk countries in respect of the Covid omicron variant would have to quarantine.

Russia has yet to record any cases of the new variant.

Reuters

‘Omicron could cause more than half of all Covid cases’ – ECDC

13:15 , Lamiat Sabin

The omicron variant could cause more than half of all Covid infections in Europe over the rest of winter, it has been predicted.

European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC) made the claim in a “threat assessment” report.

It said: “Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months.”

The agency said that, although the facts about the variant are in the process of being discovered, omicron could have “greater growth advantage” over the delta variant and that this could drive transmission to more people.

Mainland France reports first omicron case

13:30 , Lamiat Sabin

A French health authority has announced that the first omicron variant case has been detected in mainland France.

The Ile-de-France Regional Health Agency said today that a man aged in his 50s, who lives in the Paris city area, had tested positive for the variant after returning from a trip to Nigeria.

He had displayed no symptoms when returning to France on 25 November.

His wife also tested positive for Covid but she is being tested to see if it is the omicron variant.

The pair had been quarantined at their home since the positive Covid tests.

A third person living in the same house as the couple was tested today to determine if they were infected and, if so, if they were carrying the new variant.

None of the three people were vaccinated, the statement said.

France reported its first omicron case on Tuesday on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The patient was identified as a man who had returned to Reunion from South Africa and Mozambique on 20 November.

Labour demands investigation into No 10’s Christmas parties

13:47 , Rory Sullivan

Labour has called for a formal investigation into the parties held at No 10 last Christmas, saying it is “difficult to understand” how they could have been within the rules.

The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to cabinet secretary Simon Case asking him to look into the events.

One large gathering reportedly took place at Downing Street in November and another is said to have occurred shortly before Christmas, when London was subject to a national lockdown and tier 3 restrictions respectively.

In her letter to the country’s top civil servant, Ms Rayner said it was “difficult to understand” how either event could have been within the rules, and claimed the government was “undermining public health messaging”.

My colleague Adam Forrest reports:

Labour demands formal government probe into No 10 Christmas parties

Video: Phillips slams Hancock over PPE contracts

14:00 , Rory Sullivan

Labour’s Jess Phillips has attacked the former health secretary Matt Hancock over allegations he helped a friend gain a lucrative government Covid-19 contract.

“Did anybody else’s mates get contracts?” she said.

Watch the full exchange here:

PM to receive his booster jab today

14:04 , Rory Sullivan

Boris Johnson is due to receive his booster jab today, Downing Street has confirmed.

As the 57-year-old prepared to have his top-up jab, No 10 called the booster the “best line of defence” against Covid-19.

Ministers want all adults to receive their booster shot by the end of January, a target which health secretary Sajid Javid has admitted will be difficult to achieve.

Public health experts have warned that the goal of giving people a third vaccine dose before February is “very ambitious”.

Omicron outbreak in Norway linked to Christmas party, say officials

14:15 , Rory Sullivan

Given Downing Street’s insistence that Christmas parties should go ahead as normal, here’s an interesting update from Norway:

A large omicron coronavirus outbreak linked to a Christmas party in Oslo has been detected in Norway, with at least 50 people known to have contracted the variant. “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” officials said on Thursday.

Authorities in Oslo have urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One is thought to be where the Christmas party took place.

Exclusive: Furlough must be ready if new Covid restrictions introduced, ministers told

14:30 , Rory Sullivan

Furlough must be rolled out quickly if new coronavirus restrictions are imposed, ministers have been told.

The Independent understands that measures to encourage working from home and to limit social mixing are being considered.

“We need a clear plan from the government in advance, so people know what’s coming,” said Dan Shears, GMB’s national health director.

My colleagues Anna Isaac and Ben Chapman have this exclusive:

Furlough must return if new Covid restrictions imposed, ministers told

Germany bars unvaccinated from non-essential shops

14:31 , Rory Sullivan

Germany has announced that unvaccinated people will be unable to enter non-essential stores and recreational venues, as the country contends with a large wave of infections.

“The situation is our country is serious,” chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, adding that the move was an “act of national solidarity.”

Masks will be required in schools and limits will be places on private meetings, while a general vaccine mandate will be debated in parliament.

Health authorities announced more than 70,000 new cases on Thursday.

Thomas Kingsley has more on this breaking story:

Germany to ban unvaccinated citizens from large parts of public life

Greece detects omicron case on Crete

14:48 , Rory Sullivan

On Thursday, Greece joined the ranks of countries that have now identified cases of the omicron Covid variant.

The European nation detected its first omicron infection on the island of Crete, health minister Thanos Plevris said.

The man who tested positive for the variant recently returned from South Africa and has mild symptoms, the politician added.

In an attempt to stem infections, the Greek government will make coronavirus vaccines compulsory for over-60s.

All passengers on South Africa flight with omicron variant were vaccinated, say Dutch health authorities

15:10 , Rory Sullivan

All 14 passengers on a flight from South Africa to the Netherlands who tested positive for the omicron variant had been vaccinated, Dutch health authorities said on Thursday.

The announcement by the Netherlands Institute for Health (RIVM) follows a local investigation at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

Omicron variant highlights need to vaccinate world, warns ICRC

15:29 , Rory Sullivan

The omicron variant shows just how important it is to vaccinate those in conflict zones and hard-to-reach places, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

Esperanza Martinez, the head of the Covid-19 crisis management team at the ICRC, said: “Vaccine inequity impacts us all. Omicron highlights how vulnerable we all are when large part of the world aren’t vaccinated.

“Vaccinating the tens of millions of people living in conflict zones and other hard-to-reach places is an absolute necessity if we are to resolve the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Ms Martinez noted that only 1.2 per cent of people in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen are fully vaccinated.

Sweden could impose Covid restrictions next week, says public health agency

15:46 , Rory Sullivan

Sweden could introduce new coronavirus restrictions from as early as next week, its public health agency has said.

It is thought the measures could include social distancing, masking wearing on public transport and the recommendation to work from home “to some degree”.

Referring to the country’s six omicron cases, Britta Bjorkholm, head of department at the Swedish Public Health Agency, said: “Due to this, we have scaled up our typing and sequencing.”

Health minister Lena Hallengren added that a plan would be published next week. “We are facing an uncertain winter,” she added.

Almost 50% of people in England want government to reintroduce ‘rule of six’ indoors

15:56 , Rory Sullivan

Nearly half of people in England want the government to reintroduce the rule of six indoors, the latest YouGov poll has shown.

While most respondents (56 per cent) do not think large outdoor gatherings should be banned, a slim majority wants a cap to be set on indoor socialising, with 49 cent in favour and 41 per cent opposed to limiting groups to six people.

‘People shouldn’t be cancelling things,’ says PM

16:08 , Adam Forrest

Boris Johnson has said there is no need to cancel Christmas parties or nativity plans, speaking after he received his Covid booster jab.

“People shouldn’t be cancelling things...there’s no need for that at all.”Asked about the gatherings held at Downing Street during lockdown restrictions over Christmas last year, he again insisted events were “accordance with the rules”.

He told broadcasters: “We had events for Hanukkah, we turned the Christmas lights on, and all sorts of things in No 10, and in accordance with the rules as you would expect.”

On the omicron variant and the importance of the booster jabs, he said: “We’re building ever higher the wall of protection, whatever omicron may or may not be able to do, it certainly won’t negate the overall value of the boosters.”

The PM added: “I think we’re taking a balanced and proportionate approach to the risk, but I want and I believe that Christmas this year will be considerably better than Christmas last year.”

UK records highest number of cases since July

16:15 , Lamiat Sabin

The UK has recorded 53,945 new Covid cases today.

The number of new cases in one 24-hour period is the highest since 17 July.

A total of 141 Covid-linked deaths have also been reported.

On Wednesday, 48,374 new cases and 171 deaths were recorded.

Minnesota reports first omicron case in man who visited NYC

16:30 , Lamiat Sabin

The US state of Minnesota has reported its first omicron case in a resident who recently visited New York City.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the individual is a man from Hennepin County, which includes the city of Minneapolis.

He experienced “mild symptoms” on 22 November and was tested on 24 November. His symptoms have since cleared.

More here from Gustaf Kilander

Minnesota reports first omicron case in resident who recently visited NYC

Israel halts phone tracking for omicron contact tracing

17:00 , Lamiat Sabin

Israel announced today it was halting the use of its controversial mobile phone tracing system to curb the spread of the omicron variant of Covid.

The decision followed “an up-to-date situational assessment,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement.

The Israeli government has been the only one in the Western world to use secret service tools to trace Covid cases, according to the Institute for Internet and the Just Society.

The use of such surveillance has sparked fierce criticism and legal action by human rights groups.

The digital contact tracing by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), known by Shin Bet, is usually used for mass surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies.

During the pandemic, the tools have been used to identify people who had been in the presence of people who tested positive for Covid, before putting them into compulsory quarantine.

Seven more omicron cases in England and three in Scotland

17:36 , Lamiat Sabin

Ten more omicron Covid cases have been discovered in the UK.

Seven were reported in England and three in Scotland, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

This brings the total number of confirmed omicron cases in England to 29 and the total in Scotland to 13.

In England, cases have been identified in the East Midlands, East of England, London, South East and North West.

Areas in England where omicron cases have been detected

18:00 , Lamiat Sabin

Greater London: 15

Buckinghamshire: 3 (including one in Chiltern)

North West: 2 (Lancaster and Liverpool)

South Northamptonshire: 2

Essex: 1

North Norfolk: 1

Nottingham: 1

Oxford: 1

South Cambridgeshire: 1

Surrey: 1 (Spellthorne)

Hertfordshire: 1 (Three Rivers)

Javid’s thumbs up to Westminster vaccine centre attendees

18:20 , Lamiat Sabin

Health secretary Sajid Javid gives a thumbs up as he arrives for a visit to a vaccine centre a stone’s throw away from Parliament and his department’s office.

 (PA)
(PA)

He visited the Abbey vaccine centre in Westminster, where there was a queue of people waiting outside to get their Covid jabs.

Inside the building, that is on the same street as a number of government departments, he took the opportunity to help put a patient’s data into the system while she got her booster jab.

 (PA)
(PA)

Meanwhile, the government has announced today that it has signed deals for 114 million Moderna and Pfizer jabs.

They will be delivered in 2022 and 2023, and will “future-proof” the UK’s vaccine programme – Mr Javid has said.

Omicron’s true threat ‘unlikely to be known until early 2022’

18:40 , Lamiat Sabin

The threat posed by the omicron virus won’t be fully understood until just after the new year, according to the government’s scientific advisers.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) believes “the worse the problem is going to be, the earlier we will know”.

It is expected to take a month before data indicates whether omicron will drive a surge in hospitalisations among vaccinated people.

Read the full story here by science correspondent Samuel Lovett

True threat posed by omicron ‘unlikely’ to be known until new year, scientists say

‘Routine hospital care will be hit by booster jab rollout deadline’

19:00 , Lamiat Sabin

Senior NHS leaders have warned the government meeting its booster vaccine rollout deadline will see routine care in hospitals cancelled or pared down.

Health correspondent Rebecca Thomas reports in her exclusive story that healthcare providers have yet to be told how the NHS is expected to increase the rate of booster take-up among the population.

Speaking with The Independent, several NHS leaders have said it is inevitable that ramping up Covid-19 vaccination services to meet the government's January deadline will draw healthcare staff away from non-urgent treatment.

It comes after the government announced on Monday that all adults are expected to be invited for a booster jab by the end of January.

Read the full story here:

Routine hospital care ‘will be hit’ if NHS to meet booster deadline

Biden pledges that US does not plan to go into lockdown again

19:50 , Lamiat Sabin

US President Joe Biden said today that his administration’s plan is to limit the spread of Covid without going into lockdown.

In his speech at the National Institute of Health, he outlined the federal government's plan to respond to the pandemic in light of the spread of the omicron variant.

He said: “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

Mr Biden said measures would exclude shutdowns but would include mass vaccination, and mask mandates on transport until March.

As part of the plans, at-home Covid tests will be reimbursed for those who have private insurance, while the government will distribute 15 million tests to community health centers and rural clinics for those who are uninsured or who are on Medicaid.

The president also pledged that the US will speed up efforts to donate vaccines to other countries.

Guadeloupe extends curfew amid protests against rules

20:20 , Lamiat Sabin

French overseas territory Guadeloupe has extend a nightly curfew until 7 December.

The decision was made based on the escalating protests over Covid rules, and the measure applies in the Caribbean island’s main city Pointe-a-Pitre and 20 other municipalities.

People participate in a peaceful protest against the government’s coronavirus measures (REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo)
People participate in a peaceful protest against the government’s coronavirus measures (REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo)

Last week, it was reported that the French mainland sent special forces to the island – which has a population of about 400,000 – after demonstrations saw police arresting armed protesters and continued blockades on public roads.

The protests have also seen some violence. An 80-year-old woman hit by a bullet while on her balcony and at least two others injured, local authorities are reported to have said.

Protesters in Guadeloupe are also feeling disenfranchised over the lack of opportunities, and the social and racial inequality on the island.

France last week said it is open to discuss autonomy for Guadeloupe if it is in the interests of the people who live there after the protest.

Zimbabwe detects unrevealed number of omicron cases

20:55 , Lamiat Sabin

Zimbabwe has detected the omicron variant of Covid in the country – but it has not been revealed how many.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said on state television: “We are now in a particularly dangerous period once again, where the fourth wave is slowly visiting us with the identification of the B.1.1.529 or the Omicron variant of Covid-19.”

Mr Chiwenga, who is also the country’s health minister, did not give details of how many cases of omicron infections had been recorded in Zimbabwe.

The southern African nation had reported 4,707 deaths from a total 135,337 cases as of yesterday.

20:57 , Lamiat Sabin

That’s it for today’s coverage of Covid pandemic developments. Thank you for following.

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