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Covid omicron news – live: All travellers to test before departure to UK in bid to curb variant spread

·33-min read
In this article:
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  • Sam Hancock
    British racing driver
  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

New travel rules have been announced in the government’s latest bid to prevent the spread of the new omicron variant.

Health secretary Sajid Javid announced the new rules on Twitter Saturday night, while also urging people to get the vaccine.

From 4am Monday morning, only UK/Irish citizens and residents travelling from Nigeria, which will be added to the Red List, will be allowed entry and must isolate in a managed quarantine facility.

From 4am Tuesday morning anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the Red List will be required to take a pre-departure test, regardless of their vaccination status.

Elsewhere, the Metropolitan Police has announced it will “consider” complaints from two Labour MPs that Boris Johnson and his No 10 staff held Christmas parties last November and December, while the rest of the country was in lockdown.

“It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations; we will however consider the correspondence received,” the force said in a statement.

Follow our live coverage below

Read More

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

Half of England’s omicron cases are in double-vaccinated people

Omicron: 75 new cases of variant identified in England, bringing UK total to 150

Key points

  • Met ‘considers’ complaints about No 10 Christmas lockdown parties

  • Covid will post threat to UK for next five years, experts warn

  • GPs scrap routine health checks for over-75s to give vaccine jabs

  • 75 omicron cases found in England, bringing UK total to 150

  • Further 14 Covid-linked deaths and one new omicron case in Scotland

  • No deaths reported from omicron yet, WHO announces

Good morning

07:49 , Sam Hancock

Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coronavirus coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates on the spread of omicron, including statistics and analysis from leading scientists.

Further 75 omicron cases found in England, bringing UK total to 150

07:53 , Sam Hancock

A further 75 cases of the omicron variant of Covid-19 have been detected in England, the government has said.

The new infections join the previous 29 confirmed cases of the of the variant known by scientists as B.1.1.529, bringing the total number in England to 104. In total, the UK has found 150 cases of the variant.

People infected with the omicron variant in England have now been located in the east Midlands, the east of England, London, the northeast, the northwest, the southeast, the southwest and the west Midlands.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said targeted testing was being carried in locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

Emily Atkinson has the full report:

A further 75 cases of omicron variant confirmed in England

Bring back working from home to tackle omicron, PM warned

07:58 , Sam Hancock

Boris Johnson’s government should consider bringing back “work from home” guidance in a bid to tackle the spread of the Covid omicron variant, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has recommended.

It comes as Prof Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), recommended the same thing, writes Adam Forrest.

“The more people can work from home now the better, until we are more definite about what’s going to happen,” Prof Finn told The Guardian.

The University of Bristol expert added: “We need to buy time. If in three weeks it’s died out, then fine, we can all relax, but right now is the time when you could prevent there being a big wave.”

Bring back ‘work from home’ to tackle omicron, top advisers tell No 10

Watch: Businessman slams government’s ‘nonsense’ over handling of omicron

08:03 , Sam Hancock

Government to drop Covid testing scheme for vulnerable people

08:37 , Sam Hancock

A major testing programme used to quickly detect Covid-19 in the NHS, prisons, schools and social care may be dropped next year.

Multiple senior sources have told The Independent the government is now seeking to wind down the national programme for loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests, from March 2022.

Lamp tests are much quicker than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, can be turned around within an hour, and are mainly used to test people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19.

The test can also be done directly on saliva so there is no need for swabbing, unlike PCR tests, and are thought to be more accurate than lateral flows, report our health correspondent Rebecca Thomas and economics editor Anna Isaac.

Government planning to drop Covid testing scheme for the vulnerable

Delta and omicron variants like ‘two pandemics at same time,’ says prof

08:57 , Sam Hancock

A leading Scottish health official has described omicron’s emergence as being like a second pandemic while scientists figure out if measures used to contain delta will have the same effect.

Professor Jason Leitch, the national clinical director for Scotland, said plainly that if someone is to leave their house today “you’re more likely to come into contact with the principal pandemic: delta”.

It is for this reason, he told BBC Breakfast, everyone must “behave in the way we’ve been talking about for weeks”, listing vaccines and regular testing as examples of what he meant.

However, Prof Leitch said what is not yet known is whether restrictions for delta can manage omicron. “We just don’t know if that’s the case yet,” he said.

Explaining how Scotland was attempting to contain the new variant, he said officials were practising “outbreak management” while its full impact was investigated.

“The ideal is to keep the R number [which focuses on the rate of transmissibility] below 1, to contain the number of cases, which is why Scotland wants to be so stringent with these restrictions until we know what’s going on,” he said.

It comes after Nicola Sturgeon, the country’s first minister, signalled this week she did not believe Boris Johnson’s measures went far enough.

Asked about cases being detected at a Steps concert in Glasgow, which took place on 22 November, Prof Leitch said this likely means the first official UK cases recorded on 27 November were not the first. “But it’s so hard to be precise due to the incubation period,” he added.

No deaths reported from omicron yet, WHO announces

09:00 , Sam Hancock

There have been no deaths reported from the omicron variant, despite cases being detected in at least 38 countries, the World Health Organisation has confirmed.

The United States and Australia are among the latest countries confirming new cases of the omicron variant. It comes as South Africa’s total infections pushed past three million as the new variant continues to spread.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first spotted omicron, said patients seen so far had “extremely mild symptoms” - but WHO warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it leads to more severe illness and how effective current vaccines are against it.

Thomas Kingsley reports:

No deaths reported from omicron yet, WHO says as cases in UK double

ICYMI: Watch Cressida Dick confirm Met not investigating No 10 over Christmas party

09:15 , Sam Hancock

Met police asked to investigate Downing Street lockdown Christmas party

09:25 , Sam Hancock

Following that last video post, here’s our policy correspondent Jon Stone with a bit more on what the Met was asked to probe.

In a letter to the force’s commissioner, Labour MP Barry Gardiner said the Met police “should investigate further to establish the facts and see if any laws might have been broken”.

It comes after claims No 10 staff drank into the early hours and played party games at Christmas parties held in Downing Street during last year’s lockdown - in contravention of Tier 3 rules.

However, Metropolitan police chief Cressida Dick had said earlier on Friday that she was not aware of any complaints against the PM’s office for allegedly breaking the rules.

Met police asked to investigate Downing Street lockdown Christmas party

Covid risks ruining Christmas ‘for next five years’, warn experts

09:45 , Sam Hancock

The government has been warned “it will take a long time for Covid-19” to stop having an effect on festivities such as Christmas amid concerns over the new omicron variant.

The stark view of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) is that it may take another five years for the virus to be dealt with in a predictable “endemic” state.

SPI-M-O, which advises ministers, is said to have reporters in a meeting on 24 November that many factors have to be taken into consideration in assessing how long it will take for Covid to become less dangerous and “it will take a long time”.

“The path to endemicity will be critically dependent on the rate of waning of immunity and chosen policies on vaccination and boosting,” the group is reported to have said by writers at BirminghamLive, who have seen the meeting notes. “Sars-CoV-2 will continue to be a threat to health system function and require active management, of which vaccination and surveillance are key, for at least the next five years.”

It comes after members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said this week that tven if there “continues to be good protection against severe disease for individuals from vaccination (including boosters), any significant reduction in protection against infection could still result in a very large wave of infections”.

Various trials are underway to ascertain the potential impact of the omicron variant.

Various Tory ministers have told Britons to go ahead with Christmas this year as planned (PA Wire)
Various Tory ministers have told Britons to go ahead with Christmas this year as planned (PA Wire)

GPs scrap routine health checks for over-75s to give vaccine jabs

10:12 , Sam Hancock

Under a new deal, GPs will temporarily scrap services such as giving over-75s routine health checks in a bid to speed up Britain’s Covid booster jab rollout.

The deal, negotiated with doctors’ unions, means thousands of GPs will continue to be paid for such duties regardless, as well as receiving bonuses for administering vaccines.

It comes after Boris Johnson called for the offering of booster jabs to be given to all adults aged 18 and over in the UK, in order to strengthen defences against the omicron variant. The minimum gap between doses has also been reduced from six to three months.

Some doctors have also been given the green light to abandon “minor” surgeries, according to a BBC Breakfast report this morning, so they can join the vaccine campaign and get as many Britons vaccinated as fast as possible.

GP changes ‘just cause backlog later down the line,’ says doctor

10:26 , Sam Hancock

On that note, here’s some reaction to the news GPs will change up their daily routine. Doctors’ leaders have welcomed a move to suspend some targets for GPs to enable them to concentrate on the vaccination programme, but warned the service remains under pressure.

Dr Farah Jameel, chair of the BMA’s England GP committee, said suspending some paperwork would create some additional capacity, but that individual practices would have to decide how much they could switch to delivering Covid jabs.

“That will then allow us to support the national effort - the national priority being to one vaccinating the nation as quickly as possible,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, adding: “Whilst these changes make a difference and start to create some time, I think every single practice will have to look at just how much time it does release.”

Meanwhile, Dr Jack Jacobs, a GP at Hamstreet Surgery, in Ashord, Kent, said he had mixed feelings about the changes. He said “getting the balance right” between ‘normal’ work and Covid-focused work was “tricky”.

Asked whether he had yet told an elderly patient they were no longer entitled to routine health checks, he said he hadn’t and that he “didn’t particularly want to have to, either”.

“All it means is I’ll have to do those checks at another time, so it potentially just causes a backlog three or four months down the line,” he told BBC News.

Kyna Bigornia receives her Pfizer Covid-19 booster injection at a vaccination site in Liberty Shopping Centre, Romford, east London (PA Wire)
Kyna Bigornia receives her Pfizer Covid-19 booster injection at a vaccination site in Liberty Shopping Centre, Romford, east London (PA Wire)

Covid jab decision for children as young as five expected next week

10:42 , Sam Hancock

The UK’s medicines regulator is set to announce a decision on whether to vaccinate children aged five to 11 as early as next week, The Independent understands, with a rollout expected in the new year.

MHRA (the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) is “moving at pace” with its assessment, while a member of Britain’s vaccine watchdog said the group “won’t hang around” in making a recommendation to ministers once it’s concluded if the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective to use in young children.

The government has made clear that rolling out boosters and vaccinating the unprotected remains the priority – more so now with the threat posed by the omicron variant, reports our science correspondent Samuel Lovett.

Vaccine decision for children as young as five expected next week

Watch: Tory minister ridiculed for defending lockdown-breaching No 10 party

10:54 , Sam Hancock

Number of children sick with Covid not cause for panic, says South Africa

11:27 , Sam Hancock

Higher hospital admissions among children in South Africa should not cause panic, a health official has said, as the country continues to deal with the outbreak of the omicron variant.

A large number of infants taken to hospital last month in Tshwane, the metropolitan area that includes SA’s capital Pretoria, sparked fears that omicron could pose greater risks for young children than other coronavirus variants.

However, scientists are yet to confirm this and have said other factors could be at play.

Ntsakisi Maluleke, a public health specialist in the Gauteng province, said out of the 1,511 Covid-positive patients in her region’s hospitals, 113 were under 9 years old.

“We are comforted by clinicians’ reports that the children have mild disease, though,” she told Reuters in an interview, adding health officials and scientists were investigating what was driving the increased admissions in younger ages and were hoping to provide more clarity in the coming two weeks.

Since only a small percentage of SA’s positive Covid tests are sent for genomic sequencing, officials do not yet know which variants the children admitted to hospital have been infected with. “The public needs to be less fearful but vigilant,” Ms Maluleke added.

A woman is vaccinated against Covid at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg (AP)
A woman is vaccinated against Covid at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg (AP)

Covid will post threat to UK for next five years – experts

11:30 , Sam Hancock

Further my post just before 10am, here’s Thomas Kingsley with some more detail on a new warning by scientists about how long we can expect to live with Covid.

“Repeated vaccination may be required to maintain sufficient vaccine-derived immunity for future Covid-19 control,” a report says.

“It is a realistic possibility that, over the next five years, there will be epidemics of sufficient size to overwhelm health and care services.

Covid will post threat to UK for next five years, experts warn

Sajid Javid meets with WHO to discuss omicron

11:44 , Sam Hancock

Health secretary Sajid Javid has announced he met with the World Health Organisation’s director-general to share the UK’s findings on omicron so far.

Describing the virtual meeting as “productive”, Mr Javid said Britain “continues to work with WHO on our global treaty to prepare for and respond to future pandemics”.

‘Every vaccine helps’: Merkel uses last days in office to push Covid jabs

11:56 , Sam Hancock

In one of her last acts as German chancellor, Angela Merkel on Saturday urged Germans to get vaccinated against Covid, speaking days ahead of leaving office.

“I once again emphatically ask you to take this tricky virus seriously,” Merkel said, calling the fourth coronavirus wave to hit Germany “very serious” and even “dramatic”, with intensive care units overloaded in some parts of the country.

“The new omicron variant in particular seems to be even more infectious than those that came before. Get yourself vaccinated, whether it’s your first shot or a booster,” she added. “Every vaccine helps.”

After 16 years in power, Merkel is expected to pass the reins to Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, following a vote in parliament on Wednesday to elect the new chancellor.

One of Mr Scholz’s first steps as head of government is expected to be passing a law to make vaccination compulsory from February or March next year.

Merkel (right) is pictured arriving at a press conference in front of the current finance minister and expected next chancellor Scholz (left) (AFP)
Merkel (right) is pictured arriving at a press conference in front of the current finance minister and expected next chancellor Scholz (left) (AFP)

Watch: Everything we currently know about omicron

12:17 , Sam Hancock

Two hippos in Belgian zoo test positive for Covid

12:35 , Sam Hancock

Over to Belgium now, where two hippos at Antwerp Zoo have tested positive, in what staff are saying could be the first reported cases in the species.

Hippos Imani, aged 14, and 41-year-old Hermien have no symptoms apart from a runny nose, but the zoo said the pair had been put into quarantine as a precaution.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time [this has happened] in this species,” the zoo’s vet, Francis Vercammen, told Reuters. “Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines.”

Pets including cats, dogs and ferrets have previously become infected following contact with their owners, while in zoos, cases have been reported in animals such as big cats, otters, primates and hyenas.

The disease has also spread in mink farms and to wild animals, such as deer.

Antwerp Zoo is investigating the causes of the contagion, but noted none of its staff had recently shown Covid-19 symptoms or tested positive for the virus.

Staff believe this could be the first instance of Covid in hippos (San Diego Zoo)
Staff believe this could be the first instance of Covid in hippos (San Diego Zoo)

Omicron symptoms: What to look out for

13:00 , Sam Hancock

Doctors in South Africa have suggested that the symptoms of the omicron Covid variant could be milder than those caused by the globally-dominant delta variant, though the WHO warns it is still too early to draw conclusions about the fast-spreading new form of Sars-CoV-2.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor and chair of the South African Medical Association, who was one of the first people to suspect the emergence of a different virus variant there, said she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from those typically seen with delta.

“What brought them to the surgery was this extreme tiredness,” she told AFP, adding that the patients had mild muscle aches, a “scratchy throat” and dry cough.

But what else differentiates omicron from delta? Alisha Rahaman Sarkar and Celine Wadhera take a closer look.

Omicron symptoms: What to look out for

Watch: PM receives booster vaccine at St Thomas’ Hospital in London

13:25 , Sam Hancock

Opinion: ‘Inclusive recruitment schemes needed to meet challenge of Covid’

13:34 , Sam Hancock

Salvatore Nigro, chief executive of JA, one of Europe’s largest education providers, writes about the need for businesses to adopt a culture of learning amid the threat of new Covid variants.

Britain and continental Europe’s labour markets are at a critical point. The number of UK job vacancies has continued to rise significantly and in October, reached the highest number since records began 20 years ago.

Despite this, 69 per cent of companies across Europe are currently reporting talent shortages. This vacancy paradox is occurring at a time when over 140 million full-time jobs have been lost across the world, and more than 3 million under 25s are currently unemployed. This reflects skill shortages which are already having adverse consequences on the productivity and competitiveness of European enterprises.

Now, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warning that the new Covid variant could mean severe global consequences, it begs the question of whether omicron will further hamper business recruitment, particularly in the wake of the “great resignation”?

Read Salvatore’s thinking in full:

Opinion: Inclusive recruitment schemes are needed to meet the challenges of Covid

Thousands protest over Dutch Covid restrictions

13:59 , Sam Hancock

Over to the Netherlands now, where several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.

Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.

It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of Covid cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.

Pepijn van Houwelingen, a member of the conservative populist party Forum for Democracy, addressed a crowd of hundreds at the event.

The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.

In images: Covid in the UK

14:32 , Sam Hancock

Scotland’s FM Nicola Sturgeon receives her Covid booster vaccine on Saturday (Getty)
Scotland’s FM Nicola Sturgeon receives her Covid booster vaccine on Saturday (Getty)
A woman walks past signage outside a pop-up Covid vaccination centre in Hammersmith, London (AFP via Getty Images)
A woman walks past signage outside a pop-up Covid vaccination centre in Hammersmith, London (AFP via Getty Images)
Shoppers walk along Oxford Street, in central London, as face masks return in some public spaces (AFP via Getty Images)
Shoppers walk along Oxford Street, in central London, as face masks return in some public spaces (AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson arrives at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on Thursday to receive his booster jab (Getty)
Boris Johnson arrives at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on Thursday to receive his booster jab (Getty)

Further 14 Covid-linked deaths and one new omicron case in Scotland

14:46 , Sam Hancock

Scotland has recorded 14 coronavirus-linked deaths and 1,257 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data from the Scottish government.

One case of the new Omicron variant has been confirmed in that time, in NHS Grampian, taking the total people infected with the variant in Scotland to 30.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has the most of the new variant cases at 11, followed by NHS Lanarkshire with nine, five in NHS Forth Valley, three in NHS Highland and two in NHS Grampian.

Scottish ministers said Public Health Scotland is “aware of a processing issue with UK government lab tests contributing to lower than expected cases and tests” in the daily figures and investigations are ongoing to resolve the problem.

The death toll under the daily measure, of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days, is 9,648.

There were also 605 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19 as of Friday night and, of these, 50 were in intensive care.

BREAKING: Met ‘considering’ complaints about No 10 Christmas parties

14:57 , Sam Hancock

Police say they are considering complaints from Labour MPs that Boris Johnson and his No 10 staff held Christmas parties last December, in breach of Covid regulations.

Labour backbenchers Neil Coyle and Barry Gardiner have each written to Scotland Yard asking the Metropolitan Police to investigate reports that two parties were held in the run-up to last Christmas at a time when such gatherings were banned.

Mr Johnson has not denied the events took place but said no rules were broken, though he has repeatedly refused to explain how that could be the case.

In a statement, the Met said that while it did not routinely investigate “retrospective” breaches of the Covid regulations, it was considering the correspondence it had received. It added:

“The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting and has received correspondence relating to alleged breaches of the health protection regulations at a government building on two dates in November and December 2020. t is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations; we will however consider the correspondence received.”

As well as the letters from Messrs Coyle and Barry, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner previously wrote to Cabinet secretary Simon Case to ask whether he was considering referring the matter to the Met.

Johnson has continually denied to clarify how the parties adhered to Covid guidelines when under the rules, parties were banned (PA Wire)
Johnson has continually denied to clarify how the parties adhered to Covid guidelines when under the rules, parties were banned (PA Wire)

No 10 parties: Barry Gardiner’s letter to Cressida Dick

15:27 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, here’s the letter one of the complainants – Labour backbencher Barry Gardiner – wrote to Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick:

Watch: Nicola Sturgeon receives her booster jab

15:39 , Sam Hancock

Met considers complaints No 10 parties broke Covid rules

15:50 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (2.57pm), here’s Andy Gregory with more detail on complaints being considered against the PM and his staff.

Labour backbenchers Neil Coyle and Barry Gardiner each wrote to Scotland Yard asking police to investigate reports in the Daily Mirror that two parties were held in the run-up to last Christmas - at a time when such gatherings were banned.

In the first instance, Boris Johnson is alleged to have given a speech at a packed leaving-do for a senior aide during England’s second lockdown, last November.

Members of his team then held their own festive party in the days before Christmas, while London was under Tier 3 restrictions, according to the paper.

Met Police considering complaints that No 10 Christmas parties broke Covid rules

Nicola Sturgeon receives booster jab, urges people to get vaccinated

16:20 , Ella Glover

Scotland’s First Minister urged people to get vaccinated on Saturday as she got her Covid-19 booster jab.

She said getting a booster jab is “even more important” in the face of the new Omicron variant.

One case of the new variant has been confirmed in that time, in NHS Grampian, taking the total people infected with the variant to 30.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Please come forward for your vaccination. It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself but it is also helping protect around you.

“If you haven’t had your first or second doses yet, please do that, it is never too late but increasingly our message is to people to get boosted as soon possible.

“We know that the booster vaccination gives you significant added protection - not just marginal added protection - so it really makes a difference.

“That was important before the emergence of the new variant, it’s even more important now.”

On Saturday, Scotland recorded 14 coronavirus-linked deaths and 1,257 new cases in 24 hours.

She added that she cannot guarantee the programme will be free of “glitches” such as people being turned away from appointments.

The Scottish Government said Public Health Scotland is “aware of a processing issue with UK Government lab tests contributing to lower than expected cases and tests” in the daily figures and investigations are ongoing to resolve the problem.

PA

More than 40,000 positive cases and 127 deaths recorded in 24 hours

16:49 , Ella Glover

The UK has recorded 127 Covid-related deaths in the latest 24-hour period, according to official figures.

There have been 42,848 positive coronavirus cases recorded in the same period.

This is down from Friday, when positive cases stood at 50,584 and deaths at 143.

However, it is up from this time last week, which saw 39,567 daily infections and 131 deaths.

Everything we know about the new ‘omicron’ variant

17:05 , Ella Glover

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named the new B.1.1529 coronavirus variant omicron and designated it a variant of concern just weeks after it was first detected in southern Africa.

Scientists believe it could take months before we have a more complete understanding of the scale of the threat it poses.

Here’s everything we know so far:

Everything we know about the new ‘omicron’ variant

Protesters oppose Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 certification scheme

17:23 , Ella Glover

Over in Belfast, several hundred people gathered outside City Hall on Saturday to protest the introduction of Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 certification scheme.

Those in attendance were told that the event was not a protest against vaccines, but rather opposing the certification regulations which were introduced on Monday.

Under the scheme, people entering licensed premises, cinemas and theatres will be asked for proof of vaccination or a negative test result under the regulations, with fines being introduced on December 13.

Speakers at the City Hall rally told the crowd that it was an event to campaign for everyone to be treated equally “regardless of their medical status”.

Some 86,000 people have already applied to the domestic certification scheme.

However, the issue has caused controversy in the Executive, with the DUP opposing mandatory Covid certification.

PA

New vaccine campaign video urges pregnant women to get jabbed

17:40 , Ella Glover

A campaign video urging pregnant women to take the Covid-19 vaccination shares the harrowing stories of women who contracted the virus during their pregnancies.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), 98 percent of pregnant women in hospital with symptomatic Covid-19 are unvaccinated and nearly one in five Covid-19 patients who are most critically ill are pregnant women who have not been vaccinated.

It said no fully vaccinated pregnant women were admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 in England between February and the end of September 2021.

Pregnant women were offered the vaccine in April this year after data from the US showed around 90,000 pregnant women had been vaccinated without any safety concerns being raised, prompting a change in stance by the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI).

The World Health Organisation changed it’s guidance in January 2021 saying that although there was “very little data” available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy, there was no reason to “believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits”.

More than 46 million people have received a second jab

18:01 , Ella Glover

A total of 6,491,583 second doses of a Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by December 3, an increase of 28,945 on the previous day.

Government figures show that a total of 51,068,961 first doses have also been delivered, up by 22,828.

A combined total of 19,809,442 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 372,557.

Separate totals for booster and third doses are not available.

PA

NHS promises to update vaccine booking system by December 13

18:20 , ella glover

The NHS vaccine booking system will be updated to allow those under 40 to reserve their booster jabs, Sky News reported.

The government this week announced that booster jabs will be offered to all over 18s.

Boosters were previously only available for over 40s.

However, the NHS National Booking Service is yet to be updated to reflect the changes in eligibility.

In a letter to GPs, NHS England promised to update the online system “as soon as possible, but no later than 13 December.”

Travellers to UK to require pre-departure test in new travel rules

18:35 , Ella Glover

The Health Secretary has announced new travel rules related to the new omicron variant.

From 4am Monday, only UK/Irish citizens and residents travelling from Nigeria will be allowed entry and must isolate in a managed quarantine facility, Sajid Javid said on Twitter.

He added that, from 4am Tuesday, anyone travelling to the UK from countries not on the Red List will be required to take a pre-departure test, regardless of their vaccination status.

He also urged people to get vaccinated.

“Vaccines remain our first line of defence - the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Please get vaccinated or #GetBoosted as soon as you can,” he said.

Nine deaths and 1,642 positive cases record in NI

18:53 , Ella Glover

Northern Ireland today recorded nine new deaths and 1,642 positive cases.

This is up from last Saturday, which saw two deaths and 1,482 positive cases.

However, the figures for new cases are lower than Friday’s numbers, which stood at 1,908.

Chile detects first omicron case

19:11 , Ella Glover

The first case of the omicron variant has been detected in Chile.

The foreign patient residing in Chile arrived in the country on Nov. 25 from Ghana with a recently-taken negative Covid-19 test.

But a subsequent test taken upon arrival in Chile was positive and then sequenced.

“The passenger, who had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, is currently in good health and fulfilling his isolation,” the secretary of health of the Valparaiso region in Chile said in a statement.

Three more omicron cases detected in New York

19:28 , Ella Glover

Three more omicron cases have been detected in New York on Saturday, bringing the total cases of the new variant to eight.

Seven of the cases have been found in New York City and one in Suffolk County. So far, all cases of the new variant in the state appear to be unrelated, Governor Kathy Hochul said.

One of the known cases involved a man from Minnesota who was among 50,000 people who attended a three-day anime festival in New York City in November.

Authorities have urged anyone who attended the conference to get tested for Covid-19 and wear a mask in public.

The variant has been detected in a handful of states so far, including Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Missouri, New Jersey and Georgia.

AP

Nigeria added to Red List

19:58 , Ella Glover

Explaining why Nigeria will be added to the travel Red List from 4am Monday, health secretary Sajid Javid said that Nigeria was second only to South Africa in terms of Omicron cases linked to travel.

The number of detected omicron cases in Britain now stands at around 160, he said.

South Africa and nine other Southern African countries were added to the red list last weekend, meaning that entry is only allowed to UK citizens or residents who then must quarantine in a hotel.

Reuters

Transport secretary reacts to travel changes

20:25 , Ella Glover

Following the latest travel announcement, transport secretary Grant Schapps has shared his reaction on Twitter.

“As the scientists work to understand new Omicron variant we need to apply additional caution until picture is clearer,” he wrote.

“We appreciate this will be difficult for the travel sector as we prioritise public health & protect the progress of our world-leading vax and booster programme.”

Shadow home secretary welcomes introduction of pre-departure tests

20:31 , Ella Glover

Labour’s Yvette Cooper has welcomed the decision to introduce pre-departure tests for people travelling to the UK.

However, she said the move should have come sooner.

The shadow home secretary said: “We badly need them to learn the lessons on the importance of acting quickly on Covid border measures rather than each time having to be put under huge pressure to finally act.”

The new travel rules, explained

20:38 , Ella Glover

If you’re a little lost on the latest change to travel rules, you won’t be alone.

Here’s everything you should know, explained by our travel correspondent Simon Calder:

What are the new Covid travel rules?

New rules a ‘devastating blow’ to the travel industry

20:48 , Ella Glover

The latest change to travel rules has been met with disdain by those in the travel industry.

The second change to the rules in a week has been called a “devastating blow” and another “nail in the coffin” for the travel industry.

Simon Calder reports:

The chairman and chief executive of British Airways, Sean Doyle, said: “The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the UK, on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world, with every other country taking a measured approach based on the science.

“Our customers will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos and yet again this a devastating blow for everyone who works in the travel industry.”

Martin Chalk, general secretary of the pilots’ union, Balpa, said: “The new costs and stress of travel seem designed to destroy confidence in air travel and the idea of families being confident in booking to re-unite over the holidays, many for the first time since Covid, is now a cruel joke. “

Tim Alderslade, CEO of the industry body Airlines UK, said: “It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence.

“We know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants. It’s already here. “They’ve now changed their travel advice twice within a week and it’s just impossible for anyone to plan.

“These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.”

He added, though, that “The red list extension made complete sense – that’s what it’s there for.”

The veteran tour guide and photographer, Paul Goldstein, said: “This woeful government seem determined to hammer a few nails in the industry’s coffin and starve everyone in Africa.

“The variant is well and truly out of the bag anyway and I struggle to see how this draconian edict could ever be described as ‘learning to live with Covid’.”

Pope Francis praises vaccination campaigns

21:01 , Ella Glover

During a speech to Greek political and cultural leaders Saturday, Pope Francis praised the “ “necessary vaccination campaign” promoted by governments in response to the pandemic, AP reports.

He referenced the Greek doctor-philosopher Hippocrates in response to vaccine skeptics and virus deniers, who count many religious conservatives among them.

The pope cited the Hippocratic oath to not only do what is best for the sick, but to “abstain from whatever is harmful and offensive to others,” especially the elderly.Greece’s president echoed the sentiment. “The virus spreads and mutates, helped by the irrational denial of reality and inequalities in our societies,” Sakellaropoulou said.

AP

Former Netherlands queen tests positive for coronavirus

21:15 , Ella Glover

The former Dutch queen, Princess Beatrix, has tested positive for Covid-19, it has been announced.

Princess Beatrix, the 83-year-old former Dutch queen, has tested positive for the coronavirus, the royal house announced Saturday.In a statement, the royal house said the 83-year-old got tested after feeling “mild cold symptoms.”

“The princess is at home in isolation and adheres to the rules of life for people who have tested positive,” the statement said.

The princess lives in a castle in the central Netherlands.

Shadow health and social care secretary welcomes travel rules, calls for more boosters

21:35 , Ella Glover

Shadow health and social care secretary Wes Streeting has welcomed the government’s decision to introduce pre-departure tests, however he questioned why they only need to be taken up to 48 hours before flying.

“Finally the Health Secretary accepts Labour’s call for pre-departure tests, but why up to 48 hours before flight?” he wrote on Twitter following Sajid Javid’s announcement Saturday.

He also called for 500,000 booster jabs a day, higher vaccination rates, better sick pay for workers who need to self isolate and improved ventilation in schools.

Massachusetts announced first detected omircon case

22:04 , Ella Glover

One case of the new omicron variant has been detected in Massachusetts.

It follows a rise in cases in New York, where the total number now sits at eight.

The patient is a woman in her 20s who had travelled out of state, the Department of Public Health announced Saturday.

The unidentified woman — a resident of Middlesex County — is fully vaccinated and has experienced mild symptoms, AP reported.

Dentist attempts to get vaccinated in a fake arm to obtain health pass

22:46 , Ella Glover

Over in Italy, a man may face charges after attempting to get a Covid-19 vaccination in a silicone arm, AP reported.

The nurse administering the vaccine, Filippa Bua, noticed straight away.

“When I uncovered the arm, I felt skin that was cold and gummy, and the colour was too light,” she told local media.

“I understood immediately that the man was trying to avoid the vaccination by using a silicone prosthetic, into which he hoped that I would inject the drug, unaware,” she added.

The 57-year-old dentist was hoping to obtain a “super” health pass, which from Monday will be required to enter restaurants, cinemas, theatres and other venues in Italy.

He had already been suspended from work because of his refusal to get vaccinated, which Italy requires for medical personnel.

Staff at the vaccination centre recognised the incident as attempted fraud and subsequently turned paperwork over to superiors so they could report the case, which has been given to prosecutors, AP reported.

Goodnight from The Independent

22:47 , Ella Glover

That’s it for today’s live coverage of the pandemic.

Come back tomorrow for more rolling updates.

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