UK Covid news LIVE: WHO monitoring new Coronavirus variant

·15-min read
 (AP)
(AP)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated a new coronavirus strain, named Mu, as a variant of interest.

Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia in January and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe.

The WHO's weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

There are currently four coronavirus variants of concern, as deemed by the WHO, with the Alpha variant - first recorded in Kent - seen in 193 countries, Beta in 141, Gamma in 91 and Delta in 170 countries, while Mu is the fifth variant of interest.

Portugal drops quarantine for unvaccinated UK tourists

22:29 , Rachael Burford

Unvaccinated Britons can visit Portugal without having to quarantine after the country loosened its travel rules in a boost for last-minute summer holidays.

Travellers still need to show a negative PCR or rapid antigen coronavirus test result but will not need to prove they have had the jab upon arrival at the popular holiday destination.

Previously, visitors had to show they had been fully vaccinated with an EU-approved vaccine, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna, upon entry to mainland Portugal or they would have to quarantine for 14 days.

Children under 12 do not need to show proof of a negative test and the changes also apply to EU countries and several other nations including Brazil, China the US and Australia.

Charities welcome third jab news

20:38 , Rachael Burford

Charities supporting people at high risk from Covid have welcomed the news that those with severely weakened immune systems will get a third dose of a vaccine.

The top-up dose, for people who are not likely to have generated a full immune response with the first two jabs, has been hailed as something that will give “much-needed reassurance and additional protection”.

Charities called on the NHS to ensure those who are eligible, including people with leukaemia, advanced HIV and who have had recent organ transplants, receive clear communication.

Kate Collins, chief executive of the Teenage Cancer Trust, said: “We know that young people with cancer continue to be worried about the threat of the virus, with some young people continuing to shield and take other precautions despite restrictions lifting.

“We welcome the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s decision to provide a third vaccine dose for people over 12 who are severely immunosuppressed - including some people with cancer - as this will offer much-needed reassurance and additional protection.”

Women in Ireland to be offered Covid vaccine at all stages of pregnancy

19:49 , Rachael Burford

Pregnant women in Ireland are to be offered an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy.

The update follows recommendations made by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) to the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

In April this year, the NIAC recommended that pregnant women be offered mRNA Coivd-19 vaccination between 14-36 weeks’ gestation.

The NIAC said it has updated this recommendation based on the growing body of evidence on the safety and effectiveness of vaccination.

Health minister Stephen Donnelly said: “The evidence shows that vaccination is the best way to protect both mother and baby from serious harm from Covid-19 and I am pleased to announce that Covid-19 vaccination will be available at all stages of pregnancy.

“I am aware that many pregnant people and their partners will have questions about this update to the vaccination programme, and I encourage anyone who has any concerns to engage with their obstetric care team and the many trusted sources of information available in order to make the best decision for you and your baby.”

Third jabs for vulnerable

18:06 , Rachael Burford

Around half a million people who have severely weakened immune systems will be offered a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

People with conditions such as leukaemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants who are over the age of 12 will be given a third jab following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

The announcement is separate to any decision on a wider booster programme, but it is understood news on that is expected soon.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the Government was continuing to plan for a booster programme to begin this month and said people most at-risk from Covid-19 would be prioritised for that.

The JCVI said it was still deliberating on the potential benefits of booster vaccines for the rest of the population and was awaiting further evidence to inform its decision.

No decision has been given either on any extension of the vaccine programme to include all healthy 12 to 15-year-olds.

Covid passports for Scottish nightclubs

16:52 , Rachael Burford

The Scottish Government plans to introduce vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and large public events.

Nicola Sturgeon announced the certification will be used for clubs as well as unseated indoor live events with more than 500 people in attendance.

It will also apply to unseated outdoor events with more than 4,000 in the audience. Any event with more than 10,000 in attendance will also use vaccine passports.

The new system will be subject to a vote in the Scottish Parliament next week. Ms Sturgeon updated MSPs on coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon and she said the vaccine passport system will have to be implemented “quickly” ahead of winter.

She said: “The Scottish Government has made it clear that we do not believe that vaccination certification should ever be a requirement for any key services or in settings where people have no choice over attendance – for example, public transport, education, access to medical services or shops.

“We continue to hold to that position. But we do consider that a limited use of vaccine certification could help to control the spread of the virus, as we head into the autumn and winter.”

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

UK records highest Covid deaths since March

16:23 , Rachael Burford

The UK recorded 207 more Covid-related deaths on Wednesday.

It is the highest number since March 9 when 231 deaths were reported.

There were also a further 35,693 new coronavirus cases.

Wizz Air announces vaccine policy for staff

16:03 , Rachael Burford

Wizz Air will require its flight crews to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by December.

The airline is implementing the policy for all pilots and cabin crew as part of its commitment to “protecting the health and safety of its passengers and crews”.

The Hungary-based carrier, which serves 11 UK airports, added that the measure will support “smooth and continued operations of its flights in the long term”.

Wizz Air Group chief executive Jozsef Varadi said: “At Wizz Air, our number one priority is the health and safety of our passengers and employees.

“We have a responsibility to protect crew and passengers on board by mitigating the risks of Covid-19, and vaccines play a vital role in this.”

 (Steve Parsons/PA)
(Steve Parsons/PA)

One in seven Covid-positive children have symptoms 15 weeks on, study finds

15:39 , Barney Davis

As many as one in seven children who get coronavirus could have symptoms almost four months later, according to the world’s largest study on long Covid in children.

People who tested positive were twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later than those who tested negative, research led by University College London and Public Health England found.

Lead author Professor Sir Terence Stephenson said he feels “reassured” by the data, which he said shows it is “nowhere near what people thought in the worst-case scenario”.

The researchers said their findings will be presented to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which has yet to give a decision on extending the Covid jabs rollout to all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Scotland to introduce vaccine passports

15:38 , Barney Davis

The Scottish Government plans to introduce vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and larger live events later this month, subject to Scottish Parliament approval, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the increasing spread of coronavirus is “extremely concerning” as she updated MSPs about the latest Covid-19 figures.

She told MSPs the number of new cases is 80% higher than last week and five times higher than four weeks ago.

The First Minister suggested a rise in infections had been expected, in part due to the return of schools, but said: “Despite expecting to see some increase in cases, the scale of the increase in recent weeks has been extremely concerning.

“There is no doubt that this underlines the fact that the Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than previous strains.”

Hollywood stars to return to Venice Film Festival

13:42 , Laura Sharman

Venice Film Festival is set to open on Wednesday with the return of Hollywood stars who largely abandoned the event last year due to the Covid pandemic.

Actors Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit were among celebs arriving at its 78th showing in Italy.

Cinema looks forward to shaking off the crisis triggered by the global health emergency.

Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit (REUTERS)
Penelope Cruz and Milena Smit (REUTERS)

“Disappointing” plans for nightclub vaccine passports

13:35 , Laura Sharman

Plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs from the end of August have been met with disappointment.

Industry figures fear they could lead to a spike in house parties and embroil clubs in discrimination cases.

Downing Street confirmed the government intends to press on with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs, which had also previously met with criticism from MPs in both parties.

The scheme would require people to show proof that they are fully vaccinated in order to gain entry to clubs and other large events.

Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and co-founder of Manchester’s Parklife festival, said: “It’s disappointing that despite the calls from all sides, including the industry and customers themselves, the government is continuing to move ahead with this.

“The measures will cause enormous disruption to an already struggling industry.”

France launches Covid booster campaign for elderly

13:09 , Laura Sharman

France has begun administering Covid-19 vaccine booster shots to people aged over 65 and those with underlying health conditions as the highly contagious delta variant spreads in the country.

People qualify for the jab if a minimum six-month period has passed since they were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab could get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna at least four weeks after they were first vaccinated.

A nationwide booster campaign is to start in nursing homes on September 12.

About 18 million people are estimated to be eligible for the booster shot, the health ministry said.

Children still suffer Covid symptoms almost four months on

13:05 , Laura Sharman

As many as one in seven children who get coronavirus could have symptoms almost four months later, according to the world’s largest study on long Covid in children.

People who tested positive were twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later than those who tested negative, research led by University College London and Public Health England found.

Lead author Professor Sir Terence Stephenson said he feels “reassured” by the data which he said shows it is “nowhere near what people thought in the worst-case scenario”.

The findings will be presented to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation which has yet to give a decision on extending the Covid jabs rollout to all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Researchers looked at almost 7,000 children aged 11 to 17, including those who had a positive PCR test result between January and March and a group who tested negative in the same period.

Schoolchildren wearing face masks (PA)
Schoolchildren wearing face masks (PA)

Eight in 10 young adults in UK likely to have Covid-19 antibodies

11:58 , Barney Davis

Around eight in 10 young adults in the UK are now likely to have Covid-19 antibodies, new figures suggest.

The estimates, which are for people aged 16 to 24, range from 80.4% in Northern Ireland to 85.6% in Scotland, with 83.9% for Wales and 85.4% for England.

The presence of coronavirus antibodies suggests someone has had the infection in the past or has been vaccinated.

It takes between two and three weeks after infection or vaccination for the body to make enough antibodies to fight the virus.

They then remain in the blood at low levels, although these can decline over time to the point that tests can no longer detect them.

Weekly Covid deaths four times higher than this time last year, figures show

11:54 , Barney Davis

Weekly registered deaths involving coronavirus are four times higher than this time last year but appear to have levelled off, figures show.

There were 571 deaths in England and Wales where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate in the week ending August 20, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is four times higher than the 139 coronavirus deaths registered in the week ending August 21 2020.

Should you shake hands at a job interview post-pandemic?

10:14 , Barney Davis

Two out of three jobseekers do not want to shake an interviewer’s hand amid continued reservations about social distancing at work, new research suggests.

Only a third of 735 adults surveyed by recruitment company Randstad said it is appropriate to shake hands at interviews post-pandemic.

The firm said a handshake greeting has been an established part of the job interview process for many years, with some experts claiming to be able to tell what the person is thinking or feeling through the brief encounter.

A limp hand could be seen as a sign of weakness, or a crushing handshake could show dominance, said its report.

Snake venom could be useful in fight against Covid - study

10:06 , Barney Davis

Brazilian scientists have found that a molecule in snake venom slowed down the reproduction of coronavirus in monkey cells.

One researcher, Rafael Guido, said: “We were able to show that that component of the snake’s venom was able to inhibit a very important protein of the virus.

“It’s the first step in a long journey... the process is a very long one.

“A component of the venom demonstrated in this study is that it has development potential. It’s a long road, we have taken the first steps.”

No10 to plough ahead with vaccine passports even after Michael Gove filmed clubbing

08:50 , Barney Davis

Downing Street has confirmed it intends to press on with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs from the end of September.

The proposals have previously been met with criticism from politicians on both sides as well as leaders in the night time hospitality industry.

Michael Gove was recently filmed dancing until 2.30am in an Aberdeen night club.

The scheme would see members of the public required to show proof of their vaccine status to gain entry to domestic venues and events.

But on Tuesday the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government’s plans remained in place.

“We set out broadly our intention to require our vaccination for nightclubs and some other settings and we’ll be coming forward in the coming weeks with details for that,” he said.

But Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said his party would oppose the scheme, while Labour previously called it “costly, open to fraud and…impractical”.

Gov still plans to offer over-50s booster jab

07:55 , Barney Davis

Ministers still intend to roll out a booster programme from September, officials have said, despite no official announcement yet being made.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We are still awaiting the final advice from JCVI on boosters.

“It is still very much our intention to roll out the booster programme during September.”

NHS leaders have plans in place to offer a third jab to 30 million over-50s and clinically vulnerable people.

WH Smith: Business recovering from pandemic faster than expected

07:28 , Barney Davis

WH Smith has said its sales for the past year are expected to be “slightly ahead” of expectations as its travel business continued its recovery in recent weeks.

The retail group revealed that total sales in the six months to August 31 were 65% of pre-pandemic levels from the same period in 2019.

It said it was boosted by improvements in the last eight weeks of the period, with group sales at 71% of 2019 levels, after an rise in travel trade as airport and train stations stores saw footfall recover further as restrictions were eased.

Fears that Mu variant more resistant to vaccine

06:56 , Barney Davis

The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

It said: “Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe.

“Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1%, the prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) has consistently increased.”

There are currently four coronavirus variants of concern, as deemed by the WHO, with the Alpha variant – first recorded in Kent – seen in 193 countries, Beta in 141, Gamma in 91 and Delta in 170 countries, while Mu is the fifth variant of interest.

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s coverage of the latest Covid-19 developments

06:55 , Barney Davis

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