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UK Covid news LIVE: Boris Johnson says 90% of ICU patients haven’t had booster as Omicron makes up nearly all cases

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Boris Johnson said the “overwhelming majority” of people in intensive care have not had a Covid-19 booster as the PM urged people to get one so they can enjoy the New Year "sensibly and cautiously".

Speaking on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said there were 2.4 million eligible double-jabbed people who were yet to take up the offer of a booster.

“I’ve talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90% of people in intensive care, who are not boosted,” he said.

It comes as nearly 40,000 more Omicron confirmed cases were reported in the UK, taking the total to more than 210,122 - with the variant now accounting for 90 per cent of Covid infections in England.

Global Covid-19 infections have reached a record high as the Omicron variant races out of control across swathes of the planet.

Mr Johnson is also facing calls to reduce the Covid isolation period from seven to five days to stave off an NHS staffing crisis.

Meanwhile pharmacists are calling for immediate action to address a shortage of lateral flow tests amid unprecedented demand for the kits.

Follow the live updates below.

Covid updates at a glance

  • Boris Johnson says 90 per cent of Covid patients in intensive care have not had a booster jab

  • Pharmacists say they are having to turn away people wanting lateral flow tests 'every five minutes’

  • Minister says there are ‘no current plans’ to cut self-isolation rules to five days

  • Nicola Sturgeon: Anyone who chooses not to get a booster jab “without good reason” is acting irresponsibly amid another record rise in Covid cases

  • The US and France have reported their highest daily rises in new Covid cases since the pandemic began

Good morning

07:14 , Elly Blake

We will be bringing you the latest Covid-19 updates on Wednesday.

Yesterday saw a record high of 129,471 infections reported, but that figure only includes data from England and Wales and reflects different time periods.

The Twixmas period will see ministers urging those who haven’t already to get a booster jab, as the rollout programme continues at pace.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update on Covid restrictions as case numbers in Scotland reach record highs.

US and France see record number of cases

07:29 , Elly Blake

The US and France have both seen record rises in Covid cases, as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

According to the US Centers for Disease and Prevention, the country reported more than 440,000 new infections on Monday - but officials warned it could be an “overestimate” due to reporting delays over Christmas

France meanwhile reported Europe’s highest ever number of new daily cases, with 79,807 infections on Tuesday.

French health minister Olivier Véran said that “everything suggests” France could see as many as 250,000 daily cases by the start of January.

Italy, Greece, Portugal and England all also reported record rises on Tuesday.

Lateral flow test supply has been ‘patchy and inconsistent’, says pharmacy chief

07:44 , Elly Blake

People are being turned away from pharmacies without lateral flow tests every five minutes, a pharmacy chief has warned.

Leyla Hannbeck, who heads up the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said members were telling the industry body that “that demand for the lateral flow tests is very high at the moment due to the current guidelines around self-isolation.”

She said: “Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes, approximately, somebody comes into the pharmacy asking for a test.

“But, unfortunately, because of the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means that those who come for the test don’t always get it, which is very stressful not just for the pharmacy team but for the patient.”

Ms Hannbeck, who was speaking on BBC 4’s Today Programme, continued: “The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high, because of the current guidelines.

“People are doing the responsible thing by wanting to be tested and we are in the Christmas area of time, and the New Year is just around the corner and people want to be with family and friends.”

Should we cut the self-isolation period? Jonathan Ashworth isn’t so sure

08:05 , Elly Blake

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government should avoid “rushing into” cutting Covid isolation times.

Asked about calls for the isolation period to be reduced to five days, he said: “I think we should always follow the advice of our leading scientists, medical scientists like Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, and I don’t think they’ve given an opinion on this.”

He added: “Let’s see what they say on this before rushing into this.”

Mr Ashworth said politicians “should always be careful to listen to scientific experts”.

Read more about calls to cut the self-isolation period here.

No current plans to cut self-isolation period, says minister

08:13 , Elly Blake

There are “no current plans” to cut the Covid isolation period in England to five days, a Government minister has said.

Chloe Smith, minister for disabled people, health and work, told BBC Breakfast: “There are no current plans in England to change that period.

“Of course, we have actually only recently taken it down from 10 to seven, and we want to look at that – we want to make sure that that is working as we believe it ought to.

“We think the current period, therefore, is the right one, so we haven’t any plans to change that further.”

Nicola Sturgeon to give update on Covid in Scotland

08:45 , Elly Blake

Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update on Covid restrictions in Scotland as case numbers reach record highs.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give a Covid update in Parliament on Wednesday (PA Wire)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give a Covid update in Parliament on Wednesday (PA Wire)

The festive period has seen daily cases in Scotland climb to more than 8,000, with the most recorded since the start of the pandemic on Boxing Day - 11,030.

The Scottish First Minister is expected to give an update on restrictions and Covid statistics in Scotland between 2pm and 2.30pm in Parliament on Wednesday.

It remains unclear whether she will introduce further restrictions or not.

Pubs, bars and restaurants lost £10,335 on average in week leading up to Christmas - UKHospitality

09:00 , Elly Blake

The hospitality industry saw their takings down by 60 per cent on Christmas day compared to 2019, according UKHospitality.

It comes as another blow to the beleaguered hospitality industry, with pubs, bars and restaurants losing an average of £10,335 in the week leading up to December 25.

But the industry body said in the weeks prior to the emergence of Omicron, which was first reported in late November, average sales had been close to pre-pandemic levels (98 per cent).

London venues and those in city centres have been hit particularly hard by work from home orders and a drop in consumer confidence.

People eat outside a pub in central London (PA Wire)
People eat outside a pub in central London (PA Wire)

UKHospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “Hospitality businesses have been hit hard during a key trading period – and this after missing out on the crucial Christmas and New Year sales last year.

“Restrictions must be kept to a minimum and must be lifted as quickly as possible to help an already beleaguered sector or many will simply not survive – and those who do make it through face a return to 20 per cent VAT in April.”

Ms Nicholls called on the Government to “commit to keeping VAT at 12.5 per cent and offering enhanced rates relief”.

“Further support will also be needed should additional restrictions be imposed or the tougher measures in Scotland and Wales be retained into 2022,” she added.

More than 400 pubs vanish in England and Wales in 2021

09:10 , Elly Blake

More than 400 pubs have disappeared from communities in England and Wales as the number calling last orders flatlined despite the toll of the pandemic.

Analysis of Government data by real estate adviser Altus Group has shown the number of pubs liable for property taxes, for business rates, including those vacant and being offered to let, fell by 444 to 40,173 in December, compared with 40,617 a year earlier.

Robert Hayton, UK president at Altus Group, said “Pubs continue to bear the brunt of coronavirus restrictions but have, thankfully, proved remarkably resilient.

“However, it remains to be seen what impact Omicron has on numbers next year as this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many.”

Thailand warns of spike in Covid cases after “super-spreader” event

09:25 , Elly Blake

Thai health authorities have warned people should brace themselves for a potential surge in Covid cases after classifying the country’s first cluster of the Omicron variant as a “super-spreader incident”.

The Omicron cluster identified in the northeastern province of Kalasin on Christmas eve has been linked to a couple who had travelled from Belgium and visited bars, concerts and markets.

The ensuing cluster had infected hundreds, with cases spreading to 11 other provinces, said senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong, citing how one of the bars linked to the cluster had been packed and did not have good ventilation.

“During the New Year, if you visit any place and it does not look safe, just don’t go,” Opas told a briefing.

Up to now, Thailand has reported 740 cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, including 251 in people who had come into contact with foreign arrivals, said Opas.

Rising living costs will likely become the ‘dominant story’ following latest Covid wave - expert

09:45 , Elly Blake

Rising living costs will likely become the “dominant story” following the latest Covid wave, an expert has warned.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, was speaking after the think tank warned in a new report that millions of families are facing a “cost-of-living catastrophe” due to soaring energy bills and rising taxes.

Mr Bell said: “If you think about the politics of this, energy prices and taxes are always big politics in Britain.

“The fact that two such big changes are coming on top of each other in April, at the same time as our wages aren’t rising that significantly because of higher inflation in general, I think means that this is going to be the dominant story once we come out of the bad but hopefully short-lived Omicron wave.”

Read more here.

South London hospitals ban in-patient visitors over high Covid rates

09:47 , Elly Blake

A south London hospital trust has banned adult in-patients from having visitors unless there are “exceptional circumstances,” because of soaring Covid rates.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said the visitor ban would apply to University Hospital Lewisham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich from 9am on Wednesday.

Read the full story here.

Omicron becomes dominant variant in Wales

10:07 , Elly Blake

Omicron is now the dominant variant of coronavirus in Wales, the deputy chief medical officer has said.

Dr Chris Jones said a further 12,000 Covid cases were recorded in Wales over Christmas.

The rate has risen to a record 1,004 in every 100,000 people.

“Our case rates were high before this Omicron wave started and our hospitals are already full as they try to deliver all the healthcare that’s stacked up over the past year,” Dr Jones said.

Figures for cases of the Omicron variant in Wales are expected later.

No PCR tests available in England or Northern Ireland

10:12 , Elly Blake

There are currently no PCR test appointments available to book in England or Northern Ireland and no home tests available to order on the NHS website.

Appointments are available Wales, and “very few” are available in Scotland, according to the Government’s website.

PCR tests, which are required for people who have Covid symptoms or who have tested positive on a lateral flow test, were also periodically unavailable for parts of the UK on Monday and Tuesday.

People are advised to try again later if they can’t currently get a test.

The UK Health Security Agency has been contacted for a comment.

 (Evening Standard / HM Gov)
(Evening Standard / HM Gov)

Success of vaccine rollout is why we can go ahead with New Year - PM

10:21 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson has said the vaccination campaign had allowed England to maintain its current level of coronavirus controls.

“The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems. You are seeing cases rising in hospitals,” he told reporters.

“But it is obviously milder than the Delta variant and we are able to proceed in the way that we are.”

That was due to the “huge proportion of the British public” which had been vaccinated.

“That is allowing us to go ahead with New Year in the cautious way that we are.”

Pandemic triggered 71 per cent drop in international flights in and out of the UK in 2021

10:24 , Elly Blake

Coronavirus travel restrictions sparked a significant reduction in the number of international flights to and from UK airports this year compared with pre-pandemic levels, new analysis shows.

Aviation analytics firm Cirium said around 406,060 international flights served UK airports during 2021 up to 22 December, compared with 1,399,170 in the pre-pandemic period of 2019.

Travel has taken a hit due to the pandemic (PA Archive)
Travel has taken a hit due to the pandemic (PA Archive)

Currently, fully vaccinated travellers must take a pre-departure coronavirus test, and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days after they arrive.

The most popular international route from the UK in 2021 was London Heathrow to New York’s JFK, despite the US only reopening its borders in November.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue operated a total of 2,410 flights on the route by the end of the year.

‘Overwhelming majority of people in ICUs are not boosted’ - PM

10:26 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson has said he “cannot stress too much” how important it is to get a booster jab against Covid to be able to enjoy the New Year “sensibly and cautiously”.

The Prime Minister said there were 2.4 million eligible double-jabbed people who were yet to take up the offer of a booster.

He told reporters: “I’m sorry to say this but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted.

“I’ve talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90 per cent of people in intensive care, who are not boosted.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re eight times more likely to get into hospital altogether.

“So it’s a great thing to do. It’s very, very important. Get boosted for yourself, and enjoy New Year sensibly and cautiously.”

MSPs are getting ready for Nicola Sturgeon’s Covid update

10:40 , Elly Blake

Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update on the Covid-19 situation in Scotland on Wednesday afternoon.

Ahead of the announcement, Stephen Kerr MSP, chief whip for the Scottish Conservatives, has called on the First Minister to clarify self-isolation rules.

He tweeted: “Today’s COVID update from the First Minister must be more than telling us the figures any of us can find online.”

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta to miss Manchester City clash after testing positive for Covid

11:20 , Elly Blake

Arsenal have confirmed Mikel Arteta will miss their game against Manchester City after testing positive for Covid.

Arteta is isolating and will not be in the dugout at Emirates Stadium on New Year’s Day.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

An Arsenal statement said: “Mikel Arteta will miss our match against Manchester City on New Year’s Day after testing positive for Covid-19.

“Mikel is isolating in line with Government guidelines and we wish him well.”

Read more here.

Kent appears to be ‘in lateral flow and PCR gridlock’ says MP

11:40 , Elly Blake

Kent appears to be “in lateral flow and PCR test gridlock”, Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale has said.

The MP for North Thanet tweeted that there is no current availability in his constituency.

It comes as the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said pharmacies are turning away people wanting lateral flow tests “every five minutes”.

The demand for rapid flow tests is unprecedented, given the record rise in case numbers over the festive period.

Scots urged not to travel to England for New Year parties

11:49 , Elly Blake

Scots have been urged not to travel to England for New Year celebrations to get around stricter Covid restrictions north of the border.

There is no travel ban currently in place to stop people going to England, where revellers require a NHS Covid pass to enter nightclubs.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said doing so would go against the “spirit” of Scotland’s Covid measures.

He said travelling would be “the wrong course of action” due to the “serious situation” with the Omicron variant.

Labour: ‘Lack of lateral flows is a shambles'

12:30 , Josh Salisbury

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has blasted the dearth of lateral flow supplies as a “total shambles”.

His intervention comes amid an unprecedented demand for the tests over the festive period.

The Labour MP said: “The failure to make enough tests available weeks after they became a requirement is a total shambles.

“People are trying to do the right thing, follow the Government’s own advice and test themselves regularly, but are prevented by the Conservative Government’s incompetence.

“They need to get a grip and provide enough tests so people can keep themselves and everyone else safe.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said nearly 900,000 test kits are being provided per day, which is double the supply seen before December 18.

However, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies has described supply as “patchy”.

World Darts Championship player withdraws after testing positive for Covid

13:10 , Elly Blake

The World Darts Championship has been further hit by coronavirus after Dave Chisnall became the latest player to withdraw.

Dave Chisnall (Getty Images)
Dave Chisnall (Getty Images)

The world number 14 pulled out after testing positive, following Michael Van Gerwen and Vincent Van Der Voort out of the competition prematurely.

A statement from the PDC read: “Dave Chisnall has withdrawn from the William Hill World Darts Championship after testing positive for Covid-19 ahead of his match with Luke Humphries.”

Chisnall was due to play Luke Humphries in the last-32 on Wednesday, with Humphries receiving a bye.

What is the Covid situation in your London borough?

13:25 , Elly Blake

There are signs that London’s surge in cases is levelling off after weekly cases almost doubled in the lead up to Christmas.

The Evening Standard has analysed the latest borough-by-borough data for the week to December 23.

To find out the Covid situation in your London borough, click here.

Pharmacy displays out of stock sign for lateral flow tests

13:34 , Elly Blake

A pharmacy displays a sign notifying customers that there are no rapid antigen tests in stock in London.


It comes as chief exeuctive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies Leyla Hannbeck said the current daily supply of almost 900,000 lateral flow tests is not enough to meet demand.

Ms Hannbeck also urged the Government to improve its “patchy” supply of lateral flow tests.

Reigning champion Gerwyn Price calls for World Darts Championship postponement

13:44 , Elly Blake

Gerwyn Price has called for the William Hill World Darts Championship to be postponed following a coronavirus outbreak at the event.

World champion Price wrote on his Instagram Story: “Tournament needs to be postponed”.

 (@gerwynpriceiceman180 / Instagram)
(@gerwynpriceiceman180 / Instagram)

He later added in a second post: “I’ve been in their position so I feel for the players that have had to withdraw, there’s a lot of hard work gone into getting events like the World Championships on so postponing probably isn’t the best option but an option I wouldn’t disagree with, time to keep myself safe and out of touch…keep safe all”.

Scotland sees another record rise in Covid cases

14:06 , Elly Blake

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there were 15,849 positive cases reported yesterday, the highest in Scotland since the start of the pandemic.

As of Tuesday night, 679 people were in hospital with Covid-19, 80 more than the previous day, and 36 were in intensive care – a decrease of one.

There were a further three deaths, taking the total number to 9,836.

Nicola Sturgeon said she will not introduce further coronavirus restrictions at this stage because coronavirus cases in Scotland’s hospitals have “remained broadly stable”.

The Omicron variant now accounts for 80 per cent of all cases in Scotland, she added.

Exercise caution over the New Year, Sturgeon urges

14:12 , Elly Blake

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged people to "exercise caution" over the New Year period.

She said that over Hogmanay and the first week of January, the Scottish government is advising everyone to stay at home more than normal, limit social mixing, ventilate rooms and take Covid tests.

Additional restrictions for large public events and hospitality announced last week are due to stay in force until January 17 at the earliest.

Sturgeon: We are considering cutting self-isolation period

14:18 , Elly Blake

The First Minister also said no decision had been reached about whether to exempt or shorten isolation requirements for key workers in “critical services”.

She said ministers “hope to reach decisions in the next week with any changes taking effect from January 5”.

Scotland currently requires anyone who tests positive for Covid to self-isolate for 10 days.

Getting boosted could save your life - Sturgeon

14:21 , Elly Blake

Anyone who chooses not to get a booster jab “without good reason” is acting irresponsibly, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

75 per cent of people eligible for a booster or third dose have now received one in Scotland, she said.

But for maximum benefit, Scotland needs maximum numbers of people getting their third jab, the First Minister told Holyrood.

She urged everyone who is eligible to “come forward and get the jab”, and those who are booked for January to move it forward to this week.

The more of us who are boosted, the less severe the effects of Omicron will be and the sooner we can all return to normality, Ms Sturgeon said.

WHO: World leaders must “walk the talk” on vaccine equity

14:30 , Elly Blake

The World Health Organisation is holding its weekly technical Covid-19 briefing.

WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on world leaders “to walk the talk” on vaccine equity.

He said now is the time to end global vaccine inequity, calling for nations to hit the target of 70 per cent global vaccine coverage by July 2022.

An emphasis on booster jabs in richer nations meant poorer countries were going short.

“Ending vaccine inequity remains the key to ending the pandemic,” he told the news briefing.

The WHO chief said that vaccines needed to be shared faster amid concerns that the Delta and Omicron cases were leading to a “tsunami of cases”.

Over 800,000 boosters given out at Christmas

15:40 , Daniel Keane

More than 800,000 booster and third doses of Covid vaccine were recorded across the UK during the five-day Christmas period, figures show.

A total of 33,091,891 extra doses had been delivered as of December 28 - the first time a UK-wide figure has been available since December 23, when the number stood at 32,290,487.

It means 801,404 booster and third doses were added across the five days from Christmas Eve to December 28.

Around 62% of adults in the UK have received a booster or third dose, with as many as 65% in Scotland.

WHO advises against reducing isolation

16:12 , Daniel Keane

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, on Wednesday warned that governments need to be “careful” about reducing restrictions in the light of the Omicron variant.

Speaking at a WHO press conference, he said: “Even with the previous variants most people will incubate and show symptoms or be positive within that first six days or so, and the chances then of being positive or transmitting the disease after that are lower, but it is then for governments to make that judgment call of when to allow people out of a quarantine situation with extra tests.

“The most important thing at this moment is we need to be careful about changing tactics and strategies immediately on the basis of what we’re seeing in early Omicron data.

“‘Oh, it’s less severe’ - maybe its not; ‘It’s more transmissible’ - maybe it is, but we have to wait and see if the vaccines work or they don’t work, we have to wait and see, and I think it will be advisable at this point if we don’t see huge shifts, huge moves in reducing control measures for Covid-19 purely on the basis of initial and preliminary studies.”

Latest NHS hospital figures

16:46 , Daniel Keane

There were 1,751 Covid-19 hospital admissions in England on December 27, NHS England said.

This is up 65% week-on-week and is the highest number since February 5.

During the second wave of coronavirus, admissions peaked at 4,134 on January 12.

In London, 437 admissions were reported on December 27, up 45 per cent week-on-week and the highest number since January 28.

Admissions during the second wave peaked in London at 977 on January 6.

More than 10,000 people in hospital with Covid

17:08 , Daniel Keane

A total of 10,462 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am on December 29, according to figures from NHS England.

This is up 48% from a week earlier and is the highest number since March 1.

During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on January 18.

In London, 3,310 people were in hospital with Covid-19 on December 29, up 63% week-on-week and the highest number since February 16.

The second-wave peak for London was 7,917 on January 18.

Eight million kits to become available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve

17:32 , Daniel Keane

A UK Health Security Agency spokesperson said almost eight million test kits would be made available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.

The spokesman said: “The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe with almost 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.

“We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with almost eight million test kits being made available to pharmacies between today and New Year’s Eve.

“We have made 100,000 more PCR booking slots available per day since mid-December and we are continuing to rapidly expand capacity - with over half a million tests carried out on 23 December alone and delivery capacity doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits a day.

“If you have not been able to get the test you need from gov.uk, please keep checking every few hours as more PCR and LFD tests become available every day.”

Three-quarters of London pharmacies ‘out of lateral flow tests’

17:54 , Daniel Keane

Nearly three quarters of pharmacies in London currently have no lateral flow tests in store, according to a survey by the Standard.

Pharmacies in the capital have seen their stock plummet just days before New Year’s Eve - with the shortage likely to hit revellers attending nightclubs and other events.

The Standard spoke to 50 pharmacies across all of London boroughs on Wednesday afternoon, with just 12 saying they had tests in store at 4.30pm. Many warned they would likely run out imminently amid high demand.

There are around 1,863 community pharmacies in London, according to Statista. The Standard’s figure represents a sample size.

Boris Johnson has been told to “get a grip” on the shortage as it threatens to derail New Year’s Eve celebrations. Ministers have consistently urged Britons to take a test before socialising to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

You can read our full exclusive story here.

Breaking: UK reports record number of daily cases

18:11 , Daniel Keane

The UK reported a record daily total of 183,037 Covid cases on Wednesday, according to the latest figures.

A further 57 deaths were recorded, bringing the total to 148,089.

The rise in infections means a total of 12,559,926 Britons have been infected so far during the pandemic.

You can read our full story here.

Over 51 million first vaccine doses delivered

18:31 , Daniel Keane

A total of 51,705,406 first doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered in the UK by December 28, Government figures show. This is a rise of 23,859 on the previous day.

Some 47,324,308 second doses have been delivered, an increase of 29,534.

A combined total of 33,091,891 booster and third doses have also been given, a day-on-day rise of 325,087.

NHS chief warns isolation ‘could be bigger challenge than admissions'

18:47 , Daniel Keane

Chris Hopson chief executive of NHS Providers - the membership organisation for NHS trusts in England, has said many in the health service now fear staff shortages caused by people isolating could represent a “bigger challenge” than the number of patients needing treatment for Covid.

In a statement on Wednesday, he said: “Given the current pressures on NHS services due to staff absences, trust leaders are keen that everything possible is done, as quickly as possible, to maximise rapid safe return of staff to work.

“That includes ensuring appropriate timely access to both PCR and lateral flow testing, both of which are currently proving problematic for some trusts.”

Italy plans to relax isolation rules

19:11 , Daniel Keane

The Italian government on Wednesday said it is planning to relax isolation rules for those who came into close contact with Covid sufferers, a statement said.

Isolation will no longer be required for those who have had a booster dose, have completed the first vaccination cycle or have recovered by less than 120 days.

They will need a negative test five days after the contact.

Quarantine will be reduced to five days from seven for those who have completed the vaccination cycle or have recovered from the disease by more than 120 days. They will also need a negative swab afterwards.

Those who have not been vaccinated will still face a 10-day isolation.

Ireland smashes daily case record

20:08 , Daniel Keane

Ireland became the latest country to smash its previous record number of daily Covid cases on Wednesday, reporting 16,428 new infections.

That topped the 11,182 reported on Dec. 24 with the fast- spreading Omicron accounting for almost all cases and making tests hard to come by.

There are 568 coronavirus patients in hospital, sharply up on the December 25 two-month low of 378.

“All of the latest epidemiological indicators are a cause of concern. Given the very high levels of transmission nationwide, every individual should consider themselves potentially infectious, and strictly adhere to the public health measures,” Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said in a statement.

Shortage of PCR tests in Scotland ‘due to administrative error'

20:29 , Daniel Keane

A widespread shortage of PCR tests across the devolved nations was due to an administrative error, the First Minister of Scotland has said.

The UK Government website said no tests were available in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, and “very few” slots were open in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon said an administrative error was the cause of the temporary shortage.

Speaking during a Covid update in Parliament on Wednesday, she said: “We are working closely with the UK Government to make sure the flow of testing remains as we need it to be.

“There were steps taken to constrain demand in England last night (Tuesday), which I understand means there are no bookings today for physical test sites in England.

“While that change was being made last night, there was an administrative error made that restricted slots in the other three nations. That has now been rectified.”

Wearing masks on the street to become mandatory in Paris

21:01 , Daniel Keane

Wearing masks on the streets of Paris will be mandatory starting from Friday, local authorities said on Wednesday.

“Not complying with this rule will induce a fine of 135 euros”, local authorities said in a press release.

Earlier, Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers France was seeing a “tsunami” of Covid infections, fuelled by both the Delta and Omicron variants of the disease.

Mask-wearing is already mandatory inside public buildings and public transport across France

Health workers ‘should be prioritised for PCR tests’, says expert

21:39 , Daniel Keane

Testing expert Professor Alan McNally said health and key workers should be prioritised for PCR tests as “this is impacting on many many levels now and we really do have to think about how we use our testing capacity to maximise its benefit”.

Prof McNally, director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at Birmingham University, was asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme whether it was necessary to “double check” a lateral flow result with a PCR test.

He said: “The data is strong enough now for the Government to really reconsider that messaging, and that if you’re positive by lateral flow you have Covid, and therefore do we need to use tens or hundreds of thousands of PCR tests to confirm the results of lateral flow tests?

“To be clear, the guidance at the moment is still that you should get a confirmatory PCR test; what I’m suggesting is that I would really like to see a Government rethink on that.”

Thank you for following our live coverage

22:01 , Daniel Keane

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the latest news on the Covid pandemic.

Thank you for following our live coverage

22:01 , Daniel Keane

We’ll be back tomorrow morning with all the latest news on the Covid pandemic.

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