Corona Virus, Health

Coronavirus live: Japan and Poland log record cases; Germany seven-day rate at new high

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live: Japan and Poland log record cases; Germany seven-day rate at new high” was written by Jedidajah Otte, for theguardian.com on Saturday 22nd January 2022 15.34 UTC

This from my colleague Jason Rodrigues on anti-vaccine protests in London today:

Risk related to Omicron remains ‘very high’, WHO says

The World Health Organization issued a statement on Saturday on the Omicron variant. In an updated press briefing containing further data and study results, the WHO said:

Based on the currently available evidence, the overall risk related to Omicron remains very high.

Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta, leading to rapid spread in the community with higher levels of incidence than previously seen in this pandemic.

Despite a lower risk of severe disease and death following infection than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, the very high levels of transmission nevertheless have resulted in significant increases in hospitalisation, continue to pose overwhelming demands on health care systems in most countries, and may lead to significant morbidity, particularly in vulnerable populations.

The WHO said epidemiological trends continue to show “a decoupling” between recorded case numbers, hospital admissions and deaths, compared with previous waves driven by other variants, which is likely to be the result of a combination of Omicron being milder, and the fact the vaccines are more effective at protecting against serious illness than they are against infection.

But the brief added:

However, high levels of hospital and ICU admission are nevertheless being reported in most countries, given that levels of transmission are higher than ever seen before during the pandemic.

Moreover, more data are needed to better understand how clinical markers of severity – such as the use of oxygen, mechanical ventilation, and number of deaths are associated with Omicron.

This is particularly important given that current evidence about severity and hospitalisation has largely been shared from countries with high levels of population immunity, and there remains uncertainty about the severity of Omicron in populations with both lower vaccination coverage and lower prior exposure to other variants.

Updated

A further five people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health has said.

Another 3,476 confirmed cases of the virus have also been logged in the last 24-hour reporting period.

Updated

Infections are on an overall upward trend in Romania, with 13,985 new cases reported on average each day. That’s 93% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on 20 October, according to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker.

On Saturday, 19,371 new Covid cases were registered, 278 less than the previous day. On Friday, the country reported a record 19,649 new daily cases.

Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged between 5 and 11 years are scheduled to start on 26 January, according to Valeriu Gheorghita, the coordinator of the national vaccination campaign.

The government is trying to combat vaccine hesitancy in the population by posting personal accounts of people who have taken up the vaccine offer on social media.

As of Friday, 7.9 million people out of a population of around 19 million have been fully vaccinated, according to the government’s vaccine task force.

Hello, I’m Jedidajah Otte and am taking back over for the next few hours.

If there’s anything you’d like to flag, you can message me on Twitter @JedySays or drop me an email.

In the UK, vaccines have been administered in a vast array of locations, including sports stadiums, a nightclub, and even a hot tub.

Describing how NHS teams “stop at nothing to make sure that our country is protected”, Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and deputy lead for the NHS Covid vaccination programme, told reporters about a person with additional learning needs who was given a jab at home in a hot tub.

Kanani said there had been “incredible stories” of people taking up a dose after being given “an approach that is just much more tailored for them”. She said that while most people were able to get vaccinated at their local pharmacy, at centre or by their general practice team, “for others it’s a little bit more complicated”.

“I’m so proud of our teams, for example in Portsmouth where they’ve gone out and vaccinated people with quite complex health needs,” the GP said. “One individual was vaccinated at home in his hot tub because he has additional learning needs and it was a way of making sure that he felt safe and secure as he got his vaccination. Our teams stop at nothing to make sure that our country is protected.”

Updated

In the week that the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, told the nation that “we must learn to live with Covid in the same way we have to live with flu”, our science correspondent Hannah Devlin reports on the fears clinically vulnerable people feel.

About 3.7 million people in England are classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, many of whom feel like a “forgotten minority” as the country axes plan B restrictions.

Read the full report here:

Updated

Greece has detected two cases of an offshoot of the Omicron variant in passengers arriving at Athens international airport.

The travellers, who have the BA.2 sub-variant, are in isolation.

The news comes as the country reported 20,507 Covid new cases, 108 deathsand 467 patients admitted to hospital with the virus.

The BA.2 sub-variant, of which 426 cases have been sequenced in the UK, may have an “increased growth rate” over the earlier form of Omicron, officially designated as BA.1, according to UKHSA. The public health body stressed, however, that there is a “low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant”.

Hello, I’m Clea Skopeliti and I’m covering the blog while Jedidajah takes a break. Please do send any tips or coverage suggestions my way by Twitter DM or email. Thanks in advance.

Updated

The deputy lead for England’s NHS Covid vaccination programme, Dr Nikki Kanani, said on Saturday that healthcare professionals have a duty to make sure they are protected against Covid-19.

All NHS staff in England who have direct contact with patients must have had their first dose of a Covid vaccine by 3 February, and have had two jabs by 1 April, or risk losing their job at the end of March – a government policy unions fear will worsen the health service’s staffing crisis.

Kanani was asked if the NHS could cope with the possibility of losing thousands of staff over mandatory vaccination.

She told reporters:

Mandatory vaccination is a government policy but as healthcare professionals we all have a duty to make sure that we are protected, to make sure that our colleagues and our patients are protected.

I know that our teams will be doing everything they can to continue to have vaccine confidence building conversations and offering that all important vaccination to staff who are yet to have their first, second or their booster dose.

Our NHS staff have been utterly incredible. The last 24 months have been the most difficult that any of us have ever experienced and they have worked through the pandemic, they’ve delivered the most incredible vaccination programme.

I know some people are still trying to make that really important decision.

Pressed on whether patients would suffer if the NHS were to lose staff over vaccine mandate, she said:

As we’ve seen through the pandemic, and of course those days before the pandemic that we don’t even think of very often, our NHS continues to deliver.

What I want to say is to our patients who are listening – we will keep looking after you.

That’s what we do in the NHS. Our general practice teams, our pharmacy teams, our healthcare services.

We’re here for you, so don’t ever worry. The NHS is open. The NHS is there for you.

Updated

England’s public health body is investigating an offshoot of the Omicron variant known as BA.2 amid concerns that it may be even more contagious than the original.

The Financial Times reported:

The UK Health Security Agency said it was designating the Omicron offshoot a ‘variant under investigation’ because of “increasing numbers of BA.2 sequences identified both domestically and internationally”.

Early analysis suggests the BA.2 sub-variant may have an “increased growth rate” over the earlier form of Omicron, officially designated as BA.1, according to UKHSA, which stressed that there is a “low level of certainty early in the emergence of a variant”.

Moreover, BA.2 has not been named a ‘variant of concern’ — the highest risk ranking for new strains.

About 426 cases of the Omicron offshoot have been sequenced in the UK, with the first found in early December.

Updated

The daily average of reported Covid-19 infections in France is at its peak, with 320,068 newcases reported each day, according to Reuters.

The country’s constitutional council approved strict new restrictions for unvaccinated people on Friday.

The new law will exclude them from large parts of public life via a “vaccine pass” that will be introduced from Monday.

People in France have to show proof of vaccination or recovery if they want to gain entry to hospitality venues, cultural sites and sporting events or use long-distance public transport.

Other measures are to be gradually relaxed from February, however, because the French prime minister, Jean Castex, believes the country’s high vaccination rate will protect hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

Jean Castex meets firefighters at a Covid vaccination centre in Nantes
Jean Castex meets firefighters at a Covid vaccination centre in Nantes. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Germany reports record seven-day incidence rate

Germany’s seven-day incidence rate has risen to a high of 772.7 infections per 100,000 people, up from 706.3.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 135,461 new infections on Saturday, an increase of 57,439 on the same day a week ago, when 78,022 positive tests were reported.

It also reported a further 179 deaths, bringing the country’s total to 116,664.

At least half of the population, or about 41.7 million people, had received a Covid booster shot and at least 75.4% had received at least one vaccine dose, the RKI said. At least 73.3% have been fully vaccinated, and 24.6% remain unvaccinated.

The federal government has set a target for 80% of the population to receive at least one vaccine dose by the end of January.

Updated

The Philippines recorded 30,552 new Covid-19 infections on Saturday, as well as 97 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 53,406.

The department of health said it was still too early to say whether Metro Manila could lower its Covid alert level from 3 to 2 next month, CNN Philippines reports.

“I think it’s too early to declare and to say to people that we will shift or deescalate to alert level 2,” health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a briefing on Saturday.

Vergeire said she was still working with earlier projections that cases might peak by the end of the month or by the middle of February.

People wearing face masks present their vaccination cards as the Philippine capital region limits the use of public transport to only fully vaccinated individuals, at a train station in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on 17 January, 2022.
People wearing face masks present their vaccination cards as the Philippine capital region limits the use of public transport to only fully vaccinated individuals, at a train station in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on 17 January, 2022. Photograph: Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Updated

Hong Kong health officials warned on Saturday of a significantly worsening Covid-19 outbreak as suspected infection numbers rose in a congested residential area.

Health authorities said on Saturday they had detected at least 130 preliminary-positive Covid-19 cases and 26 confirmed cases at a public housing estate in the Kwai Chung district north of the Kowloon peninsula.

On Friday, authorities ordered 2,700 residents of the housing block into an unprecedented 5-day lockdown.

“It’s not easy for us to control the spread because we cannot trace all their whereabouts,” senior health department official Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said, referring to the 2,700 residents as well as workers and visitors linked to the building at the centre of the outbreak.

She urged people across the city to limit their social engagements and avoid large gatherings.

Health workers in protective gear walk at the lockdown area in Kwai Chung Estate, in Hong Kong, Saturday, on 22 January, 2022.
Health workers in protective gear walk at the lockdown area in Kwai Chung Estate, in Hong Kong, Saturday, on 22 January, 2022. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Local media reports on Saturday said that officials were considering tighter city-wide restrictions but none have yet been confirmed.

Earlier this week, officials announced traces of the virus had been found on 11 hamsters, and ordered the killing of more than 2,000 of the imported animals, including any pets bought since 22 December, causing a backlash in the population.

Thousands of people have offered to hide or adopt unwanted hamsters, as local media was flooded with footage and images of crying children saying goodbye to their pets.

Unlike many other cities, Hong Kong has maintained a “zero Covid” strategy focused on eliminating the disease, with schools and gyms shut, restaurants closing at 6 pm and air travel with many major hubs severed or severely disrupted.

Poland reports record number of new infections

Poland reported a record 40,876 new daily infections on Saturday, the health ministry said, as the country’s fifth wave gathers pace.

On Friday Poland logged a record high of 36,665 new infections, with at least 1,390 cases of the Omicron variant.

Authorities have said the latest wave of the pandemic will drive case numbers to levels not yet seen in Poland, with estimates of the peak ranging from 60,000 to as many as 140,000 daily infections.

Officials are expecting the number of cases to reach more than 50,000 a day next week, a number that could begin to put unsustainable strain on the health system.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Friday that the healthcare system will find itself under “unprecedented” pressure.

“The fifth wave of the pandemic has become a fact,” Morawiecki said. “In recent days we’ve been seeing over 30,000 new [daily] infections. These numbers must be making an impression even on those who disregarded the pandemic.”

About 57% of the 38 million strong population have been vaccinated, and circa 9 million people have received booster shots.

Updated

Russia reported a new record number of confirmed daily Covid-19 infections on Saturday, the government coronavirus taskforce said.

Daily new cases jumped to 57,212, from the previous record of 49,513 a day earlier, as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

The taskforce also reported 681 deaths.

Russia’s infections are now at about 85% of the country’s peak and rising, according to the Reuters Covid-19 tracker, with 34,378 new infections reported on average each day.

A Russian Communist Party activist wearing a face mask during a rally at the Red Square on 21 January, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.
A Russian Communist Party activist wearing a face mask during a rally at the Red Square on 21 January, 2022 in Moscow, Russia. Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Updated

An order for UK civil servants to return to work as soon as possible has more to do with deflecting attention from prime minister Boris Johnson’s own political troubles, the head of a trade union representing senior civil servants has claimed.

Dave Penman, the FDA’s general secretary, said:

All the evidence shows that across the economy, hybrid working is being embraced, delivering efficiencies for employers and flexibility for employees.

Despite this, ministers are clinging to an ideology of presenteeism that demonstrates they are out of touch with how the world of work has changed since the pandemic began.

The Cabinet Office said measures had been put in place in government buildings to reassure staff and allow the transition back to office working, including increased ventilation and improved cleaning routines.

It added that there was no government requirement or recommendation for employers to limit capacity in the workplace.

Taiwan’s government said on Saturday restrictions would be tightened after a rare surge in domestic transmission of the Omicron variant, saying it needed to act now to prevent being overwhelmed, even though overall numbers remain quite low.

After months of no or few community infections, Taiwan has seen a small rise in local Covid-19 cases since the beginning of January, mainly linked to workers at the main international airport in the northern city of Taoyuan who were infected by arriving passengers, Reuters reports.

On Friday evening the government announced 60 new cases at a factory near the airport after testing 1,000 workers.

There have been no deaths and most of the cases have had only mild or no symptoms.

In a statement, premier Su Tseng-chang said that, even though this outbreak has brought no serious illness, steps needed to be taken. “If the pandemic cannot be contained, it will still cause a burden on the medical system,” he said.

New restrictions will include a ban on eating and drinking on public transport and limits on the number of people visiting temples, ahead of the week-long lunar new year holiday, which starts at the end of this month.

A woman receives a booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at a community center, in Taipei, Taiwan, on 17 January, 2022.
A woman receives a booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at a community center, in Taipei, Taiwan, on 17 January, 2022. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Testing will be expanded to reach the largest number of possible contacts, said the health minister, Chen Shih-chung.

“Of course we think this pandemic is threatening, so we must raise our vigilance,” he said.

Taiwan has been highly successful at controlling the pandemic due to early and strict border checks and an effective tracing system.

More than 70% of people in Taiwan have received two vaccine doses and booster shots are currently being rolled out, with about 15% of residents having received a third shot so far.

UK government civil servants have been ordered to return to the office, with government departments told to rapidly get back to “full occupancy” after the lifting of plan B Covid-19 restrictions in England.

The announcement on Friday night sets up a clash between the government and unions, who have warned against a “headlong rush” back to workplaces with coronavirus cases still high. Across the UK, 95,787 positive tests were reported on Friday.

My colleague Ben Quinn has the full story.

Ireland lifts majority of Covid restrictions

Ireland has taken a significant stride back to normality after the majority of pandemic-related curbs on society were lifted as of 6am Saturday – sooner than some had expected.

The government announced the sweeping relaxations on Friday evening, with an 8pm hospitality curfew lifted, as well as the scrapping of Covid passes that previously had to be shown in order to enter hospitality, entertainment and leisure venues.

Live events and sporting events can return to full-capacity audiences and guidance advising limits on household visits has been removed, while workers will return to offices on a staggered basis from Monday, Reuters reports.

Only a small number of restrictions remain in place: Masks still have to be worn in public places such as shops, schools and on public transport, and self-isolation rules and the use of Covid passes for international travel continue to apply.

Protective measures will remain in place in schools until at least the end of February, when they will be reviewed.

The taoiseach, Micheál Martin, stressed the pandemic was not over but that the “emergency” phase had passed.

“I want to be clear that the pandemic isn’t over – it will still require all of us to be vigilant,” he said on Friday.

But he added:

Spring is coming. I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to one as much as I’m looking forward to this one.

Humans are social beings and we Irish are more social than most.

As we look forward to this spring, we need to see each other again. We need to see each other smile. We need to sing again.

As we navigate this new phase of Covid, it is time to be ourselves again.

Tokyo logs record daily cases for fourth consecutive day

Hello everyone, I’m Jedidajah Otte and will be bringing you the latest developments in all things pandemic over the next few hours.

If there’s anything you think is relevant for our coverage, you can message me on Twitter @JedySays or drop me an email.

Tokyo on Saturday recorded 11,227 new daily Covid-19 infections, the highest daily tally for the fourth consecutive day amid a continued rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

The local government has reinstated restrictions that are due to run until 13 February.

On Friday, the number of severely ill Covid-19 patients in Japan reached 404, up by 117 from a day before, the health ministry said, as it issued fast-track approval for the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, with the government preparing to kick-start the rollout in March, the Japan Times reported.

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Environment, World

Toronto’s struggles with blizzard highlights its dependence on cars

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Toronto’s struggles with blizzard highlights its dependence on cars” was written by Leyland Ceccoin Toronto, for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th January 2022 13.16 UTC

When a blizzard struck Toronto earlier this week, Greg Cooke did what he and his neighbours knew was expected of them. They grabbed their shovels and worked for hours to clear the sidewalks from snowdrifts that nearly reached their knees. Mindful of elderly residents with trouble walking, they made sure to clear all the way to the edge of the street.

The next morning, Cooke went outside to find a snowplow had passed through once again to widen the road and pushed all the snow back on to the sidewalk.

“They push up these solid, chunky boulders of snow. And so it was even worse for people to pass through than it would have been if we hadn’t done anything,” said Cooke. “It was comically absurd.”

Monday’s storm battered the country’s largest city for less than a day, but its effects have nonetheless highlighted Toronto’s infrastructure vulnerabilities, its lingering inequities – and its dependence on cars.

While the city’s struggles with snow have often prompted sneers from other regions of the country – Toronto’s government is still mocked for calling in the army to help dig it out from a series of relentless snowfalls in 1999 – critics say many of the challenges are the result of policy failures that prioritize vehicles over pedestrians.

At its peak, Monday’s blizzard left hundreds of cars stranded on roads and highways across the city, with many of the vehicles simply abandoned by frustrated drivers

The city’s transit commission said during the worst of the storm, 540 buses were stranded on the road for hours – including one salvaged by a group of Torontonians – and the subway system was forced to shut down.

The city’s mayor, John Tory, warned on Tuesday that it would take days to get the roads fully cleared, and 600 road plows, 360 sidewalk plows and 200 salt trucks were deployed.

But on Wednesday, residents were still posting images of sidewalks and bike lanes fully covered in snow. Meanwhile, the city’s school board announced eight schools would remained closed for a third day after the contractor hired to remove snow was unable to complete the work.

“The last couple days have highlighted how close to failure our transportation system operates all the time – because we base it around cars,” said Shoshanna Saxe, a civil engineering professor at the University of Toronto.

“For those of us who had the privilege of not needing to drive anywhere, it was a fun day in the snow. But for people who needed to drive, they were forced to take risks. Some were stranded for hours on highways. Doctors and nurses had to abandon their cars in the road to get to hospitals in the middle of the biggest wave of Covid we’ve ever seen,” she said.

Saxes pointed to recent efforts in Sweden, where sidewalk clearing is prioritized ahead of roads. The aim of policies is to address systematic shortcomings that have an outsized effect on people with mobility issues, including those in wheelchairs, health issues and parents pushing small children in strollers.

“When you decide not to plow a certain neighbourhood for a few days, you’re also now limiting the ability for someone with a disability to actually leave their home,” said Maayan Ziv, a Toronto-based photographer and founder of AccessNow. “Accessibility, in general, is often an afterthought.”

Because she relies on a power wheelchair to move around the city, Ziv says the snow often forces her to cancel meetings and appointments and can strand her at home for days.

Toronto city council recently approved nearly C$1.4bn ($US1.1bn) in spending on future snow clearing – a victory for residents who have long complained that sidewalks are inaccessible. But the winning bidders in the contract have warned it could take more than a year to obtain the hundreds of vehicles needed to do the job.

“We live in this cold part of the world where it does snow every year, and yet, we’re still facing these issues. And when the city is failing to recognize those needs, it falls in on kind of the goodwill of neighbours,” said Ziv. “There is beauty in that and people working together and supporting each other. But an entire city can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on good Samaritans with their shovels”

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Sport, World

Australian Open 2022: Raducanu and Murray out, Medvedev beats Kyrgios – live!

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Australian Open 2022: Raducanu and Murray out, Medvedev beats Kyrgios – live!” was written by Daniel Harris (now) and Mike Hytner (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th January 2022 11.56 UTC

Halep is giving Haddad Maia hell here, but she eventually wrangles a hold, sealing the deal with a big service winner down the middle. Halep leads 3-1.

Johnson is playing OK, but Sinner is just too good for him and takes the first set 6-2.

Not gonna lie, I absolutely love Halep and her confounding mix of fragility and invincibility. It’s great to see her back, and women’s tennis being as unpredictable as it is, I’d not totally rule her out of title contention. She leads 3-0.

Back on court, Halep has broken Haddad Maia for 2-0, and Sinner is absolutely wasting Johnson, leading 5-1.

So far today (yes, there’s even more to come):

Emma Raducanu lost in three to Danka Kovinic, but was hampered by finger-blisters and raised her reputation even higher with her canniness and tenacity.

Andy Murray was beaten by Taro Daniel in straight sets, but the match was an intense and competitive one.

Aryna Sabalenka’s servve malfunctioned (again), but she made it through, while Garbine Muguruza lost to Alize Cornet.

Sam Stosur, US Open champ in 2011, lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenova – a defeat that marked the end of her singles career. She received precisely the gratitude you’d expect.

Alex De Minaur is into round three following a straight sets win over Kamil Majchrzak.

And Nick Kyrgios lost to Daniil Medvedev in four thrilling sets and in front of a buzzing crowd, after which Medvedev criticised those cheering his fault. We’ll have a report for you on that presently.

Sinner is a serious player and a potential major winner; Johnson, though no mug, will do well to hang with him, and as I type that, he seals the double break to lead 3-0.

OK, and breathe. But not too much: Sinner and Johnson are away, Sinner leading 2-0 in set one, while Halep and Haddad Maia are about to knock up.

Interviewed on Eurosport, Medvedev continues the teacher vibe, saying he’s not angry just disappointed. He expected a row, playing the home favourite, especially that being Kyrgios, but didn’t like people cheering his faults, surmising that those making the noise “probably have a low IQ”. Or maybe they’re just bad at answering IQ-style questions, who can say.

Anyhow, he says a few years ago he’d have had some tantrums, broken some rackets and shouted at his box for no reason, but he’s more mature now. He didn’t want to lose his serve, and felt a bit in danger in set three, especially with Kyrgios pumping up the crowd, but he came through in set four. He is an absolute player.

This didn’t work.
This didn’t work. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Updated

Medvedev says he came to win and he’s happy he did, his stoic face plastered on. It’s not easy when you get booed between first and second serves, he says, and of course boos follow – Jim Courier says they’re saying “Siuuuuu”, explains it’s a soccer thing, and they continue. Medvedev, though, is naused right up and tells people to show respect for Courier, who won the Aussie Open, even if they don’t have respect for him – it’s a bit supply teacher, but he’s right. Courier then gets nearer to explains again, without chastising the grown adults making it, and Medvedev maintains that it’s distracting, which it is. He thinks he’s got the game to win the thing, but we love tennis because other people do good things, and the crowd warm to him, through the suiuuing. Good for him.

Updated

Daniil Medvedev beats Nick Kyrgios 7-6(1) 6-4 4-6 6-2!

That’s brilliant from Medvedev, riding out the wave of patriotism to impose his superior fitness and class – he meets Gasquet next. But Kyrgios remains a special player and character – he created a proper event there, and loved every second of it. So did we, and all those lucky enough to be there in person.

Daniil Medvedev looks very pleased with himself after beating Nick Kyrgios.
Daniil Medvedev looks very pleased with himself after beating Nick Kyrgios. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Updated

Medvedev gets 0-15, so Kyrgios slams his racket into the court and serves an ace with his new one; of course he does. But Medvedev then moves him side to side before dispensing a disguised drop and Kyrgios doesn’t have the gas to run it down; he knows this is it, going long with a forehand, and that’s two match points and 2-5 15-40…

Medvedev is such a pro, and he races through a love hold sealed with a kiss an ace. He leads 7-6(1) 6-4 4-6 5-2.

Yeah, on Laver, Medvedev digs out a backhand that gives him a break in set four, and at 4-2 he’s just two holds away from the match.

Updated

Emma Raducanu, though. She is an absolute superstar, brimming with talent, mentality and equanimity; we’re going to be seeing a lot more of her.

Emma Raducanu walking off court after defeat.
Emma Raducanu walking off court after defeat. Photograph: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Kovinic looks emotional, saying it was amazing and that she really enjoyed the match – she’s been waiting a long time to get to this stage of a major. She’s glad she showed she can play at a high level and was low on energy in the third set, so didn’t want to show emotion in order to conserve what she had. Well done her.

Back on Laver, we’re on serve in set four, Medvedev leading 3-2 and by two sets to one.

Danka Kovinic beats Emma Raducanu 6-4 4-6 6-3!

That was a bazzing match – well played both – and Kovinic meets Halep or Haddad Maia next. She’s mever made the last 32 of a Slam before.

Danka Kovinic celebrates after beating Emma Raducanu.
Danka Kovinic celebrates after beating Emma Raducanu. Photograph: Martin Keep/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

She needs a first serve, can’t find one, and Raducanu waits for her, slamming a forehand down the line and into the corner! But what a backhand down the line Kovinic finds at 40-30!

Even if Raducanu loses here, her stock will rise – her gutsiness and intelligence mark her as very special – but though she makes 0-15, Kovinic clatters a forehand winner to draw level in the game. Next, she dredges up an ace, Raducanu nets a backhand, and after two hours 37 minutes, Kovinic has two match points…

Lovely hands at the net from Raducanu, giving her 15-0, and she quickly makes 40-15, securing the hold when Kovinic races in to meet a poor drop, only to blaze wide. Kovinic leads 5-3 in the decider, and will now serve for the biggest win of her career.

Kovinic holds to love, and she’s a game away from round three.

Updated

So, Kovinic leads Raducanu 6-4 4-6 4-2 and Medvedev leads Kyrgios 7-6(1) 6-4 4-6 1-0.

Danka Kovinic takes control of the final set.
Danka Kovinic takes control of the final set. Photograph: Martin Keep/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Raducanu is hitting again, but will have to go through deuce for her hold. Meanwhile, Kyrgios ignores Medvedev’s opening ace to pounce on a short serve and make 30-40 with a forehand winner! He then out-thinks Medvedev at the net, earning the chance to hit a winner from the back … only to swipe it wide! But a double follows, so we go again, while Kovinic breaks Raducanu with a lob, presented to her by a tame forehand! It’s all going on, and as I type that, Medvedev seals his hold.

Medvedev disappears to change clothes, so the crowd enjoy a boogie. I’d still expect him to resolve things in this set, but…

It must be distracting for Medvedev, having to compete in the party atmosphere Kyrgios has created. He’s not done anything to set the crowd against him – they’re just for their man – but it’s so unusual to see this kind of thing in tennis that he won’t be impervious to it.

Raducanu is now less vex, punishing a love break-back! Her ability to deliver under pressure, oof madone!

Another massive serve, this one down the middle, a drop, and Kyrgios wins set three! That is incredible, 15 minutes ago he looked absolutely bushed, but there’s your Kyrgiosian paradox yet again. Medvedev leads 7-6(1)6-4 4-6.

Raducanu will be vex if she loses from here, having fought so hard only to cede a break with carelessness on her decent wing. A bird turns up, so there’s a short recess, while on Laver a booming first serve from Kyrgios gives him set point!

Kyrgios is in the zone, a lovely touch giving him 15-0 before he nets a forehand; Raducanu, meanwhile, nets a backhand, her third error of the game on that wing, and Kovinic has 3-1 in the decider!

Kovinic makes 0-30, Raducanu looking ragged for the first time, and when she blazes a backhand wide, she faces three break points…

Kyrgios really is the consummate showman, but he’s not short of substance either; he’ll have to serve for the set, though, because Medvedev holds easily, doing well to keep concentration in the maelstrom.

Kyrgios

Updated

Laver is buzzing and Kyrgios is noising them up something fierce, a tweener setting up a winner that somehow passes through Medvedev for 40-15; I’m not sure any other player takes any of the three points he’s won this game, but this isn’t any other player, and he quickly sealsthe consolidation! Kyrgios leads 5-3, while Kovinic holds for 2-1.

Oh my days, huge net-battles in both matches! Raducanu wins one for 15-40 and Kyrgios wins the other, via gorgeous forehand, for the same! The crowd on Laver go wild … and wilder still when, after Medvedev claws back a point, Kyrgios comes to the net, runs across a passing shot, leaps, plays a hip-high volley, and sets off a lap of honour which he ends with some dancing! He leads 4-3 with a break, while Raducanu and Kovinic are still at it, now at deuce.

Updated

Kyrgios serves three aces and holds for 3-3 – Medvedev did likewise in the previous game – and he’s making a fight of things, but having to constantly come from behind is very wearing.

Updated

Raducanu holds to 30, and she’s hitting that forehand now. I’m not sure if it’s the painkillers, if the pain’s dulled, or if she’s got used to hitting through it, but she’s looking pretty good.

Medvedev is so solid, and he now leads 3-2 in set three. After that match, we’ve got Halep v Hadad Maia, while after Kovinic v Raducanu, we’ve got Johnson v Sinner. It’s ridiculous!

Kovinic goes long with a backhand down the line, handing Raducanu 30-40, then a forehand belted cross-court flies past her … and drops just out! Deuce, and Kovinic hangs on for 1-0 in the decider.

I hate to say it, but Kovinic will be feeling extremely frazzled. She didn’t make the most of a gifted opportunity, failing to exploit her opponent’s injury – it was almost like she didn’t know about it – and will now be feart that her chance has gone.

What’s great about Raducanu – well, a lot – but she’s able to do what Daniel was talking about earlier, to compete with intensity and equanimity, simultaneously.

Emma

Updated

As that set finished, Kyrgios was berating the umpire, but I’m not sure why. Kovinic, meanwhile, has gone off, presumably to get her heed straight, because she’ll feel like she missed an open goal. But Raducanu’s injury actually made her harder to read, especially when the drive-forehand returned, and the way she laughed her way through adversity must’ve been pretty disconcerting.

Kovinic makes 0-30 but a drop-lob combo, followed by a banging forehand, haul Raducanu level. Then, at 30-40, another drop sets up the put-away, and this is another tremendous match. A big serve then earns advantage and set point – Raducanu is some competitor – and Kovinic goes long on the forehand! Somehow, Raducanu wins set two and we’ve got waselves the decider we deserve! Kovinic 6-4 4-6 Raducanu

We go to a final set!
We go to a final set! Photograph: Ella Ling/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Serving at 4-5, Kyrgios faces 0-30, a delectable drop closing the gap. But Medvedev wins the next point and now has two goes at taking the set … missing a straightforward volley on the first. Kyrgios, though, goes long with a backhand, and given how little he’s played lately, and that he’s recovering from corona, it’s hard not to see this match as over. Kyrgios (1)6-7 4-6 Medvevev

From 40-15, Raducanu fights back, finding a booming forehand to raise break point and looking mystified in the aftermath. She can’t force it home, but then finds another, laughing away – this must be pretty disconcerting for Kovinic, who finally settled into her diet of backhand and slice, only for everything to change. And this time, Raducanu directs her around the court before panelling a forehand down the line to seal the break! She’ll now serve for set two!

Emma Raducanu returns as the sun goes down in Melbourne Park.
Emma Raducanu returns as the sun goes down in Melbourne Park. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Updated

“Huge respect for Andy,” emails Thomas Harrington, “but after this defeat, he seriously needs to consider giving up competing in Grand Slams (with the exception of Wimbledon of course). To be struggling like this in a second-round match again is not good, the physicality of best of five sets in a Slam make it impossible for him to be competitive in this format now, and the damage it could do to his hip and surrounding area, who knows?

He needs to concentrate on best of three tournaments – he showed last week he can still compete and still be competitive, there are more tournaments for him to win still BUT only in ATP events, and he needs to start prioritising those events in order to prolong his career, I hope he does.”

You tell him! I’m sure he’s investigated how competing will affect his body, and my guess is he’s still enjoying it – I’m certainly enjoying watching him – and you’re a long time retired. When you’re that kind of competitor, I doubt you can get properly going unless it’s a major.

Well done Nick Kyrgios! Eventually, he hangs on, prancing with joy then noising up the crowd – it’s great to see. Medevedev leads 7-6(1) 4-4.

Raducanu slams a drive-volley wide, giving Kovinic 30-all, a fine leaping backhand volley raises break point, and it’s quickly snaffled. We’re now at 4-4 in set two, and though it must be tiring for Kovinic to generate power of slices, she seems to have things worked out now.

…which Kovinic wins, and she quickly closes out through deuce. Back on Laver, meanwhile, Kyrgios is serving at 0-30, 3-4 down in set two, and though he soon makes 40-30, Medvedev whips a forehand winner onto the line for deuce and we begin some back and forth. But Medevedev looks a lot fitter, and however this game shakes out, it’s hard to seethis going more than four sets, max.

What’s so noticeable here is the way Raducanu has adapted her game to play the shots she can play, using wiles and touch to manipulate the ball and move Kovinic around the court. And have a look! A backhand winner, thunked cross-court, gives her 0-30, and though Kovinic fights back to 30-all, an error hands over a point for the double break…

Back on Court, Raducanu has just fought through deuces to hang onto her break; she leads 4-2 in set two, first set Kovinic 6-4.

Emma Raducanu is fighting back.
Emma Raducanu is fighting back. Photograph: Andy Brownbill/AP

Updated

Daniel meets Johnson or Sinner next, and looks every bit as happy as he should, happiness most of us will never know. He’s into round three of a major for the first time, and says it’s amazing to win in front of so many people. “Amazing level from me,” he declares – not words I’ve ever uttered, or at least ever had cause to utter – and he was telling himself “It’s important but it’s not important”. I’ve not heard him interviewed before, he seems a very nice boy, and says he got goosebumps a few times in the match when the crowd were going mad. Tomorrow he’ll take a break “to feel myself”, then get ready for Saturday. I enjoyed that – it’s so great to see Murray competing with so much intensity – and enjoyed Daniel just as much.

Taro Daniel beats Andy Murray 6-4 6-4 6-4!

On match point, he serves and volleys for the first time – great thinking, colossal stones – and puts away a winner to send him through! He’s been so good today.

Taro Daniel goes through against Andy Murray in straight sets.
Taro Daniel goes through against Andy Murray in straight sets. Photograph: Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Murray-Daniel has been an excellent tussle, and when Murray makes a volley for 15-all, Daniel will be wondering … wondering how to dematerialise another ace, down the middle – his fourth of the set! Murray then nets a backhand, having done well to play himself into the rally, Daniel, who’s won four matches to get to this stage, now has two match points!

We’re on serve in set two of Medvedev-Kyrgios, the former leading 7-6(1) 2-1.

A lovely backhand drop gives Daniel 15-30, and might this be his chance to finish things? Maybe! He wins a duel at the net – not something that’s happened often, if at all in the match – raising two break points! He loses the first when netting a backhand … but then Murray nets! In 90 seconds, Daniel will serve for the match at 6-4 6-4 5-4! He’s done brilliantly in this set, doing just enough to avoid being broken and waiting for his moment. Well, here it is! Can he hold it down?

Raducanu consolidates for 2-0, but Kovinic is keeping things social by giving her backhands to hit. It’s also worth noting, though, that Raducanu has things worked out a little, and she ties Kovinic in knots at the net, forcing her to attempt a forehand on her backhand side, leaning across herself. She holds, though, for 1-2, while Daniel battles to a crucial hold and 4-4 against Murray, finding a wondrous backhand down the line on gamepoint.

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Medvedev gives Kyrgios a proper sonning off in the breaker, taking it 7-1. He leads by one set to love.

Murray, meanwhile, digs deeper than the earth’s core to make 4-3 through deuce. I am in awe of that man for so many reasons, many of them totally unrelated to tennis, but his ability and desire to compete are spectacular.

This man has a metal hip. Unreal.
This man has a metal hip. Unreal. Photograph: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Medvedev leads Kyrgios 2-1 in the breaker, on serve, then wins the next two points on Kyrgios’. That’s 4-1 him, and you’d think that’ll be enough for the set, even with the Kyrgiosian paradox.

Raducanu is struggling, unable to put any pop on her forehand. I’m not sure if she’s taken painkillers, or if painkillers even work kill that kind of pain, but if she has, she should be coming up on them soon; can she stay in the match for long enough, or win two sets with her backhand and forehand slice? A colossal serve from Kovinic saves a break point, but then she rams a backhand in the pillar and goes wide with another! Raducanu breaks for 1-0, first set 6-4 Kovinic.

Emma Raducanu breaks in the first game of the second set.
Emma Raducanu breaks in the first game of the second set. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Updated

Excellent from Daniel, a slower serve out wide surprising Murray and clinching another crucial hold. Murray will return to the well, but he’s running out of road; it’s 3-3 in set three.

OH MY DAYS! Daniel clatters a backhand down the line, but Murray’s at the net and on the stretch to guide a volley back into the centre of the court. He really is an unbelievable athlete. But it only gives him 15-all and Daniel wins the next three points … but Murray hangs in there, making deuce with another fine volley! Back on Laver, Kyrgios now leads 6-5…

Kovinic breaks Raducuanu to love, and from 0-3 down, takes the first set 6-4! Women’s tennis is so so good.

This is just ridiculous – there’s so much going on I don’t know what to do with myself. On Laver, three games in a row from Kyrgios give him 5-4, and Medvedev is now serving to stay in set one.

Raducanu has decided to go for it, Wawrinka-style, and a backhand down the line gets her 0-40. Kovinic closes to 15-40, but then goes long with a backhand of her own; Raducanu will now serve to stay in the first set at 4-5.

Murray’s coming to the net much more often now, and after two sets finally looks settled into the match; he holds for 3-2. Meanwhile, Raducanu finds a lovely forehand slice for 0-30…

On which point, she’s really struggling here, broken again; she’s got blisters right where she holds the racket, and Kovinic is now serving for the set at 5-3.

The blister on Emma Raducanu’s right hand. Ouch.
The blister on Emma Raducanu’s right hand. Ouch. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Updated

“Not sure that Raducanu has sorted out the mental side of her game,” emails Phil Russell, “so much as decided she will just turn up when it’s a Slam, which is frankly something we can all learn from.”

That’s part of it, though. Working out how to produce her best when it matters most, and that she needs to be fresh todo that.

Murray is definitely on top here, beginning to open his shoulders and let the forehand go. But when he forces Daniel to go long, raising another break point, an unforced error hands him deuce … and when he plays a terrific backhand approach, Daniel somehow spirits a floaty winner down the line! That’s a great shot, though Murray might rue not anticipating it – I’m not sure the volley was beyond him. And when he misses another volley, his chance evaporates and we’re at 2-2 in set three, first two to Daniel.

Where else can you get cod philosophy and tennis? Exactly.

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Back on laver, Kyrgios has just broken Medvedev for 4-4. I did not see that coming, except I did see it coming because it’s Kyrgios, so that which one doesn’t see coming is therefore coming, the Kyrgiosian paradox.

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Photograph: Ella Ling/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Eesh, Kovinic breaks again, to love, and Raducanu is struggling with her forehand in particular, unable to flow through the ball. On the opposite wing, she’s got a double fist to help, but I doubt Kovinic obliges her with many balls down that side. It’s now 3-3 in set one.

Ach, while I was investigating the aforementioned fingers, Murray ceded his hard-earned break in self-flagellatingly tame fashion. Still, he’ll feel more in the match than at any previous stage.

While all that was going on, Kovinic retrieved a break from Raducanu who, at 3-2, has the trainer out strapping her fingers.

I’ve got blisters on my fingers!
I’ve got blisters on my fingers! Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Updated

Murray spanks a forehand, taken nice and early, to seal the first game of set three. That should give him some confidence, because he needs to attack Daniel to have any kind of chance here. Thing is, Daniel has and is serving beautifully, unloading the suitcase … but at 30-0 Murray plays him, drawing him to the net then running in for the pass, before a decent return eventually gives him 30-all, and when he comes to the net again, a volley forces Daniel to dump one! For the first time, the pressure looks like it’s telling … but Daniel finds a first serve and Murray nets cross-court for deuce. He’s created a fair few opportunities so far, but hasn’t been good enough to take them at the crucial moments … and here’s another! This time he gets a second serve to attack, he steps in … and Daniel, perhaps enticed to put more on it, goes long! Murray is some competitor, but Daniel still leads 6-4 6-4 0-2!

By the way, Auger-Aliassime meets Dan Evans next – that’ll be a jazzer – and Paire meets Tsitsipas. Don’t mind if we do!

Oooh yeah! Benoît Paire, one of the great can’t be arsed mavericks, has beaten Grigzy Dimitrov in four! He looks pretty pleased about it, which is lovely to see – how he uses his talent is none of my business, but I’m glad he’s feeling fulfilled by victory.

Benoit Paire beats Dimitrov to advance to the third round.
Benoit Paire beats Dimitrov to advance to the third round. Photograph: Tertius Pickard/AP

Updated

Raducanu has broken Kovinic again, and looks very nicely grooved. It’s frankly ridiculous how good she is, and how sorted she has the mental game of progressing through the rounds with minimum fuss but maximum prejudice.

This is terrific from Daniel, finding that first serve while Murray struggles for consistency. He gets to 30-0, then curls one off the frame and onto the line for three set points! when it’s your day it’s your day, and another big serve is all he needs! Murray 4-6 4-6 Daniel

Murray goes two sets down.
Murray goes two sets down. Photograph: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Raducanu has consolidated for 2-0 and Medvedev for 3-1, both in set one.

Murray holds to 15, forcing Daniel to serve for 2-0 following a sit-down. He’s held it together really well so far, and this game will be about getting his first go in. If he can, he’s nearly through; if he can’t Murray will drag him into deep waters.

Anyone got a spare eye? Kyrgios has just saved two break points, before going long, and now trails Medvedev 1-2, while Raducanu has broken Kovinic in game one and Auger-Aliassime has beaten Davidovich Fokina 7-6(4) in the fifth of five tiebreaks. Phew. I hurt just thinking about it (and because I’m hurting because I’m old).

And 30-0, Daniel nets a backhand; can Murray get into the rallies and make him wonder? He cannot, a big serve inciting a netted return and another ace sealing the deal. He leads 6-4 5-3 and is playing superbly here.

Medvedev races through deuce to hold while, on Court, Raducanus and Kovinic are away.

Emma Raducanu is in action against Kovinic.
Emma Raducanu is in action against Kovinic. Photograph: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Updated

Excellent from Murray, coming back from 0-30 with four points in a row, spurred by an ace; he’s going to make Daniel work for this while, on Laver, Medvedev has just saved two points to stop Kyrgios breaking him as the first time of asking.

Murray misses a chance for 30-all, and at 40-15, Daniel mashes an ace down the middle to lead 4-2 in set two.

Also going on: Emma Raducanu will soon be away against Danka Kovinic, so i’ll be watching that one too. Life is good!

Elsewhere, a brutal match between Davidovich Fokina and Auger-Aliassime is nearly over; they’re in the final set playing their fifth breaker of the match, and it’s 2-2, four hours 14 minutes in. Expletive ouch.

Updated

Murray is struggling here, a blazing backhand down the line giving Daniel 30-all and second later Murray is facing a break point that’d mean four games lost in a row. Murray, though, isn’t going away, and forces a long backhand, then manufactures a volley at the net, fashioning a winner from a ball smacked right at him, to save a further break point. Back and forth we go, before a Daniel backhand return flies wide, and Murray is still alive; of course he is. What a ridiculous competitor and human being! Still, Daniel leads 6-4 3-2.

andy

Updated

Thanks Mike and morning, afternoon and evening all. Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios are making their way onto court, so I’ll be watching them as well as Murray and Daniel, but know that Daniel has just consolidated to lead 6-4 3-1.

Second set: Murray 4-6, 1-2 Daniel* (*denotes next server) Murray falls to 15-30 and then has a word with the umpire about something before settling back into his service stance. Is he rattled? He could be. Daniel on the other hand appears invigorated by that previous hold and he manages to break, securing the game with a backhand winner.

And with that, I’ll hand you over to Daniel Harris who will take you through the evening session, which is under way with some tasty encounters. Bye for now.

Updated

Second set: *Murray 4-6, 1-1 Daniel (*denotes next server) An epic hold for Daniel in an 11 minute 36 second game! The Japanese, for the first time, lets his high level momentarily slip early on. He falls to 15-40. But he saves the first break point with an overhead that a scrambling Murray cannot reach, before a wicked forehand sets up another overhead winner – and saves another break point. Murray jumps on the overhead bandwagon at deuce and he has another break chance. A brain fade robs the Scot though – he opts for a cute backhand drop shot as he runs towards the net, which falls short but he makes up for it on the second deuce with a soft hands at the net. Break point No 4. My goodness, Daniel lands a pearler of a drop shot! We continue until finally, after four deuces, 16 points and a total of four break points saved, Daniel holds serve.

Taro Daniel celebrates a massive hold on his serve.
Taro Daniel celebrates a massive hold on his serve. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Updated

Second set: Murray 4-6, 1-0 Daniel* (*denotes next server) Back to the game on John Cain Arena, where Murray is facing an examination of his serve. He needs just under three minutes to pass.

The players change over… which gives me time to remind you that the Women’s Ashes begins today, more specifically in about half an hour. If cricket’s your thing, you can join my colleague Tanya Aldred for every ball of the first T20 of the series:

First set: *Murray 4-6 Daniel (*denotes next server) Daniel is very impressive once more as he secures the first set! At 30-0 he advances to the net to finish off in clinical fashion and bring up three set points… he needs just one of them, an ace sealing the deal. High quality tennis from the world No 120, and Murray will have to come from behind if he is to progress.

First set: Murray 4-5 Daniel* (*denotes next server) Murray hangs onto Daniel’s coattails with a hold. But the Japanese will now serve for the opening set.

Meanwhile, bored of the Djokovic saga? Strap yourselves in…

First set: *Murray 3-5 Daniel (*denotes next server) Another two break points fall Murray’s way, but he can’t convert this time as Daniel rallies, firing a forehand winner before Murray returns into the net. The Japanese has 1o winners to his name so far.

First set: Murray 3-4 Daniel* (*denotes next server) A perfectly-executed drop shot from Daniel puts him 30-15 up on Murray’s serve. The Scot then finds the net with a regulation forehand – and he’s apoplectic about the mistake and the position it puts him in. Break point for Daniel… and a double fault at this stage certainly doesn’t help Murray’s mood. The Japanese breaks through again!

First set: *Murray 3-3 Daniel (*denotes next server) Murray has a chance to break back but he squanders it with a weak volley with an open court at his mercy. Daniel gets there and saves the break – Murray should have finished that off, no question. He gets another chance soon enough though, and this time he takes it, a lovely sliced backhand setting it up. We’re back on serve in the first!

Andy Murray breaks back!
Andy Murray breaks back! Photograph: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

First set: Murray 2-3 Daniel* (*denotes next server) Of course Murray was involved in an epic opener on Tuesday – five sets of high drama against Nikoloz Basilashvili. How much will that encounter impact him today? We’ll find out soon enough, but for now he holds, to love, without expending too much energy.

First set: *Murray 1-3 Daniel (*denotes next server) Murray’s off with a few of groundstrokes here as Daniel consolidates his break and opens up a two-game lead early on in this first set.

First set: Murray 1-2 Daniel* (*denotes next server) An epic game that lasts nearly 14 minutes! Murray gets funky at the outset with a drop shot – Daniel reaches it, but his ball in out at the baseline, before the Japanese pulls out a sensational backhand to force deuce. Some of his shotmaking so far has been very impressive. Murray then faces break point but saves it with an unreturnable serve before the Scot shows he’s capable of making some nice shots too, with a couple of forehand winners including one down the line on the fourth deuce of the game. The game continues to swing back and forth, Murray is forced to save a second break point, Daniel accidentally smashes the ball into the umpire in her chair, we go to more deuces and when a third break chance comes along, Daniel pounces!

First set: *Murray 1-1 Daniel (*denotes next server) And a comfortable start for Daniel on his serve. He holds to love.

First set: Murray 1-0 Daniel* (*denotes next server) Off we go then, with the sun squeezed out beyond the tramlines at this time of day on Rod Laver. Murray holds his first service game, although Daniel gives an indication of what’s he’s capable of at 0-40 down with a ferocious forehand winner. No dramas for Murray though.

Oh dear, the first “siuuus” heard, and we haven’t even started yet.

In-form 12th seed Elena Rybakina was forced to retire from her match against China’s Zhang Shuai due to injury. The Kazakh player was trailing 6-4, 1-0 when she had to throw in the towel, and that early finish is why we are about to welcome Murray and Daniel onto John Cain Arena on time. That match about to start shortly, with the players just being introduced onto court (Murray gets a huge cheers from what looks like a decent crowd – pretty near to the 50% capacity by my reckoning).

And while we’re on the subject of local hopes, Alex De Minaur is safely into the third round, posting a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Kamil Majchrzak on Rod Laver Arena. De Minaur next plays Pablo Andújar.

“I know Pablo very well,” De Minaur said. “I’ve hit a lot with him. You know, he’s a terrific competitor. He’s had some amazing wins. So, it’s a great position for me to be in. Look, I’m just enjoying it every second of it. Keeping the positive vibes going and hopefully…”

De Minaur said his plans for this evening involve Nick Kyrgios.

“Of course I’m tuning in! I’m pretty sure all of Australia is tuning in! It is going to be a hell of a match. Expect, you know, showtime from Nick. Expect one of the most solid guys on tour with Daniil. It will be a popcorn match. I’m definitely not going to miss it.”

Also earlier today, local favourite Sam Stosur’s singles career finally came to an end with defeat to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The former US Open champion lost 6-2, 6-2 but was showered with tributes after the match.

She bows out as a true great of Australian tennis, writes my colleague Emma Kemp:

Updated

Briefly, the tale of the tape so far on day four of the 2022 Australian Open (courtesy of Reuters):

  • Third seed Garbine Muguruza, a runner-up at Melbourne Park two years ago, suffered a shock 6-3, 6-3 defeat at the hands of French veteran Alize Cornet.
    “Today, I stepped on the court thinking I’d have fun. That’s the best way I play. There was a lack of fun sometimes in my 16-year career. But right now I want to enjoy it,” Cornet said.
    “I don’t know how many years I have left. Today was a perfect gift.”
    Joining Muguruza in making an early exit was sixth seed Anett Kontaveit, who lost 6-2 6-4 to 19-year-old Clara Tauson – the girls’ singles champion at Melbourne Park in 2019.
  • Former French Open champion Iga Swiatek booked her place in the third round, the seventh seed advancing with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson.
  • Britain’s Dan Evans, the number 24 seed, moved through to the next round after his opponent, Arthur Rinderknech, pulled out with a wrist injury.
  • Last year’s quarter-finalist Andrey Rublev made short work of Ricardas Berankis with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 win over the unseeded Lithuanian to reach the third round for the fourth time. The Russian fifth seed next meets Marin Cilic who beat Norbert Gombos 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6).
  • Diego Schwartzman, seeded 13th, fell to a 7-6(6) 6-4 6-4 defeat against world number 175 Christopher O’Connell, while Maxime Cressy outclassed Tomas Machac 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) to reach the third round of a major for the first time.
  • Second see Aryna Sabalenka surrendered the opening set, like she did in her opener, before outclassing China’s Wang Xinyu 1-6 6-4 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena to reach the third round.
  • Local wildcard Maddison Inglis followed up her victory over US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez with a 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-2 win over American qualifier Hailey Baptiste.
  • Daria Kasatkina eased past Magda Linette 6-2 6-3 to set up a third-round clash with seventh seed Iga Swiatek. Kasatkina has beaten the former French Open champion in three sets when they faced off for the first time in Eastbourne last year.

Preamble

Here we go again. Day four at Melbourne Park and the tennis is relentless. We’ll immediately turn our focus to five-time finalist Andy Murray and his second-round encounter with Taro Daniel. It’s wildcard v qualifier, and given it’s Murray, entertainment is virtually guaranteed (most probably over the course of five sets).

The evening session on Rod Laver Arena kicks off with a blockbuster between Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios, while across Melbourne Park on Margaret Court Arena US Open champion Emma Raducanu continues her bid to win a second grand slam against Danka Kovinic. Plus lots, lots more.

Feel free to email or tweet @mike_hytner if you have anything to get off your chest. Otherwise, let’s crack on.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Czech Republic scraps mandatory jabs as daily cases hit new high; record cases in Bulgaria – as it happened” was written by Samantha Lock (now); Jem Bartholomew, Lucy Campbelland Martin Belam (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 20th January 2022 01.13 UTC

That’s it from me, Samantha Lock, for today’s Covid blog.

Please join me on our latest live feed here where I’ll be focusing a little more on the coronavirus crisis across Asia, Australia and the Pacific.

You can also keep up with the top headlines here.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said restrictions will be tightened if there is a community transmission of Omicron.

Ardern made the remarks during a press conference on Thursday in which she provided an update on the country’s traffic light system.

When Omicron enters the community behind the border, the whole country will move into red within 24 to 48 hours, stuff.co reports.

The prime minister previously told her MPs that Omicron is a “different foe” and will result in case numbers not seen in New Zealand before. However, she added that the variant “is not insurmountable” and long lockdowns should not be needed.

Two new Omicron cases have been reported in Auckland.

Testing in New Zealand for Covid will be free, and rapid antigen tests will be used more widely, Ardern added.

Moving across to Europe, Austria has also recorded a record daily rise in Covid infections with 27,641 cases reported in the past 24 hours, according to data from the Austrian Agency for Health (AGES).

It marks an incident rate of 1,439 per 100,000 of the population.

Mexico is also reporting a record daily increase of more than 60,000 new confirmed Covid-19 cases, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, as the country steps up testing for the virus.

In the past 24 hours, more than 150,000 test results were logged, the ministry’s data showed, far more than Mexico was registering at the start of the month.

With 60,552 new infections, the number of overall cases since the pandemic began increased to 4,495,310 while 323 more deaths brought the overall death toll to 302,112.

Brazil reports record high of daily Covid cases

Brazil has reported 204,854 new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, breaking the country’s previous record for the second day in a row, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry also reported 338 new Covid-19 deaths.

The previous record of 137,103 cases of the coronavirus was reported on Tuesday.

The South American country has now registered 23,416,748 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 621,855.

Updated

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog as we unpack all the latest Covid developments from across the world.

I’ll be reporting to you from Sydney and my colleagues from London will take over a little later in the day.

Here’s a snapshot of how Covid is unfolding across Australia.

The NSW Covid numbers are in and sadly another 25 Covid positive people in the state have died, with 30,825 new infections recorded.

NSW has also recorded a slight reduction in the number of people hospitalised, with 2,781 patients now in Covid wards, compared with 2,850 yesterday.

Victoria’s number are also in and sadly 15 more people with Covid-19 have died with 21,966 new infections recorded. There are now 1,206 hospitalisations, an increase from yesterday’s 1,152.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has just granted provisional approval to two oral Covid-19 treatments, Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir + ritonavir) and Lagevrio (molnupiravir).

The interval for a booster shot will be reduced to three months in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT amid unprecedented strain on hospitals as Omicron cases surge.

Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev believes some more players at the Australian Open may have Covid-19 but they may have gone undetected because they weren’t tested, AAP reports.

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Wednesday Summary

Here’s a round-up of Wednesday’s top international Covid news.

  • Denmark reported a record 38,759 infections, a 37% jump on two weeks ago.
  • Algeria announced it’s closing schools for ten days over rising cases.
  • Germany reported a record 112,323 cases as Omicron continues to batter Europe.
  • Bulgaria reported its highest Covid tally of the whole pandemic, with 11,181 new infections, a 65% jump on the 6,766 cases recorded on Wednesday two weeks ago.
  • France detected over 400,000 new cases for the second day in a row.
  • Japan is is set to widen Covid restrictions to cover half its population as the Omicron variant drives record infections.
  • Northern Ireland will cut self-isolation from seven to five days from Friday, following suit from new isolation rules in England.
  • England will soon scrap virtually all Covid measures, the health secretary confirmed.
  • St Petersburg in Russia detected record cases, as the country clocked over 33,000 infections.
  • Hana Horka, a Czech folk singer, died on Sunday after deliberately exposing herself to Covid. Her son said she was a victim of the antivax movement.
  • The US government will make 400m non-surgical N95 masks free to the public from next week, the White House said.
  • Children aged 5-11 in Malaysia will be jabbed starting February with the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Tennis ace Novak Djokovic is the controlling shareholder in a Danish biotech firm aiming to develop a Covid treatment that doesn’t involve vaccination.
  • In the US, Starbucks has suspended the requirement for its 220,000 employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested after a Supreme Court ruling.
  • US actor John Malkovich was turned away from a luxury hotel in Venice, Italy last week after failing to present a valid Covid vaccination pass.
  • Portuguese voters with Covid or isolating will be allowed to vote in person on 30 January.
  • Authorities in Beijing, China announced another piece of infected international mail, local media reported, amid doubts from experts, who say such events are extremely rare.

That’s all from me, Jem Bartholomew, in London for today. Now over to my colleague Samantha Lock in Australia. Bye for now.

Updated

The US government will make 400m non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, the White House said.

The masks will be available in high street pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. It’s part of an effort to stamp out the rise of the Omicron variant across the nation.

Health experts recommend an N95, rather than a cloth mask, to stop the spread of the highly-mutated Omicron variant.

Updated

Denmark reports record high daily Covid infections of almost 40,000

Denmark reported a record high of 38,759 new Covid infections, a 37% jump on the 28,283 cases detected on Wednesday two weeks ago.

The Copenhagen Post reports this alarming stat based on per capita data: “Were Denmark as populated as the UK, its count would be 420,000.” A further 16 people died from virus-related reasons.

It comes after Denmark on Monday ended restrictions on cinemas, museums and cultural institutions after in measures a month intended to clamp down on Omicron, with public venues reopening on a day Denmark also broke its record-case tally.

Updated

Children aged 5-11 in Malaysia will be vaccinated starting February, authorities said.

The dosage for children in this age bracket is lower, around one-third the dosage given to over-12s, and only the Pfizer-BioNTech will be used following evidence it’s safe and effective.

Clinical trials found that the risk of symptomatic infection in vaccinated children is reduced by 90%, the country’s vaccine committee said in a statement. (The decision to vaccinate this age bracket was already taken on 6 January.)

Meanwhile, Malaysia reported 3,245 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, the New Straits Times reports, largely flat on the 3,270 cases on Wednesday two weeks ago.

A further 9 new Covid-related deaths were announced, halving the 18 reported two weeks ago today and climbing the national death toll to 31,818, the 29th highest worldwide.

People wearing protective face masks cross a street in Bukit Bintang shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
People wearing protective face masks cross a street in Bukit Bintang shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Photograph: Hussain Hasnoor/Reuters

Updated

Algeria closes schools for 10 days to combat Covid

Algeria announced it will close schools for ten days over rising Covid cases.

Elementary and high scools will shut from Thursday, president Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Wednesday, but universities will decide for themselves whether to close.

Reuters reports the details:

Algeria is battling infections from both the delta variant infections and the fast-spreading omicron variant. On Wednesday, heath officials reported a daily record of 1,359 omicron cases and 12 deaths.

Tebboune urged officials to set a “robust testing structure” in public heath facilities and in private laboratories.

In December, Algeria started requiring a vaccine passport to enter many public venues, seeking to boost the country’s low inoculation rate and overcome vaccine hesitancy that has left millions of vaccines unused. Less than a quarter of Algeria’s population has had even one vaccine dose.

A man has his body temperature checked before receiving a vaccine dose in Algiers, Algeria on Monday.
A man has his body temperature checked before receiving a vaccine dose in Algiers, Algeria on Monday.
Photograph: Billal Bensalem/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

More on the fallout from UK health secretary Sajid Javid’s confirmation earlier today that England will scrap virtually all Covid restrictions, which drew scorn from experts.

Health professionals questioned the move:

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, pointed to the high number of Covid-19 patients in hospital “at a time when the NHS is already at full stretch and contending with the toughest winter on record”, and some regions were still seeing increased infection numbers.

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said ministers would “regret sending the wrong signal to the public for political expediency”.

Likewise, unions expressed concern:

Unison, the UK’s largest health union, warned that ditching plan B “in one fell swoop” risked jeopardising progress made. Christina McAnea, the union’s general secretary, said: “Rather than allowing a free-for-all, ministers should be urging caution and encouraging continued mask-wearing on transport, in public places and in schools, where it can still make a real difference.”

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “While the trend amongst secondary aged children is down, it is however uncertain, due to the short time schools have been back since the Christmas holidays, that this trend will continue. Such uncertainty could lead to a pronounced risk of increased disruption with children and staff having to isolate.”

Read The Guardian’s full story here.

BMA warns ending England’s Covid measures risks resurgent infections and hospitalisations

The British Medical Association has warned that lifting all Covid restrictions in England risks a resurgence in infections, more people ending up in hospital and more cases of long Covid.

“Today’s announcement from the prime minister risks creating a false sense of security when the levels of infection and illness remain high, and the NHS is still under crippling pressure”, said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council , in a highly critical response to Boris Johnson’s statement.

“This decision clearly is not guided by the data. When Plan B was introduced in December, there were 7,373 patients in hospital in the UK . The latest data this week shows there are 18,979. Case rates too are nearly twice as many.

“The pressures on the NHS are clear for everyone to see. We have a record backlog of 6m patients [in England] at a time when hospitals are cancelling operations, Trusts are declaring critical incidents and ambulance delays are jeopardising public safety. Removing all restrictions risks a rebound in the number of infections across society, would inevitably increase hospitalisation rates, further destabilise patient care and drive up the rate of staff absences and the number of people with long Covid,” he added.

Nagpaul said that ending mask-wearing and the duty to isolate after displaying symptoms of Covid were particularly reckless.

“It is vital that the government acts according to the data and takes a measured approach. Removing effective infection control measures like mask-wearing on public transport and indoor crowded spaces will inevitably increase transmission and place the public at greater risk, especially for those who are vulnerable. We recognise the implications of restrictions on our society, but equally we have seen the impact of the failure to control the virus on the economy, business and education.

“The announcement by the prime minister that he will seek to end self-isolation rules is premature, especially given the statement by the World Health Organisation earlier today that the pandemic is far from over amidst high global case rates and the risk of new variants emerging.”

Updated

Hana Horka, a Czech folk singer, died on Sunday after deliberately exposing herself to Covid, her family said.

Horka, 57, wanted to prove recovery from Covid so she could obtain a health pass to visit venues.

Horka, vocalist for the band Asonance, voluntarily exposed herself to the virus when her vaccinated husband and son caught it before Christmas, her son Jan Rek told public radio iRozhlas.cz. “She decided to continue to live normally with us and preferred to catch the disease than to get vaccinated,” Rek said.

Rek blamed the death on a local anti-vaccine movement, saying its leaders had “blood on their hands”. Read the full story here.

France detected 436,167 new Covid cases on Wednesday, a dramatic 117% jump from the already-high 202,293 new cases recorded on Wednesday three weeks ago.

It comes after France on Tuesday reported its record daily tally for the pandemic, at 464,76 infections, edging close to half a million. It keeps French Covid infections above 400,000 for the second day in a row.

A further 231 people died from Covid-related causes in French hospitals, Reuters reports.

Earlier this month French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for a vaccine passports were approved by parliament, part of a strategy he characterised as intended to suppress Omicron’s spread and “piss off” unvaccinated people.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday.
French President Emmanuel Macron at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday.
Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Northern Ireland to cut isolation period from 7 to 5 days

Northern Ireland, UK will cut the self-isolation period from seven to five days from Friday, first minister Paul Givan said on Twitter.

The move follows guidance announced earlier this week in England, UK for five full days’ isolation – provided people test negative by lateral flow on quarantine days five and six. The change reflects latest medical evidence, policymakers said, and is expected to combat staff shortages.

The US charted the path on 5-day isolation periods – cut from 10 days – last month but the decision drew scorn from experts for not baking in a test-to-release component.

Northern Ireland reported a further six people had died from Covid-related reasons on Wednesday, plus another 4,451 new infections.

Updated

St Petersburg detects record cases as Russia clocks over 33,000 daily cases

Russia reported 33,899 fresh Covid infections over the past 24 hours, the Moscow Times reports, a 117% surge on the 15,632 new cases on Wednesday two weeks ago.

Russia’s last wave peaked in early November, with cases gradually dropping week on week, but infections began jumping again in early January driven by Omicron.

St Petersburg, Russia’s second-biggest city behind Moscow by population, set a new record high on Wednesday – with 4,382 new cases. (Tuesday saw the city report 3,958 cases.)

Russia reported a further 698 deaths on Wednesday. Russia has the world’s second-highest death toll from the virus, behind only the US, with Reuters estimating deaths of over 670,000 people.

It comes after Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, said on Tuesday he was extending work-from-home rules and guidance to protect elderly people until April 1 amid the Omicron climb.

“Given the rapid and wide spread of Omicron, it is clear that the workload of outpatient clinics will increase sharply,” Sobyanin said.

A woman in a black coat walks past piles of melting snow on Malaya Konyushennaya Street in St Petersburg, Russia on 12 January. The city recorded a daily record of new Covid cases on Wednesday.
A woman walks past piles of melting snow in Malaya Konyushennaya Street on St Petersburg, Russia on 12 January. The city recorded a daily record of new Covid cases on Wednesday.
Photograph: Alexander Demianchuk/TASS

Updated

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is the controlling shareholder in a Danish biotech firm aiming to develop a Covid treatment that doesn’t involve vaccination.

The tennis world No 1, who was deported from Australia this week after the government canceled his visa over his unvaccinated status, bought an 80% stake in QuantBioRes in June 2020.

My colleague Mark Sweney has further details (full story here):

QuantBioRes has about 11 researchers working in Denmark, Australia and Slovenia, according to Loncarevic, who stressed the company is working on a treatment, not a vaccine. The company’s website says that it started developing a “deactivation mechanism” for Covid-19 in July 2020.

Djokovic, who may also be barred from defending his French Open title in Roland Garros in May after the French government ruled on Monday that all athletes will have to be vaccinated in order to attend and compete in sporting events, acquired his stake in the company in June 2020.

The company is developing a peptide, which inhibits the coronavirus from infecting the human cell, expects to launch clinical trials in Britain this summer, added Loncarevic.

Novak Djokovic bought an 80% stake in QuantBioRes in June 2020. He stares at his phone.
Novak Djokovic bought an 80% stake in QuantBioRes in June 2020.
Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Updated

In the US, Starbucks has suspended the requirement for its 220,000 employees to be vaccinated or regularly tested after a Supreme Court ruling. Reuters reports the details:

The coffee giant had said earlier this month it would require its around 220,000 US employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or undergo weekly testing.

The US Supreme Court last week struck down Joe Biden administration’s vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, ruling that the policy overstepped executive authority.

“We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Starbucks chief operating officer John Culver wrote in a memo to workers.

The vast majority of Starbucks employees are vaccinated, Culver added.

Customer exits a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, US. The coffee shop is red brick.
Customer exits a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, US.
Photograph: Lindsay Dedario/Reuters

UK health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed previous reports (see earlier post) that England will revert back to Plan A measures, departing from Omicron-prompted Plan B restrictions.

The changes include an end to mandatory face masks and Covid passports from next Thursday, and the immediate suspension of ‘work from home’ guidance. For the full story follow our UK live blog here.

Bulgaria reports highest ever daily Covid case tally

Bulgaria reported its highest Covid tally of the whole pandemic on Wednesday, with 11,181 new infections, a 65% jump on the 6,766 cases recorded on Wednesday two weeks ago.

The country’s former record tally came yesterday at 9,996 cases, and was previously 7,560 on 7 April 2021. Bulgaria’s positive rate was 24% on Wednesday, state broadcaster BNT News reports.

A further 91 people died from Covid-related causes in the past 24 hours, BNT reports, a 38% climb on the 66 deaths on Wednesday two weeks ago.

Bulgaria, with has seen over 32,000 people die from the virus, has the lowest vaccination rate in the EU, with only about 29% of the country’s population double-jabbed according to a Reuters estimate.

Bulgaria has among the highest per capita death rates in the world.

Ukraine detected 12,815 new Covid infections in the past 24 hours, a 172% jump on the 4,711 new cases on Wednesday two weeks ago.

The country’s most recent wave peaked in late-October and early-November. But Omicron is driving a new uptick in cases.

A further 163 people died from Covid-related causes, local media Ukrinform reports, 45% down on the 297 people who died on the same day two weeks ago.

It comes after Ukraine received almost 1m doses of the Pfizer Covid vaccine from the US and expects 200,000 Sinovac vaccine doses from China.

Updated

Ahead of the imminent UK Covid press conference (which you can follow live here), let’s take a look at today’s Covid figures in context. New daily cases, although remaining high at 108,069, appear to have spiked after the dramatic rise in recent weeks.

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Hospitalisations, which lag cases, have also jumped, but significantly less than last year.

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It’s the same story with deaths, climbing recently but not as significantly as this time last year. The UK reported that a further 359 people died from Covid-related reasons in the past 24 hours.

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This is Jem Bartholomew taking charge of the blog from here on out. Do get in touch with tips and stories from around the world. Drop me an email or message me on Twitter, it’s always great to from readers.

Updated

The staffing crisis in social care is getting worse and worse, data from the Care Quality Commission regulator has shown.

Vacancy rates have almost doubled since April and now stand at 11% in England. That figure does not include the tens of thousands of care workers off with Covid.

The south of the country is worse affected than the north and the crisis is raising concerns about standards of care and widespread rationing of services.

A typical care home in London with 100 staff now has at least 12 vacancies.

The National Care Forum, which gathers data from its own survey, estimates the problem is worse with an 18% vacancy rate.

UK records another 108,069 cases and 359 deaths

The UK has recorded a further 108,069 Covid cases and 359 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest data from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

That is compared to 94,432 infections and 438 fatalities reported in the 24 hours prior.

It comes as Boris Johnson announced the end of all Covid measures introduced to combat the Omicron variant – including compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, guidance to work from home and vaccine certificates – from next week.

The prime minister told the Commons that the legal requirement on people with coronavirus to self-isolate would be allowed to lapse when the regulations expired on 24 March, and that date could be brought forward.

You can read more about that here: All plan B Covid restrictions, including mask wearing, to end in England

Updated

The US actor John Malkovich was turned away from a luxury hotel in Venice last week after failing to present a valid Covid vaccination pass, Italian news media reported Wednesday.

Local newspaper Il Gazzettino reported that the theatre and film actor, star of “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Being John Malkovich”, was in Venice for two days of filming for US television series “Ripley”.

Because his mandatory vaccination card had expired, Malkovich was denied entry to his luxury suite at the Hotel Danieli overlooking the Grand Canal, the paper wrote.

He was instead housed in private lodgings, it said.

Contacted by phone, the hotel would not confirm reports due to privacy concerns.

Italian news agency ANSA confirmed the report, citing sources within the production.

Under Italian law, only those who show proof of full vaccination or recovery from Covid can access public spaces like hotels, restaurants, bars and other venues, as well as public transport.

What does England moving to Plan A mean? My colleague Rachel Hall has this explainer:

Portugal to allow Covid-positive voters to leave home on election day

Portuguese voters with Covid-19 or those in isolation due to exposure to the virus will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballots in a snap election on 30 January, the government said on Wednesday.

The announcement came a day after Portugal, which has almost 90% of its 10 million population fully inoculated, reported a daily record of 43,729 Covid infections, stoked by the fast spreading Omicron variant. Hospital admissions and mortality remain well below levels seen in the previous peaks.

The interior minister Francisca Van Dunem told a news conference that quarantined voters should only head to polling stations from 6pm to 7pm, urging those not infected to go before that period.

The recommendation is not mandatory. They must wear a face mask, keep a social distance and can only leave home to vote.

Staff working at polling stations will be given protective equipment.

“We need a social pact that allows everyone to vote in safety,” said Van Dunem, asking those in isolation not to take public transport to the polling station but walk or use their own vehicle instead.

The head of health authority DGS, Graça Freitas, said there would be no designated areas for those with Covid-19 to vote in and they would not be required to show proof of their health status at the polls.

“This solution of having a dedicated time period for these people to vote… will prevent, not totally, but will minimise the risk of contagion,” Freitas said.

The election was called after parliament rejected the minority Socialist government’s budget bill for 2022. The prime minister António Costa’s party has a comfortable lead in opinion polls but is likely to fall short of a full parliamentary majority.

The election campaign is in full swing after Sunday’s kick-off and street rallies draw large crowds, where mask-wearing is optional.

A woman acting as a “guerrilla journalist” when she filmed inside a hospital in an attempt to prove her belief that lockdown measures were disproportionate has been convicted of a public order offence.

Debbie Hicks, 47, a former teacher and psychologist, filmed twice at the Gloucestershire Royal hospital in Gloucester in December 2020 and told staff who challenged her she could do what she wanted as she paid her taxes.

Hicks, from Stroud, argued that she was exercising her right to freedom of expression and trying to expose what she believed was a false government narrative that hospitals were full of patients with Covid.

But finding her guilty of using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, the district judge Nicholas Wattam said staff had the right to work without being molested.

Read the full story here: Covid denier fined for filming in Gloucester hospital

Czech Republic scraps mandatory Covid jabs as daily cases hit record

The Czech government has scrapped a decree making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for key professionals and over-60s to avoid “deepening fissures” in society, while the daily tally of new cases hit a record high.

The prime minister Petr Fiala said his new centre-right government did not see reasons for compulsory inoculation as the previous administration had planned in some sectors.

“This does not change our stance on vaccination. It is still undoubtedly the best way to fight Covid-19 … however, we do not want to deepen fissures in society,” Fiala told a news conference on Wednesday.

In December, the previous government ordered Covid-19 vaccinations from March 2022 for hospital and nursing home staff, police, soldiers and some other professions, as well as those aged over 60. That decision brought protests against the measures.

The policy turn comes as a wave of the Omicron variant hits the country of 10.7 million people. The health ministry said 28,469 new cases were reported for Tuesday, a record daily number since the start of the pandemic and more than double the 12,371 reported the same day last week.

Like other central European nations, the government expects about 50,000 daily cases by the end of the month.

In preparation, asymptomatic essential healthcare workers and social service personnel who test positive may be allowed to continue working. Businesses want the list extended.

Fiala’s government has also shortened quarantine and isolation times, while launching mandatory testing of employees at companies from this week.

Hospitalisations, which peaked in the latest Delta wave at more than 7,000 in early December, dropped to 1,635 on Tuesday from 1,761 reported for Monday.

The country has reported 36,937 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, one of the world’s worst rates per capita.

Updated

German police have said they are currently investigating more than 12,000 cases of suspected forged vaccine passes.

Since December, when tighter restrictions were introduced in an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, the number of reported forgeries has soared, police said.

In most public places in Germany the public now have to prove a 2G status – that they are double vaccinated or recovered – and more recently 2G +, which represents either an official lateral flow test result or a booster shot.

The measures do not apply to essential services such as medical practices, supermarkets and other grocery stores, whilst on public transport, 3G rules apply (according to which people have to prove they have been double vaccinated, have recovered or have a negative test result).

The demand for forged vaccine passes has increased as rules have tightened, the federal police department told the news agency DPA.

Forgeries have been particularly high in the southern state of Bavaria, where 4000 cases are active, and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where police are investigating more than 3500 cases. The government in Munich has said it believes the real number is likely to be considerably higher.

Fake vaccines are also an issue in Germany, as highlighted following raids last week carried out at 100 addresses across four states, after it was discovered that a doctor in Bavaria had administered placebo vaccines – consisting of a saline solution – to his patients.

Vaccine sceptics from across the country reportedly travelled to his practice to receive the jabs and the accompanying vaccine certificate. Among the jabbed were also people who had thought they had received a genuine vaccine, discovering only through an antibody test offered by the local health authorities that that was not the case.

The doctor has been temporarily suspended by medical authorities, pending a criminal investigation.

One of the people who unwittingly received the placebo vaccine, a 50-year-old woman who lives with her 85-year old mother, told the tabloid newspaper Bild: “I was flabbergasted when I found out. I wanted BioNTech, but I got saline solution instead.”

She said the doctor had inoculated her in her right buttock, stating at the same time: “Be careful – winter’s coming”.

NHS and health leaders reacted with caution to the announcement that Plan B measures are to be scrapped in England, highlighting that with about 20,000 patients still in hospital with Covid, the current Omicron wave “isn’t over”, and warning that there could be “a second Omicron surge”.

Some accused ministers of “sending the wrong signal to the public” for political expediency, and said it was “very premature” to conclude the threat from Omicron had subsided.

Hospitals in some areas have also not yet hit predicted peak Covid admission levels, NHS leaders said.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, said:

Trust leaders have been encouraged that the number of people catching Covid-19 is now falling nationally, and the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital is stabilising.

However, there are still nearly 20,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital, at a time when the NHS is already at full stretch and contending with the toughest winter on record. There are also regional variations in the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations, with the numbers increasing in the North East and Yorkshire, while decreasing in London. This means that some trusts tell us they are expecting their peak later this week, or possibly early next.

Cordery said it was “important” to recognise “that this surge isn’t over” and that “the health service is still operating under extremely challenging circumstances”.

She added:

The government must continue to examine the evidence closely and make calculations based on the future level of risk, including of a second Omicron surge.

Pat Cullen, the Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary and chief executive, said:

The prime minister’s decision to loosen the restrictions may have relieved the pressure from his backbenchers but will do nothing to relieve the pressure on the NHS.

Cullen said the country could not rely on vaccines alone when the situation is “still so precariously balanced”.

She added:

Time will tell whether dropping other measures when the pressure on health and social care services remains unrelenting was wise – particularly when thousands of unvaccinated nursing staff are facing the sack.

Ministers should adopt a cautious approach. The government will regret sending the wrong signal to the public for political expediency.

With so many Covid-19 patients still in hospital, it would be very premature to conclude this wave is over. That is not what our members are telling us.

Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, and a member of Sage appears to be furious with the relaxation of Covid restrictions in England.

In a couple of tweets following Boris Johnnson’s announcement, she said:

Right, okay…erm not sure we’re following the science… it’s still around, still at 1 in 20 people, still seriously infectious, still pretty unpleasant to catch. I’d keep ventilating and wearing masks folks

I see we’re also back to “face coverings for people you don’t normally meet” FFS, YOU CAN CATCH IT FROM A PERSON YOU KNOW

Teaching unions expressed concern about the sudden lifting of Covid restrictions, in particular the requirement to wear face masks in classrooms, warning that many head teachers in England are still seeing widespread disruption to education due to Covid.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

Schools and colleges are still feeling the impact of Covid. The latest ONS infection survey update shows 1 in 10 primary age pupils have Covid.

While the trend amongst secondary aged children is down it is however uncertain, due to the short time schools have been back since the Christmas holidays, that this trend will continue. Such uncertainty could lead to a pronounced risk of increased disruption with children and staff having to isolate.

The government is due to publish figures for Covid-related absence in schools next week. “The danger is we lift restrictions too quickly before the effects of returning to school are clear,” said Bousted.

This will result in more education disruption which is extremely worrying particularly for pupils taking national exams this year whose education has been so badly disrupted already.

There was also scepticism that the Covid announcements may have been politically motivated to distract from the prime minister’s predicament. “Rather than announcements aimed at saving Boris Johnson’s job, government should be exercising a duty of care to the nation’s pupils and the staff who educate them,” said Bousted.

This disruption is at the door of the government who should have got ventilation and filtration solutions in place before Omicron as advised by Sage and they should be getting these solutions in place urgently now to ensure interruption of education remains at the minimum.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the prime minister’s decision to lift Plan B measures is at odds with the situation school leaders are facing on the ground.

Whiteman warned:

Mass disruption is ongoing, with high numbers of staff and pupils absent. School leaders are telling us they still feel very much in the eye of the Covid storm. The reality for many children and young people is that Covid continues to seriously disrupt the normal rhythm of schools.

Parents and teachers alike will be hopeful that we have passed the peak of infections from Omicron, but it is imperative that schools continue to be supported by government to keep the gates open, as we emerge from the depths of winter disruption.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, gave a conditional welcome to the announcement on masks, as long as it is supported by public health and scientific advice.

He said the situation in schools and colleges remains extremely challenging with significant levels of pupil and staff absence due to Covid as well as difficulties in obtaining supply cover because of high demand.

There is a danger that we are heading once again for a situation in which the government gives the impression that the crisis is over when in actual fact there is huge disruption continuing to take place in education and it is very far from being a case of business as normal.

The Department for Education later clarified that masks will no longer need to be worn in classrooms from Thursday, but will continue to be worn in communal areas in schools in England until Thursday next week when masks will go altogether.

Updated

Linked to the announcement that Plan B measures will be dropped in England from next week is falling infection levels across most of the country, writes our science editor Ian Sample.

Covid infections are falling across most parts of the UK, according to the latest official data which suggest that the winter wave driven by the Omicron variant has passed its peak.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that infections in the community fell in England, Wales and Scotland in the week ending 15 January, with the trend in Northern Ireland still uncertain.

The figures mark a turning point in the latest phase of the epidemic which has seen weeks of record-breaking infections in the UK fuelled by Omicron. While infection levels are still high, the ONS estimates that they fell in England from 3,735,000 in the first week of January, with 1 in 15 people testing positive, to 2,984,200 or 1 in 20 testing positive last week.

Similar declines were seen in Wales and Scotland where the ONS estimates that 1 in 25 and 1 in 20 people, respectively, had the virus in the week ending 15 January. Infections may be approaching a peak in Northern Ireland too, where a further 1 in 20 were estimated to have the virus last week.

The interim data from the ONS, which will be followed by a full report on Friday, show Covid infections declined in all regions of England in the most recent week, except the North East and the South West where it was unclear whether cases had peaked for now.

While infections decreased in most age groups in England in the latest week of the survey, they rose in young children aged two years old to year six of primary school.

Sarah Crofts, head of analytical outputs for the ONS Covid-19 infection survey said the latest figures showed “a welcome decrease in infections across most parts of the UK and among all age groups apart from younger children.”

Mandatory face masks, Covid passports and working from home advice to be scrapped in England

Plan B measures aimed at tackling the spread of Covid are to be dropped across England, the prime minister has announced.

Boris Johnson told MPs more than 90% of over-60s across the UK had now had booster jabs to protect them, and scientists believed the Omicron wave had peaked nationally.

He said the government had taken a “different path” to much of Europe and the “data are showing that, time and again, this government got the toughest decisions right”.

The restrictions, which include working from home advice, mandatory face masks in some settings and Covid passports, will be allowed to expire on 26 January.

The news comes as Covid infection levels are falling in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December.

From 27 January, the following changes will take effect in England:

  • End of mandatory Covid passes, but businesses can continue to use them if they choose to
  • It will no longer be a legal requirement to wear a face mask, including in classrooms for secondary students and on public transport, but they will still be recommended in some places, such as in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet
  • End to work from home guidance
  • Restrictions on care homes will be eased – further detail to be released

However, there will still be a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid.

But Johnson said there will “soon be a time” when self-isolation guidance can be removed entirely. The regulations expire on 24 March, he said, adding he does not expect to renew them.

Updated

A cross-party committee of councillors is to decide the future of the Sheffield city council chief executive, Kate Josephs, a week after she apologised for having leaving drinks in Whitehall during lockdown.

Josephs led the government’s Covid-19 taskforce from July to December 2020. After details of the gathering emerged in the media she released a statement admitting it took place and saying she was “truly sorry”.

Sheffield city council, her current employer, said a committee of councillors would be set up “to consider what steps, if any, should be taken next”.

Josephs’ leaving drinks gathering was attended by dozens of officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce.

On the day it was held the government’s official Twitter feed replied to a query asking if employers could hold Christmas parties at the end of the working day.

The feed said: “Hi Mick, although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

The full story is here: Sheffield council to decide fate of chief Kate Josephs following lockdown drinks

Austria’s new daily coronavirus infections have shattered the previous record as the Omicron variant continues to spread, the chancellor Karl Nehammer said.

Nehammer told a news conference on Wednesday:

We have close to 30,000 infections. That is a frighteningly high figure.

The previous record for new daily cases published by the interior and health ministries was 17,006, set a week ago.

Updated

Museums and concert halls in the Netherlands opened briefly on Wednesday to protest at their continued closure under a Covid lockdown, offering yoga sessions in front of paintings by Dutch masters and haircuts to the swell of a live symphony orchestra.

The Netherlands eased a month-long lockdown last weekend, allowing gyms, hair dressers and shops to reopen. But cultural venues were ordered to remained closed to the public until at least 25 January.

“I simply don’t understand why the measures are still so strict, preventing cultural events from happening,” Alexandra Gerny, a life coach who could not resist an invitation to have her hair done on stage while the 130-year-old Concertgebouw Orchestra played, told Reuters.

“If you look at the rest of Europe, I find myself asking: why so cautious? I simply don’t get it. The damage caused by staying closed is so much greater. It just makes me so angry and that’s not so easy to do!”

She was among 50 visitors welcomed to the “Kapsalon Concertgebouw” haircut performance, held in violation of rules banning concerts for an audience.

Guests wore face masks and socially distanced, while attendants at the entrance checked passes showing proof of vaccination against Covid, recovery from the illness, or a negative test.

Famous museums across the Netherlands, from the Van Gogh in Amsterdam to the Frans Hals in Haarlem, opened their doors at risk of being fined. Also on offer to visitors were Tai Chi sessions and nail studios.

Nail technicians at work in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as part of a national protest action named ‘Kapsalon Theater’ (hairdressing theatre) against the continued Covid-19 closures in the cultural sector.
Nail technicians at work in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as part of a national protest action named ‘Kapsalon Theater’ (hairdressing theatre) against the continued Covid-19 closures in the cultural sector.
Photograph: Evert Elzinga/EPA

Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, said she would “enforce” the current lockdown measures but there were no signs of officials doing so.

In a Twitter post, the junior culture minister Gunay Uslu voiced understanding for the protest but urged caution. She wrote:

The cultural sector is drawing attention to their situation in a creative way. I understand the cry for help and that artists want to show all the beautiful things they have to offer us. But the opening of society must go step by step. Culture is high on the agenda.

The prime minister Mark Rutte last week announced the reopening of shops and resumption of group sports despite record numbers of new Covid infections.

New cases have been hitting near daily records above 30,000. The country has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and 21,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

But hospital numbers have been steadily declining. “It’s a protest of the cultural sector in the Netherlands,” said Dominik Winterling, the new managing director of the Concertgebouw. “We want to make sure that the politicians in The Hague understand that we want to open again.”

After nearly two years of uncertainty, performers and musicians need perspective, he said.

“We simply don’t know what’s going on. We cannot open from one day to the next, so we need some time to prepare. What we really want is to play for an audience because that’s what we’re there for. We want to inspire people. That’s what it’s about.”

Winterling said he could not guarantee everyone would get a haircut, but they would all experience a show to remember.

People get a haircut during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
People get a haircut during a rehearsal at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Photograph: Peter de Jong/AP

Updated

Summary

Good morning from London! If you’re joining us, here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:

  • Polish state employees will move to remote working and private sector companies should follow suit as the country faces another surge in daily Covid cases, the health minister said. Poland reported more than 30,000 daily cases today for the first time since April, intensifying debate over whether stricter restrictions on public life are needed.
  • The Czech government will today consider making Covid vaccinations mandatory for workers in key professions and people over the age of 60, as the daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a record high in the country.
  • The UK’s minister for armed forces, James Heappey, said there needs to be “some reflection” about the amount of alcohol consumed in No 10 and how regularly. Asked about whether there is a “drinking culture” at the heart of government, in the light of the Downing Street lockdown parties, Heappey said: “I think that there does need to be some reflection about the amount of alcohol that appears to be consumed and how regularly, not just at No 10 but in a number of departments of state, and I know that all secretaries of state and the prime minister and the senior civil service are quite seized at whether or not this reflects on a culture that needs to change.” [For his full answer, see 8.45am.].
  • There have been record daily Covid cases in Germany, which have gone over 100,000 for the first time. The health minister Karl Lauterbach said he expected the wave to peak in a few weeks, telling the RTL broadcaster: “I think we will reach the peak of the wave in mid-February, and then the number of cases could fall again, but we haven’t reached the peak yet.”

I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

Poland warned new daily cases could hit 50,000 next week by health minister

Polish state employees will move to remote working and private sector companies should follow suit as the country faces another surge in daily Covid-19 cases, the health minister said.

Poland reported more than 30,000 daily cases today for the first time since April, intensifying debate over whether stricter restrictions on public life are needed.

“If these trends continue, next week the number of infections could exceed the level of 50,000 per day,” Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.

Reuters report he urged private employers to follow the state sector in requiring people to work from home whenever possible.

Updated

A quick snap from Reuters here that the Hungarian opposition’s candidate for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay, said he has tested positive for coronavirus and has moved into quarantine.

Márki-Zay said on his official Facebook page that he had mild symptoms resembling a cold, and had received three Covid-19 shots so was hoping to get back on the campaign road in five days if he has a negative test then. Hungary holds elections on 3 April.

Updated

Almost two years after working in a temporary Covid intensive care unit at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Kim Bishop, a critical care nurse, can still remember which patients were in which rooms.

“When you walk back on these units, you know which patient survived in which room and which ones didn’t,” said Bishop, who still works at the Philadelphia hospital and moves among different units. “I thought we closed that chapter once we closed that unit, but now walking back into it, it’s almost like a slap in the face.”

Bishop’s feelings are not unique among providers who treat Covid patients in the US. Many are leaving the field.

Recent research indicates that healthcare workers and first responders are displaying post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms like veterans who served in combat.

Read more of Eric Berger’s report here: ‘It’s a war zone’ – healthcare workers show signs of stress similar to combat veterans

Nicola Slawson is live now with our combined UK politics and Covid live blog – it is going to be a busy day for her with plots against Boris Johnson and PMQs due for noon. You can follow that here.

I’ll be continuing here with the latest international Covid developments.

The Czech government will today consider making Covid vaccinations mandatory for workers in key professions and people over the age of 60, as the daily tally of new coronavirus cases hit a record high in the country.

Reuters report authorities said 28,469 new cases were reported on Tuesday, more than double the 12,371 reported for Tuesday of last week.

Neha Arora reports from New Delhi for Reuters that India reported new coronavirus infections at an eight-month high on Wednesday. However, the federal authorities have said Omicron was causing fewer hospitalisations and deaths than the Delta variant, which killed hundreds of thousands last year.

But Tarun Bhatnagar from the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology in Chennai said the impact of the current run-up in infections will only show up with a lag: “We have to worry about hospitalisation and deaths and that will come later. There will always be a lag of two-three weeks.”

Scotland’s national clinical director has said Omicron is definitely on a “downward slope”, but urged caution over thinking the pandemic is in its final stages. Asked if we are in the “endgame”, PA Media quotes Prof Jason Leitch telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

I think we’re in the endgame of Omicron. Nobody knows if we’re in the endgame of the whole pandemic. And anybody who does, I’m afraid it’s hope rather than reality.

I hope we’re in the endgame, and the WHO are telling us still to be cautious – don’t drop your guard for surveillance of other variants that might come into your country or you might generate yourself. But we’re definitely in a downward slope of Omicron, which is terrific news.

Updated

David Aaronovitch of the Times sums up quite neatly here that UK government ministers on the airwaves appear very happy to pre-judge the outcome of Sue Gray’s investigation when it comes to staff and civil servants, less so when it comes to fellow Conservative politicians.

Uk government minister: there needs to be ‘some reflection’ about alcohol consumed at No 10

The minister for armed forces in the UK, James Heappey, has been asked about whether there is a “drinking culture” at the heart of government, in the light of the Downing Street lockdown parties that have emerged. PA Media quotes him telling BBC Breakfast:

I think it’s quite hard to answer that in a straight way because what I reflect on having worked both in Downing Street and in the Ministry of Defence, both departments where an awful lot of people have to work extraordinarily long hours, because they are dealing with real-time operational issues, and I don’t know that colleagues who get to the end of a very, very long day, and maybe have a glass of wine at their desk before they go home, is that a drinking culture different to those who finished work earlier in the evening and go for a drink with friends outside work?

I think that there does need to be some reflection about the amount of alcohol that appears to be consumed and how regularly, not just at No 10 but in a number of departments of state, and I know that all secretaries of state and the prime minister and the senior civil service are quite seized at whether or not this reflects on a culture that needs to change.

Updated

A quick snap from Reuters here that Hungary’s daily tally of new Covid-19 infections has jumped to a record 14,890. The government said the Omicron variant “was spreading strongly”, but the number of patients treated in hospital has remained at a relatively low level.

In the UK, Jonathan Reynolds is Labour’s shadow secretary for business and industry and he has been on the airwaves this morning. He told Sky News:

That interview yesterday the prime minister gave, where there was a new excuse. This time no one had told him about the rules that he himself had introduced. He has lost all authority. And whether it is when the report comes out, or whether it is earlier than that, given how quickly things seem to be moving last night, we all know what’s going to happen. There is going to be a no-confidence vote.

And what I resent most of all about all of this is, if you look at the situation people are facing right now … this cost of living crisis, the squeeze on households demands a responsible government. Are they responding? No, because the prime minister is trying to get himself out of a scandal of his own making.

Updated

With speculation mounting in the UK that enough Conservative MPs may be unhappy with Boris Johnson’s performance as prime minister to trigger a vote of no confidence, environment secretary George Eustice has said he would not be one of them. PA Media quotes him telling BBC Good Morning Scotland:

I’ve got confidence in the prime minister. Clearly the revelations that have been coming out are damaging and it’s unsettled parts of the Conservative parliamentary party, there’s no denying that.

I think the prime minister was right to apologise but I support him because I do think the important agenda that he’s got around levelling up our country, bringing our union together after a number of difficult years, arguing over things like Brexit, I think he is the right one to do that, and he has my support to carry out that important agenda that he was elected to.

Updated

Here is another quote from armed forces minister James Heappey on his media round this morning in the UK, with what looks like an attempt to paint a picture of the prime minister as a hapless victim of circumstance. PA Media quotes him telling Times Radio:

If you are going through a day in which you are having calls with world leaders, meetings on national security, meetings on ten different policy areas, all of those meetings come and go in the blink of an eye, you rely utterly on the team around you to make sure that you are properly briefed and to have your back around what it is that they put in your diary.

As unedifying as I think it is to point to those who perhaps don’t have a platform with which to respond, the reality is that those who work around the prime minister need to have his back.

By the prime minister’s own admission in parliament, he spent 25 minutes in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020.

Updated

Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell has said Boris Johnson should have apologised immediately over the Downing Street lockdown party scandal. PA Media quotes him telling LBC:

It’s been clear for months that someone has been leaking things drip by drip by drip. So, after the first story, you have to establish all the facts, get it all out there on your own terms and apologise, genuinely apologise contritely and hope that you can get through that.

Now that might not have worked, it might be that people were so angry that that would have been it, but I’m sure that would have been a better strategy than trying to deny it for months on end.

Updated

Just a little bit more from Reuters here on those record daily Covid cases in Germany, which have gone over 100,000 for the first time. They report that health minister Karl Lauterbach said he expected the wave to peak in a few weeks, telling the RTL broadcaster: “I think we will reach the peak of the wave in mid-February, and then the number of cases could fall again, but we haven’t reached the peak yet.”

Updated

James Heappey is the UK government minister for the armed forces, and he is on the media round in the UK this morning. Here’s what he has had to say on Sky News about intrigue against Boris Johnson over Downing Street’s lockdown parties:

I only know what I’ve read in the papers overnight that some colleagues appear to have met to discuss things. I don’t think that’s surprising. I suspect there’s lots of colleagues who are reflecting on what they’ve heard in their constituencies and a feeling under a lot of pressure right now, because the British public are absolutely furious with what they’ve heard.

The prime minister has apologised. I can tell colleagues that in the meetings I see the prime minister, in which we discuss the most sensitive matters that the state has to deal with, at a time when the world is incredibly unstable the prime minister is taking really big decisions and he’s making the right calls. And this doesn’t feel like the time to be changing our prime minister.

I just think that the prime minister has given his account of things he did at the dispatch box, which all ministers take very seriously. They have a responsibility to be absolutely accurate in what they say. Others have contested that version and said that they’re willing to do so on oath. We will wait to see what Sue Gray has heard and the conclusions that she makes.

Updated

Hello, and a good morning from me, Martin Belam, in London. Another busy day of political intrigue that revolves around Covid ahead of us in the UK, I suspect. Here are three things it might be worth bearing in mind over the next couple of days.

Here is exactly what Boris Johnson said in parliament on 8 December:

I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken. I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.

And here is what he said in parliament on 12 January:

When I went into that garden just after six on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.

With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them. I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this house I offer my heartfelt apologies.

And here’s a reminder from Alain Tolhurst at PoliticsHome of exactly what the rules were at the time:

Around an hour before the gathering took place the Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden told a televised Covid briefing: “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay 2 metres apart. The law at the time said gatherings between more than two people were not permitted in public places, but that an exception would be made for “essential for work purposes”.

Updated

The number of letters of no confidence in UK prime minster Boris Johnson could hit threshold of 54, though numbers may be short, the BBC is reporting.

As many as 20 Conservative lawmakers who won their seats at the last general election in 2019 plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, according to reports.

“Group of 2019 MPs to submit letters to try to hit threshold of 54 to trigger a contest,” BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said. “They might hit 54.”

An analysis by the Times showed that 58 Conservative lawmakers had criticised the prime minister.

The letters are confidential, so the chairman is the only person who knows how many lawmakers have actually written them.

Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday after his Cabinet is expected to approve plans to end the recent restrictions imposed to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in England.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

Updated

Before I hand over to my esteemed colleague Martin Belam and before Boris Johnson announces a potential end to plan B Covid measures across England, here is a recap of how Covid has unfolded across the globe.

Europe

  • British PM Boris Johnson is to meet with his cabinet on Wednesday morning where he is expected to end of plan B Covid measures across England. A review of Covid restrictions will likely see ministers approve the end of current advice for people to work from home where possible and the use of vaccine certificates to enter venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums.
  • Germany is recorded 112,323 new coronavirus cases and 239 deaths on Tuesday, according to recently updated figures from the Robert Koch Institute. It is the highest recorded daily figure since the pandemic began. Omicron accounts for more than 70% of new infections.
  • The Czech Republic has reported a daily Covid record of 28,469 new cases on Wednesday. Fatalities significantly decreased however with 6 deaths recorded for Tuesday, a drop from Monday’s 23 fatalities, according to ministry of health data.

Americas

  • Brazil has recorded a record 137,103 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the health ministry reported on Tuesday. The number of deaths also rose by 351, the highest number since mid-November.

Asia

  • Authorities in Beijing have announced another piece of infected international mail, the Beijing news has reported.
  • Japan is poised to widen Covid-19 controls to cover half its population as the Omicron variant drives new infections to record levels, Reuters reports. Prime minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially approve the plan after it was cleared by an expert panel on Wednesday.
  • Vietnam recorded its first cases of the Omicron variant in the community. The three positive cases were detected over the weekend in Ho Chi Minh City and confirmed as Omicron late on Tuesday.
  • China reported its lowest daily count of local Covid infections in two weeks after cities clamped down on high-risk areas, quarantined infections and conducted mass testing on residents. Mainland China reported a total of 55 domestically transmitted infections for Tuesday, lower than the 127 recorded a day earlier and marking the fewest since 1 January.
  • A Chinese couple who were trapped on a never-ending date thanks to a Covid lockdown have tied the knot.
  • The rate at which Covid is spreading in the Philippines’ capital Manila is on a “clear downward trend”, analysis suggests, though infections have continued to rise rapidly elsewhere in the country.
  • Taiwan has expanded its airport testing for new arrivals, after dozens of positive cases were detected despite a requirement that all travellers obtain a negative PCR result no more than two days before getting on their flight.
  • A mass hamster cull in Hong Kong has sparked fears among animal welfare groups that people will abandon their pets after 11 of the rodents from one petshop in the city tested positive for Covid-19.

Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific

  • Australia has announced financial incentives in a bid to lure international workers, backpackers and students to the country to fill some of the critical workforce shortages being faced as a result of the Omicron surge.
  • The small island nation of Papua New Guinea has just announced its first case of the Omicron variant as local authorities call for calm.
  • Australia and New Zealand have started to dispatch aid to Tonga to help provide temporary shelter and clean drinking water after volcanic eruption. However, there are fears that relief workers could bring a “tsunami of Covid” cases to the Pacific Island nation that has so far recorded just one case of the virus.
  • The World Health Organization has cautioned that the Covid pandemic is far from over as the agency’s chief described the narrative that Omicron is a mild disease as “misleading”.
  • The WHO also says the worst of the coronavirus pandemic – deaths, hospitalisations and lockdowns – could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.

Updated

The Czech Republic has reported a daily Covid record of 28,469 new cases on Wednesday.

Fatalities significantly decreased, however, with six deaths recorded for Tuesday, a drop from Monday’s 23 fatalities, according to ministry of health data.

The daily death toll for the month of January has averaged 38 fatalities per day with a high of 61 deaths recorded on 3 January.

A couple embraces on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.
A couple embraces on Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic.
Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

Updated

A mass hamster cull in Hong Kong has sparked fears among animal welfare groups that people will abandon their pets after 11 of the rodents from one pet shop in the city tested positive for Covid-19.

The local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which runs veterinary clinics, told Reuters “numerous” worried pet owners have been contacting them for advice.

“We urge the pet owners not to panic or abandon their pets,” SPCA said in a statement.

Scientists around the world and Hong Kong health and veterinary authorities have said there was no evidence that animals play a major role in human contagion with the coronavirus.

However, Hong Kong government officials took no chances after a series of recent infections with the Delta variant were traced back to a worker at a pet shop.

Members of the Animal Management division of Hong Kong Agriculture and Fisheries department seen before culling hamsters inside a pet shop where a worker tested positive for Covid on 18 January.
Members of the Animal Management division of Hong Kong Agriculture and Fisheries department seen before culling hamsters inside a pet shop where a worker tested positive for Covid on 18 January.
Photograph: EyePress News/REX/Shutterstock

Hundreds of samples were collected from animals, including rabbits and chinchillas, but only the hamsters tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in officials giving orders for some 2,000 hamsters from 34 pet shops to be put down “humanely”.

Vanessa Barrs, professor of companion animal health at City University of Hong Kong, said:

Millions of people around the world have pets, and there have been no cases proven of pets transmitting infection to other humans. The theoretical risk is there, but it just doesn’t happen.”

Health workers in hazmat suits were seen walking out of pet shops around the city carrying red plastic bags into their vans.

Dozens of pet shops were asked to close, while imports and sales of small mammals were suspended. Buyers of hamsters after 22 December, 2021 were asked to hand them to authorities for culling and not leave them on streets. It was unclear how many had been handed in.

A hotline for inquiries was set up, while 150 of the pet shop’s customers were sent into quarantine, officials said.

Updated

Beijing announces another piece of infected international mail

Authorities in Beijing have announced another piece of infected international mail, the Beijing news has reported.

It brings the total number of international parcels which authorities say they have detected traces of Covid-19 on to seven, days after attributing one to Beijing’s first case of the Omicron variant.

The CDC in Shunyi district said on Tuesday it had conducted an epidemiological investigation, further testing, and environmental disinfection, finding three close contacts and four secondary contacts of the most recent parcel. It has also tested more than 1,000 people and taken 50 environmental samples.

The news follows an announcement on Monday linking an otherwise untraced case of the Omicron variant to an international parcel sent from Toronto, Canada via the US and Hong Kong. Health officials said 22 traces of the virus were found on that piece of mail, including two on the outer surface of the package, two on the inner surface and eight on the paper inside the document. Nucleic acid testing confirmed the variant was Omicron. 54 environmental samples of international mail also from Toronto were collected, and five were found to be positive, authorities said.

Australia calls on backpackers to help ease Omicron-fuelled labour shortage

Australia has announced financial incentives in a bid to lure international workers, backpackers and students to the country to fill some of the critical workforce shortages being faced as a result of the Omicron surge.

Prime minister Scott Morrison unveiled the $55m package that will refund the cost of visa application fees for up to 175,000 backpackers and international students on Wednesday.

Under the details of the visa rebate program, the $630 fee for international students will be covered for the next eight weeks, and for backpackers for 12 weeks.

Swimmers hit the water at Bondi beach in Sydney as Australia announces financial incentives to lure international workers, backpackers and students to the country.
Swimmers hit the water at Bondi beach in Sydney as Australia announces financial incentives to lure international workers, backpackers and students to the country.
Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Morrison said his message to 150,000 international students and 23,500 backpackers with visas was to “come on down”.

We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here … [and] move all the way around the country.

At the same time, join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour.”

He said international students “particularly those who are working and being trained in healthcare, aged care, those types of sectors” would be “incredibly helpful”.

The prime minister also said states that still had in place quarantine requirements for international arrivals should consider lifting them to take advantage of the additional staff arriving into the country.

“I’d be encouraging them to look at those rules to make sure they can get those critical workers in,” Morrison said.

Read the full story here.

Fears aid workers could bring ‘tsunami of Covid’ to Tonga

Australia and New Zealand have started to dispatch aid to Tonga to help provide temporary shelter and clean drinking water after volcanic eruption.

However, there are fears that relief workers could bring a “tsunami of Covid” cases to the Pacific Island nation that has so far recorded just one case of the virus.

New Zealand has dispatched two naval vessels with relief supplies onboard. Defence minister Peeni Henare said they were expected to arrive in four days, though could arrive as soon as Friday if the weather holds.

The Pacific Island nation of Tonga has so far recorded just one case of the coronavirus.
The Pacific Island nation of Tonga has so far recorded just one case of the coronavirus.
Photograph: Leki Lao/The Guardian

Sophie Ford, international response coordinator for the Australian Red Cross, said aid groups were aware of Covid-19 restrictions that require people coming into the country to isolate for up to three weeks, and goods to be quarantined for days.

“We’re really mindful that our response doesn’t bring any more problems,” Ford said.

A senior Tongan diplomat in Canberra, Curtis Tuihalangingie, told the ABC that there were concerns of “a tsunami of Covid hitting Tonga” as humanitarian relief came to the country.

Read the full story here.

Updated

Taiwan expands airport testing for new arrivals

Taiwan has expanded its airport testing for new arrivals, after dozens of positive cases were detected despite a requirement that all travellers obtain a negative PCR result no more than two days before getting on their flight.

The new measure comes as Taiwan battles small clusters of local infections including the Omicron variant.

Last week Taiwan’s CDC ordered that all passengers on long-haul flights from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand would be given a rapid PCR test at the airport immediately on arrival.

On Tuesday the CDC said this process would be expanded to people from other regions, after the process detected a surprisingly high number of apparently positive cases on arrival, including 58 on the first day.

Those who test positive are taken directly to hospital or quarantine facility with their luggage. Those who test negative are allowed to continue through the arrival process, which includes a being sprayed with disinfectant, and put in designated transport to a quarantine hotel or facility.

During the two weeks in quarantine (and a subsequent week of mandatory semi-isolation), individuals are tested another five times – including two PCRs and three at-home rapid tests.

People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus in Taipei, Taiwan.
People wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus in Taipei, Taiwan.
Photograph: Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Taiwan is maintaining extraordinary measures as part of an apparent Covid Zero strategy, one that has kept life for those inside its borders relatively normal for most of the pandemic.

However the Omicron wave sweeping the planet has also coincided with Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year for much of East Asia, when hundreds of millions travel across the region.

Tens of thousands of overseas Taiwanese have reportedly arrived in Taiwan this month, beginning quarantine early to be out in time for the Spring Festival. There are now clusters of community cases linked to Taoyuan international airport and a steakhouse in the city.

Of the 17 community cases in Taiwan reported on Tuesday, five are still untraced. Also on Tuesday, the health minister Chen Chih-shung gave a frank indication that people will at some point have to accept the presence of the virus in Taiwan.

Asked about Taiwan’s future strategy, Chen said it was a combination of mask wearing, strong hygiene, vaccinations and quarantine for inbound travellers, but people also needed to prepare for co-existence.

The rate at which Covid is spreading in the Philippines’ capital Manila is on a “clear downward trend”, analysis suggests, though infections have continued to rise rapidly elsewhere in the country, placing pressure on health services.

The Philippines has experienced a recent surge in infections, which health experts have blamed on the more transmissible Omicron variant.

There is hope that the wave of infections in Manila, previously a hotspot for cases, is slowing. Dr Guido David, of the research group OCTA, which has provided analysis of the Covid outbreak in the Philippines, said the seven day average of new cases in Manila had fallen over the past week by 23% from 2,152 to 1,658. “The region is still at critical risk, so we need to continue to follow health protocols,” David added.

People wearing face masks as protection against the Covid-19 present their vaccination cards in Manila as the Philippine capital region limits public transport to allow only fully vaccinated individuals.
People wearing face masks as protection against the Covid-19 present their vaccination cards in Manila as the Philippine capital region limits public transport to allow only fully vaccinated individuals.
Photograph: Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Various restrictions have been in place to curb infections in Manila, including a “no vaccination, no ride” policy limiting access to public transport. Businesses such as restaurants and beauty salons are also operating at a lower capacity, as are churches and parks.

Elsewhere across the Philippines, infections have continued to rise. This includes Davao City, on the southern island on Mindanao, where a major Covid hospital has suspended admissions for non-emergency cases, according to a report by Rappler. Scheduled surgeries have also been postponed at the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC). Davao region is under similar restrictions to Manila.

Chinese couple trapped on lockdown date now engaged

A Chinese couple who were trapped on a never-ending date thanks to a Covid lockdown have tied the knot, Agence France-Press reports.

Zhao Xiaoqing, a 28-year-old woman from northern China’s Shaanxi province, thought her date in mid-December with a young man living in a different city would be a one-day affair where she would also get to know his family.

“I never thought about staying the night, because it’s pretty awkward,” Zhao Xiaoqing, who was meeting the man for only the second time, told local media Jimu News on Monday.

But authorities in her date’s city of Xianyang suddenly ordered a lockdown due to a spike in virus cases, leaving the woman unable to return home.

The man’s parents urged the pair to get engaged after just one week together – but Zhao said she felt it was “too rushed.”

Zhao said she was “not too interested” when she first saw a photograph of the man – named Zhao Fei – but later thought he looked better in real life.

Despite the awkward start, the pair began to develop feelings for each other, and have now decided to get engaged.

Zhao Xiaoqing, who is an online apple trader, told Jimu News:

We get along very well.

I have to sell apples on livestream at his house, but no matter how late it is he’s always by my side. I’m very touched by this.

Our souls are compatible, we get along very well, and both our parents are happy.”

Updated

China reports fewest daily locally-transmitted Covid cases in two weeks

China has reported its lowest daily count of local Covid infections in two weeks after cities clamped down on high-risk areas, quarantined infections and conducted mass testing on residents.

Mainland China reported a total of 55 domestically transmitted infections for Tuesday, according to data from the national health commission, lower than the 127 recorded a day earlier and marking the fewest since 1 January.

People walk on a street during morning rush hour in Beijing, China on 18 January.
People walk on a street during morning rush hour in Beijing, China on 18 January.
Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters

China reported a total of 171 new confirmed Covid-19 cases for Monday, 17 January, down from 223 a day earlier, according to government data. The 127 local transmissions was down again from 163 a day earlier.

The drop was mainly driven by fewer infections in the central city of Anyang, which reported 29 new local symptomatic cases for 18 January, compared with 94 the prior day.

Germany reports record rise of 112,323 new cases

Moving across to Europe where the Omicron variant continues to spread, Germany is reporting a daily rise of more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases.

The European country recorded 112,323 new coronavirus cases and 239 deaths on Tuesday, according to recently updated figures from the Robert Koch Institute.

The weekly incidence rate reached 584.4 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, the agency added.

The number is a significant jump on yesterday’s daily rise of 74,405 and 193 deaths and on case numbers recorded at the end of the last week.

It is the highest recorded daily figure since the pandemic began.

A man is tested for Covid-19 at a portable cabin set up in Berlin, Germany on 18 January.
A man is tested for Covid-19 at a portable cabin set up in Berlin, Germany on 18 January.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Germany now joins other European countries like the UK, France and Italy in recording more than 100,000 new Covid-19 infections on one day.

Omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new infections.

The country recently tightened restrictions on access to restaurants, bars and cafes to people who have received their booster jabs or who are tested on top of being fully vaccinated or recovered. Germany has also pledged to accelerate vaccinations while the parliament prepares to discuss introducing mandatory vaccinations – a measure supported by new chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Updated

Vietnam has also just recorded its first cases of the Omicron variant in the community.

The three positive cases were detected over the weekend in Ho Chi Minh City and confirmed as Omicron late on Tuesday, the Tien Phong Newspaper reported, citing health authorities.

A woman wearing a face mask rides her bike loaded with dogs, in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam.
A woman wearing a face mask rides her bike loaded with dogs, in a street in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

Up to now, Vietnam has recorded 70 Omicron cases, all of which were imported cases and isolated immediately after entry.

The Southeast Asian country reported a recent daily increase of 16,838 Covid cases, according to ministry of health figures.

Updated

As many countries report rapid rises in cases fuelled by Omicron, some have managed to escape the destruction caused by the new variant altogether.

The small island nation of Papua New Guinea has just announced its first case of the Omicron variant as local authorities call for calm.

Authorities announced on Tuesday the case was a man who came to Papua New Guinea in December from South Africa, after travelling through London and Hong Kong. He initially tested negative with no symptoms upon arrival in the country.

“Given the period for the man’s travel, it is unclear when or where he contracted the Omicron strain, however given its incubation period of three days– it is likely he acquired it after departing South Africa,” said David Manning, national pandemic response controller.

Read the full story by Guardian reporter Lyanne Togiba in Port Moresby here.

Japan set to widen Covid curbs amid record infections

Japan is poised to widen Covid-19 controls to cover half its population as the Omicron variant drives new infections to record levels, Reuters reports.

Prime minister Fumio Kishida is expected to officially approve the plan after it was cleared by an expert panel on Wednesday.

The so-called quasi-emergency measures permit governors to impose curbs on mobility and business, including shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants, as well as prohibitions on alcohol sales.

The measures, already in place in three regions, will widen to cover Tokyo and 12 other prefectures, lasting from Friday until 13 February.

A woman stands in front of a mask-clad lion statue outside a department store in Tokyo’s Ginza district on 18 January as Japan reported a record high of new Covid-19 infections.
A woman stands in front of a mask-clad lion statue outside a department store in Tokyo’s Ginza district on 18 January as Japan reported a record high of new Covid-19 infections.
Photograph: Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images

Japan recorded 20,835 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to ministry of health data. The figure jumped more than 32,000 on Tuesday, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK, exceeding the previous high seen in August shortly after Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics.

The western prefecture of Osaka posted a record 5,396 new cases, while Tokyo had 5,185, the highest since 21 August.

Public health experts are concerned that a wave of Omicron cases could overwhelm the healthcare system. Tokyo’s occupancy rate of hospital beds for Covid patients rose to 23.4% on Tuesday. An increase to 50% would warrant declaration of a full state of emergency, officials have said.

Japan has vaccinated about 80% of its population, but its booster shot program has barely begun.

Brazil reports record daily Covid rise

Brazil has recorded a record 137,103 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the health ministry reported on Tuesday.

The number of deaths also rose by 351, the highest number since mid-November.

The Omicron variant has spread rapidly across the South American country, becoming the dominant strain.

People line up at a rapid Covid-19 testing site in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on 16 January.
People line up at a rapid Covid-19 testing site in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on 16 January.
Photograph: Washington Alves/Reuters

New cases have soared above the previous daily record of 115,228 on 23 June last year.

Brazil has now registered 23,211,894 cases since the pandemic began while the official death toll has risen to 621,517, according to ministry data.

Brazil has the world’s third highest death toll from Covid-19 after the United States and Russia. Almost 70% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated, and Brazil this week started vaccinating children aged 5-11 years.

Pandemic is ‘nowhere near over’, WHO chief warns

The Covid pandemic is far from over, the World Health Organization chief has said, cautioning against a narrative that the Omicron variant is risk-free.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in a press conference from the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday:

This pandemic is nowhere near over.

Omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.

Make no mistake: Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”

The UN health agency chief warned against dismissing Omicron as mild in light of evidence it seems to cause less serious disease.

Debate continues as to whether the virus is on the verge of passing from the pandemic phase to becoming an endemic disease that humanity can live with – with the implication that the danger will have passed.

But the WHO has warned that the sheer numbers of people infected will mean many people are still falling seriously ill and dying.

“An exponential rise in cases, regardless of the severity of the individual variants, leads to inevitable increase in hospitalisations and deaths,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told Tuesday’s press conference.

As England prepares to see an easing of Plan B Covid measures later this month, here is a quick visual representation of how many people remain in hospital with coronavirus each day in the UK.

A No 10 statement setting out the plan for Wednesday’s decision noted that case numbers are still high, with 17,000 Covid patients in hospital in England.

A government spokesperson said: “Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced. Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, and get more jabs in arms.

“The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over. Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.

default

 

England expected to ease Plan B Covid curbs

British prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to instruct millions to return to workplaces across England as he tries to placate furious MPs with a review of Covid restrictions that could end all rules introduced to combat Omicron.

The cabinet will meet on Wednesday morning to examine Covid data and review plan B restrictions imposed in December amid the rapid spread of the variant, with Johnson set to update the Commons later in the day.

A man walks past the national Covid Memorial Wall on the south bank of the Thames River in London, Britain, on 13 January.
A man walks past the national Covid Memorial Wall on the south bank of the Thames River in London, Britain, on 13 January.
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

While an official statement said decisions remained “finely balanced”, ministers are widely expected to approve the end of current advice for people to work from home where possible and the use of vaccine certificates to enter venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums. This would happen from Monday 26 January, the pre-set review point for the plan B measures.

It is also possible, if considered less likely, that the cabinet could drop the final plan B restriction which mandates masks on public transport and in shops. This move in particular would please many Conservative backbenchers, especially those in the influential Covid Recovery Group.

Read the full story here.

Updated

Key developments

Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog today as we unpack all the latest Covid developments from across the world.

I’ll be reporting to you from Sydney and my colleagues from London will take over a little later in the day.

Boris Johnson’s fight to salvage his premiership and the Downing Street parties scandal continues to somewhat overshadow the Covid crisis unfolding in the UK.

Johnson will attempt to change the national conversation by meeting with his cabinet on Wednesday morning where he is expected to end of Plan B Covid measures across England.

A review of Covid restrictions will likely see ministers approve the end of current advice for people to work from home where possible and the use of vaccine certificates to enter venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums.

This would happen from Monday 26 January, the pre-set review point for the plan B measures.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has cautioned that the Covid pandemic is far from over as the agency’s chief described the narrative that Omicron is a mild disease as “misleading”.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addressed reporters during a press conference on Tuesday, saying: “Make no mistake: Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.”

Here’s a quick run-down of all the global developments:

  • The United Nations is preparing for distanced relief operations in Tonga to avoid a Covid outbreak in the Pacific island nation that is reeling under the impact of a volcanic eruption and tsunami.
  • Covid deaths in the US are climbing and modellers forecast 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans could die by the time the wave subsides in mid-March.
  • The World Health Organization says the worst of the coronavirus pandemic — deaths, hospitalisations and lockdowns — could be over this year if huge inequities in vaccinations and medicines are addressed quickly.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised against travel to 22 nations and territories because of a rising number of Covid cases.
  • In France, 464,769 new cases have been registered in the past 24 hours – a global record increase.
  • Italy’s cases have jumped to 228,179 from 83,403 a day earlier.
  • Omicron measures in Scotland will be lifted on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced. This includes restrictions on indoor live events, table services in hospitality and distancing in indoor public places.
  • The UK has reported 94,432 new Covid cases and 438 deaths.
  • There were more than 900 Covid deaths in England and Wales in the first week of January. The ONS records a 58% rise on the previous week but figures are artificially high due to Christmas bank holidays.
  • Lateral flow tests will no longer be free for people in the UK by the end of June, according to a document seen by Reuters news agency.
  • France’s education minister is facing calls to resign after it emerged he had announced Covid protocol for schools while he was on holiday in Ibiza.

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have a story or tips to share. Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: samantha.lock@theguardian.com
Twitter: @Samantha__Lock

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Witness willing to testify she saw Prince Andrew with a ‘young girl’ at London nightclub

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Witness willing to testify she saw Prince Andrew with a ‘young girl’ at London nightclub” was written by Victoria Bekiempis in New York, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th January 2022 14.45 UTC

A woman who may have seen Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre at a London nightclub 20 years ago is “willing” to provide testimony in Giuffre’s civil lawsuit against the royal, whom she accuses of sexual abuse, the witness’s lawyer said.

“I am proud to represent Shukri Walker, who has bravely stepped forward as a witness and encourages others who may have information to do so as well,” the lawyer Lisa Bloom said in an email.

“She is willing to do the deposition Virginia Giuffre’s team is seeking.”

Giuffre, now 38, maintains that at age 17 she was coerced into having sex with the prince, by his associates Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Andrew emphatically denies all allegations of misconduct.

Epstein, a convicted sex offender and financier, was arrested in July 2019 on charges of sex trafficking girls as young as 14. He killed himself in a Manhattan jail a month later, while awaiting trial.

In New York in December, Maxwell, now 60, was found guilty of sex trafficking and related counts, for bringing girls to Epstein for him to sexually abuse.

Bloom’s statement to the Guardian followed a petition submitted by Giuffre’s lawyers on Friday, asking a Manhattan federal court judge, Lewis Kaplan, to officially request assistance from British authorities in obtaining testimony from Walker.

Giuffre’s lawyers noted that Walker has said she saw the royal “with a young girl around the time that plaintiff contends Prince Andrew abused her in London after visiting Tramp Nightclub”.

They added: “Because Prince Andrew has denied ever meeting plaintiff or being at Tramp Nightclub during the relevant time period, Ms Walker’s testimony is highly relevant.”

Walker’s willingness to cooperate is not a surprise. Bloom, who has represented several Epstein victims, previously told the Guardian: “My client says she was there and she remembers the night clearly because she never saw a royal before or since.

“She says Prince Andrew was happy, smiling and dancing, and Virginia did not look happy. My client was a trafficking victim herself and wants everyone to know that sex trafficking is real, ongoing and devastating.”

Bloom has also said she has given “the FBI all the details of my client’s story for further investigation”.

Giuffre’s lawyers also asked Kaplan to request British assistance in obtaining testimony from Robert Olney, a former equerry, or aide. In court filings, they said Olney has “relevant information about Prince Andrew’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein”.

Olney’s name, the lawyers said, “appears in publicly available copies of Epstein’s phone book”. Giuffre’s lawyers said they want to ask Olney about “any communications with or regarding plaintiff” and about Andrew’s travel to New York City and “to or from any of Jeffrey Epstein’s homes”.

The request for assistance came several days after Kaplan refused to dismiss Giuffre’s civil lawsuit against Andrew. The prince’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Giuffre’s 2015 settlement with Epstein protected him from her suit.

The $500,000 settlement featured a section stating that “second parties and any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant [are protected from] all, and all manner of, action and actions … including state or federal, cause and causes of action”.

Andrew, however, was not mentioned.

The prince has suffered repercussions from Giuffre’s litigation and from intensifying scrutiny over his connections to Epstein and Maxwell.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Thursday: “With the Queen’s approval and agreement, the Duke of York’s military affiliations and royal patronages have been returned to the Queen. The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”

Recent court filings in Giuffre’s now-settled lawsuit against Maxwell have shown that more information might soon be unsealed. In a 12 January filing, an attorney for Maxwell said she was withdrawing her opposition to the unsealing of names mentioned in Giuffre’s litigation, men currently referred to as “John Does”.

“After careful review of the detailed objections submitted by Non-Party Does 17, 53, 54, 55, 73, 93 and 151, counsel for Ghislaine Maxwell writes to inform the court that she does not wish to further address those objections,” Laura Menninger wrote.

“Each of the listed Does has counsel who have ably asserted their own respective privacy rights. Ms Maxwell therefore leaves it to this court to conduct the appropriate review.”

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Senate poised to take up Democrats’ doomed voting rights bill – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Senate poised to take up Democrats’ doomed voting rights bill – live” was written by Joan E Greve, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 18th January 2022 14.41 UTC

While Democrats are expected to fail again in their effort to pass voting rights legislation, a group of bipartisan senators is working on a more narrow bill to help improve US elections.

The senators’ work involves the 1887 Electoral Count Act, an obscure law that dictates how presidential election results are certified by Congress.

Donald Trump tried to use the law to pressure Mike Pence to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 race, and the certification process was ultimately disrupted by the Capitol insurrection.

Axios reports:

The idea of targeting the 1887 Electoral Count Act for repairs has now garnered support from some of Congress’ most conservative members, as well as leading House Democrats. It may be the best chance of passing any form of election reform in an otherwise divided Congress. …

A bipartisan group of senators working on a proposal that can pass the Senate has nearly doubled in size, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), an original member of the group, said Sunday. …

Most reformists agree on two core changes: raising the threshold for objections beyond just a single senator and representative, and clarifying the role of the vice president as merely ceremonial.

While many Democrats support changing the 1887 law, they also believe the proposal is not enough to address the sweep of voting restrictions passed by state legislatures since the 2020 election.

However, if Democrats once again fail to pass their own voting rights bill, they may be more open to the bipartisan group’s suggestions.

Vice-president Kamala Harris on Monday warned that the right to vote in America was “under assault” and tens of millions of Americans faced potential disenfranchisement unless threatened voting rights legislation was passed by US lawmakers.

The speech was given on the Martin Luther King day public holiday and comes as King’s family and other civil rights activists in America are pushing for expanded federal voting rights legislation despite political opposition from Republicans.

Activists want politicians to pass two measures aimed at expanding voting rights across the country – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Passing voting rights legislation is seen as crucial in the face of a wave of Republican state legislation that is aimed at erecting barriers to voting that is likely to suppress the votes of communities of color.

Harris delivered strong words – though no new concrete plan of action – regarding fighting off a wave of Republican-led voting rights suppression.

She said: “Our freedom to vote is under assault,” adding that “voter suppression laws can make it more difficult to vote for as many as 55 million Americans, or one out of six people in the country”.

Senate to take up doomed voting rights bill

Greetings, live blog readers.

The Senate is expected to take up Democrats’ voting rights bill this week, after the legislation passed the House in a party-line vote last week.

However, as of now, there is still no indication that Senate Democrats will be able to change filibuster rules and get the bill passed.

Joe Biden talks to reporters after meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Joe Biden talks to reporters after meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema made clear last week that they will not support changing the filibuster, which Republicans have repeatedly used to block voting rights bills.

Joe Biden traveled to Capitol Hill last week to try to convince the holdout senators to support rule changes, but his argument was apparently not enough to convince Manchin and Sinema.

With the filibuster in place, Democrats need 60 votes to get the voting rights bill passed, and that hurdle is virtually insurmountable in a 50-50 Senate.

So unless Manchin and Sinema change their minds, which seems highly unlikely, Democrats are poised to take up a voting rights bill that is doomed to fail.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

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How we met: ‘None of my Indian friends had girlfriends. But I liked her too much to say no’

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How we met: ‘None of my Indian friends had girlfriends. But I liked her too much to say no’” was written by Lizzie Cernik, for theguardian.com on Monday 17th January 2022 11.30 UTC

As a music lover, Emily was excited to join her high school choir on a trip to San Francisco from Riverside, California, in 2011. They attended a competition, which went well, but on the journey back she became fed up of sitting with her friends. “They were talking about boys and being a bit annoying,” she laughs. She spotted Cyril sitting on the coach alone and decided to join him. Although they knew each other through the choir, they had never spoken for very long. “He had taken over playing the piano from me and I’d noticed he was better at it, so there was a bit of rivalry,” she admits. “I did think he was cute, though.”

They spent the nine-hour return trip talking and bonding over their similar tastes in music. “I knew who Emily was before that, but she wasn’t much more than an acquaintance,” says Cyril. “The bus ride was really a turning point for us.” Emily agrees. “It sounds cheesy, but it feels like that is where we fell in love.”

Although Emily really liked Cyril, she didn’t think there could be a future. While she was from California, he had moved to the area from India when he was 10. His family were in favour of arranged marriages and dating wasn’t culturally acceptable. “I didn’t think we had a chance at building a relationship,” says Emily. Despite her concerns, she knew there was a spark between them. Not long after the bus ride, she found one of Cyril’s favourite pieces of music, Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, and printed out the piano arrangement by Franz Liszt to give to him. “We’d been talking about it on the bus,” says Cyril. “But I was still clueless that she liked me at that point.”

Towards the end of term, she and Cyril began spending more time together. They were both performing in the school play and rehearsed every afternoon. That was where they shared their first kiss. A few weeks later, Emily asked Cyril to be her boyfriend. “At the time, I thought it was a really huge decision. None of my Indian friends had girlfriends and, from my family’s point of view, it wasn’t really an option,” he says. But he decided he liked her too much to say no.

For the first month, they were undercover, only seeing each other at school. “In the end, I told my family, because I didn’t want to keep it a secret,” he says. Initially, they struggled to accept the relationship. “I was introduced as Cyril’s friend for years,” says Emily. The couple went to university in different areas of Riverside – a city of about 320,000 people – but were able to see each other regularly. “I was even able to join his university’s choir, because there were no rules saying I couldn’t,” she says, laughing.

In January 2018, Cyril told his family he was going to propose. By that time, they had embraced their relationship and were happy for them. He invited Emily to a nice restaurant and asked the waiter to place the ring in her dessert. “I’d invited friends and family to a restaurant nearby so they could come and celebrate with us afterwards. My grandparents were visiting from India, so it was really nice.”

They married in September 2019. Cyril now works in chemical engineering, while Emily studies speech and language pathology.

“I love that we’re best friends,” says Emily. “We complete each other’s sentences and we’re on the same wavelength.” As well as their shared passion for music, Cyril enjoys the fact that they both enjoy the same books and restaurants. “We’re always going out to find these little hole-in-the-wall places to eat,” he says. “We’re also both ambitious and passionate and Emily is always kind and understanding.”

Although the cultural differences and family opposition was challenging at first, Emily believes it has made them stronger as a couple. “We are still always learning about each other’s cultures,” she says. “We’re proof that it can work really well if you’re open-minded and willing to be patient.”

  • Want to share your story? Tell us a little about yourself, your partner and how you got together by filling in the form here.

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The Guardian view of Joe Biden: he needs to face opponents within – and without

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The Guardian view of Joe Biden: he needs to face opponents within – and without” was written by Editorial, for The Guardian on Sunday 16th January 2022 17.31 UTC

The US president, Joe Biden, suffered his worst day in office – so far – last Thursday. Mr Biden had begun that morning hoping to convince his party to support his push to change Senate rules to pass two voting rights bills. Even before he got a chance to make his case, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a rightwing Democrat, rejected the president’s plan. At a stroke, two key parts of Mr Biden’s agenda – racial justice and democracy – appear stalled. On the same day, the US supreme court struck down the Biden administration’s requirement for businesses to make employees either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or test weekly and wear a mask at work. The president’s pledge to lift the threat of the pandemic won’t be redeemed any time soon.

Mr Biden’s opponents paint him as a leader of drift and dwindling energy. If this view settles, then it’ll be ​​an image hard to shift. There’s little room for reassessment in politics. That is why the president must change course and have a clear-eyed view of his opponents within and without. The “moderate” wing of the Democratic party has already gutted the president’s climate plans. These Democrats, like most Republicans, depend on a donor class which wants to ​​render legislation inert that would hit corporate profits.

On the campaign trail Mr Biden said he would deal with the threat. In office he has not done so. The president faces a concerted campaign of leveraging money to protect money. Employers claimed that his “vaccine-or-test” mandate would cost billions of dollars to implement. A number of Republican-dominated states have fought its imposition. Covid-19 has killed almost a million Americans and hospitals are overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients. Conservative judges share an ideological aim with the Republican party to dismantle the system – at the cost of American lives during a pandemic – which permits the federal government to repeal unfair state laws.

Mr Biden’s problem is that, on paper, the Democrats seem unassailable: controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency. But this is far from the case. Democrats were once something of a “party of state”. They controlled both the House and the Senate between 1933 and 1981, interrupted only by two brief Republican interludes. The Democrats won the presidency two-thirds of the time during this period. Today neither party perceives itself as a permanent majority or permanent minority. This helps to polarise politics as party differences cut against collaboration.

Slim majorities now make radical change. Democrats demonstrated this with Obamacare. Republicans did the same with taxes in 2017. Bernie Sanders advises the Democrats to boil down their offer to its most popular elements and hold votes to extend child tax credits, cut drug prices and raise the federal hourly minimum wage to $15. This feels right and ought to appeal to Mr Biden: putting Democrats on the right side, and Republicans on the wrong side, of public opinion before November’s midterm elections. The stakes could not be higher. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times warned: “Joe Biden better Build Better or he won’t be Back”. That might open the door to Donald Trump – or someone worse.

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Sport

Australian Open 2022: Rafael Nadal on court after Naomi Osaka wins first round clash – live!

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Australian Open 2022: Rafael Nadal on court after Naomi Osaka wins first round clash – live!” was written by Mike Hytner, for theguardian.com on Monday 17th January 2022 04.42 UTC

Second set: Giron 1-6, 2-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Giron’s serve continues to fire and he lands his second ace of the day. The American’s not going anywhere just yet.

Second set: *Giron 1-6, 1-3 Nadal (*denotes next server) Nadal responds immediately a pair of aces, which wouldn’t get you much in a card game, but is worth a 30-0 lead here. He somewhat spoils that opening with a double fault, but he gets back on track to hold again.

Second set: Giron 1-6, 1-2 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Excellent love service game from Giron here, including a simply brilliant final point in which he keeps his hopes alive with a gutsy reach that he has no right to get, before unleashing a stunning backhand winner. The American takes the game to love and he should take some confidence from that.

Second set: *Giron 1-6, 0-2 Nadal (*denotes next server) Bounce, bounce, bounce, pull, tuck, tuck, wipe, wipe, bounce, bounce, serve. Nadal goes through the motions each point, as Giron manages to force the game to a deuce and then to a break point – his first of the day. He’s out though and he’s not going to get another chance from Nadal this game. Some wonderfully soft hands at the net from the sixth seed brings up game point soon after and when Giron’s sliced backhand finds the net, that’s that.

Second set: Giron 1-6, 0-1 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Nadal is motoring. He’s moving very well and at the moment Giron doesn’t have much of an answer. Nadal picks up in the first game of the second set where he left off in the first and he breaks at the first time of asking to claim an early advantage.

First set: *Giron 1-6 Nadal (*denotes next server) It takes Nadal just 24 minutes to safely tuck the opening set into his back pocket. Ominous stuff from the Spaniard. Eight winners to Giron’s three, 27 total points won to the American’s 10.

First set: Giron 1-5 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Giron finds himself in trouble now as Nadal literally and figuratively begins to flex his muscles. The former world No 1 secures a double break, sealing the game off the back of two terrific winners – the second a classic example of his formidable forehand.

Gael Monfils was asked about Novak Djokovic in his press conference earlier. The French 17th seed was not particularly interested in answering.

Question: What are your thoughts on how the whole Djokovic situation unfolded?

Monfils: To be honest, I just think about the tournament now.

Question: What about the opportunity that his absence creates for other players?

Monfils: To be honest, it’s great for you guys. I don’t know. I don’t see any opportunity. You have opportunity to play a match after each win. I don’t know where he was in the draw, who got the opportunities or whatever. You know me, I’m just happy to have another opportunity to win another match, maybe go to another third one in the Australian Open.

First set: *Giron 1-4 Nadal (*denotes next server) Nadal consolidates that break with ease. No dramas at all for the sixth seed.

First set: Giron 1-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Giron is holding his own this game as he takes a 40-15 lead, but his concentration slips and when he’s long at deuce, Nadal has a great chance to break. Again, Giron probably thinks he’s won the point with an excellent drop volley that has Nadal scrambling, but you just can’t write off the Spaniard and he reaches it before responding with an incredibly deft backhand. The first break of the match goes Nadal’s way!

First set: *Giron 1-2 Nadal (*denotes next server) Nadal’s familiar serving ticks are in evidence as he collects a second service game, capped with another ace. But Giron shows what he’s capable of midway through the game with a great backhand across the court. On serve.

First set: Giron 1-1 Nadal* (*denotes next server) Giron could be forgiven he’s fashioned a decent point at 30-15 ahead when he has Nadal running across the court and stretching for a ball, but the Spaniard gets there, as he does, and whips one of his classic forehands, as he does, to win the point. The American shrugs off the disappointment and holds anyway.

First set: *Giron 0-1 Nadal (*denotes next server) Nadal opens in style. Ace. Boom. He doesn’t lose a point in the opening exchange. Giron, the 28-year-old, faces a tough examination today, if it needed saying.

Updated

Britain’s No 1, Cam Norrie, is also warming up ahead of his match with Sebastian Korda of the US – another one of 60 matches being played across Melbourne Park on day one of the Australian Open.

Australia’s visa cancellation regime has been exposed as “dysfunctional and dangerous” by the Novak Djokovic case, legal experts have said, arguing his expulsion is a “terrible precedent” that could lead to “political and populist” deportations.

The Djokovic case has drawn public attention to the so-called “God powers” held by Australian immigration ministers, granting them extraordinarily broad powers to summarily cancel visas.

Migration law experts say the Djokovic case – his visa was cancelled because the government believed he was a “talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment” – demonstrates the laws could be used to exclude a person who has previously expressed political views the government did not agree with.

Read the full story here:

Here’s Rafa, into the bright sunshine on Rod Laver Arena. The Spanish great plays Marcos Giron, coming right up.

Here comes Nadal.
Here comes Nadal. Photograph: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/Reuters

Updated

Rafael Nadal is up next on centre. In the meantime, let’s go around the ground, briefly.

Denis Shapovalov, the men’s 14th seed, is through, a winner in four sets over Serbia’s Laslo Djere as is crowd favourite Gael Monfils who breezed past Federico Coria 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Spanish 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who reached the US Open quarter-finals, beat Chilean qualifier Alejandro Tabilo 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Belarusian Ilya Ivashka has withdrawn from the tournament due to a leg injury and has been replaced by lucky loser Damir Dzumhur, who will play Pablo Andujar on Tuesday.

Osaka is asked what it is about Melbourne that brings the best out in her:

“I’m not sure if it’s the heat. I don’t know, I really like hot conditions. I just feel like whenever I come here everyone is so warm and welcoming… You guys are all very nice. I’m sure that has a really positive effect on me.”

Here’s Osaka, on-court with Jelena Dokic.

“Yeah, definitely always feels special for me to come back here. I played the warm-up tournament before the grand slam a week ago. I have a lot of really good memories here. It just feels really nice to start the year always in this tournament.

“I thought I played really well given the circumstances. I didn’t really have that much information on my opponent. I thought she played amazing. She was fighting for every point. I think that’s a really good quality. I’m sure we’ll see her on this court pretty frequently. Yeah, I’m just overall I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to see everyone in the audience. I’m really glad, and I hope we give you a really good performance.”

Game, set and match Osaka!

Second set: Osaka 6-3, 6-3 Osorio* (*denotes next server) The sun is out on Rod Laver Arena as Osaka safely negotiates a tricky opening encounter. The final game is not without its drama as the chair umpire is brought into the match. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” Osaka cries as a fierce Osaka forehand wallops into the chair umpire. “It was hard,” comes the understated reply. She’s OK to continue and it doesn’t take Osaka long to wrap things up. Osorio can only find the net on match point and that’s that.

Second set: Osaka 6-3, 5-3 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Osaka is convincingly winning the unforced error count so far today 27-14. The latest one comes early in this game, but the defending champion still holds and moves to within a game of the second round.

Second set: *Osaka 6-3, 4-3 Osorio (*denotes next server) Yet Osorio is staying in touch and showing a lovely touch at that, with a delicate clip over the net at close quarters that Osaka has no answer to as the Colombian seals this seventh game of the second set.

Camila Osorio in action.
Camila Osorio in action. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

Second set: Osaka 6-3, 4-2 Osorio* (*denotes next server) I’m not sure if Osaka is enjoying this, but she’s grinding it out and inching closer to victory. Another service game, another game nearer to a place in the second round. Osorio’s intensity has dropped slightly, and she can’t afford that against one of the best players in the world.

Second set: *Osaka 6-3, 3-2 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osorio seals her next service game with an ace to stay on Osaka’s coattails.

Second set: Osaka 6-3, 3-1 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Meanwhile, Osaka confirms that break of serve and opens up a two-game lead.

Updated

There’s a big story over on Court Three, where Australian wildcard Aleksandar Vukic has caused a stunning upset, beating South Africa’s 30th seed Lloyd Harris in four sets. Vukic, 25, is ranked 144 in the world. Not a bad way to make your grand slam debut.

Second set: *Osaka 6-3, 2-1 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osorio is certainly the more vocal of the two out there – she lets out a huge roar after winning the first point here. But silence soon follows as her serve goes a bit skewiff and three straight double fault gift Osaka two break chances. She needs both but gets the job done on the second. The defending champion noses ahead once again.

Updated

Second set: Osaka 6-3, 1-1 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Another fist bump here from Osorio. The momentum seems to be with the lower-ranked player as Osaka lands a forehand out and the Colombian draws level at 30-30. Osaka’s forehand again lets her down and she has to dig deep to stave off a break point. That sequence repeats itself – poor Osaka forehand, break point opportunity, good save by Osaka – before the Japanese finally manages to hold her serve. A big hold, that one.

Updated

Second set: *Osaka 6-3, 0-1 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osorio’s ascension continues with a relatively comfortable service game. Very much different to her first service game of the opening set. Indeed this is a different match now Osorio has hit her straps.

Updated

First set: Osaka 6-3 Osorio* (*denotes next server) “Vamos” is the cry as Osario delivers a beautiful backhand winner to bring up two break point opportunities. She’s pumped here! But both slip by the wayside and an Osaka set point arrives after a booming ace from the Japanese. She takes it – and breathes a sigh of relief. The defending champion was made to work then as Osorio found her feet, but the writing was already on the wall. Osaka takes the first set!

First set: *Osaka 5-3 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osorio has the wind in her sails now – she looks dead and buried on the second point of this game but puts the pressure on Osaka’s overhead volley again and somehow wins the point. She builds on that to hold serve and you get the sense she’s settling into life on Rod Laver Arena now. Quick note on Osaka’s overhead game – it’s not been great so far.

First set: Osaka 5-2 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Well, look at this. At 30-30, Osaka completely misjudges an overhead volley at the net – she affords herself a smile as the absurdity of the eventual shot – and Osorio takes full advantage to bag her second game of the match on the next point.

First set: *Osaka 5-1 Osorio (*denotes next server) A big cheer emanates from the sparsely-populated stands on Rod Laver Arena as Osorio finally gets herself on the scoreboard. Hopefully the Colombian can take some confidence from that – and a couple of errors from Osaka.

First set: Osaka 5-0 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Make that a five-game lead. Absolutely no messing about from Osaka in this quickfire game as she lands another ace on her way. This has been very impressive from the defending champion so far.

First set: *Osaka 4-0 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osorio threatens to trouble the scoreboard but the Colombian is not helped by a double fault that lets Osaka back in at deuce. A couple of points later and Osaka is four games to the good and cruising.

First set: Osaka 3-0 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Osaka’s got her groove on already here. She throws down a first ace of the match before forcing Osario into a couple of errors to open up a three-game lead early on.

First set: *Osaka 2-0 Osorio (*denotes next server) Osaka gives an early indication of her power with a couple of ferocious forehand winners early in Osorio’s opening service game. The Colombian doesn’t really recover and Osaka claims the first break of the day.

First set: Osaka 1-0 Osorio* (*denotes next server) Osaka’s first serve is wayward, but she finds her range pretty soon after that and the Japanese takes the opening game to love. A light smattering of applause from the centre court crowd follows.

OK, here we go then. Osaka will serve first. Play.

Ranked 50 in the world, the up-and-coming Camila Osorio faces a big test of her credentials today. The 20-year-old, who is yet to win a WTA title, is making her Australian Open debut and would probably prefer to be facing a different opponent. But here she is. Both players are now out on court, warming up, and we’ll be under way soon enough.

Updated

The Djoko-tracker is up and running.

So, all eyes turn to four-time grand slam winner and defending champion Naomi Osaka, the world No 14, ranked 13 in Melbourne this year. Osaka is coming off a break from the game for mental health reasons, after the Japanese dramatically pulled out of last year’s French Open in what was one of the biggest stories in sport of 2021. She will kick off the defence of her title in Melbourne against Colombia’s Camila Osorio with something of a new outlook on tennis.

“I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m having fun,” she said at the weekend. “I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could. I just feel like for me, I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that.

“And I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”

The pair will be on court shortly.

Maria Sakkari soon follows as the fifth seed wins a second-set tie-breaker to beat Tatjana Maria in one hour and 46 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, 6-4, 7-6(2).

Sakkari celebrates.
Sakkari celebrates. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA

Elina Svitolina is through! The 15th seed from Ukraine advances to the second round with a 6-1, 7-6(4) win over Fiona Ferro. But she’s not the first to book a place in the next round – Camila Giorgi has that honour after the 30th seeded Italian completed a 6-4, 6-0 victory over Anastasia Potapova on court six. Belinda Bencic is also through, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Kristina Mladenovic.

Svitolina on her way to victory.
Svitolina on her way to victory. Photograph: James Gourley/Reuters

Hype travels fast. A relatively full crowd on Court 7 has been getting its first glimpse of Carlos Alcaraz in his second Australian Open main draw appearance. The 18-year-old had an incredible breakout year in 2021, reaching the US Open quarter-final and ending the season by winning the Next Gen ATP Finals. His movement, intensity and weight of shot off both wings are all already top quality and it also looks like he has bulked up a little in the off-season. Clearly one to watch this year in Australia.

Carlos Alcaraz in action against Alejandro Tabilo of Chile.
Carlos Alcaraz in action against Alejandro Tabilo of Chile. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The fifth seed, Maria Sakkari, is being made to work by the other Maria, Tatjana Maria, on Rod Laver Arena, where the Greek has just held serve to level at 5-5 in the second set. Now would be a handy time for her to break serve. Reminder: Naomi Osaka is up next on centre court.

Here’s more as promised earlier on the Australian prime minister’s commentary on Djokovic, courtesy of our foreign affairs and defence correspondent Daniel Hurst.

Novak Djokovic was deported because he tried to breach entry rules at the border, even though the immigration minister did not dispute the tennis star’s belief he had a valid medical exemption.

The Serbian tennis player boarded an Emirates flight from Melbourne to Dubai on Sunday night, hours after the full federal court upheld the minister’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa.

Morrison said on Monday the world men’s No 1 had failed to comply with “the rules”, that to enter Australia that “you either have to be vaccinated or you have to have a valid medical exemption and show evidence of it.”

“It’s as simple as that,” the prime minister told 2GB radio. “This is about someone who sought to come to Australia and not comply with the entry rules at our border. That’s what this is about.”

Read the full story here:

Around the grounds: Canada’s Denis Shapovalov is a set up against Laslo Djere after winning a tight first set on a tie-break while Australian wildcard Aleksandar Vukic has just levelled at a set apiece in his clash with South Africa’s 30th seed Lloyd Harris. Quite possibly the biggest cheer of the day so far as the 25-year-old from Sydney won set point there.

Headlining the women’s draw at the moment, Maria Sakkari is a set up but locked at 3-3 in the second against Tatjana Maria of Germany while Elina Svitolina has been pegged back by Fiona Ferro, who is now serving to level at one-set all. Swiss 22nd seed Belinda Bencic is 6-2, 4-2 up against Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic.

The distraction of Djokovic in the run-up to the tournament has been wide-reaching. While focus has been on the Serb’s visa issues, it should not be forgotten that Rafa Nadal now has a golden chance to move out on his own as the winner of 21 grand slam titles – ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer, who are also on 20. There are other serious contenders of course – the Big Three no longer has a monopoly on major titles – but with his favourite French Open next up later this year, the next fortnight could well provide Nadal with a chance to steal a march on his long-time rivals. Nadal is up after Osaka on Rod Laver Arena, but not before 2pm local time, against American Marcos Giron, the world No 66.

John O’Malley has emailed with some thoughts on women’s world No 1 Ash Barty. “Interesting she didn’t play Sydney. It was a clever move as there was a really tough draw.” Also what a week out of the spotlight has achieved is that Barty now, perhaps weirdly for a world No 1, is flying somewhat under the radar. That might change once she hits the Rod Laver Arena court in today’s evening session, but her preparations must surely have benefitted. Will be interesting to see what kind of shape she is in tonight.

Over on Margaret Court Arena, Elina Svitolina, the world No 16 and seeded 15 here, is in the mix to become the first player to book a place in the second round after blitzing her opponent and alliteration lovers’ dream Fiona Ferro of France to win the opening set 6-1.

Svitolina fist pumps after winning a point.
Svitolina fist pumps after winning a point. Photograph: Michael Errey/AFP/Getty Images

Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison – as indeed pretty much every politician in the country – has been asked about the Djokovic saga today. More on his thoughts in a moment, but for now, in case you missed it (there’s no way you did), here’s a handy timeline of how the whole Djokovic saga panned out:

Just a housekeeping note – we’ll continue to float around the grounds until Naomi Osaka gets onto centre court, at which point expect a game-by-game report.

One of those in early action is Carlos Alcaraz, the exciting 18-year-old Spaniard who despite his talent is definitely NOT the new Rafa Nadal. He’s 3-2 up in the first set in his opener against Chilean qualifier Alejandro Tabilo.

Andrew Benton has emailed in. “What happened to the seedings with no Djokovic, have they been shifted around, or was there no time for that?” Given the ruling to deport the Serb was made after Monday’s order of play was set on Sunday, the seedings have stayed the same – it’s the same men’s draw, just without a top seed (and with lucky loser Salvatore Caruso parachuted into Djokovic’s spot). So Daniil Medvedev remains second seed, Alexander Zverev third and so on.

Fans are filing into Melbourne Park, but we won’t be seeing packed stands at any stage of the tournament – ticket sales were last week capped at 50% due to Victoria’s surge in Omicron cases. All fans attending the tennis will have to wear masks.

Spectators talk a walk around the grounds at Melbourne Park.
Spectators talk a walk around the grounds at Melbourne Park. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Weather update: It’s overcast in Melbourne today, and the mercury is hovering around the 19C mark. Rain is not expected today, or indeed for the rest of the week by the looks of it.

Updated

Play is under way at Melbourne Park

Around the ground, first-round matches have started up. Greek fifth seed Maria Sakari is up on Rod Laver, 15th seed Elina Svitolina on Margaret Court and Denis Shapovalov, the men’s 14th seed, on John Caine are among those in action.

On the subject of the veteran former world No 1, Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when it appeared retirement was on the agenda after the hobbling Scot. Since then, he’s risen, phoenix-like, and even reached the final of last week’s Sydney International. There’ll be interest in how he backs up when he takes on Nikoloz Basilashvili in his first-round match (not today). Here’s more from Tumaini Carayol:

As we await the first serve of the tournament, not sure anyone would argue with Andy Murray’s summation of the events over the past few weeks: “It feels everything here happened extremely last-minute and that’s why it became such a mess.”

Preamble

Novak Djokovic is gone but, would you believe it, the world is still turning and that means finally there is some actual main draw grand slam tennis to talk about. After the most drawn-out, scrutinised and lamentable build-up to a major tennis tournament ever, the familiar tik-tok of tennis balls being hit over a net will finally take over from the relentless stream of Djokovic takes on, um, TikTok and such like. Of course, the shadow cast by the saga very much remains over Melbourne Park, and Djokovic will remain a hot topic for some time to come, but at least the presence of the likes of Naomi Osaka, Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty on court today will help return focus to the actual game of tennis.

Osaka, the reigning Australian Open champion, kicks off her title defence second up on Rod Laver Arena, where play starts today at 11am local time, midnight in the UK and 7pm in New York. The Japanese returns from a mental health break with what should be a straightforward opener against Colombia’s world No. 53 Camila Osorio. Nadal follows, not before 2pm AEDT, against Marcos Giron of the US, as the Spaniard begins his bid to to move out on his own as the winner of 21 grand slams, before women’s world No 1 and home hope Ash Barty gets the evening session under way against Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko. Plus plenty more around the grounds throughout the day, of course.

Right, you can drop me a line at mike.hytner@theguardian.com or tweet @mike_hytner. Otherwise, strap yourselves in for day one of the year’s opening grand slam.

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Books, Culture

Why we’re falling in love with romance novels all over again

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why we’re falling in love with romance novels all over again” was written by Claire Armitstead, for The Guardian on Sunday 16th January 2022 14.05 UTC

In the days when I took small children on resort holidays, I’d make a point of reading at least one of the novels on the bookshelves. Some of them were terrible: frowsty clogs-and-shawls sagas, saucy doctors and nurses fantasies and oh so many dogeared Dan Browns. But that’s how I got to know about Danielle Steele, Marian Keyes and Julia Quinn, to name just three. And guess what? They’re still there, hugging the top of the sales charts, and helping to drive a 20% increase in fiction sales over the pandemic year.

By far the biggest rise was in “romantic fiction and sagas”, sales of which leapt by 49% to nearly 6m. Even though that’s only a third of the number of “crime, thriller and adventure” novels devoured over the year, it adds up to a lot of fluttering hearts. And, given that in literary rather than sales terms, “romance and sagas” is another way of saying women’s fiction, while crime, thrillers and adventure are three genres with universal appeal, rather than just finding their readers from one half of the population, those figures seem all the more astonishing. So what is going on?

The sales blurb for the latest from Marian Keyes points succinctly to one answer: “Fed up of being a grownup? Get away from it all …” However, the Irish author has long been promoted out of the generic ghetto of genre fiction as a National Treasure, and her novels have never been simple exercises in escapism. The best known of them, Rachel’s Holiday, threw serious drug addiction in the way of its happy ending. I discovered it in Corfu in the early 2000s and secretly enjoyed it rather more than the novel I’d brought with me – Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which would go on to win the Booker. I’ll definitely be reading Keyes’s sequel, which is due out next month.

On the other hand, I’d completely forgotten about the American romance author Julia Quinn until the series based on her books, Bridgerton, popped up on the TV. But yes, I was seduced by the dazzling Regency confection of The Duke and I – one in the series – during an unseasonably wet break, also in the early 2000s when one or other of us kept having to take to bed. The forgettability of romantic fiction is part of the point: it’s like a holiday romance with no strings attached, or the fleeting treat of newspaper-wrapped fish and chips on the pier with the sunlight on your back. And sometimes that’s just what every reader needs.

Interestingly, the only two fiction categories that declined in value to publishers during the year were “short stories and anthologies” and “horror and ghost stories”. It may be that the previous year’s sales were bolstered by a handful of high-sellers, but my unscientific take is that the former are too much like work, while – frankly, in this of all years – who needs more horror?

We have, though, needed books to read in bed. Though I’ve never been a fan of Mills & Boon (a publisher that has become a genre all of its own), I can see the appeal of its fanciful capers of bounty hunters and fugitive billionaires when lockdown has driven you back under your duvet and your fantasies are constrained by living in a household of bored and depressed others. Mills & Boon efficiently parcels its romance into six categories: modern, medical, historical, heroes, true love and desire. And even before the pandemic, a Mills & Boon novel was said to be sold every 10 seconds somewhere in the world.

Undoubtedly, more prosaic issues have also contributed to this boom, not least that the bestsellers are sold through supermarkets, which remained open, while all else was forced to close. With fewer things to distract them, and fewer ways to spend their money, perhaps the British buying public turned to what was literally on the shelf in front of them.

But there’s a serious point here about the place of books in popular culture. A wise colleague of mine once said, if the book was invented today it would be hailed as a piece of technological genius. It’s cheap, fits in a bag, doesn’t run out of battery and can easily be passed from hand to hand. It’s also surprisingly indestructible. Fun fact: there are still as many as 2m individual medieval manuscripts in existence – although I don’t know whether the mass-produced pulp airport novel would endure so long. Time will tell.

  • Claire Armitstead is associate editor, culture, for the Guardian

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