Coronavirus live news: Czech Republic shuts shops to curb Europe’s fastest growth in cases; record deaths in Russia

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Lazio region imposes curfew – as it happened” was written by Jessica Murray (now); LLucy Campbell, Caroline Davies, Amy Walker and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 21st October 2020 22.33 UTC

11.33pm BST

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10.48pm BST

Jordan has reported 2,648 new Covid-19 cases, its highest daily number since the start of the pandemic, as the country faces a major outbreak with a tripling of deaths in just the last two weeks.

The surge in the last month has put Jordan’s infection numbers above those of most of its Middle East neighbours and reverses months of success in containing the outbreak.

It also accompanies an alarming jump in daily deaths that now average around 30.

Prime minister Bisher al-Khasawneh said although the country had entered a “difficult phase” after widespread community transmission, it would not reimpose a national lockdown.

“Long closures will only lead to the decimation of whole economic sectors,” Khasawneh said, echoing concerns that a tight lockdown that paralysed daily life would cripple the already battered aid dependent economy.

Since the start of the pandemic, the country of about 10 million people has recorded 43,620 infections and 443 deaths, authorities said.

Khasawneh said the government had opted for a one-day lockdown on Friday for the rest of the year but a night curfew would be extended by another two hours to begin at 11pm. It also decided to close nurseries as of Saturday.

Schools, academies and universities would remain shut while restaurants and cafes would open with tougher health safeguards. A strict ban on social gatherings of more than 20 people from weddings to funerals would stay.

Health minister Nizar Obeidat said the government was bracing for a possible jump to over 3,000 cases a day and said authorities would do everything to prevent a collapse in the healthcare system.

Jordan has 1,300 hospital beds with 700 intensive care beds and 600 respiratory units with capacity to raise these numbers, Obeidat said, adding there were now 1,078 patients being treated in hospitals.

10.45pm BST

Trump says he doesn’t see agreement with Democrats on stimulus

President Donald Trump has said he does not see any way house speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer “will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on stimulus.”

Updated at 10.49pm BST

10.35pm BST

Four US states reported a record one-day increase in Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday including Wisconsin, a hotly contested state in the 3 November election, as infections keep rising across the Midwest and beyond.

Coronavirus deaths hit daily records in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters analysis. Wisconsin also reported a record daily increase in new cases together with Illinois and Ohio, the analysis showed.

There were 66 deaths in Illinois, the state’s highest single-day increase since mid-June, as governor JB Pritzker imposed fresh restrictions in some counties this week.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers said 48 people had died from the virus as he announced that a week-old field hospital in the Milwaukee suburbs has admitted its first patient.

“Folks, please stay home,” Evers said in a statement. “Help us protect our communities from this highly contagious virus and avoid further strain on our hospitals.”

Aerial view of people waiting in their vehicles for Covid-19 tests at a drive-thru testing site in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Aerial view of people waiting in their vehicles for Covid-19 tests at a drive-thru testing site in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photograph: Bing Guan/Reuters

Nationally, cases have been trending higher for five weeks, rising to 60,000 on average over the past seven days from a recent low of 35,000 a day in mid-September.

The rise partly reflects increased testing in many states, which has provided a more accurate picture of the spread of the virus.

The US has averaged 734 daily coronavirus deaths over the past seven days, still well below the 2,333 average at the height of the pandemic in April.

The latest outbreak on a per capita-basis is most severe in the Midwest, where daily case counts hit a record on Monday with over 27,000 new infections reported.

Midwest hospitalisations climbed to 10,830 on Tuesday, hitting a record high for a fifth day in a row and raising fears that medical centres could become overwhelmed like in the early months of the pandemic in the US northeast.

10.01pm BST

The US is likely to have enough safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines available to inoculate the most vulnerable Americans by the end of 2020, health and human services secretary Alex Azar said.

The US government is “cautiously optimistic” that one or two vaccines, likely from Pfizer or Moderna, will be available by the end of the year and can begin to be distributed to Americans, officials said during a news conference.

Azar said he expects all seniors, healthcare workers, and first responders will be able to receive a vaccine as soon as January, with the rest of the American public able to get a vaccine by April.

Companies participating in the US government’s effort to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, dubbed Operation Warp Speed, have begun developing manufacturing capabilities even before any vaccinations have been authorised by regulators.

In an open letter published last week, Pfizer said it is unlikely to have enough data to submit for a US regulatory authorisation until late November, after the US presidential election.

The coronavirus outbreak has been worsening in recent weeks as cold weather pushes Americans indoors, raising the chance of contracting the virus. Some 38 US states and two territories have reported rising case counts.

9.35pm BST

A South Yorkshire council leader in England has described the negotiations with government over Tier 3 (very high) restrictions as a “charade”.

Sheffield City Council leader Julie Dore said it was clear Downing Street officials and ministers were going through the motions for 10 days just to try and prove they were listening.

Dore was speaking after Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis, who led the discussions, admitted he could not have secured any more cash, saying he “moved heaven and earth to secure the maximum amount of resource that we could”.

Dore told the PA news agency:

I can assure you that Dan has been fighting vociferously for the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire, just like I have been, because we genuinely thought we were in proper discussions and negotiations.

I think it’s outrageous. I entered into it in good faith and, basically, it was just a charade that we went through.

Asked about comments from her counterpart in Rotherham, Chris Reed, that the talks had just been “delaying tactics”, Dore said:

It was more than just delaying tactics. I think it was also them trying to show clearly something that they are not. They don’t care about the North of England.

I feel like I’ve wasted 10 days when it could have been done in 24 hours right at the start – ‘you’re going into Tier 3 and this is the package you’re going to get’.

I never thought that any government of any persuasion would stoop so low to start bartering with local region and local leaders on what is required to save lives. It’s reprehensible.

9.32pm BST

Women aged 50-60 are at greatest risk of developing “long Covid”, analysis suggests.

Older age and experiencing five or more symptoms within the first week of illness were also associated with a heightened risk of lasting health problems.

The study, led by Dr Claire Steves and Prof Tim Spector at King’s College London, analysed data from 4,182 COVID Symptom Study app users who had been consistently logging their health and had tested positive for the virus.

In general, women were twice as likely to suffer from Covid symptoms that lasted longer than a month, compared with men – but only until around the age of 60, when their risk level became more similar.

Increasing age was also associated with a heightened risk of long Covid, with about 22% of people aged over 70 suffering for four weeks or more, compared with 10% of people aged between 18 and 49.

For women in the 50-60 age bracket, these two risk factors appeared to combine: They were eight times more likely to experience lasting symptoms of Covid-19 compared with 18- to 30-year-olds. However, the greatest difference between men and women was seen among those aged between 40 and 50, where women’s risk of developing long Covid was double that of men’s.

8.37pm BST

Coventry will face harsher coronavirus restrictions as it is moved into Tier 2 “high alert” level from Friday.

Households will be banned from mixing indoors in the Midlands city, after a rise in positive cases in recent weeks.

Government data analysed by the PA news agency suggests the infection rate in the city had reached 180.1 per 100,000 residents by Wednesday, up from 160.4 a week earlier.

The council said that around 40% of positive cases are being found in the 18-21 age group.

The local director of public health, Liz Gaulton, called for a “determined effort by the whole city; everyone who lives and works here” to bring the rate down.

The West Midlands mayor said it was “clear the city needs to move to stricter restrictions” but said the new rules will present a “serious economic challenge”.

Andy Street tweeted:

Currently, there’s no extra financial support available for our hospitality sector in Tier Two which cannot possibly be right.

I will continue to press Govt on this & I’m confident we will get a breakthrough soon.

The council leader also called for more help from central government, asking them to “mend the broken test, track and trace system so it is the world-class service we were promised”.

Councillor George Duggins added: “I believe, without this failure, these additional restrictions may not have been necessary.”

Several areas in the West Midlands have been under Tier 2 restrictions since the system was announced last week, including Birmingham, Sandwell, Solihull, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

8.28pm BST

There are a number of differences between the White House and Democrats in Congress on coronavirus relief but president Donald Trump is “willing to lean into” working toward an agreement, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said.

“There continues to be a number of differences but, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve entered a new phase where we’re actually looking at some of the technical language,” Meadows said on Fox News channel.

He later told reporters he was optimistic a deal could be reached and that the administration would stay engaged for the next couple of days.

8.26pm BST

California theme park executives said legal action was among the options they were exploring to hasten the reopening of the industry in the state.

“I think that all options are open at this point. We are going to continue to explore our options,” Erin Guerrero, the executive director of the Californian Attractions and Parks Associations told a news conference when asked whether legal action was being considered.

California health secretary Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday that theme parks with a capacity of more than 15,000 visitors must wait to resume business until a county’s Covid-19 risk level drops to the lowest tier of “minimal” spread.

Disneyland said the guidelines would keep the park “shuttered for the foreseeable future.”

“The concept of trying to come up with a collaborative solution is the end goal for all of us,” Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland resort, said at Wednesday’s news conference.

Updated at 8.49pm BST

7.51pm BST

The UK finance minister will tell MPs tomorrow that prospects for the economy are getting bleaker as more and more of the country faces tougher restrictions to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rishi Sunak is expected to announce his fourth package of support for business in as many months amid mounting pressure on the government to help hard-hit companies in lockdown-affected regions.

He has been looking at a number of options for providing further help after becoming increasingly downbeat about the prospects for jobs in the months ahead.

Ministers are particularly concerned about the hospitality industry in London, which accounts for almost a quarter of the UK economy and is currently in tier 2, but will not want to be seen as favouring the capital at a time when north-south feelings in England are running high.

Calls for Sunak to bolster his support have intensified, despite official figures showing that the UK borrowed more in the first six months of the current financial year than it did in the worst year of the banking crisis of the late 2000s.

7.46pm BST

Hi everyone, this is Jessica Murray, taking over the blog for the next few hours.

Please do get in touch with any story tips or personal experiences you would like to share

Email: jessica.murray@theguardian.com
Twitter: @journojess_

7.20pm BST

Summary

  • Italy’s Lazio region, including the capital Rome, is set to introduce a curfew on Friday from midnight to 5am to try to curb its surging Covid-19 infections, a regional government source told Reuters. The source said the region will also introduce some restrictions on schools and universities. The northern region of Lombardy, around Milan, which was hit hardest in the first wave and recorded its highest daily tally on Wednesday since the beginning of the pandemic, announced a similar curfew from Thursday, from 11pm to 5am, and Campania in the south is seeking to follow suit on Friday.
  • It comes as Italy registered a record of 15,199 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • France recorded more than 25,000 new infections for the sixth time in 12 days, with the government likely to announce a geographical extension of the curfews currently in place in Paris and eight other major cities. Several more regions are to enter red-alert status, which means that they will have to impose curfews, the government said on Wednesday. It came as hospitals in several cities including Paris moved into emergency mode to cope with the influx of patients with the virus.
  • Greek authorities announced a regional lockdown of the northern region of Kastoria, after declaring the region an elevated risk, the highest of a four-tier risk assessment. Restrictions will be imposed from 23 October. It comes as the country reported 865 new cases of Covid-19, a new high since the outbreak began in late February.
  • Spain became the first western European country to surpass a million coronavirus cases. The unwelcome milestone comes as the government considers a curfew and as political bickering threaten to jeopardise efforts to control the second wave of the virus.
  • The UK reported a daily record of 26,688 coronavirus cases, bringing the tally of lab-confirmed infections to 789,229.
  • Russia is not planning to impose any blanket restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the president Vladimir Putin said, even as the country reported a record new daily death toll from the respiratory disease. Russia needs keep on carrying out tests for Covid-19, observe safety measures and start vaccinations, Putin said.
  • The German health minister Jens Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus, the health ministry said. He took part in a cabinet meeting earlier in the day but other ministers do not need to go into quarantine, a government spokesman said.
  • Poland will announce fresh restrictions on Thursday after coronavirus infections doubled in less than three weeks, possibly including moving some primary school students to distance learning. On Wednesday, it reported a daily record of 10,040 new cases, taking its tally past 200,000.
  • The Netherlands hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, with more than 8,500 infections in the 24 hours, nearly a week after the government imposed “partial lockdown” measures including the closure of bars and restaurants.
  • Scotland will introduce a five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions on Friday that will partly mirror England’s three-tier traffic light system of controls, as infections and fatalities climbed sharply to levels not seen since May.
  • Turkey is considering reimposing some measures to stem rising coronavirus cases, such as stay-home orders for younger and older people or even weekend lockdowns, but will avoid hurting the economic recovery.
  • Iran reported its highest daily number of cases since February, recording 5,616 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 545,286 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country. Authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay home, warning that hospitals in Tehran and some other major cities are overflowing with patients with coronavirus.
  • The Czech Republic shut most shops and services and sought to limit all movement to essential trips such as for work and medical visits to curb Europe’s fastest growth in new coronavirus infections. The country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, amid a surge in recent weeks, and the health minister said the health system would soon reach the limits of its capacity and that hospitals would run short of beds in November without immediate action.
  • People who host house parties in Ireland can be fined up to €1,000 or jailed for up to one month to ensure compliance with a new Covid-19 lockdown. The government is fast-tracking legislation to give police new powers to levy on the spot fines for breaches of the new restrictions, which come into effect on Thursday.
  • Slovenia and Croatia both reported record daily highs in new infections. This week Slovenia introduced a curfew from 9pm to 6am and a 30-day state of emergency to cope with the coronavirus, while Croatia isn’t yet considering such measures.

That’s all from me today. Thank you all for reading along today and to everybody who got in touch to share tips. I’ll now be handing over to my colleague Jessica Murray. Take care.

7.00pm BST

The University of Oxford’s Brazilian trial of its vaccine candidate will continue after the death of a volunteer, the university said on Wednesday, adding an independent review had revealed no safety concerns.

“Following careful assessment of this case in Brazil, there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial and the independent review in addition to the Brazilian regulator have recommended that the trial should continue,” a spokesman for the university said in a statement.

The deceased trial volunteer did not receive the vaccine, Bloomberg is reporting, citing a person familiar with the matter. The vaccine has been licensed to AstraZeneca.

6.58pm BST

Italy’s Lazio region, including Rome, to impose nightly curfew, reports say

Italy’s Lazio region, including the capital Rome, is set to introduce a curfew from midnight to 5am to try to curb its surging Covid-19 infections, a regional government source told Reuters on Wednesday.

The new rules will be effective from Friday, the source said, adding the region will also introduce some restrictions on schools and universities.

The northern region of Lombardy, around Milan, announced a similar curfew on Monday, starting at 11pm.

On Wednesday, Italy reported 15,199 new coronavirus infections, its highest ever daily figure, of which 1,219 were recorded in Lazio.

6.30pm BST

French health authorities reported 26,676 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, the sixth time in 12 days the daily tally stayed above the 25,000 threshold.

The number of people in France who have died from Covid-19 was up by 163, at 34,048, and the cumulative number of cases now totals 957,421.

The resurgence of the pandemic is such that the government will likely announce a geographical extension of a curfew, at present imposed on Paris and eight other major cities from 9pm to 6am.

6.08pm BST

Greece has reported 865 new cases of Covid-19, a new high since an outbreak in late February, and authorities announced a regional lockdown of a northern district.

Authorities declared the northern region of Kastoria on an elevated risk, the highest of a 4-tier risk assessment. Restrictions would be imposed from 23 October, the deputy civil protection minister Nikos Hardalias said.

“The situation is critical and strict adherence to measures is required under current circumstances,” he told a news briefing.

Greece has recorded significantly lower numbers of Covid-19 which has gripped other countries in Europe, though cases have started to rise since early October.

A further six deaths were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 534.

6.03pm BST

Here is more from the Guardian’s Sam Jones in Spain, which has become the first western European country to record a million coronavirus cases.

He writes that the unwelcome landmark comes as the Spanish government considers a curfew and as political bickering and grandstanding threaten to jeopardise the country’s efforts to control the second wave of the virus.

5.55pm BST

Spain surpasses one million Covid-19 cases

Spain has become the first western European country to record more than a million coronavirus infections since the onset of the pandemic, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, after 16,973 cases were added to the tally since the previous day. The cumulative total now stands at 1,005,295 cases, while the death toll rose by 156 to 34,366.

5.42pm BST

A salesman at his tobacco and shisha shop, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Manama, Bahrain.
A salesman at his tobacco and shisha shop, following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Manama, Bahrain.
Photograph: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

5.08pm BST

Another 26,688 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases were reported in the UK on Wednesday, the highest daily total to date, bringing the total number to 789,229.

A further 191 people died within 28 days of a positive test, according to government data, bringing the official tally to 44,158. Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 59,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

More on our UK live blog:

5.06pm BST

Russia is not planning to impose any blanket restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the president Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, even as the country reported a record new daily death toll from the respiratory disease.

Infections have proliferated in recent weeks with 15,700 new cases reported on Wednesday, close to a record caseload confirmed earlier this week.

That raised expectations that Moscow might impose a widespread clampdown to curb the outbreak – restrictions that proved to be economically crippling earlier this year.

“Regarding the possibility of harsh, total measures – we are not planning to do it. The government does not have such plans,” Putin said at a meeting held by video link with Russia’s top business figures.

Russia needs keep on carrying out tests for Covid-19, observe safety measures and start vaccinations, Putin said.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin addresses members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin addresses members of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) via a video conference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow.
Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

4.58pm BST

A policeman wearing a protective face mask takes his position, in front of the Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, Egypt.
A policeman wearing a protective face mask takes his position, in front of the Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, Egypt.
Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

4.52pm BST

Boston’s public school system announced on Wednesday that students will shift to remote learning beginning Thursday due to the rising Covid-19 infection rate in the US city.

“We have said all along that we will only provide in-person learning for students if the data and public health guidance supports it, and this new data shows that we are trending in the wrong direction,” Boston mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

4.49pm BST

The German health minister Jens Spahn, who we’ve just reported tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon, took part in a cabinet meeting earlier in the day but other ministers do not need to go into quarantine, a government spokesman said.

Hygiene and distance rules are strictly adhered to in the chancellery, the spokesman added:

The federal cabinet meets in compliance with hygiene and distance rules, which aim to ensure that even if a person who later tests corona-positive were to participate, quarantining of other or even all participants would not be necessary.

Updated at 4.50pm BST

4.45pm BST

German health minister tests positive for coronavirus

The German health minister Jens Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon, the health ministry said, adding that he had placed himself in home quarantine.

Spahn, 40, was suffering from cold-like symptoms, the ministry said, adding that all people he had been in contact with had been informed.

While Germany’s infection rates are lower than in much of Europe, they have been accelerating and hit a daily record of 7,830 on Saturday, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Updated at 4.50pm BST

4.37pm BST

Poland to announce more coronavirus curbs as cases hit new record

Poland will announce new restrictions on Thursday after coronavirus infections doubled in less than three weeks, possibly including moving some primary school students to distance learning, Reuters reports.

On Wednesday, it reported a daily record of 10,040 new cases, taking its tally past 200,000. The lower house of parliament held an emergency session to discuss a bill to help an overwhelmed health system.

“Let’s set aside this weird team of deniers and those who want a total lockdown of the economy. Let’s take the middle way, it’s the safest,” the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the assembly.

He promised to help support the healthcare system and floated the possibility of distance learning for some primary school students.

Secondary and high schools have been moved to distance learning, while the government has limited restaurant opening hours in the parts of the country hardest hit by the pandemic and closed all swimming pools and gyms.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller said further measures would be announced on Thursday.

Government Covid-19 adviser Andrzej Horban told private radio RMF24 that 10,000 new cases a day was the most the health system could cope with. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 patients occupied 9,439 hospital beds, up 5% in a day.

The opposition has criticised the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s response to the crisis and said the bill needed amendments.

“We have found some obvious errors, including one that allows young female doctors to be called in to work in infectious wards the day after giving birth,” said Cezary Tomczyk, the parliamentary leader of the biggest opposition party, Civic Coalition.

Poland has recorded a total of 3,851 Covid-19 deaths after 130 were reported on Wednesday.

4.30pm BST

That’s all from me, Caroline Davies. Handing back to my colleague Lucy Campbell. Once again, thanks for your time.

4.27pm BST

Italy’s daily coronavirus cases soar to new daily record above 15,000

Italy on Wednesday registered a record of 15,199 new Covid infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Over the past day, 127 people have died of coronavirus, bringing Italy’s total number of deaths to 36,832. The new increase brings the total number of confirmed cases to almost 450,000. Over 177,000 swabs were taken, another new record.

That Italy would establish a record for new cases was already likely during the day, as Lombardy, the Italian region hardest hit in the coronavirus first wave, registered on Wednesday over 4,000 cases, its highest daily tally since the beginning of the pandemic.

On Monday, authorities in the region have been given the green light to impose a curfew which will run from 11pm until 5am and will start on Thursday. Campania in the south is seeking to adopt a similar measure on Friday.

On Wednesday, authorities announced that former COVID emergency hospitals at the Milan Fair and in Bergamo are reopening,

‘’The government has never lowered its guard on the COVID crisis’’, Premier Giuseppe Conte told the Senate on Wednesday.

He said the government ‘’was aware of the sacrifices it was asking of people’’ and that “today we are more ready, the situation is different from March”.

However, a few hours before, Health Minister Roberto Speranza told La7 television that “The situation is extremely serious.” “It’s necessary to say how things are’’, Speranza added. ‘’The (contagion) curve is rising. The effort of each one of us is needed. It is necessary to raise the level of attention. We are working day and night to avoid a lockdown. We must bring down the curve”.

Updated at 4.38pm BST

3.52pm BST

The king and queen of the Netherlands have made a two minute video apologising to the Dutch public for taking a holiday to Greece at a time when the new partial lockdown rules had come into force.

The royal couple and their daughters had to return just 24 hours into their break in response to public outrage at the holiday to Athens. At the time the public had been told to remain at home and travel as little as possible.

Sitting by his wife, Maxima, on a sofa at the family home, King Willem-Alexander said he was sorry for the decision, adding that the couple were not “infallible”. “It hurts to have betrayed your trust in us,” he said.

Even though the trip was in line with the regulations, it was very unwise not to take into account the impact of the new restrictions on our society.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has already apologised for his misjudgement in allowing the trip to go ahead.

In a letter to parliament, Rutte said that he had “realised too late” that the holiday “could no longer be reconciled with the increasing infections and the stricter measures. “This should have prompted me to reconsider the intended holiday. I bear full ministerial responsibility,” he wrote.

King Willem-Alexander (L) and Queen Maxima look on during the recording of a personal video message in which the king discusses the cancellation of their holiday to Greece, in The Hague, The Netherlands, 21 October 2020.
King Willem-Alexander (L) and Queen Maxima look on during the recording of a personal video message in which the king discusses the cancellation of their holiday to Greece, in The Hague, The Netherlands, 21 October 2020.
Photograph: Koen van Weel/EPA

Updated at 4.31pm BST

3.37pm BST

The Swiss health minister has warned of the prospect of overburdened hospitals as coronavirus case counts and hospitalisations were doubling every week. Switzerland has gone from one of the least-affected countries in Europe to one of the worst-hit in just three weeks, AP reports.
Alain Berset made the comments after the country reported a record 5,583 new cases over the latest 24 hours.

“The situation is worsening, and worsening fast,” Berset told a news conference in Bern, the capital.

“Three weeks ago, we had a situation that was among the best on the European continent,” he said. “Three weeks later, we have one of the worst situations as far as Europe goes.”

3.28pm BST

Hi. Caroline Davies here taking over the live blog for a short while. You can get in touch on caroline.davies@theguardian.com

3.02pm BST

Lombardy reports highest daily cases since pandemic began

Lombardy, the Italian region hardest hit in the coronavirus first wave, has registered a record of 4,126 new Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest daily tally since the beginning of the pandemic.

Some 36,416 swabs were taken, another new record. The previous record in new infections dates back to 21 March with 3,251 cases, but with a much lower number of swabs.

On Monday, authorities in the region have been given the green light to impose a curfew which will run from 11pm until 5am and will start on Thursday.

On Wednesday, authorities announced that former Covid-19 emergency hospitals at the Milan Fair and in Bergamo are reopening,

New cases in Italy went back up in the last 24 hours on Tuesday, to 10,874, up from 9,338 on Monday.

“The situation is extremely serious,” the health minister Roberto Speranza told La7 television.

It’s necessary to say how things are. The curve is rising. The effort of each one of us is needed. It is necessary to raise the level of attention. We are working day and night to avoid a lockdown. We must bring down the curve.

Updated at 3.09pm BST

2.44pm BST

European Union leaders will hold a video-conference next week to discuss how to better cooperate against the Covid-19 pandemic as infections rise, two EU officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

The video-conference, to be held on 29 October, will be the first of a series of regular discussions that EU leaders have committed to hold, to tackle the pandemic.

The discussion, due to start in the late afternoon, will take place a day after the EU commission is expected to announce new plans to strengthen coordination among EU states on testing strategies, contact tracing and quarantine length, officials said.

The EU’s 27 nations fought Covid-19 with different, sometimes contrasting measures, in the first months of the pandemic. The tighter coordination is expected to prevent a repeat of the divisions seen after the first outbreaks.

A certain degree of coordination has emerged in recent weeks and months on some issues, such as vaccine procurement and common non-binding criteria to assess the gravity of the epidemic at national level.

But national measures still vary considerably. The length of quarantine for those who have been in contact with sick people had been 14 days across the EU until recently, when some countries began shortening it.

Updated at 3.20pm BST

2.25pm BST

South Africa faces a high risk of surging coronavirus infections that may force the country back into a stricter lockdown, after new cases rose by 42% in Western Cape province in the last two weeks, the health minister said on Wednesday.

Zweli Mkhize said in a statement that the increase in infections and deaths “will inform the recommendations that the Health Department makes to the National Coronavirus Council”, the body that decides lockdown levels.

1.37pm BST

The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of putting politics before lives after announcing he would refuse to acquire an experimental coronavirus vaccine from China.

“I’m alerting you that we will not buy vaccine from China,” the rightwing nationalist reportedly told ministers.

Urged on social media to shun the vaccine of “the Chinese dictatorship”, Bolsonaro insisted he would. “IT WILL NOT BE PURCHASED,” he wrote.

Those statements, likely to irk Brazil’s top trade partner, came just hours after Bolsonaro’s own health ministry, Eduardo Pazuello, signed off on the purchase of 46 million doses of an experimental vaccine from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac.

In another social media post Bolsonaro suggested Pazuello was a traitor.

Bolsonaro’s opposition to the Chinese vaccine appears partly the result of his longstanding hostility to China’s Communist party rulers and proximity to Donald Trump. But it is also part of a bitter political fight with the governor of São Paulo state, João Doria.

Doria hopes to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency in 2022 and has spearheaded attempts to bring the so-called CoronaVac to Brazil through a partnership between Sinovac and the Butantan Institute, a São Paulo-based biomedical research centre.

Critics slammed Bolsonaro’s stance. “The politics of death,” tweeted Daniel Dourado, a public health expert and lawyer from the University of São Paulo.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the move underlined Bolsonaro’s submissiveness to Trump: “The US doesn’t tolerate any Latin American country having ties with China.”

1.33pm BST

Since schools in the southern Italian region of Campania closed due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, teachers have been taking their classes to the streets to prevent students from falling behind, Reuters reports.

Campania, around Naples, escaped largely unscathed from Italy’s first coronavirus wave in the spring, but the region has seen infections soar in recent weeks and local authorities have closed most schools until the end of October.

“Mothers called me and said the kids are in floods of tears, they want to go back to school, they don’t understand why schools need to be stopped,” said Pamela Buda, while holding a class for pupils sitting on public steps in central Naples.

Tonino Stornaiuolo yells out his lessons to pupils listening from their balconies and on the streets outside their homes.

We do everything to respect the rules because I think this emergency in Italy is serious and real.

Naples school teacher Tonino Stornaiuolo holds his lessons to students on their balconies while he safely social distances in the street below.
Naples school teacher Tonino Stornaiuolo holds his lessons to students on their balconies while he safely social distances in the street below.
Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

The government has so far avoided imposing nationwide curbs on schools, businesses and freedom of movement, but has urged regional authorities to draw up their own restrictions if needed.

Lombardy, where Milan is located, has already introduced a curfew from 11pm to 5am to put a stop to late night gatherings. Campania has said it will follow suit.

“I wanted to find a way in which the kids could see us and share time with us, at least as long as it is possible and until we know whether there will be another lockdown,” Stornaiuolo added.

Naples school teacher Pamela Buda holds her lessons to her social distancing students on public steps, after the region of Campania closed schools due to a spread of the coronavirus.
Naples school teacher Pamela Buda holds her lessons to her social distancing students on public steps, after the region of Campania closed schools due to a spread of the coronavirus.
Photograph: Ciro de Luca/Reuters

1.30pm BST

The Netherlands hit a new record for daily coronavirus cases, with more than 8,500 infections in the 24 hours, data released by the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) on Wednesday showed.

The daily number of confirmed cases continues to rise in one of Europe’s second-wave hotspots, nearly a week after the government imposed “partial lockdown” measures including the closure of bars and restaurants.

1.14pm BST

More French regions will have to impose curfews, government says

Several more French departments are to enter red-alert status amid the coronavirus pandemic, which means that they will have to impose curfews, the government said on Wednesday.

Spokesman Gabriel Attal also told a news conference that the government was proposing to extend a state of emergency to 16 February. This would mean it retained the power to extend curfews already in place in France’s biggest cities, including Paris.

From Saturday, Paris and other big cities have been put on a 9pm to 6am curfew, which is set to last four weeks but could be extended to six weeks.

Attal also said that the country’s emergency rooms were now at 40% of capacity due to the heavy influx of Covid-19 patients.

French media reported that hospitals in the cities of Clermont and Dijon were moving to emergency mode, meaning that they postpone non-coronavirus related operations and cancel staff holidays.

Hospitals in the Paris region moved into emergency mode early October, as coronavirus patients made up close to half of all patients in intensive care units.

Updated at 1.53pm BST

1.10pm BST

Here is some much-needed midday joy courtesy of Reuters, which reports that in Spain a 99-year-old is back to playing computer games with her grandchildren after recovering from Covid-19.

Florentina Martin, who survived coronavirus, sits on a sofa with her pet Luna as she watches TV in her home in Pinto, near Madrid.
Florentina Martin, who survived coronavirus, sits on a sofa with her pet Luna as she watches TV in her home in Pinto, near Madrid.
Photograph: Sergio Pérez/Reuters

When Florentina Martin contracted the coronavirus in September, her grand-daughter’s greatest fear was not that the disease would kill her, but that she would end up alone on an emergency ward.

Noelia Valle thinks her grandmother probably got infected at her 99th birthday party on 16 September, when the family went outside to enjoy the fine weather with drinks on a terrace, close together without masks.

A few days later, Martin began to feel weak and retreated to bed. Exposure to contaminated rapeseed oil when she was younger left Martin with lifelong health problems, heightening her vulnerability to respiratory complications from Covid-19.

But she only developed mild symptoms and was able to recuperate at home in Madrid, supported by her family, her carer Olga Arauz and her dog, a half-deaf Havanese called Luna.

Now she is back to watching her favourite TV shows and playing games on a tablet with her five-year old great-grandson Pedro.

Despite her grandmother’s full recovery, Valle, who is a biologist, still insists on wearing a mask when she stops by for a visit.

I don’t want to let my guard down but of course I feel a huge sense of relief.

Her caregiver Olga Arauz wears a protective mask when she is in Martin’s home.
Her caregiver Olga Arauz wears a protective mask when she is in Martin’s home.
Photograph: Sergio Pérez/Reuters

1.01pm BST

Scotland to introduce new five-tier alert system

Pubs and restaurants in the central belt of Scotland are to remain closed, Nicola Sturgeon said as she extended coronavirus restrictions for a third week.

Speaking at the Scottish government’s daily virus briefing, the first minister said the measures introduced at the beginning of October and intended to last for two weeks will now continue until 2 November.

They were due to end on 25 October, and also forced the closure of snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling, casinos and bingo halls in the central belt, with a 6pm indoor curfew brought in for hospitality businesses elsewhere in Scotland.

People across the country are also banned from visiting each other’s homes, unless they are part of an extended household.

The restrictions will now be in place until a tiered system is introduced on 2 November, with different measures for different areas.

Sturgeon said while there is “cautious optimism” that the current restrictions are working, Scottish ministers have been told by advisers it would not be safe to lift them as originally planned on Monday.

The extension allows us to transition more smoothly to the new levels system that we hope will be introduced on November 2.

The Guardian’s Scotland editor Severin Carrell reports that at that top level, people living in areas affected will reportedly live under restrictions close to the full lockdown introduced in late March across the UK, when there were strict controls on travel, a “stay at home” message and the closure of the vast majority of shops and businesses.

Unlike the full lockdown, schools would not automatically close if they were in areas hit by the extreme tier unless public health advice recommended it; that would be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Sturgeon is due to publish her draft proposals on Friday before a debate in the Scottish parliament next week.

More from the UK on our politics and coronavirus live blog:

12.52pm BST

Separately, a video clip posted on social media showed at least two dozen bodies in black bags on beds or lying on the floor in the basement corridor of a Siberian hospital for patients with Covid-19.

Reuters reports that the Altai region’s health ministry confirmed the authenticity of the video and said the bodies had built up because doctors have to conduct post-mortems on all victims and were unable to keep up despite working overtime.

Russia recorded 15,700 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, while a daily record high of 317 deaths pushed the total number of fatalities since the start of the pandemic to 24,952. With 1,447,335 infections in total, the country of around 145 million has the world’s fourth largest caseload.

12.50pm BST

Russia is not planning to impose any further lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, after deaths hit a record daily high of 317 (see 8.36am.).

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no harsh restrictions were required to contain the virus, saying safety precautions, hygiene and certain curbs imposed by local authorities were key.

He told reporters that Russia was now better-equipped to respond to the pandemic.

The work that has been done has already yielded results. The health system is ready to sustain the pressure caused by the pandemic.

Russia’s health watchdog said it was investigating after local media outlet 161.ru reported that several people in a hospital in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don had died when their oxygen supply ran out. A city official denied the report. Peskov called the report alarming.

12.39pm BST

Beds in intensive care units (ICU) in Tunisian public hospitals are about 80% full as Covid-19 cases surge, the health minister said on Wednesday, calling the situation “critical”.

Tunisia has just 181 ICU beds, of which 145 are being used by patients, Fouzi Mehdi told reporters.

Coronavirus cases have been rising fast in the country, which had managed to contain the virus earlier this year, and have reached 45,000 cases and 740 deaths.

The government imposed a curfew this month in the capital, Tunis, to slow a second wave of the pandemic.

But the prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, said he will not impose another lockdown, saying the economic cost it too high, with the economy expected to shrink by 7% this year and the fiscal deficit to double to about 14%.

Updated at 12.42pm BST

12.36pm BST

Turkey is considering reimposing some measures to stem rising coronavirus cases, such as stay-home orders for younger and older people or even weekend lockdowns, but will avoid hurting the economic recovery, a senior official said.

The official, who requested anonymity, said the total number of Covid-19 cases is about five times that reported in the government’s daily tally – echoing concerns by Turkey’s top medical association and opposition lawmakers.

Health ministry officials were not immediately available to comment. The health minister Fahrettin Koca has warned about the increase in numbers and urged Turks to abide by nationwide distancing and mask rules, which are subject to fines.

The senior official was speaking to Reuters after Turkey’s daily new symptomatic coronavirus cases rose to 2,026 on Monday, the highest level since early May when restrictions on businesses and households were in place.

“New measures could be enforced after looking at the process over a few weeks,” the senior official said, adding the picture would become clearer after assessing the impact of the partial reopening of schools earlier this month.

Turkey’s medical association and main opposition party have criticised a government decision to only disclose the number of symptomatic patients.

The health ministry changed the wording in its daily reports from “cases” to “patients” on 29 July, and Koca said the daily number only includes symptomatic cases.

The official told Reuters there were many without symptoms.

It appears the number of cases is around five times the number of patients. If this trend goes higher of course some measures will be taken.

Members of Istanbul Police Department Mounted Unit patrol against people not wearing protective face masks at Taksim Square.
Members of Istanbul Police Department Mounted Unit patrol against people not wearing protective face masks at Taksim Square.
Photograph: Murad Sezer/Reuters

Another official said that while a recent rapid rise in cases in the capital Ankara had slowed somewhat, upticks in cities such as Istanbul posed a risk for the country in this “difficult period”.

But draconian measures like “a full lockdown” were not on the agenda, he said.

The number of “patients” in Turkey since the outbreak began exceeds 350,000, with nearly 9,500 deaths, ministry data shows.

Turkey imposed lockdowns, restricted intercity travel and closed restaurants and cafes earlier this year. Almost all restrictions were lifted in June.

The economy shrank 10% in the second quarter and a Reuters poll on Wednesday showed growth was seen contracting 3.4% in 2020 as a whole, a much bleaker outlook than government forecasts.

Any new curbs would have a “narrower scope” and protect the economy, the first official said.

“Measures on the agenda are: closure of restaurants and facilities at certain hours; fixed hours during which young people and over-65s can go out; or as a last step, weekend lockdowns,” he said, adding the cabinet is working on it. “We will see some steps without waiting too long.”

Updated at 12.55pm BST

12.24pm BST

Medical workers transport a patient with Covid-19 at Rasoul Akram Hospital after a sudden surge in cases led hospitals to reach full capacity in Tehran, Iran.
Medical workers transport a patient with Covid-19 at Rasoul Akram Hospital after a sudden surge in cases led hospitals to reach full capacity in Tehran, Iran.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

12.21pm BST

Iran’s health ministry on Wednesday reported 5,616 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, the highest daily number since February, bringing the national tally to 545,286 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.

Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 312 people had died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 31,346.

To stem a third wave of the outbreak, authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary trips and stay home, warning that hospitals in Tehran and some other major cities are overflowing with patients with coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the health minister Saeed Namaki appealed for more public and government support to enforce restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Earlier this month, mask-wearing became mandatory in public in Tehran, where the government said violators would be fined. The government on Saturday extended restrictions and closures in the capital into a third week.

Authorities plan to impose similar restrictions in other cities, where the infection rates are high.

Updated at 1.11pm BST

12.16pm BST

Up to 30% of the people now contracting Covid-19 in Poland could end up being hospitalised, the health minister said on Wednesday, as the government weighs new restrictions amid an ongoing surge in cases.

“From studies by our experts, about 20 to 30% of new daily coronavirus cases could end up in hospital, which means we could have up to 2,000 to 3,000 new patients in hospital daily,” Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski told the lower house of parliament.

12.12pm BST

Czech Republic shuts shops and curbs movement to stem Covid-19 surge

The Czech government on Wednesday ordered most shops and services to shutter and sought to limit all movement to essential trips such as for work and medical visits to curb Europe’s fastest growth in new coronavirus infections. Food stores and pharmacies will remain open.

The health minister Roman Prymula said the Czech health system would soon reach the limits of its capacity and that hospitals would run short of beds in November without immediate action.

It comes as the country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, amid a surge in recent weeks. The number of people who died of Covid-19 rose to 1,619 from 1,513 over the past 24 hours in the country of more than 10 million.

A man wearing a face mask walks his dog across the Charles Bridge, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in Prague.
A man wearing a face mask walks his dog across the Charles Bridge, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in Prague.
Photograph: David W Černý/Reuters

Updated at 12.18pm BST

11.54am BST

Poland will most likely move older primary school students to distance learning, the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday, as the country tries to combat a big increase in Covid-19 cases.

Poland’s infections have doubled in less than three weeks and now exceed 200,000, the health ministry said. It reported on Wednesday 10,040 new infections, a daily record.

Earlier on Wednesday, government Covid-19 advisor Andrzej Horban said 10,000 daily cases is the upper limit of the health system’s capacity, with up to 2,000 patients admitted to hospitals every day.

As of Wednesday, patients with Covid-19 occupied 9,439 hospital beds and were using 757 ventilators, compared with 8,962 and 725 a day earlier, the ministry said. Its spokesman said that capacity as of Wednesday is about 17,000 Covid-19 hospital beds.

Morawiecki said the government wants to create 13,000 new hospital beds and will move to create more temporary hospitals.

11.41am BST

Malaysia reported 732 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, raising the total to 22,957 infections.

The country, which imposed targeted lockdowns this month amid an increase in cases, also recorded six new deaths, raising its total number of fatalities to 199.

11.41am BST

Switzerland’s new coronavirus infections almost doubled in a day to a record level, health authorities said on Wednesday.

The public health agency reported 5,596 new coronavirus cases, compared to 3,008 on Tuesday. The total confirmed cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein rose to 91,763 and the death toll by 11 to 1,856.

11.25am BST

People who host house parties in Ireland can be fined up to €1,000 or jailed for up to one month to ensure compliance with a new Covid-19 lockdown.

The government is fast-tracking legislation to give police new powers to levy on the spot fines for breaches of the new restrictions, which come into effect on Thursday.

Authorities are also considering fines of €60 for those who travel outside a 5km travel limit and refuse to wear masks in public areas.

“Too many people are acting in a manner which enables the transmission of the virus and therefore additional measures are needed,” said the justice minister, Helen McEntee.

The system of penalties being proposed here may help to change behaviour … the objective is to get people to behave responsibly, rather than impose punishment.

The level five restrictions, the highest tier, will close non-essential retail as well as beauty salons, gyms and many amenities. The lockdown is to last six weeks.

Ireland’s contact tracing system, meanwhile, has become overwhelmed by a 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population of 279.3.

Thousands of close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases from over a three day period will not be contacted, the Irish Times reported. Instead tracers will text infected people to ask them to contact their own close contacts.

A man wearing a protective face mask walks past shuttered businesses in an empty shopping street in Galway as the government announced they were moving the country to its highest level of restrictions, Level 5, for six weeks.
A man wearing a protective face mask walks past shuttered businesses in an empty shopping street in Galway.
Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Updated at 11.54am BST

11.21am BST

Slovenia reported a record 1,503 daily cases of Covid-19, while Croatia too posted a record high of 1,424 new infections.

This week Slovenia introduced a curfew from 9pm to 6am and a 30-day state of emergency to cope with the coronavirus. Slovenia has had 15,982 cases of Covid-19 and 200 fatalities.

Meanwhile, Croatia, which so far has had 28,287 cases and 393 deaths, said it was not yet considering such measures. At the moment, Croatia mandates wearing face masks indoors, limits the number of customers in bars and restaurants, and receive a limited number of guests, and requires gatherings of more than 50 people to get approval from the authorities.

Updated at 11.55am BST

11.18am BST

A landslide win by Bolivia’s socialist party at weekend elections may herald a year of dramatic shifts in Latin American politics as the painful economic impact of the pandemic discredits incumbents and fuels demand for change, Reuters reports.

Bolivia’s former economy minister Luis Arce won Sunday’s vote in the Andean nation, pledging to protect welfare spending as he takes over next month from a conservative interim government.

“The pandemic has caused the Bolivian people to suffer and this government did not know how to handle it,” said Nicanor Baltazar, a leader of Bolivia’s largest workers group, the COB. “The people have understood that.”

With Latin America one of the hardest-hit regions in terms of Covid-19 deaths and impact on economic growth, analysts said the outcome in Bolivia could mark a shift towards populism as more elections loom in 2021.

Voters will elect new presidents next year in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua, with major legislative votes also due in Mexico and Argentina. Even before the coronavirus struck, violent protests had rocked countries including Chile and Colombia, fuelled by anger over inequality and political scandals.

With Latin America’s .7 trillion regional economy forecast to contract more than 9% this year and poverty indicators for its 650 million people due to surge back to rates last seen in 2005, tensions are already mounting.

The pandemic’s economic fallout will leave Latin American governments burdened by crippling deficits and facing angry demands from voters for action on poverty and public services, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Argentina Project in Washington.

The pandemic’s toll in Latin America is a godsend to outsiders and populists, who will promise to repudiate debt, reject budget cuts and fight corruption.

Aymara women from Huachacalla wearing face masks wait for a meeting at the La Casa Grande del Pueblo after the election day in La Paz.
Aymara women from Huachacalla wearing face masks wait for a meeting at the La Casa Grande del Pueblo after the election day in La Paz.
Photograph: David Mercado/Reuters

11.13am BST

Barcelona’s hospitals are braced as a second wave of Covid-19 hospital admissions is under way, Reuters reports.

For Julio Pascual, a sharp rise in coronavirus admissions at the Barcelona hospital he serves as medical director carries an unwelcome sense of deja vu.

As Spain’s total registered cases near 1 million, daily admissions at the Catalan capital’s Hospital del Mar have more than doubled to around 16 over the past few days.

Situated in a pandemic hotspot, the hospital is better prepared to treat patients with Covid-19 than it was in March, but Pascual is concerned over a chronic shortage of nurses, and risks that overworked staff could burn out.

It is not the speed of the first wave but there’s an evident uptick in cases. If the rhythm [of Covid-19 hospitalisations] of the past week continues, rescheduling and suspending some non-priority activities will become unavoidable.

With the most confirmed cases in western Europe, Spain is struggling to manage its second wave.

Restrictions have been imposed across the country, notably in the two hardest hit regions, with Madrid placed on partial lockdown and Catalonia shutting bars and restaurants.

Xavier Borras, medical director at the Hospital de Sant Pau, also in Barcelona, told Reuters:

We need to convince people not to socially interact. What’s at stake are the non-Covid patients … The resources that were working well until a week ago are simply not enough anymore.

In the 24 hours to Tuesday afternoon, coronavirus admissions there rose to 11, the highest since late April though still far off the peaks of 50-60 daily reached in late March, he said.

Borras said the hospital was expanding its number of beds for coronavirus patients, which could eventually lead to the cancellation of scheduled non-urgent operations.

Since 5 October, national health ministry figures show Covid-19 hospitalisations are up around 20%, but with sharp regional variations. In Catalonia they surged 71% to 2,410 while in Madrid they fell 12%.

A source at Madrid’s La Princesa hospital said a few non-urgent procedures were postponed around two weeks ago, but admissions had since stabilised.

A hospital staff member prepares to treat a patient suffering from Covid-19 in Barcelona, after Catalonia’s government imposed new restrictions in an effort to control the outbreak.
A hospital staff member prepares to treat a patient suffering from Covid-19 in Barcelona, after Catalonia’s government imposed new restrictions in an effort to control the outbreak.
Photograph: Nacho Doce/Reuters

Updated at 11.56am BST

11.05am BST

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, 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_

9.51am BST

The Czech Republic’s deputy prime minister, Jan Hamáček, who is also the interior minister, has tested positive for Covid-19, Reuters has reported.

Hamáček, 41, is chief of the Social Democratic party, junior partner in the ruling coalition, and is also head of the crisis committee coordinating logistical efforts to counter the pandemic.

It comes as the country recorded a record daily rise of 11,984 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday.

Updated at 10.45am BST

9.49am BST

Slovakia and Poland have reported record daily tallies of coronavirus cases.

In Poland, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 infections has doubled in less than three weeks and now exceeds 200,000, the health ministry said, as it announced a new daily record of 10,040 cases.

As of Wednesday, coronavirus patients 9,439 hospital beds and were using 757 ventilators, compared with 8,962 and 725 respectively a day earlier

9.44am BST

South Yorkshire will move into England’s highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, the Sheffield city region mayor, Dan Jarvis, said on Wednesday.

You can read more about the development here:

Updated at 10.46am BST

8.40am BST

In the UK, the government has been accused of hitting Londoners with a “triple whammy” of higher costs in return for Covid-related funding for Transport for London (TfL).

Mayor Sadiq Khan called on ministers to reconsider “ill-advised and draconian” proposals.

He said the government wanted to extend the congestion charge zone to the North and South Circular roads in 12 months’ time, which would expand the zone to cover about 4 million more Londoners.

Passengers on the London underground last week.
Passengers on the London underground last week.
Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

The government was also said to want to increase TfL fares by well above the inflation rate, and double down on demands to remove free travel for under-18s.

A further government proposal is to introduce a new council tax charge in the capital, regardless of whether residents use public transport, said the mayor.

Khan said:

I simply cannot accept this government plan, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs at a time when so many people are already facing hardship.

“The government should be supporting Londoners through this difficult time, not making ill-advised and draconian proposals which will choke off our economic recovery.

“Ministers already forced TfL to bring forward proposals to increase the cost and hours of the congestion charge in May. Now they want to expand it to cover 4 million more Londoners.

Updated at 8.59am BST

8.36am BST

Record daily coronavirus deaths in Russia

Russia recorded 15,700 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, as well as a daily record high of 317 deaths from the highly-contagious virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, the country of about 145 million people has recorded 1,447,335 infections and 24,952 deaths, authorities said.

Updated at 9.21am BST

7.48am BST

UK: South Yorkshire ‘on cusp’ of tier 3 deal

The UK government is “on the cusp” of agreeing a deal with local leaders in South Yorkshire for the area to go into the tightest coronavirus measures, the housing secretary said on Wednesday.

“We have had very successful conversations … with the leaders of South Yorkshire,” Robert Jenrick told Sky News. “Again, there’s a serious situation there.”

It comes after the government imposed tier 3 restrictions – which includes the closure of indoor venues such as pubs – on Greater Manchester.

Updated at 8.15am BST

7.34am BST

Ukraine and the Czech Republic have reported daily record rises in coronavirus infections.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s national security council reported a record 6,719 new cases registered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 315,826 cases.

The number of daily Covid-19 deaths also jumped to 141 from the previous record of 113 registered on Tuesday, the council said. The country’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 5,927.

The Czech Republic reported 11,984 new cases of the virus for 20 October, the highest daily tally on record, amid a surge in recent weeks,

The number of people who died of Covid-19 rose to 1,619 from 1,513 over the past 24 hours in the country of more than 10 million, Health Ministry data showed on Wednesday.

7.12am BST

In the North of England, leaders have warned of “winter hardship” as Greater Manchester is forced into tougher coronavirus restrictions.

Prime minister Boris Johnson imposed the stringent tier 3 rules when negotiations between ministers and local politicians broke down after more than a week, but only confirmed a fraction of the funds they had asked the government for.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham accused Johnson of “playing poker” with people’s lives when a deal could not be reached on cash for the region to support them through the measures.

You can catch up with yesterday’s events, ahead of the region going into tier 3 from midnight on Thursday, here:

7.00am BST

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan for today. The best thing I learned in the last few hours – and it has nothing to do with the dreaded lurgy – is that there is such a fish as a “handfish”. It has its own, small, human-like hands:

Here’s more about handfish:

6.45am BST

A wardrobe of fur coats that children could touch and feel before entering “Narnia”; a giant bed big enough for 30 kids to lie on while they listened to a storyteller; a purpose-built studio for live performances. Bringing stories to life through interactive and hands-on experiences was at the core of Oxford’s new Story Museum.

After a two-year, £6m transformation, the new museum was due to be unveiled on 4 April, replacing a series of temporary exhibitions with permanent galleries designed to immerse visitors, especially young people, in a world of stories.

Then, Covid-19 struck and the UK went into lockdown. The opening weekend of festivities was cancelled and the museum remained shut.

“I can’t tell you how crushing it was to be poised [to open] and stopped in our tracks,” said museum director Caroline Jones.

But it wasn’t just disappointment at having to postpone the unveiling. Jones had to rethink the museum’s entire approach for Covid times. Out went the sensory activities: the cheesy props children were encouraged to sniff to transport them into Aesop’s fable of the fox and the crow; the chance to whisper their own stories to the trees. In came a guided, touch-free experience delivered at a distance for a vastly reduced number of visitors:

6.25am BST

Australia may have recorded first case of Covid-19 re-infection

A case of Covid-19 in Victoria is being treated as a rare case of reinfection, the first case classified as such in Australia.

Reinfection with Covid-19 is rare, with only a six cases reported among the 40m cases worldwide to date, including in the US and Hong Kong. It seems that in most cases of Covid-19, people develop immunity to the virus after being infected, though it is still unclear how strong this immunity is or for how long it remains.

The Victorian case is less clear. Genomic sequencing has not yet been completed, but the premier Daniel Andrews said the man first tested positive to the virus in July. He tested positive again in October. In many cases it is unclear whether a second positive test is truly a reinfection or merely dead virus being shed.

Andrews announced the possible reinfection on Wednesday saying the man was being treated as a reinfected case “out of an abundance of caution”:

6.12am BST

Summary

  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Protection has found that 300,000 excess deaths were recorded in the US this year – 66% of which are accounted for by the official coronavirus death toll of around 220,000. Excess deaths refer to how many more deaths have been reported in total this year compared with the same period last year. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it is closer to 2.2 million – a 14.5% increase. The remaining deaths, the CDC wrote, “provide information about the degree to which Covid-19 deaths might be underascertained”.
  • Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello has fallen ill with a suspected case of Covid-19. The ministry said Pazuello had a fever on Tuesday and would be tested for Covid-19. On Monday, the minister had missed a public event with President Jair Bolsonaro.
  • Pazuello also announced that Brazil would add the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine against Covid-19 to its national immunisation program, despite a political and diplomatic row over whether to use it.
  • Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said on Wednesday it would cut 5,900 jobs and end its regional Cathay Dragon brand as it grapples with a plunge in demand. The restructuring will cost HK.2bn (4m) and the airline will also seek changes to conditions in its contracts with cabin crew and pilots, it told the stock exchange.
  • A state-owned drugmaker in China is setting up production lines to supply a billion doses of two possible vaccines that are being tested on 50,000 people in 10 countries, the company chairman said on Tuesday. Testing by SinoPharm Group is “in the last kilometre of a long march”, chairman Liu Jingzhen said. He gave no indication when results were expected.
  • Health officials in New Zealand recorded 25 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday – the highest number in a single day in many weeks – with two of them diagnosed in the community.
  • Spain is nearing a total of a million infections over the course of the pandemic so far, with 988,322 registered on the Johns Hopkins database, which would make it the first European country and sixth country globally to do so. Its death toll stands at more than 34,000.

5.58am BST

Speaking at a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, Trump told voters “If you want depression, doom and despair. Vote for sleepy Joe Biden. And boredom”. Trump blamed former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when his microphone cut out during the rally and also claimed that if the virus had not struck he would not have needed to campaign very hard to win re-election:

5.51am BST

Brazil adds CoronaVac vaccine to national immunisation program

Brazil’s health minister said Tuesday the country would add the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine against Covid-19 to its national immunisation program, despite a political and diplomatic row over whether to use it.

AFP reports that health minister Eduardo Pazuello said the federal government had reached a deal with Sao Paulo state, which is helping test and produce the vaccine, to buy 46 million doses to be administered starting in January.

“This vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” in addition to another developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, Pazuello told a video meeting of the South American country’s 27 governors.

“That’s our big news. This is going to recalibrate the process” of eventually vaccinating Brazil’s population against Covid-19, which has claimed more lives here than any country except the United States.

CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, has been caught up in a messy battle in Brazil.

5.41am BST

India has recorded 54,044 new coronavirus infections, taking its tally to 7.65 million, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

The world’s second most populous nation also has the second highest caseload, after the United States, which has a total of 8.2 million.

India’s death toll from the virus stood at 115,914, with 717 deaths in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

Infections in India have been on the decline since a September peak, but experts have warned there could be a surge as the festival season approaches.

Durga Puja Pandal in Kolkata, India, 20 Oct 2020.
Durga Puja Pandal in Kolkata, India, 20 Oct 2020.
Photograph: Jit Chattopadhyay/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

5.26am BST

In other news from Japan:

The famed deer that roam the city of Nara no longer face discomfort – or far worse – after local companies developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs.

Last year several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers, prompting calls for tourists not to leave their rubbish behind. One of the dead animals had swallowed more than 4kg of rubbish:

5.15am BST

The Mainchi reports that Japan is expecting a sharp drop in newborns next year after pregnancies fell 11.4% in the three months from May compared to the same period in 2019.

A government tally, seen by Kyodo News, underscores fears that the pandemic will worsen the nation’s already low birth rate. It marks the first such figures released by the government, linking a drop in the number of births to the impact of the coronavirus.

Japan, home to one of the world’s longest-living populaces, is also one of the most aged societies, with the highest percentage of elderly people anywhere in the world.

The nation’s dwindling number of newborns fell below 1 million for the first time in 2016 and fell to a record low of 865,000 last year. There are concerns that the number could dip below 800,000 next year if the current trend continues.

5.01am BST

Asian shares and US stock futures rose on Wednesday as renewed hopes for a new round of U.S. stimulus drew money into equities from government debt, Reuters reports.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.56%. Australian stocks edged up by 0.1%, while shares in China rose 0.07%. Tokyo shares gained 0.4%.

U.S. stock futures also rose 0.44%.

The yuan surged to the strongest level against the dollar in more than two years on growing optimism about China’s economy and speculation that a victory for US.

Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden next month will lead to better Sino-US ties.

4.31am BST

4.20am BST

In peaceful, non-coronavirus news:

A Nasa spacecraft has successfully landed on an asteroid, dodging boulders the size of buildings, in order to collect a handful of cosmic rubble for analysis back on Earth.

The space agency team behind the Osiris-Rex project said preliminary data showed the sample collection went as planned and that the spacecraft had lifted off the surface of asteroid Bennu.

“I can’t believe we actually pulled this off,” said lead scientist Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona. “The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do.”

4.11am BST

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on Tuesday urged their residents to not travel between the three states as the US Northeast sees a rise in Covid-19 cases, Reuters reports.

The governors, however, said they would not attempt to impose quarantines on visitors from neighboring states.

New York, an early epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and home to more Covid-19 deaths than any other state, requires travellers from 38 states and two U.S. territories where cases are rising to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania now also meet New York’s criteria for the quarantine requirements, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, but implementing such restrictions would be impractical.

4.02am BST

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 7,595 to 380,762, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.

The reported death toll rose by 39 to 9,875, the tally showed.

Updated at 5.56am BST

3.33am BST

More now on the state-owned Chinese drugmaker setting up production lines to supply 1 billion doses of two possible coronavirus vaccines that are being tested on 50,000 people in 10 countries, the company chairman said Tuesday.

AP reports:

Testing by SinoPharm Group is “in the last kilometer of a long march,” chairman Liu Jingzhen said at a news conference. He gave no indication when results are expected.
China’s fledgling drug industry is part of a global race to produce a vaccine and has four candidates in final stages of testing. Health experts say, however, that even if China succeeds, stringent certification rules in the United States, Europe and Japan might mean its vaccine can be distributed only in other developing countries.
SinoPharm is testing two vaccines in countries including Egypt, Argentina, Jordan and Peru, Liu said. Both are inactivated, meaning they use a non-infectious version of the coronavirus.

According to Liu, production lines for vaccines are being set up in Beijing and Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak began in December.

“The production capacity will reach 1 billion doses next year, ensuring sufficient safety,” Liu said.

Chinese-developed vaccines have been tested on 60,000 people with “only slight adverse effects,” said Tian Baoguo, an official of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Thousands of people in China including healthcare workers and others deemed to be at risk have been given the experimental vaccines. Three city governments have announced plans to inoculate members of the public who need it.

3.19am BST

As the second coronavirus wave bites, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – who shut the borders in September – is holding back on tougher measures such as a lockdown, despite growing criticism of his response, AFP reports.

During the first wave, the Central European EU member had relatively low numbers of infections and deaths from the virus compared with most European countries.

An elderly resident wearing a protective face mask walks in a park of the Prividius House, a home for elderly people in Leanyfalu, north of Budapest, on 5 October 2020.
An elderly resident wearing a protective face mask walks in a park of the Prividius House, a home for elderly people in Leanyfalu, north of Budapest, on 5 October 2020.
Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

But in October more Hungarians have died than in the previous four months put together. And seven-day rolling average data from the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) show that on October 19 Hungary had the third-highest Covid-19 death rate per million in the bloc – behind the Czech Republic and Romania.

A shift in government policy as well as a complacent population are to blame, according to experts.

Orban’s critics say the government’s messaging over the summer was not strict enough on issues such as mask wearing, avoiding large gatherings and travel abroad.

3.08am BST

Australia’s most heavily hit coronavirus state of Victoria logged a sixth consecutive day of low single digit new cases on Wednesday, as the state government said it was on track to announce fresh easing measures at the weekend.

“We do genuinely hope on Sunday to make some announcements in the future and if these numbers stay on trend we will be able to do that,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

Reuters:

Victoria, which has been under strict lockdown measures since early July, hopes to revitalise outdoor dining over the summer in the hard hit hospitality sector, by allowing pop up restaurants in public gardens and carparks in downtown areas.

New infections in the Victoria’s state capital Melbourne rose by three in the past 24 hours, up from a revised number of two from the day before, bringing total state numbers to 20,323 cases since the outbreak began, of which just 109 remain active.

A downward trend in Victoria, which has been under strict lockdown measures since early July, brings it within reach of a milestone required for opening measures to take place.

2.57am BST

Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 5,788 additional cases of the novel coronavirus and 555 more deaths in the country, bringing the official number of cases to 860,714 and the death toll to 86,893.

Health officials have said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.

2.45am BST

Venezuela plans to vaccinate citizens with Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines, which could arrive in the South American nation in December or January, President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

“It has been announced that the completed Russian and Chinese vaccines should arrive by December, January, December-January, and we are going to start vaccination,” Maduro said during a live broadcast on state television.

He added that older people and those with existing diseases would take priority, but that all Venezuelans would be vaccinated.

The country received a first batch of the Russian “Sputnik-V” coronavirus vaccine in early October as part of the Phase Three clinical trial, and the government said about 2,000 volunteers would participate. The delivery was the first in Latin America.

Maduro in September proposed administering the Russian coronavirus vaccine to nearly 15,000 candidates in upcoming legislative elections so that they could campaign safely.

2.38am BST

Brazilian health minister ill with suspected Covid case

Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello has fallen ill with a suspected case of Covid-19, the ministry’s press office said on Tuesday, as the country battles with the third-worst coronavirus outbreak globally, with nearly 5.3 million cases.

Reuters reports that the ministry said Pazuello had a fever on Tuesday and would be tested for Covid-19. On Monday, the minister had missed a public event with President Jair Bolsonaro.

“He had a small indisposition and went to the hospital,” Bolsonaro said at the event. The ministry said on Monday that Pazuello had been discharged and was at home.

The government of Brazil, the country with the second highest number of deaths from Covid-19 coronavirus, approved a plan for a partial return of fans to football stadiums though it did not set a return date.
The government of Brazil, the country with the second highest number of deaths from Covid-19 coronavirus, approved a plan for a partial return of fans to football stadiums though it did not set a return date.
Photograph: Sergio Lima/AFP/Getty Images

Bolsonaro has sought to downplay the severity of the coronavirus, calling it a little flu. The president fell ill with a mild case of Covid-19 earlier this year, and several of his cabinet ministers have been infected previously.

Two different health ministers resigned in the span of roughly a month before Bolsonaro appointed Pazuello. Bolsonaro has endorsed the drug hydroxychloroquine for treating coronavirus, despite its being unproven for that purpose; the former ministers had advised a more cautious approach.

Pazuello, who does not hold a medical degree, expanded access to hydroxychloroquine and allowed for public doctors to prescribe it for almost anyone who tests positive for coronavirus.

2.19am BST

England’s widening north-south political divide dominates the papers after Boris Johnson’s government imposed tier 3 restrictions on Manchester despite fierce resistance from the city’s mayor, Andy Burnham.

The Guardian reports that Burnham accused the prime minister of playing a “game of poker with people’s lives” after the imposition of the highest level of restrictions on the city and surrounding area:

2.02am BST

Trump is has just finished speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania. Here is one moment from his appearance:

1.33am BST

Cathay to cut 5,900 jobs

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Wednesday it would cut 5,900 jobs and end its regional Cathay Dragon brand as it grapples with a plunge in demand from the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters.

The restructuring will cost HK.2 billion (3.9 million) and the airline will also seek changes in conditions in its contracts with cabin crew and pilots, it told the stock exchange.

Overall, it will cut 8,500 positions, or 24% of its normal headcount, but that includes 2,600 roles currently unfilled due to cost reduction initiatives, Cathay said.

A Cathay Pacific employee wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease outbreak, walks past a ticketing counter at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China 20 October 2020.
A Cathay Pacific employee wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease outbreak, walks past a ticketing counter at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China 20 October 2020.
Photograph: Lam Yik/Reuters

“The global pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on aviation and the hard truth is we must fundamentally restructure the group to survive,” Cathay Chief Executive Augustus Tang said in a statement.

The International Air Transport Association expects it will take until 2024 for passenger traffic to recover to pre-Covid-levels.

The airline, which has stored around 40% of its fleet outside Hong Kong, said on Monday it planned to operate less than 50% of its pre-pandemic capacity in 2021.

After receiving a billion rescue package led by the Hong Kong government in June, it had been conducting a strategic review that analysts expected would result in major job losses because it has been bleeding HK.5 billion to HK billion of cash a month.

1.26am BST

New Zealand records 25 new coronavirus cases including two in community

Charlotte Graham McLay reports:

Health officials in New Zealand recorded 25 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday – the highest number in a single day in many weeks – with two of the instances diagnosed in the community.

The others were diagnosed in managed isolation facilities, where all travelers entering New Zealand must spend a fortnight. 18 of those were recorded from Russian and Ukraine fishing crews who had been flown to New Zealand to work on fishing boats, and are staying in a quarantine hotel.

Only New Zealanders and their families are permitted to enter the country – unless they are essential workers who obtain visa exemptions. The infected arrivals from Moscow were among 235 fishing crews who arrived from Russia via Singapore on a charter flight, remaining on the plane during the Singapore stop.

The workers were all tested for Covid-19 before they left Russia, said Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director-general of health, and two people were barred from boarding the plane due to positive tests.

“At least one person must have boarded that plane who was infectious,” Bloomfield told reporters in Wellington. “The fact that we’ve found these infections is absolutely the system working.”

The two community cases were contacts of a ports worker whose case was reported on Sunday. That case was the first instance of community transmission in New Zealand since 25 September.

There are currently 56 active cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, 53 of them in managed isolation facilities. There have been 1,556 total confirmed cases of the virus in New Zealand, with 25 deaths.

Updated at 1.27am BST

1.20am BST

Chinese vaccines have been given to 60,000 people worldwide

The New York Times reports:

Chinese vaccines have been administered to 60,000 people in clinical trials, many of them around the world, and none of them have experienced any serious adverse reactions, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday.

The figures came from Tian Baoguo, a senior official at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, who spoke at a news conference. “Initial results show that they are safe,” he said.

China has four vaccine candidates in Phase 3 trials, the last stage of testing before regulatory approval. Because the outbreak is largely under control in China, these trials are conducted in more than 10 countries.

Within China, the Chinese government has not waited for clinical trials to conclude before vaccinating tens of thousands of people. Officials have already laid out plans to give shots to even more people, citing emergency use. But scientists have warned that taking a vaccine that has not completed Phase 3 trials carries health risks. On Sunday, the eastern Chinese city of Yiwu stopped the sale of a coronavirus vaccine after dozens of people demanded to be inoculated over the weekend.

12.59am BST

Charlotte Graham McLay writes:

We reported this story last week about American doctors moving to New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic – with their in-demand skills making them one of the only groups of people who can obtain visa exemptions to enter the country at the moment.

Medical recruiting firms in both New Zealand and the United States told us the South Pacific nation was in hot demand for US doctors due to New Zealand’s free healthcare, scientific regard given to doctors during the pandemic, better management of the coronavirus, and more progressive politics.

On Wednesday, New Zealand’s immigration agency told us that it wasn’t just American doctors making the move. Since 10 August alone, the agency has approved visa exemptions for 80 Indian health workers to come to New Zealand, 74 Britons, 41 Filipinos, and 36 from the US.

They’ve also approved visa exemptions for 24 South Africans, 11 medical workers from Ireland and Australia, 9 from Canada, and a handful from each of 20 other countries from Belgium to Zambia. And that’s just since 10 August — the agency did not provide earlier figures.

New Zealand has seen, so far, one of the lowest Covid-19 death tolls in the world after a strict, early lockdown. Normal life here has largely resumed, except for strict border controls that bar anyone except New Zealanders and their families from entering the country.

12.37am BST

The five percent of people in Britain predicted by a new tool to be at highest risk from Covid-19 accounted for three-quarters of deaths during the first wave of the pandemic, researchers reported Wednesday.

From AFP:

Tthe risk-assessment method – which also predicts the chances of hospitalisation – could help identify the small percentage of the population most in need of being shielded from the virus, they reported in BMJ, a medical journal.

“The tool provides nuanced information on people’s risk of serious illness due to Covid-19 and is designed for use by clinicians with patients to reach a shared understanding of risk,” the authors said in a statement.

To develop the new application, called QCOVID, researchers from across Britain compiled data from six million patients, including age, height-weight ratio, ethnicity, and pre-existing conditions – such as high-blood pressure and diabetes – known to increase the risk of serious outcomes after infection.

They then tested the approach on 2.2 million patients – most of whom did not have Covid-19 – to see how well it predicted hospitalisation and deaths during two periods, late January to the end of April, and May 1 to June 30.

More than three-quarters of those who died from the virus were in the top five percent of those predicted to be at maximum risk.

While the tool effectively profiled those facing the worst odds, it did not identify which factors caused fatal outcomes, the researchers cautioned.

12.25am BST

More than 100 people are believed to have been infected by the coronavirus at a wedding early this month in the northern Mexico border city of Mexicali, authorities said, AP reports.

About 300 people attended the 0 October nuptials of a soap opera actor and the daughter of a businessman, Alonso Oscar Pérez Rico, the health secretary of Baja California state said Monday.

Pérez Rico told local media that there were apparently no masks or temperature checks at the event and that the organisers also did not have permission to hold an event of that size during the pandemic.

He said authorities are investigating whether anyone attended the wedding knowing they had Covid-19 or were infected by the virus. In some states in Mexico, knowingly infecting someone with a disease is a crime.

12.04am BST

In the UK, Labour is stepping up the pressure to impose an England-wide “circuit-breaker”, claiming the economy will be billions of pounds worse off if the government fails to act.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, last week endorsed calls by the government’s scientific advisers for a two- to three-week shutdown. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has opposed the plan, calling it a “blunt instrument” and warning about the damaging economic impact of shuttering many sectors.

Heather Stewart and Richard Partington report:

11.53pm BST

Spain nears 1m cases

Spain is nearing a total of a million coronavirus infections over the course of the pandemic so far, with 988,322 currently registered on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus database, which would make it the first European country and sixth country overall to to do so.

More than 34,000 people have died.

The Spanish Health Ministry reported Tuesday that authorities have recorded nearly 14,000 new cases, taking the total to 988,322.

At the current rate of infection, Spain is likely to exceed 1 million on Wednesday.

Health experts say the true number of infections is probably much higher. That’s because insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues mean official counts fail to capture the real scale of the outbreak.

Updated at 3.31am BST

11.44pm BST

CDC finds 300,000 excess deaths in US

Here is a closer look at that report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the has seen 300,000 more deaths than it usually would.

The CDC has been tracking how many deaths have been reported and comparing them with counts seen in other years. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million – a 14.5% increase, AP reports.

The CDC says around 200,000 of the deaths are already attributed to coronavirus, but that the it’s likely Covid-19 was a factor in many other deaths, too. For example, someone with heart attack symptoms may have hesitated to go to a hospital that was busy with coronavirus patients.

The largest segment of the excess deaths, about 95,000, were in elderly people ages 75 to 84. That was 21.5% more than in a normal year. But the biggest relative increase, 26.5%, was in people ages 25 to 44. Deaths in people younger than 25 actually dropped slightly.

Deaths were up for different racial and ethnic groups, but the largest increase – 54% – was among Hispanic Americans.

11.33pm BST

Summary

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s Wednesday here in Sydney, my name is Helen Sullivan, and this is the place to be for Covid news from around the world.

You can find me on Twitter, too @helenrsullivan.

The US has seen 299,028 excess deaths since January 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new report. 66% of these deaths have already been attributed to coronavirus, in line with the official total of just over 220,000 deaths.

The CDC warns that, “these results provide information about the degree to which Covid-19 deaths might be underascertained and inform efforts to prevent mortality directly or indirectly associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as efforts to minimise disruptions to health care.”

“The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

Meanwhile Spain is nearing 1m coronavirus cases, a milestone that would make it the sixth country worldwide to cross the threshold.

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

  • AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial in the US is expected to resume as early as this week after the US food and drug administration (FDA) completed its review of a serious illness, sources told Reuters.AstraZeneca’s large, late-stage US trial has been on hold since 6 September, after a participant in the company’s UK trial fell ill with what was suspected to be a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.
  • The White House and Democrats in the US congress have moved closer to agreement on a new coronavirus relief package. With just two weeks to go until the US presidential election, Trump signalled a willingness to go along with more than .2tn in new Covid-19 relief, as Democrats had been pushing for months – despite opposition from the Republican party.
  • Chaos and fury as Boris Johnson forces curbs on Greater Manchester. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester in England, accused the government of playing a “game of poker with people’s lives” after Boris Johnson imposed the toughest Covid restrictions on the region without agreeing a support package for businesses and low-paid workers.
  • Lombardy curfew aims to curb Covid hospital admissions rise. Authorities in Lombardy have been given the green light to impose a curfew as the Italian region hardest hit in the coronavirus first wave braces itself for a surge in hospital admissions.
  • Belgium postpones non-essential hospital work to deal with Covid-19 surge. The country will need to postpone all non-essential hospital procedures to deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections, the health minister Frank Vandenbroucke said, days after warning of a Covid “tsunami” hitting the country.
  • UK to spend £30m on trials infecting young people to hasten Covid vaccine. More than £30m of UK government money is to fund the world’s first Covid-19 “challenge trials”, in which healthy young volunteers are intentionally infected with the virus to hasten the development of a vaccine.
  • Italy’s southern Campania region plans to introduce a night-time curfew from this weekend in an effort to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases. The move follows a similar decision taken on Monday by the northern region of Lombardy following a rise in hospital admissions. The Campania governor Vincenzo De Luca said he planned to introduce an 11pm curfew from this weekend.
  • Berlin’s municipal government has made it compulsory to wear masks at markets, in queues and on 10 busy shopping streets, but stopped short of imposing another lockdown to curb a new wave of infections in the German capital. The mayor, Michael Müller, urged the capital’s residents to comply with the new rules, which also included limits on parties, to avoid shutting down public life again.

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