Coronavirus live news: Thailand confirms record community cases; Pfizer to ask for third dose approval

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: Thailand confirms record community cases; Pfizer to ask for third dose approval” was written by Martin Belam (now) and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 9th July 2021 08.34 UTC

My colleague Nicola Slawson is at the helm of the UK Covid and politics live blog today. You can follow the latest UK lines there…

I’ll be continuing here with the latest global coronavirus developments.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps urged people not to ignore the NHS Covid app if they are “pinged” and advised to self-isolate. Shapps said it is important that people continue to use the app.

“You shouldn’t ignore this because it is vital information. People should want to know if they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus. You don’t want to be spreading it around. It can still harm people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

PA report he said the app is being kept under review to ensure it is “calibrated in the right way” for the prevailing circumstances.

“The medical experts will advise us on what the level of sensitivity should be relative to where we are, for example, to our vaccination programme overall,” he said.

“We will follow scientific advice, keep this under review and tweak the app to be suitable to the circumstances of the time – double vaccination, for example, being at record highs in this country.”

Covid vaccination to be mandatory for Australia’s aged care workers

Vaccinations will be mandated for aged care workers, and South Australia will be tasked with establishing a home quarantine trial for returned travellers – who will also finally be asked for their vaccination status before entering Australia – in new decisions made in Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

The Morrison government will also roll out a vaccination campaign from Sunday, almost six months after the program began. But the prime minister still can’t answer say just how many Pfizer doses Australia is to receive in the coming weeks as part of the “ramp up” announced on Friday morning, or when under-40s will become eligible to be vaccinated.

Read more of Amy Remeikis’s report here: Covid vaccination to be mandatory for Australia’s aged care workers, Scott Morrison says

Anne Davies brings us this analysis of the situation in New South Wales, Australia:

The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, emerged from her crisis briefing at the Department of Health on Friday looking more stressed – with good reason.

All the signs are that NSW is losing control of this outbreak of the Delta strain of Covid-19, despite the increasingly stringent lockdown rules.

“To 8pm last night there were 44 cases of community transmission. Regrettably, 29 of those were either partially or fully exposed to the community and that is the number that is really concerning us,” Berejiklian said on Friday.

“It tells us that both the case numbers and unfortunately the number of people who may be exposed or have been exposed in the community is going to go up.”

The number that should put fear into everyone is the 14,000 people who are under 14-day isolation orders as close contacts. That’s doubled in 24 hours and is an indicator of how quickly the pool of exposed people can grow.

Not only is Berejiklian battling the most serious outbreak of Covid that NSW has experienced and the added threat of the Delta variant, she is dealing with a new bout of destabilisation from within her own ranks.

The sniping and negative commentary is coming from disgruntled cabinet colleagues who seem intent on seizing on any setback to pour petrol on the fire.

Read more of Anne Davies’s analysis here: Gladys Berejiklian faces instability within as a Covid storm brews outside

Shapps: people need to expect ‘more disruption than usual’ when returning from abroad this summer

There’s a lot of excitement about the prospect of easier international travel to and from the UK as restrictions are eased, but these is a not of caution as well.

On BBC Breakfast, UK transport minister Grant Shapps has said holidaymakers should expect additional queues when they check in for their flights home due to the need for coronavirus checks.

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: “Before you board a plane you would need to show you have completed your passenger locator form, that you have carried out a pre-departure test, that you have got your test booked for day two and all of that needs to be checked by the carrier – the airline usually – before you travel.

“So the place to expect queues is the airport you are coming from. Once you get back to the UK all of that is starting to be automated. People should expect more disruption than usual but I know that everyone is working very hard to minimise those queues.”

China’s official vaccination numbers continue to dwarf everybody else. Reuters report that yesterday they administered about 11.85m doses of vaccines, taking the total to 1.35bn doses.

France: Delta variant now represents nearly 50% of new Covid infections

The highly contagious Delta variant of Covid will probably account for most of the new coronavirus cases in France from this weekend, health minister Olivier Veran said on Friday.

The Delta variant now represents nearly 50% of new Covid infections, Reuters report Veran told France Inter radio station.

No decision yet on spectators for the Tokyo Paralympics

Having regular covered both the Olympics and the Paralympics in the past, I’m not saying that people often treat the Paralympics as an afterthought, however, Reuters report that Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said on Friday she aimed to reach an agreement on Paralympic spectators with relevant parties “at the earliest possible” timing after the close of the Tokyo Olympics – without saying when.

Organisers said yesterday that the Olympics would take place without spectators in host city Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures, but that a decision on Paralympic spectators would be made after the Olympics, without mentioning specific timing.

The Olympics are scheduled for 23 July to 8 August, with the Paralympics slated to start 24 August.

Talking of face masks, without wanting to sound like a stuck record, this week our video team put together this great little explainer featuring our science correspondent Natalie Grover explaining why masks are more about protecting others than ourselves, and where we still might want to wear them. It’s useful as a refresher, and to share.

 

Also on the airwaves in the UK this morning is Gemma Peters, the chief executive of the Blood Cancer UK charity. She was expressing concern for the group of around half a million people who is immunosuppressed and for whom vaccines are not offering efficacy. She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

It’s really important that people understand there are things that they can do, not actually to protect themselves, but to protect others you really need that support. People can continue to wear face masks when they’re in crowded places – that’s certainly what I will be doing and certainly when I’m inside – and to keep your distance from people and to not assume that the people around you are protected. They might well not be. They might be one of the half a million in the group that we’re talking about.

Blood Cancer UK have said they want to see:

  • government and the NHS write to every immunocompromised person to tell them about likely vaccine efficacy in the immunocompromised.
  • government to set out the support it will offer them, particularly what financial support will be available for people who work in busy workplaces and cannot work from home.
  • the general public to keep wearing masks and respecting people’s social distancing – saying the more people do this, the safer the immunocompromised will feel when they are out.

UK transport minister Grant Shapps has been questioned on the vexed matter of whether people should wear face masks on public transport. People who are immunosuppressed or vulnerable have expressed concern that large numbers of people going maskless in public places will restrict their freedom of movement from 19 July. Shapps told Sky News:

We’ve been living with this for a year and a half now, and people know the things to do in order to try to keep themselves safe. It’s still sensible to wear a face covering if you’re on a crowded piece of transport – a crowded tube for example. But clearly, if you’re on a train, perhaps a long distance service, and there’s no one else in the carriage, their not really protecting anyone. We’re able to now shift to people using their own common sense, increasingly, as we get through the 19 July, and asking people to do that. So I think it’s right that we switch these things from the law to guidance, but nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that we’re not guiding people to be sensible and to think about how they can protect themselves and others.

UK economic recovery from pandemic slowed in May – ONS figures

The UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic slowed in May, despite the latest easing of lockdown restrictions boosting hospitality venues.

UK GDP expanded by 0.8% during May, the Office for National Statistics reports, much weaker than the 1.5% growth expected.

That’s the fourth month of growth in a row, but it still leaves the economy 3.1% below its pre-pandemic levels.

And it’s slower than in April — where growth has been revised down from 2.3% to 2.0%.

You can follow reaction to that news with Graeme Wearden on our business live blog

Shapps: UK government ‘actively working’ on plans to let in double-jabbed tourists without quarantine

In the UK it is transport secretary Grant Shapps who is fronting up the morning media round for the government. He is being asked about when people who have been vaccinated in other countries will be able to visit the UK without restrictions. Here’s what he told Sky News:

[This is] something we’re very actively working on at the moment. Of course with the UK vaccination programme, you’re able to demonstrate your vaccine status very easily … That’s the first step. The next thing is to be able to recognise apps from other countries or certification from other countries, easier done from some places like the EU, where they have a digital app coming along, than it is in the United States where they have I think 50 different systems, one for each state, largely paper based, so there’s complexities to work through there. But this is phase one and we hope to follow up quickly with double vaccinated people from other countries coming here.

Pressed on that timescale, he wouldn’t be drawn further than saying there would be an announcement in the next couple of weeks, adding:

First of all this announcement [about people leaving and returning to England] kicks in on 19 July for anyone who’s been vaccinated in the UK. And then secondly we’re actively working on this issue of how to accept vaccinations from other people. Obviously we’re looking at whether they are World Health Organization certified, and I would think in terms of timescale, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be able to come forward and say more about other locations in the world.

Vietnam aims to vaccinate 50% of people aged 18 or older by the end of this year and 70% by the end of March 2022, the health ministry said on Friday, as tighter coronavirus curbs were imposed in more cities including the country’s commercial hub.

After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has since late April faced a more stubborn outbreak that has prompted calls for the government to accelerate its vaccination programme.

Vietnam on Friday began movement restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City after imposing new curbs in the capital Hanoi after the country’s daily infection rates hit record highs above 1,000 four times this month.

Medical workers collecting test samples from residents walk past in Ho Chi Minh City.
Medical workers collecting test samples from residents walk past in Ho Chi Minh City.
Photograph: Huu Khoa/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this week, panic buying broke out in Ho Chi Minh City ahead of the new curbs and state media reports on Friday showed photographs of empty streets in the city of 9 million people.

“Vaccination against COVID-19 is a necessary and important measure to contain the disease and ensure socio-economic development,” the health ministry said in a statement.

Reuters report the government’s latest targets come after it had previously said it aimed to vaccinate 70% to 75% of the country’s 98 million population by the end of this year or early next year.

A quick one from Reuters in Johnannesburg here, that South Africa plans to start vaccinating people aged between 35 and 49 years old against Covid from 1 August, the country’s acting health minister said on Friday.

Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane added at a news conference that indications were that the number of Covid cases in the most populous province, Gauteng, was peaking. Gauteng has been responsible for the lion’s share of infections during a severe “third wave”.

Good morning, it is Martin Belam here in London. Travel firm Skyscanner said that yesterday, 30 minutes after Grant Shapps’ announcement that fully vaccinated passengers will not need to quarantine upon their return to England from “amber list” countries, the agency saw a 53% increase in traffic from the UK compared to the same time on Wednesday.

PA quote Martin Nolan from the company, who said: “It’s clear that people are aching to be able to travel again within the guidelines, as evidenced by the immediate uptick in searches and bookings we’ve witnessed as destinations have been added to the green list.

“This is a huge moment for the UK travel industry, who have been waiting for measures that will truly help to kickstart travel in a safe, smart and sustainable way.

“This move will reunite families and allow people to finally plan travel to their favourite destinations around the world, many of which will be delighted to finally be able to welcome UK travellers for the first time in a year.”

I’m handing over to my colleague Martin Belam shortly. In the meantime, a short and joyful break from plague news:

South Korea raises Covid restrictions to highest level in Seoul amid ‘maximum crisis’

South Korea will raise coronavirus curbs to their highest level yet in the Seoul metropolitan area, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Friday, warning that a record rise in new cases had reached “maximum crisis level”.

The country had previously been held up as a model of how to combat the pandemic, with the public largely following social distancing and other rules, but it was slow to start its vaccine rollout due to supply shortages.

On Friday it recorded 1,316 cases, its highest daily rise since the pandemic began, with most new infections in the capital of Seoul and its surrounding areas, home to almost half the South Korean population:

Pfizer to ask for third dose approval

Pfizer plans to ask US regulators to authorize a booster dose of its Covid-19 vaccine within the next month, the drugmaker’s top scientist said on Thursday.

The announcement was based on evidence of greater risk of reinfection six months after inoculation and due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus.

And the US pharmaceutical company and its German partner BioNTech have started designing a version of their vaccine specifically to combat the highly-contagious Delta variant, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, said.

However, the companies do not think they will need to replace the current version of their highly-successful shot:

More on Thailand now: Thai media is reporting that tougher restrictions will come into effect in Bangkok and other high risk areas tomorrow. This is expected to include the closure of shopping malls, a night time curfew and a stay-at-home order. Schools, gyms, bars, and restaurants are already closed.

Thailand is struggling to contain a third wave of the virus, which is its most severe yet and is driven by the Delta variant. Thailand confirmed a record 9,276 community cases on Friday, as well as 73 deaths. There are concerns that the official numbers are an underestimate, due to a lack of testing. Availability is so limited that people have been queuing overnight in the rain at a temple to try to get a free test.

The exact details of the new restrictions will be announced later today.

Updated

Thailand confirms record new cases

Having escaped the worst when the coronavirus pandemic erupted last year, Southeast Asia is now suffering record rises in deaths and cases, while vaccination shortfalls and highly contagious variants have derailed containment efforts, Reuters reports.

As countries like Britain, Germany and France prepare to remove most remaining restrictions after devastating outbreaks, governments in Southeast Asia have been tightening measures, hoping targeted lockdowns will act as circuit-breakers in arresting dramatic spikes after cases started rising in May.

A new terminal at the Thai capital’s airport is being turned into a 5,000-bed field hospital, as the country confirmed a record case rise of nearly 10,000 new infections on Friday.

Thailand confirmed a record 9,276 community cases on Friday, as well as 73 deaths, the Bangkok Post reports. The highest-ever national daily increase in cases was reported on 17 May, when 9,635 cases were confirmed, most of which were inside prisons.

Read more about the spread of the Delta variant in the region here:

Updated

Summary

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

Thailand confirmed a record 9,276 community cases on Friday, as well as 73 deaths, the Bangkok Post reports. The highest-ever national daily increase in cases was reported on 17 May, when 9,635 cases were confirmed, most of which were inside prisons.

Meanwhile Pfizer plans to ask US regulators to authorize a booster dose of its Covid-19 vaccine within the next month, the drugmaker’s top scientist said on Thursday.

The announcement was based on evidence of greater risk of reinfection six months after inoculation and due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • Holidaymakers in Portugal will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test, a vaccination certificate or proof of recovery to stay in hotels or other holiday accommodation from Saturday, the government announced.
  • Foreign tourists who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 will not be allowed to enter Canada for some time, with the government unwilling to jeopardise progress made on containing the virus, prime minister Justin Trudeau said.
  • Olympic organisers decided to ban spectators from the Tokyo Games after Japan’s prime minister declared a state of emergency in the host city. Olympic minister, Tamayo Marukawa left open the possibility that some venues outside Tokyo could still have fans.
  • Greece is to unveil plans to mandate vaccination for specific professional groups next week, the government said, after the country’s bio-ethics experts recommended compulsory shots for health workers and staff at elderly care facilities only “as a last resort measure” if efforts to encourage voluntary inoculation proved ineffective.
  • Holidaymakers from England travelling to amber list countries will not have to quarantine on return if they are fully vaccinated, but Britons living overseas will not be able to prove their vaccine status if they have been jabbed abroad.
  • Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel left hospital today after treatment for Covid-19 and will resume work this week, officials said. A statement from Bettel’s government said his condition had improved, allowing him to work from home. He had been admitted to hospital on Sunday.
  • Pharmacies across Indonesia are running out of ivermectin, an oral treatment normally used to parasitic infections, AFP reported, after it was used widely and reportedly with success in India, Mexico, Bolivia, and elsewhere.
  • A case brought by more than 500 families of Covid victims seeking a total of €100m in compensation from the Italian government has reached court, as the first hearing into continental Europe’s deadliest outbreak got under way in Rome.

Updated

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