Coronavirus news live: South Korea reports daily Covid case record as Omicron variant hits

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus news live: South Korea reports daily Covid case record as Omicron variant hits” was written by Martin Belam (now) and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd December 2021 07.36 UTC

UK approves GSK/Vir Biotechnology Covid-19 treatment Xevudy (sotrovimab)

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK has approved a new Covid-19 treatment, known as Xevudy (sotrovimab). A statement this morning says that:

Another Covid-19 treatment, Xevudy (sotrovimab), has today been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate Covid-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease.

Developed by GSK and Vir Biotechnology, sotrovimab is a single monoclonal antibody. The drug works by binding to the spike protein on the outside of the Covid-19 virus. This in turn prevents the virus from attaching to and entering human cells, so that it cannot replicate in the body.

In a clinical trial, a single dose of the monoclonal antibody was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by 79% in high-risk adults with symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

UK minister defends procurement of 114m more vaccines for the UK

Science minister George Freeman has defended the UK government over criticism that it has procured more vaccines to the detriment of efforts to vaccinate globally. It was announced overnight that the UK has secured new contracts to buy 114m more Covid-19 vaccines for the next two years. Asked on Sky News about how many of the promised 100m vaccines the UK had delivered to the Covax vaccine-sharing programme, he said:

The problem with Covax actually has been the global manufacturing supply chains. One of the things we set out in our G7 summit in the summer, which is partly what we’re picking up today, is to make sure that we’ve got those global supply chains.

So Britain has put the funding in. We’ve procured the vaccines. The key is getting the roll out internationally into those hard to reach countries in Africa, in the Southern Pacific island states. And that is a global challenge. That’s why we’re one of the biggest contributors to Covax who are doing a brilliant job.

We’ve put the vaccines in. We’ve got to make sure that we support them in rolling them out internationally. Because as I say, we’re not safe. The global economy isn’t safe until we’ve defeated this pandemic across the whole world.

Questioned on how many of the promised 100m vaccines the UK had actually delivered to Covax, Freeman said “We’ve supported that 100 million. They’re in the pipeline. That isn’t the issue.”

Asked why the UK was ordering more vaccines, he defended the move saying:

It’s a balanced game. I mean, we’ve got another variant. I think the British public would expect us to make sure that we’re providing the supply here in the UK. This is a balance. We’ve got to make sure that our citizens are safe, and that the global vaccine rollout through Covax is supported, and that is what we’re committed doing.

George Freeman, science minister for the UK, has just endured a torrid time on Sky News being interviewed by Kay Burley. He was initially bullish on the performance of the UK’s vaccination booster jab rollout, saying:

This pandemic isn’t over and the UK is leading in both the science of defeating this virus, and in the rollout for vaccines here in the UK. We’re in a global race to make sure we defeat this pandemic.

This summer we led the charge on how we support rollout. Here in the UK, our vaccine rollout programme is setting the benchmark. And that’s why we’re able this year to not impose the very tough, quite draconian regulations we had to last year, in a way that other countries aren’t. So this is UK science leadership.

However, Burley repeatedly pressed him on when people in their twenties would be able book a booster jab. Freeman insisted the NHS and GP practices were rolling them out now.

Burley eventually said to him, rather exasperatedly “If you are in your twenties, you don’t know when you can have the jab. Just admit to that because that is fundamentally the case, isn’t it?”

Freeman replied “The case is that the NHS is rolling out the vaccine programme and if you contact your GP and book it, you will get your jab.”

To which Burley said: “It’s just not true. It’s just not true, minister.”

More than a third of pregnant women fear losing their jobs due to safety concerns about Covid in the workplace, according to a survey. Research from Maternity Action shows 36% are concerned about their work if they take time off or ask their employer to do more to protect them from Covid.

The charity is urging ministers to immediately overhaul health and safety rules for pregnant women in the workplace, which it says are “not fit for purpose”.

Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action, said: “The situation for pregnant women is dire and is only getting worse as the pandemic progresses.

“They are frankly right to be worried – because the system that is supposed to protect them is not fit for purpose. There is a vast gap between what the law says and actual employer practice, leaving women under huge pressure to work in unsafe conditions.”

Bragg said officials and organisations given the responsibility of enforcing workplace health and safety had “shown themselves wholly inadequate to the task”. Women are being left with an “unenviable choice” of either taking their employer to a tribunal to get basic health and safety protections or “carrying on working in an unsafe environment”.

Read more from our health editor Andrew Gregory’s report here: Pregnant women fear losing jobs over Covid safety worries, survey finds

Hello, it is Martin Belam here, taking over from Samantha Lock. It is science minister George Freeman doing the media round for the government in the UK this morning. I’ll bring you any lines that emerge from that in due course.

Summary

Here’s a quick snapshot of developments from the past few hours:

  • The Ukraine has recorded 13,531 new cases of Covid-19 for Wednesday.
  • Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
  • Thailand reported another 4,971 new Covid cases.
  • Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, AFP reports.
  • India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases and 277 for Wednesday, according to an update from the health ministry.
  • Germany has reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.
  • China is reporting 73 new Covid cases for Wednesday, a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, Reuters reports.
  • South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases with 5,266 cases recorded on Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
  • A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.
  • The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”. The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month.

The pandemic has seen a shift towards recreational drug users taking tiny doses of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, to improve their wellbeing and mental health, a leading addiction expert has said.

People were microdosing to self-medicate rather than following the trend, popularised in Silicon Valley, of consuming small amounts of psychedelics to enhance creativity, Prof Adam Winstock, the founder and director of the Global Drug Survey, said.

The 2021 survey found that among those respondents who both microdosed and took psychiatric drugs almost half reported reducing or stopping their prescribed medication.

Winstock, a London-based consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, said the findings suggested people had been experimenting with microdosing during the pandemic, perhaps due to increased waiting times for mental health services.

Our reporter, David Batty, has the full story here.

Pakistan has also released their Covid figures for the last 24 hours.

An additional 377 people are confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19, the ministry of national health services said in an update today.

There were eight deaths also recorded and 904 patients in critical care.

The Ukraine has just released their daily Covid numbers.

The European nation recorded 13,531 new cases of Covid-19 for Wednesday.

The figure included 1,346 children and 240 health workers, according to an update from the ministry of health.

Here’s a fun story from our reporter Amy Fleming on the ‘pandemic body’ and how the Covid era changed us.

From hair loss to weight gain, decaying teeth and sore eyes – the strange, difficult years of coronavirus have changed us physically.

Will we ever get back to our former selves?

Read the full story here.

Indonesia tightens travel curbs as it braces for Omicron arrival

Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron Covid variant, Reuters report.

The southeast Asian nation has also extended mandatory quarantine for arrivals from seven days to ten.

“This policy… will be evaluated every now and then as we understand and continue digging more information about this new variant,” senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a statement on Wednesday.

Travel to Indonesia from 11 countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria, will not be allowed, except for returning Indonesians, who will be subjected to 14 days of isolation.

New domestic travel measures include limiting the volume of traffic on toll roads to reduce people movement, according to the transport minister.

Official data in Indonesia shows a sharp reduction in new daily infections, with a daily average of about 400 last month compared to about 40,000 in July.

More than a third of its 270 million population are vaccinated.

A man walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the country tightens travel curbs in preparation for Omicron arrival.
A man walks past a coronavirus-themed mural in Jakarta, Indonesia, as the country tightens travel curbs in preparation for Omicron arrival. Photograph: Tatan Syuflana/AP

Updated

Canada has reported it’s first case of wildlife found infected with Covid-19 after three wild white-tailed deer were identified with the virus.

The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (CFIA) confirmed reports, saying the deer were sampled earlier in November in the Estrie region of Quebec.

However, the deer showed “no evidence of clinical signs of disease” and were all apparently healthy, according to a recent Environment and Climate Change Canada report.

Thailand has just released their daily Covid report.

The southeast Asian nation reported another 4,971 new Covid cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,125,729.

Another 33 deaths were also reported for Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 20,847.

Summary

It’s been another busy few hours as the world scrambles to make sense of the Omicron variant.

Here are the most important developments so far.

  • Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, AFP reports.
  • India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases and 277 for Wednesday, according to an update from the health ministry.
  • Germany has reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.
  • China is reporting 73 new Covid cases for Wednesday, a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, Reuters reports.
  • South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases with 5,266 cases recorded on Wednesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
  • A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.
  • The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”. The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month.

Hong Kong’s quarantine is pushing Cathay Pacific pilots to “breaking point” as many seek work elsewhere, Agence France-Presse reports.

The airline has been hit by a wave of pilot resignations in recent weeks as resentment over Hong Kong’s strict quarantine regime boils over and crew scramble for emerging opportunities overseas.

Hong Kong’s leaders are closely following Beijing’s closed-border zero-Covid strategy and say normalising travel with China must come before the rest of the world.

“Things are horrible, resignations are through the roof,” one pilot, who has more than 20 years’ flying experience and has applied to two rival airlines, told AFP.

There are a lot of guys at their breaking point. It’s actually amazing that we haven’t had an accident yet.”

For much of the pandemic Hong Kong has restricted inbound travel with as much as three weeks mandatory quarantine.

Resentment built throughout the pandemic but exploded last month when more than 270 people – made up of some 120 crew plus their families – were ordered into a government quarantine camp after three pilots tested positive on return from Germany.

The trio were later fired when Cathay said they had left their hotel rooms during their layover.

In a recording obtained by AFP, Cathay’s director of flight operations Chris Kempis told employees this week that there was “a higher resignation rate among pilots right now”.

In a statement, Cathay Pacific said it had to abide by Hong Kong’s regulations.

A Cathay Pacific Airways plane arrives in Sydney from Hong Kong on 30 November.
A Cathay Pacific Airways plane arrives in Sydney from Hong Kong on 30 November. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Updated

Western Australia is pitching itself to travellers as the “safest place” in the world from the Covid-19 pandemic, despite being a state almost no one can visit.

State premier Mark McGowan unveiled the $185m transition plan to reopen WA to the world at a state address on Wednesday. He said WA was now in the position to market itself internationally as the safest place from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The virtue of our careful and cautious approach, means Western Australia now has a new brand – of safety, stability and strength, and we will use that brand to market ourselves to the world,” he said.

The state has taken a hard-line stance to border control during the pandemic with the emergence of the Omicron variant prompting the federal government to reintroduce quarantine for some international travellers.

Read the full story here.

India has recorded another 9,765 daily Covid cases for Wednesday, bringing the cumulative total to 34.61m, according to an update from the health ministry.

Another 477 deaths were also recorded, bringing the total death toll to 469,724.

A primary school teacher instructs children on a street in Kolkata, India, on 30 November.
A primary school teacher instructs children on a street in Kolkata, India, on 30 November. Photograph: Dipa Chakraborty/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Will the Omicron Covid variant cancel Christmas?

The Guardian’s science correspondent Nicola Davis tells Hannah Moore the variant is so new to scientists there is not enough data to predict how serious a threat it could pose, but the next two weeks will be crucial.

Listen to our latest podcast episode below.

Here’s an analysis piece by our reporter Jo Chandler as to why Papua New Guinea’s Covid strategy went so wrong.

Public confusion and distrust over vaccination have been fuelled by what experts say are crippling failures in authorities’ response to the pandemic in the Pacific island nation.

Vaccine hesitancy has been a major issue and cause for concern in PNG, where just over 2% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Some health experts predict that Papua New Guinea will take five years to vaccinate just one-third of its population.

Other countries in the Pacific are also significantly lagging behind in vaccination rates with experts predicting a handful of nations will have less than a quarter of adults vaccinated by the end of the year.

Some Covid numbers from Germany are now in.

The European nation reported another 73,209 new Covid cases for Wednesday and 388 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.

The figures bring the total confirmed cumulative coronavirus cases in the nation to 5,977,208 with 102,178 deaths.

A crowd of people enjoy the Christmas market in Dortmund, Germany, 1 December, as the country recorded another 388 deaths on Wednesday.
A crowd of people enjoy the Christmas market in Dortmund, Germany, 1 December, as the country recorded another 388 deaths on Wednesday. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Updated

Japan is reportedly urging airlines to accommodate the needs of returning Japanese.

The country’s transport ministry has cancelled its blanket ban on accepting new reservations for inbound flights and asked airlines to accommodate the needs of returning Japanese, Reuters reports.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno added that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had asked the transport ministry to be mindful of returning Japanese given the confusion a suspension of new bookings installed on Wednesday had caused.

Shares in Asia have seen mixed fortunes so far in Thursday’s session after a volatile day of trading in the US on Wednesday.

The Nikkei was down 0.6% in Tokyo and the ASX200 was off 0.1% in Sydney as investors waited for clearer signals about the economic impact of the Omicron variant.

However, Hong Kong was up 0.18% and the Kospi in Seoul was riding a surge of 0.9%.

Updated

American multinational pharmaceutical company, Bristol Myers Squibb Co, was sued on Wednesday by four employees who said the drugmaker refused to grant them religious exemptions from its Covid-19 vaccination requirement, and threatened to fire them on 6 December for remaining unvaccinated, Reuters reports.

The plaintiffs in the proposed class action filed in Manhattan federal court accused Bristol Myers of violating a federal civil rights law known as Title VII by “systematically manufacturing” reasons to refuse religious accommodations.

The plaintiffs – reported by Reuters to be Carrie Kefalas, a physician overseeing clinical trial risk management for drug development; biotechnologist John Lott; data integrity manager Jeremy Beer, and biologist Kamila Dubisz – allege that Bristol Myers is concluding their politics is the real reason they won’t be vaccinated, regardless of whether they have sincere religious beliefs that independently would justify exemptions.

They objected to the company requiring they fill out “inquisitorial” questionnaires about their reasons for religious exemptions.

Bristol Myers said its priority during the pandemic has been the health and safety of communities, employees and patients. “Our policy that all eligible employees in (the) US and Puerto Rico be vaccinated against Covid-19 is consistent with this safety priority,” the New York-based company said in a statement to Reuters.

The complaint said Bristol Myers rejected Kefalas’ request because it thought her beliefs were insincere and she might not accept mask-wearing or regular Covid-19 testing. The company offered no reasons for the other rejections, the complaint said.

Bristol Myers referred in Kefalas’ rejection letter to several statements it said she made publicly, including that its vaccine requirement was a “communist, unamerican practice.”

The lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against Bristol Myers’ firing the plaintiffs or similarly situated employees.

A recent study out of the US has found that roughly one in every 100 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 will likely have central nervous system complications.

Researchers from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) – an association of radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related scientists – reported the findings on Tuesday.

“Much has been written about the overall pulmonary problems related to Covid-19, but we do not often talk about the other organs that can be affected,” said study lead author Scott H. Faro, M.D., FASFNR, professor of radiology and neurology and director of the Division of Neuroradiology/Head & Neck Imaging at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said.

Our study shows that central nervous system complications represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in this devastating pandemic.”

Among nearly 38,000 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in the United States and Europe, symptoms led doctors to suspect brain complications in about 11%.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) exams confirmed central nervous system abnormalities that were most likely associated with the virus in 10% of those patients, for an overall incidence of 1.2%.

The most common finding was stroke due to clogged arteries, but the researchers also saw bleeding in the brain, inflammation of the brain, and other potentially fatal complications.

China is reporting 73 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, 1 December, Reuters reports.

This is a decrease from the 113 reported Covid cases a day earlier, its health authority said.

Of the new infections, 53 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 91 a day earlier. All of the new locally transmitted cases were in Inner Mongolia.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.

Residents line up for a Covid-19 test following new cases reported in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China.
Residents line up for a Covid-19 test following new cases reported in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, China. Photograph: Reuters

Updated

South Korea hits new daily Covid record

South Korea has reported a new daily record in Covid cases on Thursday, amid concerns over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,266 cases for Wednesday, a day after the daily tally rose above 5,000 for the first time.

Authorities will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers for two weeks starting Friday, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people, the KDCA said.

The measure came after South Korea confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant late on Wednesday, including a fully vaccinated couple who arrived last week from Nigeria, followed by two of their family members and a friend.

The country has fully inoculated nearly 92% of adults and is now focusing on vaccinating children and a booster programme, but experts have warned that cases could continue to rise due in part to the spread of the potentially more transmissible variant.

Total infections rose to 457,612, with 3,705 deaths.

Two women wearing face masks walk in Seoul, South Korea, 29 November, as Covid-19 cases continue to grow.
Two women wearing face masks walk in Seoul, South Korea, 29 November, as Covid-19 cases continue to grow. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Updated

A large number of temporary and bridging Australian visa holders will be cut off from their families this Christmas despite the planned easing of border restrictions, causing further agony and uncertainty for those stuck in the country.

Restrictions are set to ease for some temporary visa holders in time for Christmas, including those on international skilled, student, humanitarian, working holiday and provisional family visas. This will allow them to leave and re-enter Australia without exemptions from 15 December.

But for holders of other types of temporary visas there is still no end in sight.

Read the full story here.

Omicron becomes dominant variant in South Africa

The heavily mutated Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”.

The variant now accounts for 74% of all the virus genomes sequenced in the nation last month after it was first found in a sample taken on 8 November in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province.

Covid cases have risen from a weekly average of around 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week and most recently to 3,500. A total of 8,561 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone – double the number of new cases recorded the day before, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the NICD, said the increase was “exponential” adding that the “rapidly increasing number of new daily cases” was “fuelled by the variant” known as Omicron, Agence France-Presse reports.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that data on how contagious Omicron was should be available “within days.”

A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg on 1 December as South Africa records a surge in cases.
A woman is vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Lenasia South Hospital, near Johannesburg on 1 December as South Africa records a surge in cases. Photograph: Shiraaz Mohamed/AP

Updated

Hello everyone, it’s Samantha Lock here, ready to take you through all the Covid news this Thursday.

It’s been a very busy few days on the Covid front as countries swiftly respond to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Let’s start with the news that the Omicron variant has propelled a sharp rise in Covid cases in South Africa as health experts describe the degree of increase as “worrying”.

Covid cases have risen from a weekly average of around 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week and most recently to 3,500. A total of 8,561 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone, according to data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Dr Michelle Groome, head of the NICD, said the increase was “exponential” adding that the “rapidly increasing number of new daily cases” was “fuelled by the variant” known as Omicron.

Here’s a quick rundown of everything you might have missed over the past 24 hours.

  • The US reported its first Omicron case identified in California and discovered in a traveller who returned from South Africa on 22 November and tested positive on 29 November.
  • The World Health Organization has urged countries to prioritise getting the unvaccinated vaccinated, both nationally and globally, rather than boosters.
  • Ministers in the UK have secured new contracts to buy 114m more Covid-19 vaccines for the next two years.
  • The US will extend requirements for travellers to wear masks on aeroplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March.
  • Greek lawmakers approved legislation making vaccination for Covid mandatory for all residents aged over 60. Some 17% of Greeks aged over 60 have not yet been vaccinated. They have until 16 January to get their first jabs, or will be fined 100 euros for every month they remain unvaccinated.
  • The United Arab Emirates announced its first known case of the new Covid variant Omicron.
  • Moderna could have a Covid booster shot targeting the Omicron variant tested and ready to file for US authorisation as soon as March, the company’s president said.
  • The EU must consider mandatory vaccination, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said. One-third of Europe’s 150-million population are not vaccinated.
  • The UN condemned the travel bans implemented in response to Omicron as “unfair, punitive and ineffective”.

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