Covid live: India records worst death toll in months; UK public urged to get booster jabs before Christmas

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: India records worst death toll in months; UK public urged to get booster jabs before Christmas” was written by Kevin Rawlinson, for theguardian.com on Sunday 5th December 2021 10.16 UTC

The UK’s deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has defended the government’s decision to reintroduce pre-departure tests. He has told Sky News:

I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country. We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.

We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.

The shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon accused ministers of being “very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe”. He told Sky News:

Well of course it was the Labour party who were calling for pre-testing to take place because we’re very concerned that the government consistently throughout the pandemic have been very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe, very late in terms of trying to … control the spread of that virus. And what we want to do is to make sure that we don’t jeopardise the vaccination rollout.

The worst thing in the world after all the sacrifices that we’ve made is that a new variant comes in and completely takes the rug from under that programme. And so it’s very important the government get a grip, it’s very important the government takes swift action and frankly it shouldn’t be for the opposition to keep continually one step ahead of the government. The government needs to take control themselves.

The opposition Labour party have also demanded a cap on the cost of PCR tests in the UK, saying it is “leaving many travellers forced to pay eye-watering sums to private providers”.

The party said some providers listed on the official government website were charging as much as £399 ($528, €466), while a review by the Competition and Markets Authority found the industry was setting “extremely high mark-ups” that “could not be explained by costs”.

And Labour pointed out France and Belgium already have such price caps. The shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said:

Many flying home for their first Christmas since the pandemic began will be hit with scandalous testing costs. Unscrupulous private providers are pocketing millions, and leaving many families forced to shell out huge sums.

Ministers are sitting on their hands while people who want to do the right thing are paying the price for this broken market.

The government must act ahead of the Christmas travel period, implement the recommendation of the regulator, and urgently consider bringing in a price cap to tackle the extortionate prices.

Updated

The new measures for England, which come into force at 4am GMT on Tuesday, were announced late on Saturday by the UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid and were immediately followed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.

It means passengers travelling to the UK will have to take either a PCR or a lateral flow test up to a maximum of 48 hours before they depart regardless of their vaccination status. Javid said:

We have always said we would act swiftly if we need to if the changing data requires it. These are temporary measures we want to remove them as soon as we possibly can. But, before we learn more about Omicron, it is right that we have these measures in place.

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the U-turn after ministers previously resisted calls to reintroduce pre-departure tests, but said they should have moved sooner.

We badly need them to learn the lessons on the importance of acting quickly on Covid border measures rather than each time having to be put under huge pressure to finally act.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it had acted in part because said new analysis by the UK Health and Security Agency (HSA) suggested the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant.

It said this increased the efficacy of pre-departure testing, making it more likely it would to identify positive cases before travel.

The government also said Nigeria was being added to the travel red list after 21 cases of the Omicron variant in England were linked to travel from the west African nation.

From 4am GMT on Monday, only British and Irish nationals and residents travelling from Nigeria will be allowed into the country and must isolate in a government-managed quarantine hotel.

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the rapidly changing measures meant planning was becoming impossible.

It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.

The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said pre-departure tests were a major deterrent to travel.

Most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday.

The UK’s travel industry has reacted with fury after it was announced all passengers arriving in the UK will have to take a pre-departure test amid fears about the spread of the Omicron variant.

Ministers said it was intended to be a temporary measure following new data showing an increase in the number of cases of the new strain linked to foreign travel.

The move, which will be introduced on Tuesday, was welcomed by Labour which has been pressing for the return of pre-departure tests since the variant was first identified in South Africa. But the party criticised the government for not acting sooner.

It came as the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) showed that, as of Saturday, a further 26 cases of the Omicron variant had been reported across the UK – taking the total so far to 160.

The travel sector said the return of pre-departure tests was another “hammer blow” for an industry which was just beginning to pick up again after the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

Clive Wratten, the chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said it directly contradicted assurances given by the transport secretary Grant Shapps and he called on the government to step in and support the sector.

The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry. Public safety is a priority but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from government.

The efficacy of vaccines against the new Omicron variant, which is spreading in Australia, remains unknown.

The most populous state, New South Wales, reported two more cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 15, and the Australian Capital Territory confirmed its second.

Parliament House was closed over the weekend to the public until further notice after a staffer to a member of parliament tested positive following the legislature’s final sitting week of the year on Friday.

The variant of that infection case has not been disclosed, but health authorities said the staff was fully vaccinated.

While nationwide vaccinations are voluntary, states and territories have mandated shots for many occupations, and some require full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail.

Australia’s overall childhood immunisation coverage is also one of the highest in the world, with 95% of five-year-olds inoculated with vaccines recommended for their age, health data show.

The Pfizer vaccine for those children still needs the approval of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Once approved, it will be available to about 2.3 million children aged from five to 11 years.

Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s largest cities – the country has had only about 834 confirmed cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation; a fraction of the toll in many other developed nations. Australia has had just under 217,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.

Australia’s medicine regulator has provisionally approved the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 years, with the health minister saying the rollout could begin from 10 January.

The Therapeutics Goods Administration “have made a careful, thorough assessment, determined that it is safe and effective and that it is in the interests of children and Australians for children 5 to 11 to be vaccinated,” said Greg Hunt.

After initial delays with its general inoculation programme, Australia has swiftly become one of the world’s most-vaccinated countries, with nearly 88% of Australians over the age of 16 having received two doses.

The high vaccination rate has helped slow the spread of the virus and promote a speedy economic recovery, with the government planning to raise its 2022 growth forecast within weeks, Reuters reports.

Oxfam Scotland welcomed Blackford’s letter. Its boss Jamie Livingstone said:

It’s hugely significant that the SNP’s Westminster leader has answered our call by adding his voice to the growing chorus of those who are demanding urgent action to stop pharmaceutical companies from artificially rationing global vaccine supply by holding lifesaving vaccine recipes and technologies hostage.

Vaccine inequality is both morally wrong and places people across Scotland at additional risk from the emergence of dangerous new variants, like Omicron, with epidemiologists warning all along that no one is safe until we all are.

The UK government is looking more and more isolated as it continues to stubbornly stand on the wrong side of history by choosing to put protecting patents and big-pharma’s profits above saving people’s lives.

The prime minister must now act. A failure to do so would be short-sighted, self-defeating and shameful.

A No 10 spokesperson has said:

The prime minister has been clear that no one is safe until we are all safe. The UK has been a world leader in ensuring developing countries can access vaccines, through our early support to the Covax scheme and commitment to donate surplus vaccines.

We are on track to meet our goal of donating 30m doses by the end of this year, and more next year. We have donated 23m doses already, of which 18.5m have gone to Covax to distribute to developing countries.

The UK is engaging constructively in the Trips waiver debate at the World Trade Organisation and we continue to be open to all ideas that have a positive impact on vaccine production and distribution.

The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson is being challenged to “do the right thing” and help ensure the world’s poorest nations can produce vaccines.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford demanded the UK prime minister “stop blocking” the vaccine intellectual property waiver – even if only on a temporary basis – so that developing nations can manufacture vaccines themselves.

He raised the issue in a letter to the Conservative leader, stressing that there needs to be a “truly effective global vaccine strategy” if coronavirus is to be defeated.

While the UK is rolling out booster vaccines to the population, the proportion of those in the developing world who have been jabbed is much lower.

At the end of November, it was reported some 54.2% of the global population had had at least one dose of a vaccine. But, in low-income countries, this falls to just 5.8%. Blackford said:

We will not defeat this virus if developing nations are left to rely on vaccine donations alone – especially considering the UK has only donated six million out of a pledged 100 million to the Covax initiative.

All countries must have the tools to allow them to produce Covid vaccines on home soil and ramp up production if we are to have a truly effective global vaccine strategy. That means ensuring they have access to the vaccine patents.

So I am urging Boris Johnson to do the right thing and stop blocking the vaccine intellectual property waiver – at least temporarily – to allow developing nations to manufacture the vaccines themselves.

This is a matter of global leadership. And, with over 100 states – including the USA –supporting the proposal, it is clear the UK is becoming increasingly isolated in blocking the waiver to support access to vaccines around the world.

Indeed, it is the least the UK government can do after it brutally slashed aid and hindered humanitarian projects around the world.

The emergence of the new Omicron variant has shown us that, until we achieve vaccine equality, new variants could continue to appear.

Therefore, it is in everybody’s interests that we share vaccine patents – it will be an essential step in beating Covid-19.

India suffers worst death toll in months, while British public urged to get booster jabs before Christmas

The UK’s health secretary Sajid Javid has called on the public to get the booster vaccine before spending time with their loved ones at Christmas. Javid said it was “absolutely crucial” the public “top-up” their immunity before the holidays.

A total of 19.8 million people had received their third jab by 4 December, while more than 51 million have had their first dose and almost 46.5 million their second.
The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that 20 million will have had the booster by 5 December. Javid has said:

Christmas is around the corner and it’s absolutely crucial that everybody who is eligible gets their booster jab to top-up their immunity before spending time with loved ones.

While our brilliant scientists learn more about the new Omicron variant, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our defences and vaccines are the best way to do that.

This is a national mission and we all have a role to play – so roll up your sleeves and get protected as soon as you can.

At the same time, India has reported its highest single-day death toll since July after two states revised their figures.

The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths, while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson has told the Reuters news agency. The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since 21 July, according to a Reuters tally.

A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected. Indian states have continued to add unreported deaths in recent months; lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.

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