Covid live: Italy reports record 220,532 new cases; UK records 379 new deaths

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: Italy reports record 220,532 new cases; UK records 379 new deaths” was written by Matthew Weaver (now); Tom Ambrose and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Tuesday 11th January 2022 18.29 UTC

France confirms record 368,149 new cases

France has reported a record of more than 350,000 new cases as health minister Olivier Véran warned.

The confirmed record figure for new cases is 368,149.

About three-quarters of teachers in France plan to strike on Thursday to protest against the government’s shifting rules on Covid forcing the closure of half the country’s primary schools, a union has warned.

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday.

After seeing long queues of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, especially since many parents remain unable to get vaccination appointments for children over five, available only since late December.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

Updated

Turkey warns of Omicron danger after record new cases

Turkey has become the latest country to announce a record number of cases, with 74,266 new infections.

There were 137 deaths related to coronavirus in the same period, the data showed. In late December, daily cases stood at around 20,000.

The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said:

As cases due to the Omicron variant become dominant, Omicron will be a source of danger for those in risk groups and it may lead to death among the elderly and the chronically ill.

Updated

Italy reports record 220,532 new cases

Italy has reported record 220,532 new cases, more than double the figure announced on Monday.

It also announced another 294 Covid-related deaths.

Italy has registered 139,559 deaths linked to the virus since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, and has reported 7.77 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid – not including those in intensive care – stood at 17,067 up from 16,340 a day earlier.

There were 185 admissions to intensive care units, against 114 on Monday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 1,677 from a previous 1,606.

Public health leaders have called for greater support for those affected with long Covid, warning that the surge in cases risks exacerbating existing health inequalities between rich and poor.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Local Government Association, they noted that, just as those from poorer backgrounds suffered a disproportionately high number of Covid infections, many of those affected by long Covid also came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dr Aiden Fowler, the national director of patient safety in England, said:

Because there is the highest prevalence in areas of deprivation, long Covid has the potential to worsen the health and wider socioeconomic inequalities that already occur, which could prove a challenge for local authorities.

Dr Dagmar Zeuner, the director of public health in the London borough of Merton, added that people working in occupations that brought them into contact with infected individuals, and who had little control over their environment, had already borne the brunt of infections. She said: “Now, these are also the ones that carry the burden of long Covid, so they are suffering to keep their jobs.”

Yet, they were not necessarily getting equal access to the long Covid clinics set up to help rehabilitate them. Zeuner said:

The people we are see now coming through are not mirroring those communities that are hit hardest.

We should unashamedly say that the main challenge and also the main opportunity is that we really use this new condition to focus on equity. We all want to reduce inequality, and these have been desperately exacerbated by Covid.

Their comments echo the findings of a report published last year, which suggested towns in north-west England were facing a growing health and economic crisis due to high numbers of long Covid cases.

Updated

Summary

Here’s a round up of Tuesday’s developments:

  • France’s health ministry is expected to announce a record of more than 350,000 new Covid infections over a 24-hour period, according to the health minister, Olivier Véran.
  • Novak Djokovic’s defence of his Australian Open title remains in doubt after reports that he might have given misleading information to Australian immigration officials.
    Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is still considering whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa despite his court victory on Monday. Officials are concerned about Djokovic’s claim on his entry form that he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on January 6.
  • Sweden has announced a record 70,641 new Covid cases since Friday. It also said there were a 54 new deaths from Covid.
  • The US has recorded a record number of hospitalisations due to Covid-19, as the daily infection rate soared to more than 1.35m. There were 145,982 people hospitalised with coronavirus on Monday, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The UK has recorded another 379 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. It also reported another 120,821 new cases, down on Monday’s new cases total of 142,224.
  • Some local authorities in Finland are defying government isolation measures in schools. Taina Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, said: “It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with.”
  • More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned.
    Regional director Hans Kluge said: “At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.”
  • The WHO also warned that it is too too soon to treat Omicron as a flu-like endemic illness. Senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said: “We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.
  • Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was hoarse and had a sore throat after testing positive for Covid for the second time. “It’s like a cold” he told reporters in a video message.
  • Germany has reported a daily rise of 45,690 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 322 deaths, according to the latest figures released by the Robert Koch Institute.
  • Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has called England’s relatively lax Covid rules an “unethical bet”. He warned against copying England’s pandemic response.
  • Poland’s death toll from Covid has surpassed 100,000. health minister Adam Niedzielski announced the grim milestone, saying: “Today we can say it is another sad day, but especially so because we have passed the level of 100,000 Covid deaths.”
  • The central Chinese city of Anyang has ordered five million people to begin home confinement in a new lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron variant. Residents are not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, while all non-essential businesses have been closed and outbound travel is restricted, state news agency Xinhua reports.

Slovenia and Serbia have both reported record numbers of new cases amid the spread of Omicron, Reuters reports.

Slovenia, which has vaccinated 67.3% of its about 2 million-strong population with at least two dozes so far, reported 5,164 new cases, up 52% from a week before, according to the National Institute for Public Health.

Serbia reported 13,693 new cases and 22 deaths. The total number of registered cases in Serbia is 1,359,544, while 12,958 people have died since the outbreak nearly two years ago.

Mexico’s Interior Minister Adan Augusto watches a video message of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was diagnosed with coronavirus a second time
Mexico’s Interior Minister Adan Augusto watches a video message of Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was diagnosed with coronavirus a second time
Photograph: Luis Cortes/Reuters

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was hoarse and had a sore throat after testing positive for Covid for the second time, AP reports.

The president’s reinfection mirrored a spike in coronavirus cases in Mexico that appears to be due to the spread of the omicron variant.

But López Obrador predicted that “this virus is on its way out” and that “things will get back to normal very soon.”

The president appeared on a video feed at the morning press briefing he normally runs at the National Palace in Mexico City. He was isolating after testing positive Monday, days after at least two members of his cabinet also tested positive.

López Obrador said he would wear a mask — something he has been loath to do — and suggested he had the omicron variant, saying “fortunately, this variant does not have the degree of danger that Delta did, and I am experiencing that.”

López Obrador said he had no fever, and his oxygenation was good. “It is like a cold,” he said of his symptoms. The president is fully vaccinated, and has had a booster shot.

Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said López Obrador could return to the briefings as early as next week.

The tennis star Novak Djokovic has been training with coach Goran Ivanisevic in Melbourne.

Djokovic’s participation at the Australian Open remains in doubt while he awaits a verdict from Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke.

The Australian Border Force is investigating whether Novak Djokovic incorrectly declared he had not travelled and would not do so for two weeks before his flight to Australia.

Questions have been raised about the declaration completed by an agent for Djokovic, with social media posts seemingly showing he was in Belgrade on Christmas Day before flying to Australia, from Spain, on 4 January.

 

Police in Germany have criticised for using a Covid contact tracing as part of an investigation into a fatal fall, AFP reports.

The case stemming from November last year began after man fell to his death after leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.

Serbian PM Ana Brnabic poses for a photograph an during interview with Reuters, in Belgrade
Serbian PM Ana Brnabic poses for a photograph an during interview with Reuters, in Belgrade
Photograph: Zorana Jevtic/Reuters

Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabić, says she is neither optimistic nor pessimistic about Novak Djokovic being allowed to play in the Australian Open.

Speaking to Reuters she said:

I hope that final decision will be announced soon. Uncertainty is not good for any of the stakeholders, neither Djokovic nor the Australian Open.

She said she was “neither optimistic nor pessimistic” as to whether Djokovic would be permitted to stay in Australia, where he would be bidding for a record 21st grand slam title.

Brnabić, who spoke to her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, late on Monday, said her government was ready to provide guarantees that Djokovic would respect local regulations while in Australia.

Non-residents who are unvaccinated against Covid cannot enter Australia unless they are exempted. Djokovic, who is not vaccinated, based his exemption on contracting the virus last month. The government argued his exemption case was inadequate, but the court overturned that decision.

Asked about Djokovic’s attending a Belgrade Tennis Association event on 17 December a day after he tested positive, Brnabić said the star would have “clearly violated the rules” had he known of the test result before he participated.

However, additional clarification was needed, she said.

I don’t know when he received the test result, when he read it.

Updated

UK reports 379 new Covid deaths

The UK has recorded another 379 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. It also reported another 120,821 new cases, down on Monday’s new cases total of 142,224.

A total of 19,828 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of 10 January, the government’s figures show.

This is up 21% week on week and is the highest number since 16 February 2021.

It is also just over half the peak recorded during the second wave of coronavirus, which was 39,254 on 18 January 2021.

Updated

Russia has warned it could face a “very intense” rise in Omicron cases in the coming weeks, Reuters reports.

Speaking at a televised meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force, Anna Popova, a top consumer health official, said Russia had so far recorded 305 cases of Omicron across 13 of its regions.

“The risk of a very intense rise in (cases) of the disease is real,” she said.

Omicron has pushed case figures to record highs in parts of western Europe and the US, while cases in Russia have generally been declining from a peak of 41,335 registered in early November.

Officials said they now feared the trend could rapidly reverse and Popova warned that daily infections could hit “six figures” if proper sanitary measures were not observed.

Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, told Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin at the televised meeting that the capital, which has a population of 12.7 million, was already seeing a significant increase in Omicron cases.

He said special measures would be taken to tackle the rise in cases, without elaborating.

“It’s necessary to mobilise more hospital beds, to mobilise the health system,” Sobyanin said.

The Kremlin has frequently expressed frustration at the slow uptake of the domestically-made Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19, with many citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products.

Updated

The risk of a hard landing for large parts of the global economy is rising as countries struggle to cope with the triple threat of Covid-19, inflation and higher interest rates, the World Bank has warned.

In its half-yearly forecasts, the Washington DC-based Bank said it expected a “pronounced slowdown” in growth in the next two years, with the less well-off parts of the world especially hard hit.

David Malpass, the World Bank’s president, called for action to reduce the debts of poor countries and said he was “very worried” about the permanent scarring of development caused by the pandemic.

Read the full story here:

Restrictions on large outdoor events in Scotland will be lifted from next Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has told the Holyrood parliament.

See more here:

The US has recorded a record number of hospitalisations due to Covid-19, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services as the daily infection rate soared to more than 1.35m.

There were 145,982 people hospitalised with coronavirus on Monday, according to HHS data. Reuters reported that the previous high was 132,051, set in January 2021.

According to Reuters there were 1.35m new Covid infections on Monday, also a record high. Measures vary and observers point out that many home tests are not officially logged. But NBC News reported at least 1,343,167 new infections.

Read the full story here:

Updated

A technical advisory group established by the World Health Organization has warned that current vaccines may need to be updated to ensure they are effective against new variants like Omicron.

In a statement the group said:

The composition of current Covid vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that Covid vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs, including Omicron and future variants.

[The group] will consider a change in vaccine composition to ensure that vaccines continue to meet the criteria established in WHO’s Target Product Profile for Covid-19 vaccines, including protection against severe disease to improve vaccine-induced protection.

Updated

Finland’s local authorities have refused to implement strict isolation measures to stem coronavirus infections in schools despite advice from the government, Reuters reports.

Finland’s minister in charge of the Covid response, Krista Kiuru, warned on Friday that long Covid could become Finland’s largest chronic disease and that children were also at risk.

She said she feared returning to school was not safe and called for local authorities to implement strict quarantines at schools, in which one pupil’s Covid infection would result in quarantine for the entire exposed class.

But Taina Isosomppi, Helsinki’s chief epidemiologist, told Reuters the capital region’s municipalities were not going to follow the minister’s advice. Isosomppi said:

It would be disproportionate to implement large-scale quarantines at schools when they have not been a high-risk environment to begin with.

Mandating quarantines is no longer an effective way to control the epidemic.

Last week, Isosomppi and nine other leading Finnish infection specialists published an open letter against a plan proposed by Kiuru’s ministry to reintroduce school closures and going back to remote learning.

Updated

France to announce record 350,000 new infections

France’s health ministry is expected to announce a record of more than 350,000 new Covid infections over a 24-hour period, according to the health minister, Olivier Véran, Reuters reports.

The previous record of 332,252 daily new cases was set on 5 January and since then France has had two more days of more than 300,000 new cases over 24 hours as the highly contagious Omicron has become the dominant variant.

The seven-day moving average of new cases rose to nearly 270,000 on Monday.

Veran told lawmakers:

Another 350,000 new infections will be reported this evening, even a little more than that. We have never before seen such numbers since the start of the health crisis.

By mid-January, the French government hopes to introduce a vaccine pass that will make vaccination mandatory for anyone wanting to go to restaurants or attend indoor events.

Until now, proof of vaccination or a recent negative test were sufficient.

Updated

Cold weather in the north-east of the US has forced the closure of some Covid testing centres.

New Hampshire’s health department announced that four Covid-19 testing sites would be closed because of the cold. The sites are in Claremont, Manchester, Nashua and Newington.

Coronavirus loses 90% of its ability to infect us within five minutes of becoming airborne, the world’s first simulations of how the virus survives in exhaled air suggest.

The findings re-emphasise the importance of short-range Covid transmission, with physical distancing and mask-wearing likely to be the most effective means of preventing infection. Ventilation, though still worthwhile, is likely to have a lesser impact.

“People have been focused on poorly ventilated spaces and thinking about airborne transmission over metres or across a room. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but I think still, the greatest risk of exposure is when you’re close to someone,” said Prof Jonathan Reid, director of the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre and the study’s lead author.

Read the full story here:

Sweden has announced 70,641 new cases since Friday, which is believed to be a record rise.

It also announced 54 new deaths from Covid.

On Monday, Sweden set out stricter pandemic measures in response to a rising number of Covid cases and pressure on hospitals.

The prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, said: “The situation has deteriorated, without doubt. The level of infections in Sweden is at a historically high level.”

The rise in cases means Sweden’s new cases have doubled in five days.

Updated

Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Albares, has said he does not have any information on whether tennis star Novak Djokovic visited Spain before travelling to Australia.

Asked by a reporter if he knew whether Djokovic had entered Spain in December, potentially invalidating a declaration the player completed on travelling to Australia, Albares responded:

I have no record of this presence of Djokovic.

We have not been contacted by the Australian government to request such documentation.

Australian media reported that officials are concerned about Djokovic’s claim on his entry form that he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on 6 January.

Social media posts have appeared to make clear that Djokovic attended events in Belgrade and Marbella during the period in question. Djokovic has reportedly claimed that Tennis Australia filled in the form on his behalf.

Djokovic took part in a Davis cup tournament in Madrid in early December.

Novak Djokovic reacts during the 2021 Davis Cup Finals semifinal between Croatia and Serbia in Madrid, on 3 December 2021
Novak Djokovic reacts during the 2021 Davis Cup Finals semifinal between Croatia and Serbia in Madrid, on 3 December 2021
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, right, during a press conference in September as interior minister, Adan Augusto, looks on
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, right, during a press conference in September as interior minister, Adan Augusto, looks on
Photograph: Luis Barron/Eyepix Group/REX/Shutterstock

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is “doing well without serious symptoms” after being diagnosed with Covid for the second time, the country’s interior minister, Adán Augusto, said on Tuesday.

Augusto would take over a regular morning news conference while López Obrador, 68, recovered, the president said after announcing he tested positive on Monday.

Updated

New Delhi ordered the closure of non-essential offices and restaurants and bars but offered free online yoga classes to those in home isolation, as Covid cases soar, AFP reports.

With case numbers rising six-fold over the past week, the Indian government is terrified of a repeat of last year when thousands died of the virus every day and the health system teetered on the brink of collapse.

While stopping short of a full lockdown, authorities have steadily increased restrictions nationwide and capacity at private offices and eateries in the capital was already restricted to 50%.

But those in home isolation can take free online yoga classes, with Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, saying that it would help patients “boost their immunity and attain mental and spiritual peace”.

India’s capital registered 17 deaths each on Saturday and Sunday, the biggest single-day toll in more than 200 days. Every fourth person tested is coming back positive.

Nationally, India recorded almost 170,000 new cases on Monday, almost half the daily number recorded during the surge of last April and May. Deaths remain a fraction of what they were but are rising.

Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex scientific body, on Monday tweaked its mandatory testing guidelines to ease the strain on the testing infrastructure.

Healthy, asymptomatic contacts of confirmed coronavirus patients no longer require mandatory testing.

Experts say that India is better prepared to deal with the latest coronavirus wave, driven by the Omicron variant, than last year.

The country has now administered more than 1.5bn vaccine shots and recently opened the programme to teenagers. It has also begun giving boosters to vulnerable groups.

Updated

The US has agreed to buy 600,000 more doses of GSK and Vir Biotechnology’s Covid antibody therapy for an undisclosed sum, according to the drugmakers, Reuters reports.

The additional doses of sotrovimab would be supplied to the US in the first quarter of 2022, the companies said, taking the tally of doses secured by nations worldwide to roughly 1.7m.

In November, the US government signed contracts worth about $1bn for an unknown number of doses of the treatment, after saying it would control the distribution of sotrovimab.

Sotrovimab, given via an infusion, belongs to a class of medicines called monoclonal antibodies, which are lab-generated compounds that mimic the body’s natural defences. Tests have indicated that it works against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Scientists and governments are scrambling to bolster defences against Omicron with testing, shots and therapies, as the variant threatens to become dominant globally by evading protection offered by current vaccines and drugs.

GSK and Vir said they expect to produce roughly 2m doses of sotrovimab globally in the first half of 2022.

Updated

Brazil has become the latest country where Omicron has become the dominant Covid variant.

The health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, told reporters: “It already is the predominant variant in Brazil, we are seeing cases rising.”

He said Brazil did not expect to see higher hospitalisation and death levels, citing Brazil’s vaccination programme.

Updated

Shares in the Spanish drugmaker PharmaMar jumped almost 20% after it said lab trials suggested its Plitidepsin drug was effective against Covid variants including Omicron, Reuters reports.

Results from in-vitro tests published in the Life Science Alliance journal showed that Plitidepsin, also known as Aplidin, had a potent antiviral effect in all variants and decreased the viral load detected in animal lung tissue by 99%, the company said.

The same paper also included previously published positive effects in Phase I and II clinical trials carried out on patients who were hospitalised with Covid.

The drug, originally developed as a cancer treatment, is now undergoing Phase III trials.

“All data we have seen so far with Plitidepsin corroborate our initial hypothesis about its antiviral activity,” PharmaMar’s chairman, Jose Maria Fernandez Sousa, said in a statement.

Shares in the company rose 19% in early afternoon trade, on track for their best day in nearly a year. The shares had gained about 20% in January last year, also following encouraging news on Plitidepsin.

Updated

Germany’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, has called England’s relatively lax Covid rules an “unethical bet”, Politico reports:

The Social Democrat health chief is known for his tough approach to the pandemic, including a pro-mandatory vaccination position. After advocating for stricter rules in the hospitality sector last Friday and facing rapidly increasing case numbers, Lauterbach warned against copying England’s pandemic response.

“From my point of view, it’s an unethical bet,” he said, of England’s laissez-faire approach to the Omicron wave of coronavirus.

Updated

The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest charity, is ramping up spending on science research to £16bn over the next 10 years, with a focus on funding next-generation Covid-19 vaccines, after it reaped the highest investment returns in a quarter of a century.

Read the full story here:

It is too soon to treat Omicron as a flu-like endemic illness, the World Health Organization has warned, Reuters reports.

On Sunday, the UK’s education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, called for the UK to show the rest of the world how to move from pandemic to endemic Covid.

But that is “a way off”, WHO’s senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, said at a news briefing today. She adding that endemicity requires a stable and predictable transmission.

Smallwood said:

We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges. We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic.

It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage.

Omicron has become the dominant variant in the Philippines, according to the health minister, Francisco Duque.

He said Omicron replaced Delta as the dominant variant in the country on Monday, with 60% of the samples in the most recent genome sequencing testing positive for Omicron.

From left to right Nikola Minchev - Chairman of the National Assembly, Rumen Radev - President of Bulgaria, and Kiril Petkov - Prime minister at a ceremony of sanctification of Bulgarian battle flags in Sofia on 6 January
From left to right Nikola Minchev – Chairman of the National Assembly, Rumen Radev – President of Bulgaria, and Kiril Petkov – Prime minister at a ceremony of sanctification of Bulgarian battle flags in Sofia on 6 January
Photograph: Georgi Paleykov/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Bulgaria’s prime minister Kiril Petkov, President Rumen Radev and other officials have gone into quarantine after being in contact with the parliamentary speaker, who tested positive for Covid, AFP reports.

Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, with experts blaming low trust in the authorities and widespread conspiracy theories.

“Prime Minister Kiril Petkov is self-isolating … he continues to work remotely,” the government press service said.

Radev’s office also said the president and members of his administration were isolating but added they were “all in good health.”

Parliament speaker Nikola Minchev tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a five-hour meeting of the National Security Council hosted by Radev on Monday afternoon.

The talks were attended by key ministers – including those of the interior, defence and finance – as well as lawmakers and security sector officials.

Chief health inspector Angel Kunchev said all of them had gone into quarantine.

The Omicron variant is fuelling a fresh surge in cases, with 5,219 patients in hospital on Tuesday and 570 in intensive care.

A west-to-east “tidal wave” of Omicron infections risks submerging health systems across Europe, the World Health Organization has said, warning that more than half the region’s population will be infected with the variant in the next two months.

Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said the region had recorded more than 7m new cases in the first week of 2022, double the rate a fortnight previously, with more than 1% of the population catching Covid-19 each week in 26 countries.

Kluge said the variant had now been reported in 50 of the Europe region’s 53 states and was becoming dominant in western Europe. “At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks”, he said – a scale of transmission he described as unprecedented.

Its impact would be deadliest where vaccination rates were lower such as central and eastern Europe, Kluge warned, saying he was “deeply concerned” that as the variant moves east, “we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated”.

In Denmark, he said, where Omicron cases had “exploded in recent weeks”, the Covid-19 hospitalisation rate for unvaccinated patients during Christmas week had been was six times higher than for those who were fully vaccinated.

Read the full story here:

Updated

WHO: Most Europeans could contract Omicron by March

More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned, AFP reports.

Speaking at a press conference, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the European region.

He said:

At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were “catching Covid-19 each week,” as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.

Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and “the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.”

However, Kluge also stressed that “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.”

Summary

Here is a round-up of the top Covid stories from the day so far:

  • Scars left by the Covid-19 pandemic have deepened the divide between rich and poor countries and will make it harder to find common cause in the fight against global heating, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • The UK’s main statistical body has reported more than 175,000 deaths involving Covid since the start of the pandemic where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.
  • Germany is reporting a daily rise of 45,690 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 322 deaths, according to the latest figures released by the Robert Koch Institute.
  • Porfirije, the 46th Patriarch of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian denomination, has tested positive for Covid, his office said on Tuesday.
  • Poland’s total Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 100,000.
  • Health officials have clarified that the recommended Covid self-isolation period in the US is shorter than in the UK at a time when the prime minister is considering reducing it to five days.
  • Nearly 1 million Hindu worshippers are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges River this Friday and Saturday for a holy bathe despite soaring Covid infections across the country, an official told Reuters.
  • The central Chinese city of Anyang has ordered five million people to begin home confinement today in a new lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron variant. Residents are not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, while all non-essential businesses have been closed and outbound travel is restricted, state news agency Xinhua reports.
  • France announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes across the country.
  • At least 600,000 passengers cancelled plans to fly from Heathrow in December due to the Omicron coronavirus strain and the introduction of tougher travel restrictions, the airport said.
  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose.
  • Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he has tested positive for Covid-19 for a second time, saying that he only has light symptoms.
  • Taiwan has tightened its entry requirements for new arrivals in the latest move to head off a large-scale Omicron outbreak.

That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. My colleague Matthew Weaver will be along shortly to pick up to global Covid live blog. Goodbye for now.

Slovenia reported a record 5,164 new Covid cases on Tuesday, a 52% rise from a week before, amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

Slovenia has vaccinated 67.3% of its population with at least two doses so far, according to the National Institute for Public Health.

Updated

The UK’s main statistical body has reported more than 175,000 deaths involving Covid since the start of the pandemic where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.

The ONS has reported 176,035 deaths since March 2020, a figure that differs significantly from the government’s official count – which exceeded 150,000 deaths over the weekend – which requires patients to have had a positive test within 28 days of their death.

The ONS figures are considered to be more accurate. However, due to delays in death registration they are not as up-to-date as the government figures.

A total of 3,891 people have died of Covid since the first case of the Omicron variant was discovered in the UK on 27 November. However, the average lag between infection and deaths is 16-18 days and can be up to eight weeks, according to the ONS, so the Omicron death toll may increase further in coming weeks.

Updated

Scars left by the Covid-19 pandemic have deepened the divide between rich and poor countries and will make it harder to find common cause in the fight against global heating, according to the World Economic Forum.

A WEF report puts climate or environment-related threats in the top five slots in its list of the 10 long-term risks but warned a “vaccine divide” was making collaboration to limit temperature increases more difficult.

In its annual global risks survey, the WEF – which has postponed its annual meeting in Davos until the summer because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant – said the mood among its members was downbeat.

Only 16% of those who responded to the survey said they were optimistic about the outlook for the world, while 11% believe the global recovery will accelerate. Most respondents envisaged the next three years to be marked by either volatility and shocks or by a widening of the gap between winners and losers.

Updated

Porfirije, the 46th Patriarch of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian denomination, has tested positive for Covid, his office said on Tuesday.

Porfirije, 60, “remains with very mild symptoms and … will be treated at home”, his office said in a statement.

“His Holiness has … has been prescribed appropriate therapy,” it said. “He prays for doctors and medical staff and especially for everyone affected by the epidemic.”

Last year, Porfirije also went into isolation after being in contact with an infected priest.

Updated

UK health officials backtrack on US Covid isolation comparison

Health officials have clarified that the recommended Covid self-isolation period in the US is shorter than in the UK at a time when the prime minister is considering reducing it to five days.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) previously said the isolation period was in effect the same in both countries. It said the recommended minimum of six full days in the UK was counted from the onset of symptoms, while in the US the five-day isolation began from the day of a positive test, which could be several days after the first symptoms.

However, the UKHSA has updated its blogpost, which now states: “In the UK our advice is to self-isolate for at least six full days from the point at which you have symptoms or get a positive test, whichever is first.”

It continued: “In the United States, the advice is to isolate for at least five full days from the same point.”

Updated

In the US, students are set to return to Chicago public schools after leaders of the teachers’ union approved a plan with the nation’s third-largest district over Covid safety protocols, ending a bitter standoff that cancelled classes for five days.

The deal approved late on Monday would have students in class Wednesday and teachers back a day earlier. It still requires approval with a vote of the union’s roughly 25,000 members.

Issues on the table have been metrics to close schools amid outbreaks and expanded Covid testing, the Associated Press reported.

Neither side immediately disclosed full details of the proposal on Monday evening, but leaders generally said the agreement included measures to close individual schools and plans to boost district Covid testing. The district notified parents in the largely low-income black and Latino school district of about 350,000 students that classes would resume Wednesday.

“We know this has been very difficult for students and families,” mayor Lori Lightfoot said at an evening news conference. “Some will ask who won and who lost. No one wins when our students are out of the place where they can learn the best and where they’re safest.”

Lori Lightfoot.
Lori Lightfoot.
Photograph: Kamil Krzaczyński/Reuters

Updated

At least 600,000 passengers cancelled plans to fly from Heathrow in December due to the Omicron coronavirus strain and the introduction of tougher travel restrictions, the airport said.

Fears over the Covid variant meant that, from late November, all travellers arriving in the UK were required to take a pre-departure lateral flow test and self-isolate until they received a negative result from a post-arrival PCR test.

This led to many people scrapping their travel plans over the festive period, PA Media reported. The new rules were relaxed for fully vaccinated arrivals last week after travel firms said they were ineffective due to Omicron spreading widely within the UK.

Passengers walking in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, Jan. 7, 2022.
Passengers walking in Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport in London last week.
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

A total of 19.4 million people travelled through Heathrow across the whole of last year. This was less than a quarter of the pre-pandemic level in 2019, and 12.3% down on 2020.

Travel to and from the Asia/Pacific region in 2021 was down 40.3% year-on-year. The other markets with double-digit reductions were non-EU Europe (down 13.8%) and North America (down 13.6%). Domestic travel bucked the trend, with a 21.1% boost in passengers compared with 2020.

Updated

Allegations of parties at British prime minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office will have caused hurt to people who lost loved ones to Covid but there must be time for a full investigation to establish what happened, a minister said.

“I can understand the hurt that these reports, these allegations, will have caused, particularly for those who’ve lost loved ones,” junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky News on Tuesday following a new report of alleged rule breaking, adding it was right that Johnson had previously commissioned a civil servant to investigate similar allegations.

“It wouldn’t be appropriate … for me to comment on those ongoing conversations or her ongoing investigation. We’ve got to give a space to conclude that investigation.”

Updated

The Covid pandemic has made the outlook worse for people in the UK with the least survivable cancers, such as pancreatic, stomach and brain cancer, campaigners have said.

A quarter of cancers in the UK have an average five-year survival rate of only 16% and are often diagnosed late in emergency departments, the Press Association reported.

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) has launched its first awareness day to ask for greater focus on early diagnosis and more research, as well as a government commitment to increase survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28% by 2029.

It said data shows that around 3% of breast and 8% of prostate cancers are diagnosed in an emergency, but this jumps to 53% for pancreatic or central nervous system cancers including brain, 45% for liver, 35% for lung, 30% for stomach and 21% for oesophageal cancers.

Screening programmes for these less survivable cancers do not exist and many people are unaware of the symptoms. LSCT chairwoman Anna Jewell said:

We know that delays in diagnosis lead to much poorer outcomes for patients with these rapidly-advancing cancers. We also know the trauma associated with receiving a diagnosis in an emergency setting for both patients and families.

These cancers are currently difficult or impossible to treat at later stages and the time from diagnosis to death is often brutally short compared to more survivable cancers. The situation is critical and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The taskforce is calling for a significant increase in research funding as well as a commitment to increasing resources for early diagnosis for less survivable cancers so we can close the deadly cancer gap.

Updated

Nearly 1 million Hindu worshippers are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges River this Friday and Saturday for a holy bathe despite soaring Covid infections across the country, an official told Reuters.

India reported 168,063 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, a 20-fold rise in a month despite testing being well below capacity.

However, most infected people have recovered at home and the level of hospitalisations has been less than half of that seen during the last major wave of infections in April and May.

Many states have announced night curfews while the capital Delhi has also imposed a weekend lockdown, closed private offices as well as restaurants and bars in a bid to rein in the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

But tens of thousands of pilgrims have already reached the site of the annual Ganges ritual on an island in the eastern state of West Bengal, which is reporting the most number of cases in the country after Maharashtra state in the west.

Hindu monk wearing a face shield seen at a transit camp for Gangasagar Mela at Babughat.
Hindu monk wearing a face shield seen at a transit camp for Gangasagar Mela at Babughat.
Photograph: Sumit Sanyal/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

“The crowd may swell to anywhere between 800,000 to one million. We are trying to implement all Covid protocols,” Bankim Chandra Hazra, a West Bengal minister in charge of organising the festival known as the Gangasagar Mela, told Reuters.

“We have also arranged for sprinkling of the holy water from drones so that there is no crowding … but the sadhus [Hindu holy men] are bent on taking the dip. We can’t prevent them.”

Updated

Hello, I’m Tom Ambrose and will be bringing you all the latest Covid news from around the world over the next few hours.

We begin with news that people living in the England who test positive for Covid on a lateral flow device but do not develop symptoms will no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm their result while they self-isolate.

The new approach has now come into force after it was announced last week by the UK Health Security Agency, Sky News reported.

Most people who receive positive lateral flow results can now be confident they have Covid, with infection rates high across the country, according to health chiefs.

From January 11, asymptomatic people in England who test positive will no longer require a confirmatory PCR.
From January 11, asymptomatic people in England who test positive will no longer require a confirmatory PCR.
Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Updated

Will Covid-19 become less dangerous as it evolves?

Linda Geddes, the Guardian’s science correspondent, attempts to answer this question in light of recent warnings from experts that viral evolution is not a one-way street and a continuing fall in virulence cannot be taken for granted.

The pandemic has been awash with slogans, but in recent weeks, two have been repeated with increasing frequency: “Variants will evolve to be milder” and “Covid will become endemic”.

Read the full story here.

Updated

Poland’s total Covid-19 death toll has surpassed 100,000.

In an interview with broadcaster TVN24, health minister Adam Niedzielski announced the grim milestone, saying: “Today we can say it is another sad day, but especially so because we have passed the level of 100,000 Covid deaths.”

An additional 11,400 coronavirus infections and 493 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hour reporting period, local media report.

Ukraine also reported another 5,429 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 219 deaths, according to health ministry data.

Updated

Lords watchdog assesses complaint against Michelle Mone over PPE firm

The House of Lords commissioners for standards are considering a complaint against the Conservative peer Michelle Mone, relating to the PPE business awarded £203m government contracts after she referred it to the Cabinet Office in May 2020.

The Labour peer George Foulkes complained to the commissioners on 6 January after the Guardian reported that leaked files appear to suggest Mone and her husband, the Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, were secretly involved in the company, PPE Medpro.

After the company was awarded contracts in May and June 2020, Mone and Barrowman have consistently denied any “role or function” in PPE Medpro. Lawyers for Mone, who ran the lingerie company Ultimo before David Cameron made her a peer in 2015, have said she “was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”.

Read the full story here.

Updated

Germany is reporting a daily rise of 45,690 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 322 deaths, according to the latest figures released by the Robert Koch Institute.

Summary of key developments

If you’ve just joined us, hello and welcome to the Covid live blog. Here’s a quick rundown of everything you might have missed.

Europe:

  • Boris Johnson was accused on Monday night of an “utterly outrageous” breach of lockdown rules as a leaked email showed one of his top officials invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” party during the first lockdown. The police are now investigating.
  • Boris Johnson has ordered officials to examine plans to cut Covid isolation to five days in England as scientists urged caution over the lack of evidence to support a change.
  • NHS England has struck a deal with private healthcare providers under which their hospitals will be ready to start treating NHS patients who cannot get the Covid or non-Covid care they need because their local NHS hospital is under too much pressure.
  • France announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes across the country.

Asia:

  • The central Chinese city of Anyang has ordered five million people to begin home confinement today in a new lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron variant. Residents are not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, while all non-essential businesses have been closed and outbound travel is restricted, state news agency Xinhua reports.
  • Taiwan has tightened its entry requirements for new arrivals in the latest move to head off a large-scale Omicron outbreak.
  • Beijing will not adjust its Covid-19 prevention measures for the Winter Olympics unless there are many cases inside the “closed-loop”, an official said on Tuesday.
  • Hong Kong will begin offering Covid-19 vaccines for children over the age of five, as the city-state suspends classes in kindergartens and primary schools, its chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.
  • Japan will maintain its tight entry restrictions until the end of February, prime minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday.

Americas:

  • Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose.
  • Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced he has tested positive for Covid-19 for a second time, saying that he only has light symptoms.
  • Pfizer Inc chief executive Albert Bourla has said a redesigned Covid-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant is likely needed and his company could have one ready to launch by March.
  • Novak Djokovic’s family confirmed the tennis star had tested positive for Covid-19 on 16 December. However, they shut down a press conference after reporters asked if he then attended an event on 17 December where parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and children not wearing masks.

Returning to the Djokovic drama briefly, Guardian reporter Tumaini Carayol attempts to unpack the mayhem, posing the question: does the case create more questions than answers?

Read the full story below.

Taiwan has tightened its entry requirements for new arrivals in the latest move to head off a large-scale Omicron outbreak.

Beginning today, passengers on long-haul flights from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand will be given a rapid PCR test at the airport immediately upon arrival.

Those who test positive will be taken directly to hospital with their luggage. Those who test negative will be allowed to continue through the arrival process, which includes a non-rapid PCR test at the airport (with results sent later), being sprayed with disinfectant, and put in designated transport to a quarantine hotel or facility.

Health and welfare minister Chen Shih-chung said:

We hope to move the ‘line of defense’ to the front line to reduce the risk of infection during the entry process.

As the incubation period of the Omicron variant [of SARS-CoV-2] is much shorter, we believe a large proportion of infected travellers will be detected at the airport under the new policy.”

A worker in PPE waits to disinfect compartment of train in Taipei, Taiwan.
A worker in PPE waits to disinfect compartment of train in Taipei, Taiwan.
Photograph: Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Taiwan’s entry requirements are already extraordinarily strict. No non-residents/citizens are allowed in without prior exemption, and everyone must have a negative PCR test taken no more than 48 hours before their flight. On arrival passengers are tested and ordered into a quarantine hotel or government facility for 14 days (or currently, temporarily, for seven, if they have an eligible home they can complete the second seven days in). They then have another seven days of self-health management avoiding crowds and restaurants. Across the three weeks they must have three PCR tests and three rapid tests.

Taiwan has been one of the world’s most successful preventers of large-scale outbreaks and recently went more than a month without a single locally transmitted case. However with Omicron spreading around the world, and higher numbers of arrivals due to the Lunar New Year festival at the end of the month, there has been a rise in imported cases and a domestic cluster of at least 31 people linked to the international airport.

Six new local cases were reported on Monday.

Mask rules have been tightened again, with exceptions removed for exercise, giving speeches, taking photos and other specific circumstances. People can still take their mask off in some scenarios, including eating or drinking at venues, in forest recreation areas, and in spas and saunas.

Beijing Games organisers back Covid controls

Beijing will not adjust its Covid-19 prevention measures for the Winter Olympics unless there are many cases inside the “closed-loop”, Huang Chun, an official with the Beijing Games organising committee, said on Tuesday.

China has reported some cases of the Omicron variant as it battles small-scale outbreaks in several regions, less than a month before the Games are due to kick off on 4 February.

The “closed-loop” bubble, in which participants can only leave if they are exiting the country or undergo quarantine, was activated earlier in January.

Restrictions at Games venues in Beijing and Zhangjiakou in neighbouring Hebei province will be much tighter than those during last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
But organisers have room to make adjustments to Covid-19 control measures if necessary, said Huang, at a briefing in Beijing.

As in Tokyo, no international spectators will be allowed at the Beijing Winter Games, and local attendance at event sites is likely to be curtailed, although specific arrangements have not been released.

Trudeau says enough vaccines for all Canadians to get fourth dose

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has said the government has secured enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose, according a statement from Trudeau’s office.

Trudeau made the comments in a call with Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers.

The Prime Minister provided reassurance that the federal government has secured enough vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive a booster as well as a fourth dose, if that becomes necessary,” the statement read.

People walk by a Covid-19 vaccination sign at a vaccination site in Montreal, on 8 January.
People walk by a Covid-19 vaccination sign at a vaccination site in Montreal, on 8 January.
Photograph: Canadian Press/REX/Shutterstock

Trudeau said the government also plans to deliver 140 million rapid Covid tests to provinces and territories in January, according to the statement.

This month, Canada broke its one-day record for the highest number of people hospitalised with Covid-19. Last Friday, officials said new daily cases had soared by 65% in the previous week, threatening healthcare systems.

Official data show that as of Dec. 18, 87.3% of Canadians aged 12 and older had received two shots while the figure for children aged 5 to 12 was just 1.3%.

Updated

China reported 110 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases for Monday, the National Health Commission said in its daily report on Tuesday.

Of the new local cases, 87 were reported in Henan, 13 in Shaanxi, and 10 in Tianjin, the commission said.

A further 82 new imported cases were detected in 11 provincial-level regions, according to the commission. No deaths were recorded.

Millions more locked down as China battles Omicron spread

Five million residents in the central Chinese city of Anyang have started home confinement today in a new lockdown to curb the spread of Omicron variant, according to state media and as reported by Agence France-Presse.

Two Omicron cases were detected in the city in Henan province, prompting authorities to announce a lockdown late Monday, issuing a notice ordering residents not to leave their homes or drive cars on the roads, state news agency Xinhua reported.

All non-essential businesses have been closed, outbound travel restricted and a mass-testing drive has been launched “to respond to the severe epidemic control situation and strictly prevent the spread of the Omicron virus outbreak”, Xinhua reported.

There were 58 new local infections reported in Anyang, state broadcaster CCTV said Tuesday, bringing the city’s total caseload to 84 since Saturday. It was not immediately clear whether the new cases were tied to the Omicron variant.

People queue to get a Covid-19 PCR test on 10 January in Beijing, China as the country locks down millions more residents in different cities.
People queue to get a Covid-19 PCR test on 10 January in Beijing, China as the country locks down millions more residents in different cities.
Photograph: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

At least three cities in Henan are battling emerging outbreaks, with provincial capital Zhengzhou closing schools and kindergartens, and stopping restaurants from accepting dine-in customers.

Last week, one million people in the city of Yuzhou were put under stay-at-home orders.

Elsewhere, Tianjin – a major port city just 150 kilometres from Beijing – has barred people from leaving without official permission, ordered the testing of all 14 million residents, and cancelled trains into the capital. Tianjin confirmed another 10 new locally transmitted cases after citywide mass testing.

The northern city of Xi’an is in its third week of lockdown as it attempts to stamp out a 2,000-case outbreak.

And after logging a handful of cases in recent days, Shenzhen – a southern tech hub just across the border from Hong Kong – has locked down some housing compounds, launched a mass-testing initiative and shuttered some long-distance bus stations.

The latest Covid numbers are now being reported across Asia.

South Korea is reporting a daily rise of 3,097 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 43 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thailand is reporting a daily rise of 7,133 cases and 12 deaths, according to the Department of Disease Control.

Malaysia is reporting a daily rise of 2,641 cases and 18 deaths, according to government data.

India is reporting a rise of 168,063 new Covid cases and 277 deaths, according to health ministry figures.

Updated

As the world watches in wait for an outcome to Novak Djokovic’s visa controversy, here is a quick video detailing how the saga has unfolded so far.

 

Hong Kong to start vaccinating children over 5 years old, suspends classes

Hong Kong will begin offering Covid-19 vaccines for children over the age of five, as the city-state suspends classes in kindergartens and primary schools, its chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

Lam, who was speaking at a weekly press briefing, said kindergartens and primary schools must stop face-to-face classes by Friday at the latest and suspend classes until after the Lunar New Year period at the start of February.

Pupils in secondary schools, however, would be not affected, according to the South China Morning Post. Lam said:

Stopping in-person classes is the hardest decision for me to make. On one hand, stopping classes will protect them from infections, but on the other hand it will be to the detriment of their physical and psychological wellbeing.”

The chief executive added that the government has at least HK$4 billion for new economic relief measures.

Hong Kong reported 24 new Covid infections on Monday, bringing the total to 12,959 infections and 213 deaths.

Updated

Officials in San Francisco in the US are asking residents not to call 911 except in dire emergencies to avoid further straining emergency resources, as coronavirus cases deplete the ranks of health workers, ambulance crews, firefighters and other essential workers.

The Omicron variant, which appears more likely to cause breakthrough cases even among vaccinated people, has begun to thin the ranks of those most needed to fight this latest wave of infections. San Francisco mayor London Breed said on Friday that about 400 city employees, including emergency responders, had either tested positive for Covid-19 or were isolated at home due to exposure.

“Only call 911 or go to the emergency [department] for life-threatening medical emergencies,” the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management tweeted this weekend. “Keep medics available for life-threatening situations.”

Read the full story here.

Japan to maintain most border restrictions until end of February

Japan will maintain its tight entry restrictions until the end of February, prime minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday, adding that some exceptions for humanitarian issues may be considered.

The country adopted some of the strictest border controls in the world when the Omicron variant emerged late last year, banning all new entry by non-Japanese, including students and foreign family members of Japanese or permanent residents, unless in exceptional circumstances.

The rules have sparked protests and a petition drive calling for change, and media reports on Tuesday said the government was considering easing some of the rules in exceptional cases, Reuters reports.

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 in Tokyo.
People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 in Tokyo.
Photograph: James Matsumoto/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Kishida told reporters:

Thanks to the toughest border rules in the G7 nations, we’ve been able to keep the spread of Omicron to a minimal level, giving us time to prepare to deal with domestic infection.

We’ll maintain the current framework of measures until the end of February for the time being, while taking necessary measures from the perspective of humanitarian and national interests.”

Entrance to Japan is currently limited to citizens and permanent residents, even they face strict testing and quarantine rules.

Kishida added that Japan would start vaccinating children under age 12.

Updated

More on the situation unfolding surrounding Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa.

Djokovic’s family have confirmed the tennis star had tested positive for Covid-19 on 16 December. However, they shut down the press conference after reporters asked if he then attended an event on 17 December. That event was covered by local media, and parents posted photos on social media showing Djokovic and the children not wearing masks.

“OK, so this press conference is adjourned,” Djordje Djokovic said after being pressed on the matter.

Despite the government agreeing to release Djokovic from detention and quash the original decision to cancel his visa, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, is yet to decide whether to use a separate power to deport the tennis star.

A decision is expected as early as Tuesday but the government faces internal division over whether to enforce Australia’s hardline border policies against Djokovic.

Watch the video from the press conference below.

 

Updated

Pfizer to make Omicron-specific vaccine

Pfizer Inc chief executive Albert Bourla on Monday said a redesigned Covid-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant is likely needed and his company could have one ready to launch by March.

Bourla said Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE are working on both an Omicron-targeted vaccine version as well as a shot that would include both the previous vaccine as well as one targeted at the fast-spreading variant.

“I think it is the most likely scenario,” Bourla said on Monday. “We’re working on higher doses. We’re working different schedules. We’re doing a lot of things right now, as we speak.”

Bourla said Pfizer could be ready to file for US regulatory approval for a redesigned vaccine and launch it as soon as March and with so much manufacturing capacity for the vaccine it would not be a problem to switch immediately.

The vaccine could be ready to distribute by June, Bourla added in an interview with CNBC.

This vaccine will be ready in March.

We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.

The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection particularly against infections, because the protection against the hospitalisations and the severe disease – it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you are having let’s say the third dose.”

France eases Covid rules for schools as infections soar

France has announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes and sparked concern among parents and teachers.

Prime minister Jean Castex told France 2 television on Monday that more than 10,000 classes – 2% of the total – had to be cancelled because of Covid outbreaks, but that the government would not “shut down the schools or the country”, Agence France-Presse reports.

France on Monday reported more than 125,000 new coronavirus cases as the Omicron variant drives up daily infections to record highs.

Students head back to class in Nice as France announces an easing of Covid rules for schools.
Students head back to class in Nice as France announces an easing of Covid rules for schools.
Photograph: SYSPEO/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Under the first change, from Tuesday, parents will no longer be obliged to pick up their child immediately for Covid testing if he or she is a contact case of a virus sufferer.

Home-testing will be deemed sufficient in such cases rather than testing at an officially approved site, with the parents signing a certificate to confirm the result.

The test kits, available from pharmacies, will be free.

Castex announced the news on Twitter on Monday evening, saying:

The school health protocol will be simplified: if a positive case is detected in a class, the students can stay there until the end of the day, 3 negative self-tests will suffice for contact cases [and] only one parental certificate will be necessary.”

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog, ready to take you through all the Covid news this Tuesday.

Let’s dive right in with the news that Pfizer Inc chief executive Albert Bourla on Monday said a redesigned Covid-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant is likely needed and his company could have one ready to launch by March.

Bourla said Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE are working on both an Omicron-targeted vaccine version as well as a shot that would include both the previous vaccine as well as one targeted at the fast-spreading variant.

“I think it is the most likely scenario,” Bourla said on Monday. “We’re working on higher doses. We’re working different schedules. We’re doing a lot of things right now, as we speak.”

Bourla said Pfizer could be ready to file for US regulatory approval for a redesigned vaccine and launch it as soon as March.

Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also announced he has tested positive for Covid-19 for a second time, saying that he only has light symptoms.

Lopez Obrador, who had tested positive for the virus in January last year, sounded hoarse in his morning press conference earlier in the day, prompting reporters to inquire about his health.

“Although the symptoms are mild, I will remain in isolation and will only do office work and communicate virtually,” until recovering, Lopez Obrador said in a tweet.

Mexico has recorded more than 300,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to health ministry data.

Here’s a quick rundown of all the latest headlines:

  • Boris Johnson was accused on Monday night of an “utterly outrageous” breach of lockdown rules as a leaked email showed one of his top officials invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” party during the first lockdown. The police are now investigating.
  • Boris Johnson has ordered officials to examine plans to cut Covid isolation to five days in England as scientists urged caution over the lack of evidence to support a change.
  • NHS England has struck a deal with private healthcare providers under which their hospitals will be ready to start treating NHS patients who cannot get the Covid or non-Covid care they need because their local NHS hospital is under too much pressure.
  • Pfizer Inc chief executive Albert Bourla said on Monday that moving toward a redesigned Covid-19 vaccine that is specifically targeted to combat the Omicron variant is the “most likely scenario.”
  • The small number of people in Italy’s population who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 are largely responsible for the continued health crisis, prime minister Mario Draghi said on Monday.
  • In the US, a new record has been set for the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19, with 132,646 currently on wards, according to Reuters. The latest figure, which comes as the highly contagious Omicron strain spreads across the country, surpassed the record of 132,051 set in January last year.
  • Moderna has announced it expects record sales of about $18.5bn (£13.6bn) in contracts for its Covid vaccine in 2022.
  • Novak Djokovic’s brother reportedly ended a press conference after questions about why the tennis ace appeared in public in Belgrade a day after he had tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Emmanuel Macron has condemned protesters on the French overseas territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon who pelted an MP with seaweed and dirt during a protest against vaccine passes.
  • Stricter pandemic measures are to be introduced in Sweden in response to a rising number of Covid cases and pressure on hospitals, the prime minister has said.
  • The prime minister of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, has called for European officials to consider ditching detailed pandemic tracking for Covid in favour of a flu-like monitoring system. The change would mean treating Covid-19 as an “endemic illness” rather than a pandemic, Sánchez said on Monday. He pointed out that deaths as a proportion of recorded cases has fallen since the pandemic began.

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