This article titled “Covid live: limits on freedom in UK ‘last resort’, says health secretary; India reports more than 22,000 infections” was written by Sarah Marsh, for theguardian.com on Saturday 1st January 2022 09.45 UTC
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, vowed to further bolster his military capability, maintain draconian anti-virus measures and push hard to improve the economy during a speech at a key political conference this week, state media reported on Saturday.
A state media report on Kim’s speech didn’t carry any comments on dealings with the United States and South Korea. Some experts say this implies Kim has no interest in resuming talks with Washington and Seoul anytime soon and would rather keep his country’s borders closed while seeking a self-reliant economy to overcome pandemic-related difficulties.
“The increasingly unstable military environment on the Korean Peninsula and international politics have instigated calls to vigorously push forward with our national defence build-up plans without any delay,” Kim said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim ordered the production of powerful, modern weapons systems to improve his military forces and called for the military’s “absolute loyalty and allegiance” to the ruling party led by him.
Covid-19 dampens New Year celebrations around the world
The Omicron coronavirus variant dampened New Year festivities around much of the world, with Paris cancelling its fireworks show, London relegating its show to television, and New York City scaling down its famous ball drop celebration in Times Square.
The illuminated ball made of Waterford crystal panels slid down its poll at the midnight hour in Times Square, but only 15,000 spectators were allowed into the official viewing area instead of the usual 58,000.
A year ago, the newly available vaccine offered hope that the pandemic may be under control by the start of 2022. Instead, the sudden arrival of Omicron has brought a surge in coronavirus cases across the globe.
China ends 2021 with worst Covid week since taming original epidemic
China ended its final week of 2021 with its biggest tally of local coronavirus cases for any seven-day period since subduing the country’s first epidemic nearly two years ago, despite an arsenal of some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 measures.
The National Health Commission reported 175 new community infections with confirmed clinical symptoms for 31 December, bringing the total number of local symptomatic cases in mainland China in the past week to 1,151.
The surge has been driven mostly by an outbreak in the northwestern industrial and tech hub of Xi’an, a city of 13 million.
The deepening outbreak in Xi’an will most likely firm authorities’ resolve to curb transmissions quickly as and when cases emerge. The city, under lockdown for 10 days as of Saturday, has reported 1,451 local symptomatic cases since 9 December, the highest tally for any Chinese city in 2021.
While China’s case count is tiny compared with many outbreaks elsewhere in the world, forestalling major flare-ups in 2022 will be important. Beijing will be hosting the Winter Olympic Games in February, and the ruling Communist party will hold a once-every-five-years congress, expected in the fall, where President Xi Jinping is likely to secure a third term as party secretary.
India reports more than 22,000 infections in 24 hours
India reported 22,775 new Covid-19 infections over the past 24 hours, health ministry data shows, adding to concerns for authorities around the country about the rising number of cases.
The data indicates that thickly populated metros, such as the national capital New Delhi, financial centre Mumbai and Kolkata in the east, are seeing some of the sharpest rises.
In the eastern state of West Bengal, infections rose to 3,450 in the last 24 hours with at least 1,950 cases reported in Kolkata, the capital. Sixteen Omicron cases have been reported in West Bengal.
Kolkata’s municipal corporation declared 17 micro containment zones in residential clusters where more than five infections have been reported. People living in the zones are not allowed to leave the area to try to contain the spread of the disease.
Ajoy Chakrobarty, the state’s director of health services, said he was holding meetings with private hospitals to ensure health facilities are ready to deal with the rising number of cases.
Limits on freedom in the UK ‘last resort’, health secretary says
Restrictions on freedom “must be an absolute last resort” and the UK must “live alongside” coronavirus in 2022, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, has said.
But Javid added the record-breaking Omicron wave of infection will “test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter” as reports suggested a work from home order in England could be in place for most of January to slow the spread of the highly transmissible variant.
Government figures showed a further 189,846 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases had been recorded in the UK on Friday, another new record for daily reported cases. A leading statistician said the actual number of daily cases could be closer to half a million, with the UK going into the new year in the midst of an “unprecedented wave” of infections.
Javid, writing in the Daily Mail, said England had “welcomed in 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe”, with the UK government at odds with the devolved nations in choosing to keep nightclubs open and to allow hospitality to operate without further measures for new year celebrations.
“Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them,” the health secretary continued.
“Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.
“So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.”
The cabinet minister said the time lag between infections and hospital admissions meant it was “inevitable that we will still see a big increase” in Covid patients over the next month as he warned that, as the coronavirus crisis entered its third year, the pandemic is “still far from over”.
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