Covid live news: Germany registers record 92,223 new cases; Omicron variant now dominant in Italy

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live news: Germany registers record 92,223 new cases; Omicron variant now dominant in Italy” was written by Georgina Quach (now); Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Friday 14th January 2022 12.43 UTC

Wales’ Covid restrictions on pubs and sport to be scrapped

First minister Mark Drakeford said Covid cases are coming down rapidly, and hopes to relax most rules by the end of January. The Welsh government is giving a press conference to announce the changes.

Since 26 December, stricter measures have been in place in a bid to curb the spread of Omicron.

However, Drakeford has now said rules will be relaxed “gradually”, bringing Wales to alert level Zero – the lowest level of restrictions.

He warned “Omicron is still with us and levels of coronavirus are still incredibly high in our communities”.

Omicron variant now dominant in Italy, health body says

Omicron has become the dominant variant of coronavirus in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said on Friday, accounting for 81% of cases in a flash survey on 3 January.

Reuters reports:

The previous survey showed Omicron at just 28% of cases on 20 December.

“In Italy on 3 January, the Omicron variant was predominant, with an estimated prevalence of 81%, while Delta was at 19% of the sample tested”, the ISS said in statement.

The analysis is based on 2,632 swabs tested in 120 laboratories and collected in all 21 Italian regions and autonomous provinces, the Institute said.

Italy, the first Western country to be hit by Covid-19 early in 2020, has been grappling with rising infection rates and deaths in recent weeks. Earlier this month, it made vaccination compulsory for about 28 million people aged over 50, in a bid to curb infections and reduce strain on hospitals.

The new measure obliges people over 50 who do not work to get vaccinated, while from 15 February, those who do have jobs will have to show a vaccine pass to enter the workplace, removing the option of taking a coronavirus test. This week, Italy introduced compulsory vaccine passes for access to public transport, as well as hotels, restaurants and gyms – again, excluding those who can only show a negative test.

The country reported 184,615 daily cases on Thursday, compared with 196,224 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of deaths rose to 316 from 313.

The country has registered 140,188 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the pandemic began, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world. The country has reported 8.15m cases to date.

Novak Djokovic will have to report for an interview with Border Force at 8am tomorrow.

Judge Anthony Kelly has ordered the proceedings to be transferred to the Federal Court. That’s a slight setback from Djokovic, whose lawyers had urged it to stay with this court (Federal Circuit), to speed things up.

The judge’s orders are as follows:

  • Djokovic to serve as soon as is reasonably practical an originating application, an affidavit attaching Alex Hawke’s reasons and submissions for decision.
  • The minister will not take any step to remove Djokovic from Australia.
  • Djokovic will attend an interview at 8am Saturday with immigration officials, then will be supervised by Border Force officers from 10am to 2pm on Saturday at his solicitors’ offices.
  • Djokovic may continue in detention from 9am Sunday 16 January, at his solicitors’ offices.

This comes after Australian officials cancelled Djokovic’s visa again. Immigration minister Alex Hawke announced earlier that he had used his ministerial discretion to cancel the tennis player’s visa on public interest grounds.

Updated

Italy has lifted an entry ban on people who had visited any of eight southern African states, which it imposed in November as the Omicron variant began to spread.

“Health minister Roberto Speranza has signed a new order lifting the special restrictive measures for South Africa and neighbouring countries,” a ministry spokesman said.

Italy banned entry for travellers from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini on 26 November.

Updated

Germany registers more than 90,000 Covid cases – another daily record

Philip Oltermann, our Berlin bureau chief, has the latest as Germany braces for yet another record high number of infections:

On Friday, the Robert Koch Institute reported another daily record of new infections, with 92,223 new cases and 286 new deaths. At 470.6, the seven-day incidence of infections per 100,000 people is approaching the record rate of 485, which was recorded in November 2021.

Omicron is now the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Germany, the country’s disease control agency said in a weekly report on Thursday. The highly infectious variant made up 73.3% of cases in Europe’s most populous country, up from 44.3% the previous week.

While other European countries have declared the arrival of the Omicron variant tantamount to the virus moving its pandemic to endemic stage, Germany’s government has struck a more cautious note.

Health minister Karl Lauterbach said this week that he was still opposed to letting the virus rip through the population, which he said would amount to an “unethical bet”.

At the same time, Germany has not opted to introduce tighter restrictions beyond restricting access to restaurants or bars to those who have been boostered or tested. The liberal-left coalition government has effectively ruled out imposing another lockdown, or any restrictions that would be referred to by that name.

Updated

Time for a refresher: here is our video explaining the Novak Djokovic saga as it unfolded.

 

Djokovic’s case is in front of Judge Anthony Kelly today. The hearing is adjourned right now. Our sports writer Luke McLaughlin will bring you the updates on our other live blog once it’s back on.

Our US southern bureau chief Oliver Laughland brings us the latest from New Orleans, where staff shortages and spiralling cases are pushing hospitals to breaking point:

As the Omicron variant rips through the US, states in the south continue to report record case numbers amid serious concern around hospital staff shortages.

In Mississippi, officials warned this week the hospital system was on the verge of crisis due to staff shortages as local media reported most hospitals in the state were at or had reached capacity during the Omicron surge.

The state already faces a chronic nursing shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, with approximately 3,000 positions vacant, according to a survey by the Mississippi Hospital Association. Around a third of the state’s hospital nurses have left for other jobs, according to the research, many of them to better paying positions out of state.

People wait in long lines for coronavirus testing, as the Omicron variant continues to spread in Memphis, December 2021.
People waiting in long lines for coronavirus testing in December 2021, as the Omicron variant continued to spread in Memphis.
Photograph: Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters

Last week Mississippi recorded its highest seven day average of new Covid cases, 7,185, since the pandemic began, according to state health department data. As of Thursday the number of people hospitalised with Covid in the state had risen to 1,332 people. Health department data showed that 90% of Covid deaths for the period between 16 December 2021 and 12 January 2022 had been among unvaccinated people.

“The game has changed since the Delta wave,” said Dr Alan Jones, chancellor of clinical affairs at University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, during a Tuesday press conference reported by Mississippi Today.

Jones continued: “The challenges we are facing are really around staffing. Compounding that is that this is a much more infectious variant, taking more staff out that we have in the workforce.”

In Nashville, one of the city’s largest hospitals was being forced to reassign specialist staff to cope with the Omicron surge. As of Tuesday, Tennessee hit its peak Covid-positive seven-day average of 14,345 new cases, according to CDC data.

“We have tons of employees that have Omicron Covid,” said Dr Todd Rice, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in an interview with local radio. “One of our biggest problems is just finding employees to take care of patients because we have so many employees that are out sick.”

You can read Oliver Laughland’s alarming dispatch here:

Updated

Hello, I’m Georgina Quach, and will continue updating our global live blog from now. As always, my inbox is open for suggestions, thoughts and story tips:

Email georgina.quach@theguardian.com or tweet @georginaquach.

Today so far …

  • Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, has tested positive for Covid. A spokesperson said she would carry out her work from home.
  • Israel’s health ministry says the country has administered a fourth vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people. Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone aged 60 and older.
  • The world No 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic has had his visa to enter Australia cancelled again, after immigration minister Alex Hawke intervened to make the decision “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.
  • Poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines distributed by the global programme Covax, mainly due to their rapid expiry date, a Unicef official has said.
  • In the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson’s former head of communications, James Slack, has apologised for the “anger and hurt” created after it emerged that a leaving party was held for him in Downing Street during Covid restrictions last year, the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. Labour’s Emily Thornberry has called on Johnson to apologise to the Queen and resign. Slack is currently deputy editor of the Sun newspaper, which has been a fervent supporter of Johnson’s government.
  • Wales is to set out a two-week plan to ease coronavirus restrictions at 12.15pm today.
  • Spain is making available a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to vulnerable citizens, including those with cancer, who have had a transplant or are receiving dialysis, the health ministry said.
  • China suspended dozens of international flights today over the global surge in Omicron cases, while the city of Shanghai curbed tourist activity as it attempted to head off local Covid infections as imported cases rose.
  • Hong Kong will extend its stringent coronavirus restrictions until after the lunar new year celebrations.
  • Cambodia has began a fourth round of vaccinations against Covid in response to the Omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.
  • The Philippines will extend coronavirus curbs in the capital region of Manila and other provinces until the end of January while the government defended a controversial ban that prevents unvaccinated people from using public transport in the capital.
  • Twenty new “pandemic billionaires” have been created in Asia thanks to the international response to Covid-19, while 140 million people across the continent were plunged into poverty as jobs were lost during the pandemic, according to a report from Oxfam.

There is plenty of live blog action on the website today. Lucy Campbell, who you will often see on here, is today taking the combined UK politics and Covid live blog. You can find that here:

Mostafa Rachwani is following the latest developments in the Novak Djokovic saga – there is currently a late-night court hearing going on.

Georgina Quach will be here shortly to take over from me, and bring you the latest Covid developments from around the world. I will see you bright and early again on Monday. Have a great weekend, take care and stay safe.

Updated

China suspended dozens of international flights today over the global surge in Omicron cases, while the city of Shanghai curbed tourist activity as it attempted to head off local Covid infections as imported cases rose.

Cities across China are becoming more vigilant ahead of the Lunar New Year travel season later this month and as Beijing readies to stage the Winter Olympics. Many local governments are urging residents not to leave town unnecessarily.

Associated Press report that Shanghai’s tourism and culture authority said travel agencies and online tourism companies must once again halt organising group tours into and out of Shanghai after it reported five new domestically transmitted infections on Thursday, all linked to an arrival from overseas.

The order, in line with a national guideline to cut tourist activities in provinces where new infections have emerged, came less than a month after Shanghai lifted a suspension that had come into effect in November.

China on Friday announced that 30 inbound international flights from several countries were suspended due to Covid cases, including four more from the United States. So far this year, China has announced the cancellation of 74 flights from the United States.

Hong Kong will extend its stringent coronavirus restrictions until after the lunar new year celebrations at the start of February as it aims to stop the spreading of Covid within the community, the city’s leader Carrie Lam has said.

Reuters reports that the move comes as the city has seen around 50 cases of the Omicron variant since the end of last year.

Updated

Alon Mwesigwa reports to us from Kampala on the alarming impact Covid has had on schools in Uganda:

The gate that once proudly displayed the name of Godwins primary school in Kampala has been removed. The compound, where pupils played at break time, is now a parking area for trucks ferrying goods to the nearby market, while the classrooms have been turned into a travellers’ lodge.

Uganda’s schools were ordered to reopen on Monday 10 January, after nearly two years of closure – the longest school shutdown in the world – but not all were able to welcome pupils back. Godwins, in Kalerwe in Kawempe division, is one of the many schools that will never reopen. It had been in existence for 20 years catering to children whose parents work in nearby Kalerwe market.

Harriet Namubiru, a charcoal seller whose two grandchildren, aged eight and 10, attended the school, says its closure is a “tragedy that has befallen us”.

“The management of the school called a meeting and they told us ‘It has become very hard for us to run again. We shall not open,’” she says. “It was like lightning or something [had hit us]. Some parents who were in the meeting fainted. Some fell sick for weeks.”

Kampala’s suburbs are littered with ghost structures that were once schools. Some buildings were sold, while others have been destroyed to make way for real estate development. Kampala Capital City Authority said that more than 40 schools in the city have closed for good. Local media is awash with reports of schools turned into bars, restaurants or travellers’ accommodation.

There are no official figures on the number of schools that have failed to reopen countrywide.

Read more of Alon Mwesigwa’s report here: Term starts in Uganda – but world’s longest shutdown has left schools in crisis

Lucy Campbell is at the helm of our combined UK Covid and politics live blog today. You can follow all that as it unfolds today with her over here.

We’ve also got a live blog running in the hands of Mostafa Rachwani following reaction to the news that Novak Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled – again – by Australia. You can find that here.

I will be continuing on this blog with the latest Covid developments from around the world.

Twenty new “pandemic billionaires” have been created in Asia thanks to the international response to Covid-19, while 140 million people across the continent were plunged into poverty as jobs were lost during the pandemic, according to Oxfam.

A report by the aid organisation says that by March 2021, profits from the pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and services needed for the Covid response had made 20 people new billionaires as lockdowns and economic stagnation destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of others.

From China, Hong Kong, India and Japan, the new billionaires include Li Jianquan, whose firm, Winner Medical, makes personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, and Dai Lizhong, whose company, Sansure Biotech, makes Covid-19 tests and diagnostic kits.

The total number of billionaires in the Asia-Pacific region grew by almost a third from 803 in March 2020 to 1,087 by November last year, and their collective wealth increased by three-quarters (74%), the report said.

Read more of Sarah Johnson’s report here: Covid created 20 new ‘pandemic billionaires’ in Asia, says Oxfam

Israel’s health ministry says the country has administered a fourth vaccine dose to more than 500,000 people.

Israel began administering second boosters to the most vulnerable late last month and later began offering them to everyone aged 60 and older.

Authorities hope the additional jabs will blunt a wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant. Associated Press reports that official figures show Israel has about 260,000 active cases but only 289 patients are listed as seriously ill, which is far fewer than during previous waves.

Updated

Sweden’s PM Magdalena Andersson tests positive for Covid

A quick snap from Reuters here that Sweden’s Social Democratic prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, has tested positive for Covid, her spokesperson told TT news agency, as a growing wave of infections swept the country, driven by the Omicron variant.

“The prime minister has tested positive for Covid in a rapid test. She is following current recommendations and will carry out her work from home,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Sweden’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson.
Sweden’s prime minister, Magdalena Andersson.
Photograph: Johanna Geron/Reuters

Updated

By the way, if you are looking for the latest updates on the Novak Djokovic story, my colleagues on the sport desk have a live blog up and running covering that. I’ll note any major developments in the story here as well.

Updated

PA Media has published a few reaction quotes to the reports that there were parties at Downing Street the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year. Boris Johnson’s former director of communications, James Slack, who is now the deputy editor of the Sun, has issued an apology for the “anger and hurt” caused.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, has said: “The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown. Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others. While she mourned, No 10 partied. Johnson must go.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest. I have no words for the culture behaviours at No 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”

Fran Hall, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “If your neighbours had behaved like this, you’d have been disgusted. For the people running the country to do it and then lie about it, shows a complete disdain for the general public.

“We shared the same pain of grieving in isolation as the Queen did. And she must be just as sickened as we are at hearing this. Sadly, instead of doing the decent thing and resigning, we can expect the prime minister to continue shamefully lying to our faces. The Conservative MPs that are keeping him in power disgrace their country.”

Updated

Wales to announce two-week plan to ease Covid restrictions

The Welsh government is to set out a two-week plan to ease coronavirus restrictions at 12.15pm today. The first minister, Mark Drakeford, will reveal his roadmap for returning to alert level 0, during a press conference in Cardiff.

Wales has been on alert level 2 since Boxing Day, which includes measures such as mask-wearing in all public venues, the two-metre rule and the rule of six in hospitality settings. Nightclubs have also been forced to shut.

The move to alert level 0 is expected to be phased, with restrictions on outdoor activities being removed first. This could mean Six Nations Rugby matches, which are due to start next month, can go ahead.

PA Media notes that pressure had been mounting from sports organisations and fans, with many fearing games would have to be held across the border in England.

Updated

Gaby Hinsliff has filed her latest column for us, and it is not going to make for happy reading in the Boris Johnson household. She writes:

Like a dog that could not be sorrier for chewing the sofa, it was a contrite prime minister who prostrated himself before parliament this week. Dogs are never truly sorry, of course. They have learned that if they whimper, hang their heads and look pathetic when caught, they can defuse their owners’ anger. But they don’t actually feel sorry, because dogs don’t think like that. They just want the shouting to stop.

In Boris Johnson’s case, the ever-so-humble act certainly doesn’t seem to have lasted long. When he toured the tearooms afterwards, taking the temperature of his party, he reportedly horrified some MPs by insisting that he hadn’t actually done anything wrong and was merely taking the rap for someone else: some other prime minister, presumably, who had stood in the middle of a crowd chugging wine on his lawn and now claimed not to have realised that was a party.

Read more here: Gaby Hinsliff – The sickness ailing the Conservatives runs deeper than Boris Johnson

Tens of thousands of devout Hindus, led by heads of monasteries and ash-smeared ascetics, took a holy dip into the frigid waters of the Ganges River in northern India on Friday despite rising Covid infections in the country.

Hindu pilgrims congregated at the Sangam, the confluence of three rivers — the Ganges, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati — in Prayagraj city, 200 km (124 miles) northeast of Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to participate in the Magh Mela festival, one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Hinduism.

Hindu devotees arrive in numbers to take a holy dip on the occasion of the Makar Sankranti festival during the annual Hindu ‘Magh Mela’ festival at Sangam.
Hindu devotees arrive in numbers to take a holy dip on the occasion of the Makar Sankranti festival during the annual Hindu ‘Magh Mela’ festival at Sangam.
Photograph: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

They bathed in the Ganges waters, a ritual Hindus believe will wash away their sins and free them from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Similar gatherings last year were criticised as being super-spreader events as the Delta variant took hold in the country.

Associated Press report that already, 77 policemen and 12 cleaning staff deployed for the event have tested positive for the virus.

“This is going to be a superspreader. The government should not allow a congregation of people in such a large number because religious congregations in the past two years were found responsible for spreading the deadly virus all across the country,” said Utkarsh Mishra, a lawyer who has filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court asking that the festival be canceled.

Indian monks take a holy dip as devotees gather at the Ganges River.
Indian monks take a holy dip as devotees gather at the Ganges River.
Photograph: Piyal Adhikary/EPA

Mishra said only locals and heads of important Hindu monasteries should be allowed to take part in the ritual.
Fearing a rise in infections, authorities in neighbouring Uttarakhand state have already banned a similar gathering.

Emily Thornberry: Johnson should apologise to Queen and resign

The Labour MP Emily Thornberry is not taking any prisoners in her round of TV interviews this morning, and appears to have nearly dropped an F-bomb on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, saying: “If only he had told the f… truth in the first place.”

She also responded to the suggestion that Jacob Rees-Mogg had posited yesterday – that the Covid rules were too detailed and complex for people to follow – by saying that the government had not found them too complex to pass the laws.

In her earlier Sky News appearance, she raised the spectre of the awkwardness of the next meeting between the prime minister and the Queen, after the reports that his staff had a boozy party the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, saying:

We’re waiting for the prime minister to look into his heart and soul and decide whether or not he has a scrap of human decency in him. Because if he does, he will resign. How the hell can you possibly expect to go before Her Majesty again at a weekly audience and be able to look her in the eye and pretend that everything is alright, because everything is not all right. The one thing he should be saying to Her Majesty is “I am profoundly sorry, and I resign”. That’s what he should do.

Updated

Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP who has been dismissed by some Boris Johnson supporters as a serial dissenter, delivered a cracking line on Sky News this morning.

Updated

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, has been on Sky News. Here’s a flavour of what she had to say about the Downing Street parties story:

I think when I first heard it, it actually took quite a long time for me to just get over the emotion that I felt. Because, I thought about Her Majesty the next day, and the way in which she was leading the country, and behaving in such a thoroughly decent way in which she always does, I think, in many ways embodying the suffering that we have had as a country. The way in which she behaves in such a proper way, in a way which makes us all so proud.

And you think of that, and you compare it with what was going on in Downing Street. Where there had been a culture that had been set over the time of the pandemic, where the prime minister made it perfectly clear that he was perfectly alright about this. You know, and frankly, we would not have been seeing these parties, not just one party but two parties in one night, if they really thought that the prime minister didn’t approve, or wouldn’t have been all right about it.

But the point is that the culture is set by the prime minister. It is his responsibility. And so far the only thing that you have heard from Number 10 Downing Street is that their defence was “Oh, the prime minister wasn’t there.” So what. So what.

Eleni Courea is doing Politico’s London Playbook today, and she has this:

The prime minister is working from his Downing Street flat and limiting external contacts after a member of his immediate family tested positive for the coronavirus. His spokesman said yesterday that he was unlikely to be seen in public for the next week.

Particularly painful for the PM is the fact this latest bombshell story was broken by the Telegraph, one of Johnson’s strongest cheerleaders, which employed him for years as its star columnist. The story is also problematic for the Sun, where Slack now works as deputy editor.

Will things get tougher for Johnson? Tory MPs heading to their constituencies for the weekend are about to find out the extent of backlash they face from Tory members and the wider public. It would hardly be surprising if, on their return to the Commons on Monday, there is another trickle of no-confidence letters into backbench 1922 committee Chairman Graham Brady’s letterbox.

Away from Westminster for a moment, but still in the UK, Wales’ first minister, Mark Drakeford, has been on the BBC Today programme. PA Media quote him saying that his move to ease restrictions in Wales comes amid a falling number of cases:

Because the data and the science is saying to us – as the modelling we have in Wales predicted – we appear to have passed the peak of Omicron, and are coming down very rapidly on the other side, that gives us confidence that over the next two weeks we can gradually and carefully lift the level of protections we needed over the Christmas period, because from a public health perspective it will then be safe to do so.

He was, though, critical of the approach in England, saying looser restrictions had led to “thousands upon thousands” of people unable to do their jobs because of sickness. He said:

The government in England has been paralysed throughout this process and simply hasn’t been able to take decisions. In Wales we have a government that is prepared to do difficult things when they are necessary to protect public health.”

There was a flurry on social media last night about a move by a local Conservative association to withdraw support from prime minister Boris Johnson over the continual succession of news about Downing Street parties during periods of Covid restriction.

Sutton Coldfield Conservatives is an association in a safe Tory seat, and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme have had local councillor Simon Ward on. PA Media quote him telling the show:

The conversation we had last night … was really about what I think we have the right to expect from our leaders and the standards of leadership we expect from them, and the trust that we put in them.

This is about what the right thing is for politics, what the right thing is for our leaders, how this reflects on our country as well, and it’s just massively disappointing and it reflects very, very poorly on us as a nation as well.

James Slack issues apology for ‘anger and hurt’ caused by Downing Street party ahead of Duke’s funeral

The Prime Minister’s former director of communications has apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by a Downing Street party which it is claimed was held as his leaving do last year, during a period of Covid restrictions. The gathering, which the Telegraph has reported featured dancing, thirty people, and the fetching of a suitcase of wine from a Co-op shop on the Strand, is alleged to have taken place the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.

James Slack, who was appointed deputy editor-in-chief of the Sun newspaper last year, said:

I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.

PA Media report he then said he could not comment further as the matter had been referred to Sue Gray’s investigation.

Cambodia has began a fourth round of vaccinations against Covid in response to the omicron variant, with high-risk groups being among the first to receive the additional boosters.

Frontline medical staff and members of the armed forces were among those lining up at hospitals and clinics. Government ministers, including prime minister Hun Sen, also received booster doses today.

A Cambodian man, right, receives a shot of fourth dose of the Pfizer’s Covid vaccine at a heath centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
A Cambodian man, right, receives a shot of fourth dose of the Pfizer’s Covid vaccine at a heath centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Photograph: Heng Sinith/AP

Hun Sen has appealed to all Cambodian people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster, saying on his Facebook page that it is the only way to make sure to keep their families and communities safe from Covid. Associated Press remind us that a campaign to have people get their third jabs is still ongoing.

The country’s first case of the Omicron variant was confirmed in mid-December in a 23-year-old woman who returned from Ghana. Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers on 15 November, two weeks earlier than originally planned, in a move aimed at revitalising the country’s economic and social activity.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has been notably quiet this week, but we do have a statement from him this morning about some better-than-expected GDP figures for the UK, showing a bit of a bounce back from the impact of Covid restrictions. He said:

It’s amazing to see the size of the economy back to pre-pandemic levels in November – a testament to the grit and determination of the British people.

The Government is continuing to support the economy, including through grants, loans and tax reliefs for businesses, and our Plan for Jobs is ensuring people up and down the country have fantastic opportunities.

We all have a vital part to play to protect lives and jobs, and I urge everyone to do theirs by getting boosted as soon as you can.

My colleague Graeme Wearden has more:

Paul Karp has this analysis for us from Australia and how Novak Djokovic has ended up in this situation. His visa has been cancelled in the last few minutes. Paul writes:

When Novak Djokovic landed in Melbourne late on the evening of 5 January, he thought a visa and a medical exemption approved by Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer and an independent Victorian government board would guarantee him a shot at his 10th Australian Open and record 21st grand slam.

But his fate was sealed by a hardening view in the Australian government and its Border Force that a recent Covid diagnosis was itself not enough to enter the country quarantine-free, and an error on his immigration paperwork that took days to come to light.

Djokovic challenged his visa cancellation in the federal circuit court, winning because the judge agreed it had been unreasonable of Border Force to renege on a deal to give him more time to address the exemption issue.

First set Djokovic. He took to Melbourne Park, ensuring familiar images of him on Rod Laver arena’s Avatar-blue court that seemed to promise another shot at grand slam greatness.

Even public opinion – so long set against Djokovic for his refusal to be vaccinated to play a tournament in one of the world’s most locked down cities during the pandemic – seemed to swing back his way.

But momentum swung against Djokovic when it was noted that his presence in Belgrade for Christmas suggested a declaration he hadn’t travelled in the fortnight before his flight to Australia from Spain was wrong, to say nothing of his public appearances in the days after his positive test on 16 December.

Read more of Paul Karp’s analysis here: What more could Novak Djokovic have done? Get vaccinated, isolate and get the facts right

Government minister Damian Hinds has, you will not be surprised to learn, had a torrid time on Sky News in that interview. He said:

If the details that are in the story turn out to be true, then clearly people are going to form their their judgement. But it will be part of these broader investigations being undertaken by by by Sue Gray. The terms of reference have been clear that those investigations should cover events, plural, alleged events, the nature of them, who attended them, or the purpose of them. And I think we do need to see what comes through in that report. The prime minister has also be clear in the terms of reference clear that if allegations are found to be true, of individuals appear to have been guilty of wrongdoing, then action can indeed be taken.

PA Media have just published this quick summary to remind us of how Covid regulations impacted on the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh last year. They say:

  • The guest list was trimmed from 800 to 30.
  • The Queen attended the funeral wearing a face mask and socially distanced from her family at the service in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
  • Those in the funeral procession were required to put their face masks on before entering St George’s Chapel.
  • Original plans for military processions through London or Windsor were scrapped, with the royal family asking the public not to gather at the castle or other royal residences.
  • The choir was also limited to just four singers, while the few guests were banned from singing in line with the Covid regulations.

Damian Hinds, the government minister of state for security, is on media duties this morning. I think it would be fair to say that he’s been rendered pretty speechless by this news, broken late last night by the Telegraph, of these parties at Downing Street. The opening question on Sky News was whether he would like to apologise to the Queen on behalf of the government. He said:

I was shocked to read it. I have only just read it, it is just out in this morning’s papers, and we will have to see what comes out further in the investigation.

Hello from London, it is Martin Belam here. Let me put it to you like this. When I started my shift on Wednesday morning, the official position of the prime minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, was that to his knowledge no parties had taken place in Number 10 and no rules had been broken. He’d been clear about that on at least seven different occasions, including at the despatch box in parliament.

When I started my shift on Thursday, the official position of the prime minister Boris Johnson was that he was sorry that he hadn’t broken up a party at Number 10, which did take place, and which he had attended for 25 minutes.

And now I’ve started my shift today after a night where it appears “suitcase of wine” has been trending on social media because of the news of another raucous party night in the heart of government during lockdown, this time the night before the Queen sat alone at her husband’s funeral, which generated one of the defining images of the Covid pandemic in the UK.

Queen Elizabeth II after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Queen Elizabeth II after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

The morning media round should be quite lively. I’ll bring you key quotes as they come in, and of course, the Covid news from around the world, and the latest on that breaking Novak Djokovic story. Stay tuned.

Novak Djokovic’s visa cancelled ahead of Australian Open

Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke has officially cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa.

Here is the full statement:

Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.

This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.

In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.

The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I thank the officers of the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force who work every day to serve Australia’s interests in increasingly challenging operational environments.”

Read the full story here.

Novak Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled after a decision by Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke.
Novak Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled after a decision by Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke.
Photograph: John Walton/PA

Updated

Breaking news reports out of Australia indicate Novak Djokovic has had his visa cancelled after immigration minister Alex Hawke reportedly made the decision late on Friday (AEDT).

We will have more on this story as it develops.

As the sun prepares to rise for another day over in the UK, here are some useful visual guides reflecting how Covid is unfolding across the nation.

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Summary of key developments

Hello I’m Samantha Lock reporting to you from Sydney. Before I hand over to my colleague Martin Belam over in London, here’s a snapshot of all the latest Covid developments:

  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson is fighting for his political future after he belatedly apologised for attending a party during the coronavirus lockdown.
  • An inquiry into lockdown parties in Downing Street is expected to lay bare a “farcical” culture of drinking and impromptu socialising, with little oversight from senior officials, the Guardian understands.
  • The Metropolitan police said they will not investigate alleged parties held at Downing Street in apparent breach of lockdown rules unless an upcoming inquiry finds evidence of criminality.
  • Poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines distributed by the global programme COVAX, mainly due to their rapid expiry date, a UNICEF official has said.
  • Hong Kong will suspend passenger transit flights from countries considered high-risk from Sunday.
  • The Philippines will extend coronavirus curbs in the capital region of Manila and other provinces until the end of January while the government defended a controversial ban that prevents unvaccinated people from using public transport in the capital.
  • South Korea will extend tougher social distancing rules for three more weeks amid concerns over a looming Omicron wave ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, officials said on Friday.
  • Half a million Israelis over the age of 60 have received the fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, prime minster Naftali Bennett announced.
  • Spain had denied it is probing Novak Djokovic for entering without a Covid vaccine in a small win for the tennis No 1.
  • The World Health Organization has approved two new Covid-19 treatments on Friday, growing the arsenal of tools along with vaccines to stave off severe illness and death from the virus.
  • Spain is making available a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to vulnerable citizens, including those with cancer, who have had a transplant or are receiving dialysis, the health ministry said on Thursday.

Updated

Ukraine is reporting a daily rise of 10,476 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Thursday.

The cases included 663 were children and 241 medical workers, according to a recently published report from the ministry of health.

Another 140 deaths were also recorded, bringing the national tally to 98,068.

Hong Kong will suspend passenger transit flights from countries considered high-risk from Sunday.

Hong Kong International Airport announced the news in a statement on Friday:

In order to control the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of Covid-19, from 16 January to 15 February 2022, passenger transfer/ transit services via Hong Kong International Airport for any persons who have stayed in Group A specified place(s) in the past 21 days will be suspended.”

Hong Kong considers more than 100 countries as high risk, including the UK, US and Australia.

Here’s a quick snapshot detailing how Covid is currently unfolding across Australia.

A total of 130,015 coronavirus cases and 114 deaths were reported across the nation on Friday.

The country’s most populous state of New South Wales reported a daily rise of 63,018 new Covid cases and 29 deaths with 2,525 people being treated in hospital including 184 people in ICU.

Victoria reported 34,836 new Covid cases and 18 deaths with 76 people being treated in hospital including 112 in ICU.

Queensland reported 23,630 new Covid cases and three deaths with 589 people being treated in hospital, including 41 in ICU.

South Australia reported 5,679 new cases and six deaths with 246 hospitalisations and 20 patients in ICU.

Tasmania reported 1,201 new Covid cases with 10 people being treated in hospital. There have been no deaths.

The ACT reported 1,125 new Covid cases with 27 people being treated in hospital, including three in ICU. There have been no deaths.

The Northern Territory reported 546 new cases, with 27 in hospital and 20 in ICU. No deaths were reported.

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Updated

Over in Australia, the Hillsong church has come under fire over a youth camp where congregants were filmed singing and dancing in breach of public health orders.

The church apologised on Friday for “giving any perception that we were not playing our part to keep New South Wales safe” after footage of its annual youth summer camp near Newcastle provoked widespread outrage amid the state’s Covid case numbers.

Police have said officers attended the event in the Newcastle area and spoke with organisers but will not issue a fine.

“It is important to clarify that the current youth camps we are holding are not music festivals,” Hillsong said, claiming the camp was “low risk as described under current guidelines”, because it was held outdoors, with sports activities and no alcohol, and the roughly 200 students attending were all “part of the same social network”.

The Philippines will extend coronavirus curbs in the capital region of Manila and other provinces until the end of January, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has defended a controversial ban that prevents unvaccinated people from using public transport in the capital Manila, denying that the policy was “anti-poor”.

A police officer warns passengers to maintain physical distancing inside a bus at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Quezon City, Philippines on 10 January.
A police officer warns passengers to maintain physical distancing inside a bus at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Quezon City, Philippines on 10 January.
Photograph: Basilio Sepe/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

The “no vaccination, no ride” policy is designed to curb a recent wave of infections, and applies to all modes of transport to and from Metro Manila – including public buses, rail, boats and planes. The policy will be fully implemented from Monday, according to local media, when passengers will be required to show proof of vaccination.

The Philippines has experienced a recent surge in infections, which health experts have blamed on the more transmissible Omicron variant. The country reported a record 34,021 cases on Thursday, the highest since the start of the pandemic, half of which were reported in the national capital region. A further 82 deaths were confirmed.

Updated

Daily Covid cases rise across Asia

Here are the latest daily Covid figures from across Asia:

South Korea has just reported a daily rise of 4,542 confirmed coronavirus cases and 49 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A further 659 people are in critical condition with 510 new admissions per day.

Japan is reporting another 18,673 new daily cases, according to ministry of health data.

Thailand has reported another 8,158 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15 deaths, according to health ministry data.

Pakistan reported another 3,567 confirmed coronavirus cases and 7 deaths with 675 people in critical care, according to figures from the country’s National Command and Operation Centre.

India is also reporting another 264,202 confirmed coronavirus cases and 315 deaths, according to the ministry of health.

Malaysia has recorded another 3,684 new cases and 12 deaths, according to government data.

China has reported 201 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 13 January, up from 190 a day earlier, its health authority said on Friday. Of the new infections, 143 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 124 a day earlier.

New Zealand has reported another 18 community cases with 34 in hospital and 2 in ICU care, according to ministry of health data.

Updated

South Korea extends distancing curbs

South Korea will extend tougher social distancing rules for three more weeks amid concerns over a looming Omicron wave ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, officials said on Friday.

The curbs were restored a month ago just six weeks after being eased under a “living with Covid-19” scheme, as record-breaking numbers of new cases and critically ill patients threatened to saturate the country’s medical system.

Daily tallies have dropped since, with 4,542 new cases for Thursday from a peak of almost 8,000 in mid-December, but the downtrend appeared to bottom out this week due partly to a surge in Omicron infections.

People wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease walk on a street in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on 5 January.
People wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease walk on a street in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on 5 January.
Photograph: Heo Ran/Reuters

“The indicators have improved more or less but the number of new cases are no longer decreasing this week,” prime minister Kim Boo-kyum told an intra-agency meeting, noting that Omicron’s share of domestically transmitted infections has reached 20% in just two weeks.

The extended curbs will last until 6 February, including a 9pm curfew for restaurants, cafes and bars, but the limit on private gatherings will be raised to six fully vaccinated people from four, Reuters reports.

The Lunar New Year break begins on 29 January, and normally tens of millions of Koreans travel country-wide for family gatherings during one of the country’s main holidays, raising the risks of contagion.

Updated

Half a million Israelis over the age of 60 have received the fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, prime minster Naftali Bennett has announced.

Israel began administering a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine last week to people over the age of 60, making it the first country in the world to do so.

Preliminary results from an Israeli study carried out by the Sheba Medical Centre found antibodies increased fivefold in the first week of vaccination.

Updated

Germany has reported more than 92,000 Covid cases today as the country quickly approaches the 100,000 daily count threshold.

Another 92,223 confirmed Covid cases and 286 deaths were recorded by the Robert Koch-Institut.

Vaccine mandate to be introduced in Western Australia

The state of Western Australia intends to ban the unvaccinated from a wide range of public activities, with the restrictions to last “years”, according to premier Mark McGowan.

From January 31, unvaccinated West Australians will be banned from entering bottleshops or dining at fast-food restaurants ahead of the February 5 border transition.

The premier told reporters on Thursday:

Life will become very difficult for the unvaccinated from January 31.

These will be the broadest proof of vaccination requirements in the nation and they will not be removed anytime soon.”

Mr McGowan said West Australians who chose to remain unvaccinated were putting themselves and others at risk and increasing the burden on the health system.

Proof of double-dose vaccination will be required at all hospitality venues, including restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars and fast-food outlets for dine-in customers.

It will also be needed for visitors to public and private hospitals and aged care facilities, indoor entertainment venues including play centres, casinos and cinemas, gyms and fitness centres, the zoo, Crown casino and amusement parks, the Australian Associated Press reports.

The requirement will apply to anyone aged 16 and above and will be implemented across the state.

Updated

Returning to the Djokovic saga for a moment.

Spain had denied it is probing Novak Djokovic for entering without a Covid vaccine in a small win for the tennis No 1.

Djokovic was before yesterday reportedly facing investigations for possible breaches of Covid regulations in three countries: Australia, Spain and Serbia. Apparently Spain are not investigating his travel to the country.

Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia.
Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle regarding his visa to play in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia.
Photograph: Reuters

“The news is false. Neither the government has ordered it nor is there any police investigation open on the athlete,” the spokesperson for interior ministry told POLITICO.

“Only residents in Serbia who have a complete vaccination certificate or special authorization can enter Spain,” the Spanish entry requirements read. Djokovic had traveled to Marbella in late December to train for the Australian Open, which begins Monday.

Meanwhile, Djokovic has taken to the court on Friday to practise for the Australian Open as he waits to hear whether Australia will cancel his visa for a second time, threatening his bid for a record 21st major tennis title.

WHO approves two new Covid-19 treatments

The World Health Organization has approved two new Covid-19 treatments on Friday, growing the arsenal of tools along with vaccines to stave off severe illness and death from the virus.

In their recommendation in British medical Journal the BMJ, WHO experts said arthritis drug baricitinib used with corticosteroids to treat severe or critical Covid patients led to better survival rates and reduced need for ventilators, Agence France-Presse reports.

Experts also recommended synthetic antibody treatment Sotrovimab for people with non-serious Covid at highest risk of hospitalisation, such as the elderly, people with immunodeficiencies or chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Sotrovimab’s benefits for people not at risk of hospitalisation were deemed insignificant and the WHO said its effectiveness against new variants like Omicron was “still uncertain”.

Only three other treatments for Covid-19 have received WHO approval, starting with corticosteroids for severely ill patients in September 2020.

Corticosteroids are inexpensive and widely available and fight inflammation that commonly accompanies severe cases.

China has reported 201 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 13 January, up from 190 a day earlier, its health authority said on Friday.

Of the new infections, 143 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 124 a day earlier.

The new locally transmitted cases were in Henan, Tianjin, Shaanxi, Guangdong and Shanghai.

People walk on a street in Beijing, China, on 13 January as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
People walk on a street in Beijing, China, on 13 January as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

China reported 42 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, higher than 31 infections a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As of 13 January, mainland China had 104,580 confirmed cases.

Poorer nations reject 100m Covid shots as many close to expiry

Poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines distributed by the global programme COVAX, mainly due to their rapid expiry date, a UNICEF official has said.

Etleva Kadilli, director of the agency’s supply division told lawmakers at the European Parliament that the main reason for rejection was the delivery of doses with a short shelf-life, Reuters reports.

More than a 100 million have been rejected just in December alone.”

Poorer nations have also been forced to delay supplies because they have insufficient storage facilities, Kadilli said, including a lack of fridges for vaccines.

Many countries also face high levels of vaccine hesitancy and have overburdened healthcare systems.

A Kenyan soldier guards a consignment of 182,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in Nairobi. UNICEF says poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
A Kenyan soldier guards a consignment of 182,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in Nairobi. UNICEF says poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines.
Photograph: Brian Inganga/AP

UNICEF’s data on supplies and use of delivered vaccines show that 681m shipped doses are currently stored in about 90 poorer nations, according to CARE, a charity, which extracted the figures from a public database.

More than 30 poorer nations, including big states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, have used fewer than half of the doses they received, CARE said. The organisation added:

We MUST invest in last-mile delivery to get vaccines from tarmacs to arms. Countries need delivery support – including for health workers, cold chains, and education programs to combat vaccine hesitancy – if they want to use all the vaccines they receive.”

A spokesperson for Gavi, a vaccine alliance which co-manages COVAX, said that the high storage level was due to a surge in deliveries in the last quarter, especially in December.

Gavi added that most vaccines recently shipped by COVAX had a long shelf life, and therefore were unlikely to go wasted.

COVAX, which is co-led by the World Health Organization, has so far delivered 987m Covid-19 vaccines to 144 countries, according to data from Gavi.

Wealthy countries donating vaccines with a relatively short shelf life has been a “major problem” for COVAX, a WHO senior official said last month.

Updated

Spain to offer fourth dose to vulnerable

Spain is making available a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to vulnerable citizens, including those with cancer, who have had a transplant or are receiving dialysis, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The ministry said the dose would be given five months after a third dose.

For the population as a whole, a third dose will from now on be available for those aged 18 and above rather than the previous age floor of 40, and from five months after the second dose rather than six as previously.

Spain has already jabbed 90.5% of the population aged 12 and above to date.

People wear face masks as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 in Vendrell, Spain.
People wear face masks as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 in Vendrell, Spain.
Photograph: Ramon Costa/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog today as we unpack all the latest Covid developments from across the world.

I’ll be reporting to you from Sydney and my colleagues from London will take over a little later in the day.

Let’s jump in with the news that poorer nations last month rejected more than 100m doses of Covid-19 vaccines distributed by the global programme COVAX, mainly due to their rapid expiry date, a UNICEF official has said.

“More than a 100 million have been rejected just in December alone,” Etleva Kadilli, director of the agency’s supply division told lawmakers at the European Parliament, Reuters reports.

The main reason for rejection was the delivery of doses with a short shelf-life, she said. Last month, a WHO senior official said wealthy countries donating vaccines with a relatively short shelf life has been a “major problem” for COVAX, the worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines.

Spain will make a fourth vaccine dose available to vulnerable citizens, including cancer patients, those who have had a transplant or are receiving dialysis, the health ministry said on Thursday.

Spain has also agreed to cap the cost of Covid self-testing antigen kits at just under €3 and continues to lead Europe’s vaccination drive having already jabbed 90.5% of the population aged 12 and above to date.

Here are the latest developments from across the world surrounding the coronavirus crisis:

  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson is fighting for his political future after he belatedly apologised for attending a party during the coronavirus lockdown.
  • Novak Djokovic’s deportation decision looms as Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke must decide whether to revoke his visa for a second time and throw him out of the country.
  • France eases ban on UK allowing vaccinated people from Britain to visit from Friday providing they have a negative test, after the French authorities say they will ease curbs introduced last month due to the Omicron Covid variant.
  • US president Joe Biden says the government will double its purchase of Covid-19 tests to one billion.
  • Finland’s health authorities cut the recommended quarantine period for Covid-19 patients by up to half, as infections hit record levels.
  • French teachers went on strike, with the biggest teachers’ union saying half of primary schools were closed as staff demand clarity from the government on coronavirus measures.
  • Hungary says it will offer a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose to citizens.
  • Spain agrees to cap the cost of Covid self-testing antigen kits at just under three euros and will make a fourth vaccine dose available to vulnerable citizens, including cancer patients.
  • Greece’s government announces a 100-euro ($114) monthly fine on persons aged over 60 who refuse the anti-Covid vaccine.
  • Poorer countries refused to take around 100m donated Covid-19 vaccine doses in December alone, chiefly due to their short shelf life, the United Nations says.
  • Norway is to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol again from Friday, but only as part of table service and until 11pm.

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