Covid live news: walk-in PCR tests unavailable in England for several hours; France considers new curbs

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live news: walk-in PCR tests unavailable in England for several hours; France considers new curbs” was written by Tom Ambrose (now), Jedidajah Otte, Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Monday 27th December 2021 16.50 UTC

Boris Johnson will impose no further Covid restrictions before new year

England will have no further Covid restrictions over New Year’s Eve, Boris Johnson has ruled, meaning nightclubs and mass events can continue but people will be urged to test before seeing those who are vulnerable.

After a virtual briefing with England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, No 10 said the data would continue to be reviewed but that no new steps would be taken before the new year.

The decision makes England an outlier in the UK, after Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put limits on social gatherings and mass events.

Instead, Johnson and the health secretary, Sajid Javid, will put an emphasis on personal responsibility, despite warnings from health bosses and trade unions, stressing the needs to wear masks indoors, keep areas ventilated and to take tests before seeing elderly or vulnerable relatives.

Greece has announced further restrictions effective between 3 and 16 January to contain a further surge in Covid infections, targeting mainly night-time entertainment venues.

As confirmed new Covid cases surged to a record of 9,284 on Monday, resulting in 66 deaths, the health minister said that under the new measures, high-protection masks would be compulsory at supermarkets, public transport and eating establishments.

Bars and restaurants will have to close at midnight and no standing customers at entertainment venues will be allowed. There will also be a maximum limit of six people per table, Reuters reported.

“If we find that these measures are not complied with we will ban music [at entertainment venues],” the health minister, Thanos Plevris, told a news conference.

The government also moved to restrict attendance of sports events to 10% of capacity or an upper limit of 1,000 people. Visitors at care facilities for the elderly will be permitted if they can furnish a negative PCR test taken within the previous 48 hours.

Authorities had already tightened existing regulations last week, mandating mask wearing in open spaces and banning Christmas and new year festivities.

Updated

Flight cancellations that disrupted holiday travel stretched into Monday, with major US airlines each cancelling dozens of flights.

Staff calling in sick because of Covid, particularly since the emergence of the Omicron variant, have left airlines short in recent days. According to FlightAware, which tracks flight cancellations, airlines have cancelled roughly 4,000 flights to, from or inside the US since Friday.

Delta, United, JetBlue and American have all said that coronavirus was causing staffing problems, and European and Australian airlines also cancelled holiday-season flights because staff were infected, but weather and other factors played a role as well.

Winter weather in the Pacific Northwest led to nearly 250 flight cancellations to or from Seattle on Sunday, said Alaska Airlines, and the airline expects more than 100 flight cancellations on Monday.

United said it cancelled 115 flights Monday, out of more than 4,000 scheduled, due to crews out with Covid.

Updated

UK reports daily figure of 98,515 new Covid cases

Covid cases in the UK have remained high, with 98,515 new confirmed cases reported on Monday as the Omicron variant continues to fuel a winter wave of infections.

The latest official data also reveals figures for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, for which 113,628 and 108,893 daily cases have been reported respectively. However, as experts have noted, figures around Christmas may not give a true picture of the situation – not least as people may be less likely to have a Covid test.

“Data will be unreliable over the festive period as testing and hospital admission patterns change. This will make it difficult to interpret any apparent trends over the next few days,” documents released on Thursday by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned.

The numbers of in-person Boxing Day shoppers in Britain fell to almost half of pre-pandemic levels.

Footfall at shopping sites across the UK on Boxing Day was 41% below the 2019 level, data from industry analyst Springboard shows.

In contrast to bustling bargain hunters normally filling shops on Boxing Day, the footfall in high streets was 37.7% lower than in 2019, while it dropped 48.4% in shopping centres and 40.2% in retail parks.

A pedestrian carrying a Union Jack umbrella walks past a winter sale sign outside a John Lewis store along Oxford street on 27 December, 2021 in London, England.
A pedestrian carrying a Union Jack umbrella walks past a winter sale sign outside a John Lewis store along Oxford street on 27 December, 2021 in London, England.
Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said:

A major reason for the significantly lower footfall compared with 2019 will be due to consumers’ ongoing nervousness about the Covid infection rate.

This will have been compounded by the fact that a few multiple retailers opted not to open on Boxing Day which will have deterred some shoppers.

In addition, Sunday generally has the lowest footfall on any day in the week so a comparison with 2019 when Boxing Day fell on a Thursday will always have meant that footfall would be lower than two years ago.

Despite this, most multiple retailers still opened their doors to shoppers, and the mild weather should have meant that it was easy for shoppers to visit stores and destinations.

In central London, footfall was 41% lower than 2019 numbers, while it was 42% below in other major UK cities.

This had improved during the day, however, as at noon in the capital, footfall was 67% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Footfall dropped by 61.6% in Northern Ireland, 48.3% in Scotland, 51.3% in Wales and 39.7% in England.

Israel’s health ministry said on Monday it was shortening the time between offering the second and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine to three months from five months.

The health ministry said the decision was based on a ”steep rise” in infections as the Omicron variant spreads, Haaretz reports.

The new timeframe would be applied to vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Israel on Monday also introduced tougher regulations on public access to shopping and commercial centres.

Israel recorded 1,760 new infections on Monday and logged 87 active serious cases, a slight decline from Sunday’s 96.

The number of new seriously ill Covid patients however has been steadily climbing over the past five days.

Updated

Scotland has recorded a record number of Covid cases over the Christmas weekend, hitting a high of 11,030 new cases on Boxing Day due to the highly-infectious Omicron variant, the Scottish government has said.

The Scottish government said provisional data showed that 8,252 fresh cases were confirmed on Christmas Day, 11,030 on Sunday 26 December and 10,562 on Monday. These are the highest daily figures reported in Scotland since the pandemic began in March 2020.

It said a majority of those cases came from tests carried out before Christmas Day and warned that data and reporting would be inconsistent over the holiday weekend. “With the longer turnaround time for test results at the moment, the actual number of positive Covid-19 cases may be higher,” it said.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is due to update a specially-reconvened sitting of the Scottish parliament on Wednesday about the spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals.

She said these data were expected, and urged people to continue using facemasks in public, observe distancing rules and take all booster jabs on offer.

Earlier on Monday, Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, said nearly 74% of eligible Scots had received their boosters, bringing the country close to its revised target of 80% of the population getting boosters by 31 December.

Sturgeon said:

These figures underline how important it is that we don’t underestimate the impact of Omicron – even if the rate of hospitalisation associated with it is much lower than past strains of the virus, case numbers this high will still put an inevitable further strain on NHS. This level of infection will also cause a significant and severely disruptive level of sickness absence across the economy and critical services.

So even though we are all thoroughly fed up with the impact of Covid on our lives, it is really important that over the new year period we follow guidance to help slow the spread of the virus while we complete the accelerated booster programmes.

Updated

Health experts urged the Italian government on Monday to relax Covid-19 quarantine rules, warning that the country otherwise risked paralysis as the highly infectious Omicron variant spreads.

Reuters reports:

Under current rules, people who have come into close contact with a Covid-19 sufferer have to self-isolate for seven days if they are vaccinated and for 10 days if they have not had a shot.

Nino Cartabellotta, head of the Gimbe health foundation, said each positive person had, on average, five to 10 close contacts, and predicted that within two weeks 1 million people in Italy might have come down with Covid-19.

“That would mean there could be five to 10 million contacts to be sent to quarantine, and this is not possible,” Cartabellotta told Radio Cusano Campus.

Fabrizio Pregliasco, a virologist, echoed his comment: “It’s clear that at this stage and with this diffusion of Omicron, we must consider changes in the way we intervene, otherwise we’re heading for a generalised lockdown.”

Updated

UK PM not expected to announce new Covid curbs for England on Monday

Boris Johnson is not expected to announce further restrictions for England on Monday after he is briefed on the impact Christmas had on Covid infections and hospital pressures.

The prime minister delayed any new cabinet summit on restrictions until after his regular data briefing with England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty – expected to be knighted in the new year honours – and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

Here is my colleague Jessica Elgot’s story.

Updated

Walk-in PCR tests unavailable in England for several hours due to ‘high demand’

There were no walk-in PCR tests available to book anywhere in England for a few hours on Monday due to “high demand”.

Appointments had been unavailable in every region of the country, although there were some in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

However, later on in the afternoon, bookings were available in every region, with the UK Health Security Agency saying the reduced availability was merely temporary, PA reports.

A UKHSA spokesperson said:

Appointments for PCR tests are available but high demand can lead to temporarily reduced availability in some areas. More appointments are made available for people to book every afternoon.

Testing is playing an integral role in keeping people safe and managing the spread of Covid-19.

We are very grateful to everyone who is following the government’s guidance and getting tested to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.

Everyone with symptoms or who is directed to get a PCR test should continue to come forward to get a test delivered to their home or at a test site.

Twitter users said the lack of availability of tests could affect travel plans, sports fixtures and business appointments.

Updated

Professor Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University, said as much as 40% of the NHS workforce in London could be absent because of rising coronavirus infections under her worst-case scenario workings.

She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme:

The NHS is in a fairly fragile state in terms of workforce anyway – that’s fairly well documented – and the increased absence rate due to Covid and Omicron in particular are putting a lot more strain on the system.

Christmas Eve is the last data we have – there is more data due out today – but, essentially, London’s absence rate is up by about 30%, depending on the organisation.

That’s not just people off sick with Covid but also people isolating because of positive tests. It is kind of going up every week. Normal sickness rate runs around 4%-5% in the NHS, and we are looking more now at 8%-9%.

Asked whether that pattern was likely to be replicated elsewhere, Leary said there were similar signs in the north-west of England and that the Midlands was showing “increased rates of absence”.

Asked what was likely to happen over the coming weeks, she said:

One of the scenarios we’ve modelled is around 40% of the workforce being off, absent in London. We’d hope that’s a worst-case scenario, but because we are already seeing an increase, I think it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect that to go up significantly.

Updated

US airlines cancelled about 800 more flights on Monday after nixing thousands of flights during the Christmas holiday weekend, as Omicron cases across the country rise, forcing crews to isolate.

Shares of American Airlines Group Inc, United Airlines Holdings Inc, Delta Air Line Inc and Southwest Airlines Co were down between 2% and 3% in trading before the opening bell, Reuters reports.

Nearly 740 flights were cancelled within, into, or out of the US by early on Monday morning, a tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com showed.

The flight cancellations on Monday were on top of over 3,000 cancellations during the Christmas holiday weekend, typically a peak time for travel for Americans.

With rising infections, airlines have been forced to cancel flights, with pilots and cabin crew needing to quarantine.

Delta, United, Southwest and American did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Over the weekend, at least three cruise ships were forced to return to port after Covid-19 cases were detected on board, according to media reports.

Updated

The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, is not expected to announce further restrictions to control the Omicron variant in England after being briefed on the impact Christmas had on Covid infections and hospital pressures.

Cabinet ministers remained sceptical of further Covid curbs on Monday morning as Johnson prepared to receive his post-Christmas briefing on the latest infection data by chief medical officer for England, Profe Chris Whitty, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser.

The PA news agency understands no announcement is expected to come out of the meeting, potentially leaving England at odds with other parts of the UK, where post-Christmas restrictions have been deployed.

Conservative MPs have urged caution in going beyond plan B in England, with veteran Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservatives, calling for a “wait-and-see” approach to the impact of infections on hospital admissions and saying he hoped the prime minister would be “very cautious before introducing further measures”.

The latest UK infection data currently in the public domain is from Christmas Eve, when more than 122,000 people tested positive in the previous 24 hours, while hospital data on the government dashboard has not been updated since 20 December.

Curbs on hospitality and large events were reintroduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the Scottish government ordering nightclubs to be closed from Monday while hospitality businesses will need to return to offering only table service if serving alcohol.

Johnson had previously indicated he would not hesitate to introduce tougher measures after Christmas if rising cases of the Omicron variant threatened to overwhelm the NHS.

Updated

France expected to announce new Covid restrictions

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to announce new Covid measures on Monday as the country braces for a new wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant.

Officials fear that hospitals could become overwhelmed after a record 100,000 cases were reported Saturday, the highest daily level in France since the pandemic began.

Macron will hold a crisis meeting at 4pm (1500 GMT) via video conference from his Mediterranean holiday retreat at Brégançon with key members of his cabinet and representatives of French public health bodies.

One measure under consideration is to restrict the country’s Covid health pass, which is required to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues, only to people who are fully vaccinated – and no longer also to those with a recent negative test.

Queue in front of analysis laboratories and pharmacies for Covid tests in Paris, France, on 26 December 2021.
Queue in front of analysis laboratories and pharmacies for Covid tests in Paris, France, on 26 December 2021.
Photograph: Lionel Urman/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

The pass as well as a negative test could also be required for bars or cafes without table seating, and possibly for nightclubs if they are allowed to reopen in January after a four-week closure ordered on 6 December, Reuters reports.

Doctors have also clamoured for a New Year’s Eve curfew, while a group of health workers have urged the government to postpone the return of students to schools currently set for 3 January.

Masks could also be required when outside, a measure already imposed in the Savoie region in the French Alps, and in other European countries.

Officials have been urging people not to hold parties or large family gatherings over the holidays, and some 22 million people out of an eligible 40 million have received Covid booster shots.

Updated

Travel plans of people in England over the festive period are being badly affected by industrial action, planned closures and pandemic-related staff shortages.

Several rail services are currently experiencing disruption due to staff being ill with Covid-19, with TransPennine Express, ScotRail, Avanti West Coast, Northern Rail, LNER and Greater Anglia all having reported an impact on services caused by a lack of available staff.

East Midlands Railway services continue to be affected by industrial action by the RMT union, with an amended service expected to run on 2 January, PA reports.

A number of routes are also being hit by planned engineering works.

Southern’s Gatwick airport trains are operating to and from London Bridge instead of London Victoria until 3 January.

In the north, Leeds will have a reduced service between 27 December and 3 January, including a “very limited” service on 2 January.

In the west, CrossCountry trains will not call at Bristol Parkway between 27 December and 31 December, while Some Great Western Railway services to and from Bristol Temple Meads will also be affected.

Despite the closures, National Rail said that 95% of Britain’s rail network will remain open during the festive period.

It added that the 370 engineering projects it is carrying out over Christmas were planned “months, and in some cases years, in advance”.

The London Underground and Overground will also be hit by planned closures.

Updated

Enough coronavirus booster jab appointments have been booked to put the Scottish government’s target of 80% of the adult population by the new year within tangible reach, Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, has said.

Prof Leitch said around 72% of the adults in Scotland had received their booster shot before Christmas Eve.

Discussing the government’s “get boosted by the bells” target on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, he said:

We’re at 72-point something before Christmas Eve. We’ve got appointments to get to 80%.

What we need now is that final push to get people to come to fill those appointments.

That honestly is the best present you could give to any of your relatives, to get yourself protected so that you then protect others.

Prof Leitch also said he was “very, very hopeful” schools would return on time in January.

Updated

An Israeli hospital administered fourth Covid-19 vaccine doses on Monday to a test group, as the country considers approving the extra jab for clinically vulnerable populations in a bid to stem a surge in infections fuelled by the Omicron variant.

Reuters reports:

The Sheba Medical Centre study in Ramat Gan outside Tel Aviv “will zero in on efficacy of the vaccine in producing antibodies, and safety, in order to ascertain if a fourth vaccine is needed in general”, a spokesman said.

The 150 subjects are all medical staff.

A health ministry expert panel last week recommended that Israel become the first country to offer a fourth vaccine dose – also known as a second booster – to those aged over 60, those suffering from compromised immune systems, and medical workers.

The proposal was welcomed by the Israeli government, which has struggled against a plateauing of turn-out for vaccines.

But the fourth shot awaits final approval by the ministry’s director general, Nachman Ash, a medical doctor whose decision, officials say, will be made without government intervention.

Given concern about the lack of test data, Ash may amend the eligibility criteria by raising the age threshold to 70 and dropping medical workers from the roster, Israeli media said.

The health ministry has neither confirmed nor denied that, nor said when Ash’s decision is due.

Some 63% of Israel’s 9.4 million population have received the first two vaccine doses, according to ministry data. Almost 45% have also received a third dose, or booster shot. Close to 2,000 confirmed or suspected Omicron cases have been logged.

Israel was the fastest country to roll out initial vaccines a year ago, and became one of the first to observe that immunity waned over time, responding with a widespread booster programme.

Updated

Hello everyone, I’m Jedidajah Otte and I’ll be helming this blog for the next few hours. Feel free to drop me a message if you have anything to flag, you can reach me on Twitter @JedySays or via email.

Oman will not allow employees in the public or private sectors to enter their workplace without a vaccination certificate that proves they are fully vaccinated, Reuters reports.

The health minister made the announcement during a news conference on Monday.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

Fourth Covid wave fills hospitals in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is battling a fourth wave of the coronavirus that is threatening to put greater pressure on its health system than at any time during the pandemic.

Congo is the least vaccinated country against Covid-19 in the world with just 0.06% for the population fully vaccinated, Agence France Presse reported earlier this month. Fewer than 300,000 people out of a population of 90 million have received at least one dose, or just 0.33%, Reuters data indicates.

The vaccine rollout was hindered by a lack of funds and supplies, remote populations and rumours claiming that vaccination made people sterile or that Africans were to be used as “guinea pigs”.

A patient breathes oxygen from an old tank, at the St. Joseph Covid-19 treatment centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on 24 December.
A patient breathes oxygen from an old tank, at the St. Joseph Covid-19 treatment centre in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on 24 December.
Photograph: Reuters

Now Covid patients fill hospital wards and tents are needed to cope with the overflow, Reuters reports.

“We have experienced the three previous waves gradually, but in the fourth wave cases have jumped overnight,” said Francois Kajingulu, the head of the St Joseph Covid Treatment Centre in Kinshasa. “On Monday we had 5-6 cases and on Saturday we went straight from 30 to 36.”

Congo registered 6,480 new cases in the week of 13 December – more than double the number hit during its previous record week in June, World Health Organization data show.

The Netherlands is suggesting a rather innovative approach for those hesitant to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Health minister and deputy prime minister, Hugo de Jonge, has recommended those with “injection anxiety” to use virtual reality glasses in vaccination centres run by the the Public Health Service of Amsterdam (GGD).

“Do you suffer from injection anxiety, but still want the (booster) injection?” de Jonge asked over Twitter.

“The GGD is happy to help you. For example, there are more and more locations where they work with VR glasses that make it easier to relax during the injection. They also work with it in Rotterdam.”

US school closures may return amid rise in child Covid infections

As US regional health authorities reacted with alarm to a jump in child Covid infections that caused some school districts to announce returns to remote learning, a leading public health official questioned the need for schools to close, saying: “We know how to keep schools open, we know how to keep them safe.”

Over the past three weeks, as Omicron-related cases soared in New York City and elsewhere, the number of children hospitalised in New York with Covid-19 quadrupled, the state health department said.

Students wearing masks board a school bus on the Lower East Side neighbourhood of Manhattan on 21 December.
Students wearing masks board a school bus on the Lower East Side neighbourhood of Manhattan on 21 December.
Photograph: Brittainy Newman/AP

The California state epidemiologist Dr Erica Pan wrote on Twitter: “Unfortunately New York is seeing an increase in pediatric hospitalisations (primarily amongst the unvaccinated), and they have similar [five – to 11-year-old] vaccination rates.”

Across New York state, about 16% of five- to 11-year-olds and 71% of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Rising numbers of pediatric cases have convinced officials in some states to order a return to remote learning after the winter break. Around 300 schools in Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York will remain closed.

Read the full story from our reporter Edward Helmore in New York here.

Updated

Ukraine has just released its daily Covid report, confirming another 1,864 coronavirus cases recorded on Sunday.

Another 133 deaths were also reported, according to a statement from the ministry of health.

Updated

There is trepidation in Australia over how New Year’s Eve celebrations will contribute to rising case numbers. Donna Lu reports that experts are urging caution:

South Korea has confirmed it has approved for emergency use Pfizer’s oral coronavirus treatment Paxlovid and will introduce the drug for treatment in January next year.

The treatment is expected to reduce hospitalisation and death of high-risk mild/moderate patients, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCPA) said in a press release.

In Britain, those who are still eligible to receive their coronavirus jabs are being urged to start 2022 by getting the vaccine as more than 1.5 million appointments are available to book over the festive season.

PA reports that the NHS said there were 1,551,187 slots still available to be booked between Monday and January.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis called on people to get boosted in time for the New Year. He said: “The evidence is clear that two Covid jabs is not enough, and with the Omicron variant, there is no time to delay getting your booster. “Staff and volunteers up and down the country are working incredibly hard to make sure that anyone who wants to get boosted between now and the new year can do, so start 2022 by protecting yourself, your friends and family and book your jab today.”

Australia passes milestone of 10,000 cases in one day

Australia has surpassed the unwanted milestone of 10,000 new Covid-19 infections in one day, spurred by high case numbers in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, according to the Australian Associated Press.

The state of New South Wales reported 6324 new cases while Victoria had 1999, with the two states forming the bulk of the country’s near 10,200 new infections.

There were 784 new cases in Queensland, three-quarters of which are the Omicron variant the state’s premier said.

There were also a record 842 in South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory’s highest daily tally of 189 new cases, 35 in Tasmania, 12 in the Northern Territory and one in Western Australia.

Updated

As the sun begins to rise in the UK and many wake up after a weekend of Christmas and holiday festivities, here is a quick visual snapshot of how Covid is currently unfolding in Britain.

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Updated

Israel set to administer fourth Covid jab in hospital trial

A major Israeli hospital will begin administering a fourth Covid vaccine shot to 150 medical workers on Monday in a trial aimed at gauging whether a second booster is necessary nationwide.

Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv said its trial would shed light on the efficacy of a fourth dose and help decision-makers set health policy in Israel and abroad, Reuters reports.

A Health Ministry panel of experts has recommended offering a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to Israelis aged 60 and over who received a booster shot at least four months ago.

A young man receives a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv as a nearby hospital announces it will begin administering a fourth Covid vaccine shot to 150 medical workers.
A young man receives a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv as a nearby hospital announces it will begin administering a fourth Covid vaccine shot to 150 medical workers.
Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

But final approval by the ministry’s director-general is still pending amid public debate as to whether sufficient scientific information is available to justify a new booster drive. Sheba Medical Centre did not say how long its trial would last.

Gili Regev-Yochay, the study’s director, said:

We will examine the fourth dose’s effect on the level of antibodies and morbidity and we will gauge its safety.

We will understand whether it is worthwhile to administer a fourth shot, and to whom.”

Summary

Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog as we go through all the latest coronavirus developments.

I’ll be reporting from Sydney, Australia before one of my colleagues joins from London.

Christmas might have put a pause on any new Covid curbs or announcements but this may all change with ministers in the UK set to meet sometime this week to discuss whether additional measures are needed to protect hospital capacity.

Boris Johnson is expected to examine crucial hospital data before making any new announcement on Covid measures.

Another blunder has emerged from Sydney’s St Vincent’s pathology lab after almost 1000 people were sent the wrong Covid test information. A total of 995 people were contacted over their ‘negative’ tests, which may have been incorrect as the results are yet to be determined.

This is in addition to the 400 people who were told on Sunday they were negative when they were in fact positive.

US airlines called off nearly 1,200 flights on Sunday as crews remain grounded amid surging Covid-19 infections, causing misery for thousands of Christmas travellers.

A total of 997 flights were scrapped on Christmas Day and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve. Thousands more were delayed.

On the other side of the world, lockdown restrictions have been tightened in the Chinese city of Xi’an, which is battling the largest community outbreak the country has seen since the initial months of the pandemic.

Authorities reported 162 new community infections on Monday, up from 158 on Sunday. All but 10 of Monday’s new cases were reported in Shaanxi province, where 13 million residents of the capital Xi’an have been locked down for five days.

Here’s a quick rundown of the latest global developments:

Europe:

  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to examine crucial hospital data on Monday before making any new announcement on Covid measures across England which could include a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors.
  • New restrictions are being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Coronavirus vaccination teams could go door-to-door in the UK to reach those yet to have their jabs, reports have suggested.
  • France recorded a record high of 104,611 Covid-19 infections at the weekend, breaking the 100,000 threshold for the first time since the pandemic began.
  • Germany also recorded 10,100 Covid cases.
  • Italy reported a third successive record tally of Covid-19 cases on Christmas Day.
  • The Omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Portugal.

United States:

  • US airlines called off nearly 1,200 flights on Sunday as crews remain grounded amid surging Covid-19 infections. It was a third straight day of travelling pain and more cancellations were likely as Covid infections soar.

Asia:

  • China’s Covid cases hit a 21-month high as the northern city of Xi’an announced tightened restrictions on Sunday.
  • China recorded 200 new coronavirus cases for 26 December, a slight decrease on the 206 cases reported a day earlier. The northwestern province of Shaanxi, home to the recently locked down city of Xi’an, accounted for 150 new cases.
  • Bangkok, Thailand, is cancelling its new year celebrations amid growing concerns about a surge in Covid cases.
  • South Korea’s daily Covid cases fell below 5,000 for the first time in 20 days.

Updated

South Korea has approved for emergency use Pfizer’s oral coronavirus treatment Paxlovid, Yonhap news is reporting, citing the country’s ministry of food and drug safety.

The ministry convened a panel of experts to review the safety and efficacy of Paxlovid, and concluded that the oral pill is needed to deal with the public health crisis, the agency reports.

The ministry said trial results showed Paxlovid significantly reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death in patients at high risk of severe illness.

If you have just joined us, welcome to our live coronavirus blog covering all the latest Covid developments.

Health officials warn a post-Christmas jump in Australia’s Covid-19 infections is expected after lower testing rates and a batch of falsely negative results.

More than 9,600 cases were recorded across the country on Sunday after New South Wales and South Australia recorded new daily case highs, with 6,394 and 774 infections respectively. Numbers fell in Victoria, which recorded 1,604 daily infections, down about 500 cases from the day before.

Here is a quick snapshot of the Covid situation unfolding in Australia.

  • Sydney’s St Vincent’s pathology lab say another 995 people have been contacted over their ‘negative’ tests, which may have been incorrect as the results are yet to be determined. This is in addition to the 400 people who were told on Sunday they were negative when they were in fact positive.
  • Tasmania is seeking advice on whether rapid antigen Covid-19 tests can be used at its border for interstate travellers, instead of PCR tests, AAP reports. The state recorded 35 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, a slight drop on the 44 reported on Boxing Day.
  • Queensland is also considering using rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests for travellers’ day-five tests. The state detected 784 new Covid-19 cases.
  • Western Australia has recorded just one new local Covid infection, while premier Mark McGowan warns the state is “not out of the woods yet” after a French backpacker was in the community while infectious.
  • The Northern Territory detected 12 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours as health authorities investigate a mystery case in Darwin.
  • The Australian Capital Territory recorded 189 new Covid cases, a record number.
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Updated

Coronavirus cases in Germany have just surpassed seven million.

The country reported another 13,908 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the cumulative Covid tally to 7,005,289 confirmed cases.

Another 69 deaths were also recorded, according to data released by the Robert Koch Institute.

India is reporting a daily rise of 6,531 coronavirus cases and 315 deaths, according to a recently released statement from its ministry of health.

Tasmania is seeking advice on whether rapid antigen Covid-19 tests can be used at its border for interstate travellers, instead of PCR tests, AAP reports.

The state recorded 35 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, a slight drop on the 44 reported on Boxing Day.

About two-thirds of Tasmania’s new cases were acquired in another state, 20% spread within families and close contacts and two cases do not have a specific source yet.

Premier Peter Gutwein said the Tasmanian government is seeking advice on whether rapid antigen tests can be used for interstate arrivals.

Gutwein told reporters in Hobart on Monday:

We have a 72 hour pre-test requirement for PCR test if you’re looking to travel to Tasmania and, I want to be clear, that will remain in place for the time being.

But we are considering other options such as where the rapid antigen testing can be used as a safeguard.

We’ll have more to say on this, I’ll speak later in the week about what the requirements will be in terms of our borders, as we approach the New Year.”

The move aims to take pressure off testing sites in other parts of the country, as demand continues to impact queue lengths and turnaround times in the eastern states.

Western Australia has recorded just one new local Covid infection, while premier Mark McGowan warns the state is “not out of the woods yet” after a French backpacker was in the community while infectious.

The new infection is a woman in her 20s, in quarantine since 23 December, who was a close contact of an earlier case.

“This is good news and another encouraging result from this Delta outbreak,” McGowan told reporters on Monday.

McGowan said the health department had identified 608 close contacts, and 1,089 casual contacts, and was in the process of tracking and testing them all.

Current restrictions will remain in place until 4 January, and a new proof of vaccination app will be released soon.

Updated

More on the Covid situation unfolding in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Australia’s least populous region detected 12 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours as health authorities investigate a mystery case in Darwin.

The mystery case was detected overnight with NT Health saying little except the source of infection is under investigation, the Australian Associated Press reports.

Both are people from the Tennant Creek area and household contacts of previous cases, NT Health said on Monday. They were not infectious in the community and are in quarantine.

Residents seen in Darwin as the Northern Territory detects 12 new Covid-19 cases.
Residents seen in Darwin as the Northern Territory detects 12 new Covid-19 cases.
Photograph: Charlie Bliss/Getty Images

The other nine new cases include a close contact of two workers from Yulara who acquired their infections in Queensland. They were not infectious in the community and are in quarantine at The Centre for National Resilience in Howard Springs, near Darwin.

Five cases are interstate arrivals and are all in isolation at home or at the Howard Springs facility. Three cases are close contacts of interstate arrivals.

There are currently 15 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including one in intensive care.

Updated

Another 995 people sent wrong Covid test information: Sydney’s St Vincent hospital

Sydney’s St Vincent’s pathology lab say another 995 people have been contacted over their ‘negative’ tests, which may have been incorrect as the results are yet to be determined.

This is in addition to the 400 people who were told on Sunday they were negative when they were in fact positive.

The hospital issued an apology for the first blunder yesterday and now say the additional 995 results will be delivered by Monday night.

A media statement shared with the Guardian read:

Yesterday SydPath confirmed that more than 400 people were incorrectly advised they had tested negative to COVID when in fact they had tested positive.

As soon as SydPath became aware of the issue it immediately commenced a process to contact those impacted.

This morning SydPath can confirm that all people within this group have been contacted and advised of their positive result.

The emergency response team investigating the cause of this error, has now identified approximately 995 more people, tested on 23 and 24 December, were prematurely sent an SMS advising them their test was negative when in fact their true result had not yet been determined.

All of these people have been contacted and advised of the error. They have been advised they will receive their accurate test results by tonight (Monday).

Once again, we are sincerely sorry for this error and acknowledge the significant impact it has had on those involved.

We have identified what occurred and can confirm it was related to a specific human error.

SydPath have put procedures in place to ensure this cannot happen again.

This event comes at a time of unprecedented COVID-testing activity and SydPath’s people, as with all pathology teams throughout NSW, are working around the clock to respond.”

Updated

Bangkok cancels new year celebrations

Bangkok is cancelling its new year celebrations amid growing concerns about a surge in Covid cases.

Thailand’s government said in a statement:

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and relevant government agencies regret to announce their cancellation of the New Year celebration events hosted by the BMA in 50 districts, including prayer and chanting ceremonies.

The private sector will reportedly still be allowed to host new year countdown festivities under strict precautions.

Christmas tree lights marking the festival of happiness in Bangkok, Thailand
Christmas tree lights marking the festival of happiness in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photograph: Teera Noisakran/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated

Australia expects post-Christmas jump in Covid cases

A post-Christmas jump in Covid-19 infections is expected after lower testing rates and a batch of falsely negative results, according to health officials.

Australia dodged the unwanted milestone of 10,000 new daily cases on Boxing Day only due to a significant drop in cases in Victoria compared with Christmas Day.

More than 9,600 cases were recorded across the country on Sunday after New South Wales and South Australia recorded new daily case highs, with 6,394 and 774 infections respectively.

The NSW record came despite a drop of 40,000 tests on Christmas Day.

Numbers fell in Victoria, which recorded 1,604 daily infections, down about 500 cases from the day before. There were two deaths in the state.

St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney also admitted it accidentally told more than 400 people on Christmas Day they had tested negative to the virus when they had in fact tested positive.

The hospital has since notified those who received the wrong results, but concerns remain over people who would have been infectious in the community after being reassured by their initial negative test. The more than 400 false-negative cases are yet to be officially recorded.

Updated

Annastacia Palaszczuk has also hinted at possible upcoming changes in Covid testing while chief health officer John Gerrard said the state’s quarantine rules were also being reviewed, indicating these may be relaxed.

Palaszczuk said the government was considering using rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests for travellers’ day-five tests. The measure could be introduced within the next 48 hours.

The rapid tests could replace all PCR tests for travellers, with Palaszczuk saying a policy change was unlikely before 1 January.

Covid-19 testing centres in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns have been given more resources to increase capacity and reduce queuing times.

Meanwhile, online vaccination bookings are open for children aged five to 11 years, with jabs set to start from 10 January.

Updated

More on the Covid situation unfolding in Queensland.

There are 3,621 active cases in the state and 24,515 people were tested in the past 24 hours, according to the Australian.

About 75% of cases are the Omicron variant and 25% are Delta, with the majority of infections among people aged 35 and younger.

Pedestrians wear face masks in Brisbane as Queensland confirms there are currently 3,621 active cases in the state.
Pedestrians wear face masks in Brisbane as Queensland confirms there are currently 3,621 active cases in the state.
Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

More than half of the state’s 5,798 cases have been diagnosed since the borders reopened on 13 December.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government had not expected the 400,000 interstate visitors and this, coupled with private testing clinics closing over the festive period, had added extra burden on Queensland Health’s testing facilities.

Updated

Queensland cases continue to climb

Queensland has detected 784 new Covid-19 cases but the health system is coping, state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said.

Quarantine and testing policies are being reviewed and rapid antigen tests may be introduced for some people within 48 hours to take pressure of testing facilities, AAP reports.

There has not been a spike in case numbers on Monday with just 70 more infections recorded over the past 24 hours compared with the 714 on Sunday.

But Palaszczuk warned Queenslanders case numbers would continue to climb:

I don’t want people to be alarmed by that, the real issue here is what is the impact it is having on individuals in hospitals?

We are not seeing any massive impacts on our hospitals, which is really good news.

We are monitoring this very closely.

Just four “significantly unwell” people were in a hospital receiving care for virus symptoms.

Updated

The Australian Capital Territory has recorded 189 new Covid cases, a record number. The ACT has an extraordinary vaccination rate of 98.5% of people aged 12 and over.

One person is in hospital but no one is in intensive care or on ventilation, AAP reports.

Updated

China’s Covid cases hit 21-month high as Xi’an tightens lockdown

The Chinese city of Xi’an, where 13 million residents are in lockdown and confined to their homes, announced tightened restrictions on Sunday as the country recorded its biggest Covid-19 infection numbers in 21 months.

On Sunday the country reported 206 new Covid infections – the highest daily number since March 2020, according to the national health commission.

“In the coming days, a number of cases are still likely to be detected,” Agence France-Presse reported Xi’an official He Wenquan as saying.

Police officers patrol the empty Xi’an railway station
Police officers patrol the empty Xi’an railway station after a citywide lockdown was imposed to halt the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus on 23 December.
Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

The northern metropolis – about 900km (560 miles) from the Olympics venues – has so far recorded more than 500 Covid infections over the past few weeks.

About 29,000 people have been placed in hotel quarantine, He Wenquan said.

Xi’an residents have been tested several times, authorities said, and a “total” disinfection was to begin Sunday evening. Restrictions on movement have also been tightened.

Each household can only send one member out to buy basic necessities once every three days – down from two days under previous rules. All businesses except supermarkets, convenience stores and medical facilities have been ordered to close.

Updated

South Korea has also just released its latest coronavirus figures with some more promising news.

New Covid-19 cases fell below 5,000 for the first time in 20 days on Monday, Yonhap News reports.

The country added 4,207 new Covid-19 infections, raising the total caseload to 611,670 as well as 55 more deaths, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

People celebrate Christmas Eve in Seoul Plaza, downtown Seoul
People celebrate Christmas Eve in Seoul Plaza, downtown Seoul.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The figure marked the first time daily cases fell below 5,000 since 7 December and represented a sharp decline from a daily record high of 7,849 on 15 December.

The number of critically ill Covid-19 patients also slightly fell to 1,078 after reaching an all-time high of 1,105 on Saturday, the KDCA said.

The decreasing infections are believed to be due partly to the newly introduced restrictions and possible fewer tests taken at the weekend.

Updated

China has just released its daily Covid report, recording 200 new coronavirus cases for 26 December, according to newly updated data from the national health commission.

The figure is a slight decrease on the 206 cases reported a day earlier.

Of the 200 cases reported, 162 are believed to be from local transmission, with 38 imported cases from abroad.

The northwestern province of Shaanxi, home to the recently locked down city of Xi’an, accounted for 150 new cases.

Residents queue up for Covid-19 testing at Northwestern Polytechnical University on 25 December in Xi’an
Residents queue up for Covid-19 testing at Northwestern Polytechnical University on 25 December in Xi’an.
Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

Updated

The Boxing Day Ashes Test is also under way at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The match got off to a delayed and chaotic start after Channel Seven, the host broadcaster, reported that the MCG press box had a confirmed case of Covid-19.

A statement from the broadcaster read:

The Seven Network confirms it is responding after a member of staff working on the Ashes broadcast at the MCG tested positive to Covid-19 on Sunday night.

The staff member was asymptomatic at time of testing and has been in self isolation since the moment the positive result was returned.

Seven is activating its Covid measures to ensure the health and safety of all staff, as well as the broader community, and is working in line with all relevant guidelines and regulations. We are working closely with the MCG operational team and Cricket Australia.

Ben Stokes of England bowls the ball
Ben Stokes of England bowls the ball during the Boxing Day Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England.
Photograph: Dave Hewison/Speed Media/Rex/Shutterstock

The ECB also released a statement about an English touring family member testing positive.

Cricket Australia later released a statement confirming four cases (so far) in the England tour party after rapid antigen tests this morning.

Play is under way and you can also follow our live feed of the Ashes 2021-22 third Test, day two: Australia v England here.

Updated

A small change to the hospital numbers in New South Wales:

Just to recap on Australian Covid news: Three people have died in New South Wales – and the Sydney Morning Herald reports that one man died with the Omicron strain. That’s the first NSW Omicron death.

NSW recorded 6,324 new cases, there were 35 in Tasmania and 784 in Queensland, where children aged five to 11 are now eligible for vaccinations.

Three more people died in Victoria and there were 1,999 new cases. Stay tuned for more developments.

Updated

Nearly 1,200 US flights cancelled

US airlines called off nearly 1,200 flights on Sunday as crews remain grounded amid surging Covid-19 infections, causing misery for thousands of Christmas travellers.

Commercial airlines had cancelled 1,171 flights within, into or out of the US by mid-afternoon, according to a tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com and as reported by Reuters.

A woman waits in line to check in for her flight to Washington at Los Angeles international airport as thousands of travellers’ Christmas plans are dashed amid ongoing flight cancellations
A woman waits in line to check in for her flight to Washington at Los Angeles international airport as thousands of travellers’ Christmas plans are dashed amid ongoing flight cancellations.
Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

It was a third straight day of travelling pain and more cancellations were likely as Covid infections soar, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

A total of 997 flights were scrapped on Christmas Day and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve. Thousands more were delayed.

Read the full story here.

Updated

Hello it’s Samantha Lock with you on the blog as we run through all the latest Covid developments from across Australia and the world.

Let’s start with the news that US airlines have cancelled more than 1,000 flights as crews remain grounded and forced to quarantine amid surging Covid-19 infections.

Flight-tracking website FlightAware.com recorded 656 cancelled flights either into or out of the US on Sunday. This comes after nearly 1,000 were cancelled on Christmas Day and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, Covid cases continue to rise to record levels in Australia. The nation’s most populous state of New South Wales recorded three deaths and 6,324 new cases while Victoria recorded three deaths and 1,999 new cases.

But vaccination rates may offer some solace, with 92% of Victorians aged 12 and over fully vaccinated and 93.5% of people aged 16 and over in NSW having received at least two jabs.

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Europe:

  • New restrictions are being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • New Covid measures in England could be in place until late March, including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors.
  • Coronavirus vaccination teams could go door-to-door in the UK to reach those yet to have their jabs, reports have suggested.
  • France recorded a record high of 104,611 Covid-19 infections at the weekend, breaking the 100,000 threshold for the first time since the pandemic began.
  • Germany also recorded 10,100 Covid cases.
  • Italy reported a third successive record tally of Covid-19 cases on Christmas Day.
  • The Omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Portugal.

US:

  • More than 1000 flights were grounded on Sunday.

Asia:

  • China’s local Covid case count has reached a 21-month high driven by the Xi’an outbreak as the city remains in a strict lockdown.
  • In South Korea, three members of K-pop sensation BTS test have tested positive after their return from the US. They are all fully vaccinated.

Middle East:

  • The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the Omicron variant in the Gaza Strip.
  • An Israeli hospital will begin administering a fourth vaccine jab to 150 staff on Monday in a trial aimed at gauging whether a second booster is necessary nationwide.
  • Israel has ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer Inc’s antiviral pill Paxlovid for people aged 12 and over at risk of severe illness.
  • Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has started isolating at home after his daughter tested positive.
  • Iran has banned the entry of travellers from Britain, France, Denmark and Norway for 15 days.

Updated

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