Covid live: Omicron may be less severe but not ‘mild’, says WHO; threat to arrest unvaccinated in Philippines

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: Omicron may be less severe but not ‘mild’, says WHO; threat to arrest unvaccinated in Philippines” was written by Lucy Campbell (now); Georgina Quach, Martin Belam and Helen Livingstone (earlier), for theguardian.com on Thursday 6th January 2022 18.46 UTC

Novak Djokovic’s family have said he is the victim of “a political agenda” aimed at “stomping on Serbia” as protesters in Belgrade called for his release and Serbia’s president insisted “the whole country” was behind him.

The 34-year-old world tennis No 1, who was born in the Serb capital, is in detention in an immigration hotel in Melbourne pending a legal challenge to Australia’s decision on Wednesday to cancel a visa that would allow him to play in the Australian Open.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Serb assembly on Thursday afternoon after a call for support from Djokovic’s family. The player’s father told a press conference that he could not be defeated “by anyone, not even the Australian government”.

Djokovic was being “persecuted”, Sjrdan Djokovic said. “They’re keeping him in captivity. They’re stomping all over him to stomp all over Serbia and the Serbian people. [Scott] Morrison [Australia’s prime minister] and his like have dared attack Novak to bring Serbia to its knees.”

Australian officials have said the player, who has refused to reveal his Covid vaccination status but previously said he was opposed to vaccination, was refused entry because he failed to meet vaccination exemption requirements.

Read the full report from Jon Henley and Milivoje Pantovic here: Djokovic father says visa row aimed at ‘stomping on Serbia’

Summary

Here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today so far:

  • Peru raised its pandemic alert level in numerous cities and tightened some restrictions amid a third wave of infections caused by the spread of the Omicron variant. The health minister, Hernando Cevallos, said that 24 provinces, including Lima, went from “moderate” to “high” alert as the average number of daily cases has increased 25% from the previous week. Among the restrictions were an extended curfew of 11pm to 5am, three hours longer than the previous curfew, and tightened capacity limits in shopping centres, banks and restaurants, Cevallos said. [see 5.51pm.].
  • The Stormont assembly is set to be recalled early from its Christmas recess to discuss the Omicron surge in Northern Ireland. A sitting of the assembly’s plenary is due to take place at noon on Monday so MLAs can debate a motion around the opening of schools amid the recent record-breaking wave of Covid cases.
  • The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing “galloping” infections driven by the Omicron variant. When the government tightened restrictions in Manila and several provinces and cities this week, unvaccinated people among the capital’s 13 million people were ordered to stay home, after infection numbers tripled in the last two days. “Because it’s a national emergency, it is my position that we can restrain” people who have not got their shots, Duterte said in a pre-recorded message. “I am now giving orders to the [village chiefs] to look for those persons who are not vaccinated and just request them or order them, if you may, to stay put.” He added: “And if he refuses and goes out of the house and goes around in the community or maybe everywhere, he can be restrained. If he refuses then the [official] is empowered to arrest the recalcitrant persons.” [see 5.12pm.].
  • Pre-departure testing for travellers entering Scotland has been scrapped in line with the rest of the UK. The change will take effect from Friday at 4am, while those coming into the country will also be able to use a lateral flow test instead of a PCR as their post-arrival test, taken on or before the second day of their stay, from Sunday at 4am. The requirement to self-isolate until a negative PCR is returned will also come to an end. Only travellers above the age of 18 and who are fully vaccinated with two doses are impacted by the change – a booster is not required, according to Scottish government guidance. [see 5.07pm.].
  • The UK recorded another 179,756 Covid casesand a further 231 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest figures from the government’s coronavirus dashboard. Story here.
  • The more infectious Omicron variant appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta, but should not be categorised as “mild”, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said. Speaking at a media briefing, the director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines. Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July, Tedros added. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.
  • Austria’s government is to roll out tighter Covid-19 rules from Saturday as the country fights a wave of infections from the Omicron variant. The new measures include shortening quarantine times to five days, requiring people to wear masks outdoors when in crowds, and limiting to six months the validity of vaccine certificates, officials said. Previously, people who tested positive had to quarantine for 14 days. From next week, stricter inspections will be in place to make sure only vaccinated or recovered people are going into shops and cultural venues. The government has also told Austrians to keep working from home if possible.
  • Portugal will allow students to return to school from next week and nightclubs to reopen on 14 January despite a record surge in Covid cases, with hospital admissions still well below levels seen earlier in the pandemic. From Monday, only coronavirus-infected people and those who live with them need to isolate, while those who have received a booster shot – a total of about 3 million people – no longer need to do so. Students can return to school on Monday but a work-from-home order, imposed around Christmas, will stay in place until 14 January, António Costa, the prime minister, said. Nightclubs and bars can reopen on 14 January, but a negative test will be required to enter. A negative test will also continue to be requested from all air passengers travelling to Portugal.
  • Boris Johnson criticised anti-Covid vaccine activists for spreading “nonsense” on social media, while stressing that he does not support moves to overtly pressure people into getting vaccinated. “I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong,” Johnson told broadcasters on a visit to a vaccination centre. “You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach.” Story here.
  • Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier will stand trial in August accused of travelling from Glasgow to London in September 2020 knowing she had symptoms of coronavirus and wilfully exposing others to the risk of infection. Ferrier pleaded not guilty to the single charge on Thursday morning at Glasgow sheriff court. Story here.
  • An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK – one in 50 – had long Covid in early December, the highest number since estimates began, according to figures from the ONS. That includes more than half a million people who first had Covid, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago. [see 12.20pm.].

Updated

Peru raises Covid alert and tightens restrictions amid Omicron wave

Peru, which has one of the world’s highest Covid mortality rates per number of inhabitants, has raised its pandemic alert level in various cities and tightened some restrictions due to a third wave of infections caused by the spread of the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.

The health minister, Hernando Cevallos, said that 24 provinces, including Lima, went from “moderate” to “high” alert as the average number of daily cases has increased 25% from the previous week.

Among the restrictions were an extended curfew of 11pm to 5am, three hours longer than the previous curfew, and tightened capacity limits in shopping centres, banks and restaurants, Cevallos said.

The heightened restrictions come amid signs that countries across Latin America are entering another wave of Covid infections, despite South America being the world’s most-vaccinated region.

“We’re at a level of infections that’s rising more and more quickly,” Cevallos said in a press conference. The minister said that in Lima, where close to a third of the country lives, “Omicron is the prominent [variant]”, accounting for half of all new cases.

Cevallos also said that despite the rise in infections, the number of deaths in the country had only increased moderately, and that the majority of the deaths were among the unvaccinated.

About 80% of Peru’s eligible population has received two doses of the Covid vaccine. As of Tuesday, according to the health ministry’s most recent update, the country has recorded a total number of 2.3 million infections and 202,904 deaths.

Updated

The Stormont assembly is set to be recalled early from its Christmas recess to discuss the Omicron surge in Northern Ireland, PA reports.

It follows a recall motion submitted by Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan, which was backed by SDLP and Alliance party members.

On Thursday, the speaker, Alex Maskey, confirmed that a sitting of the assembly’s plenary would take place at noon on Monday.

MLAs would debate a motion around the opening of schools amid the recent record-breaking wave of Covid cases.

The motion expresses “serious concern at the lack of planning” by the education minister, Michelle McIlveen.

It calls for the minister to “urgently develop a plan that puts the safety of pupils and staff first, through the installation of air-monitoring and air-filtration devices in all classrooms”.

It also calls for staffing shortages to be addressed by “utilising and deploying additional teaching capacity to keep schools open and safe”.

Teachers’ unions have warned that the return of children to the classroom will lead to a further increase in transmission and that members had concerns about contact tracing as well as staffing levels.

Earlier this week, McIlveen said her priority was to keep children in school and added that her department continued to liaise with the Department of Health as well as schools over Covid concerns.

Sheehan welcomed the plenary sitting and urged McIlveen to address MLAs. He said:

I welcome confirmation that the assembly will be recalled to discuss the need for schools to reopen safely and the extra pressure faced by school staff as a result of rising Covid-19 infection rates.

The education minister needs to come to the assembly on Monday and set out a return-to-school plan which puts the safety of pupils, teachers and parents first.

Updated

Philippines’ Duterte threatens unvaccinated people who break lockdown with arrest

Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing “galloping” infections driven by the Omicron variant, AFP reports.

The government tightened restrictions in Manila and several provinces and cities this week. Unvaccinated people among the capital’s 13 million people were ordered to stay home, after infection numbers trebled in the last two days.

Health officials said infections were projected to increase further in the coming days and would peak by the end of the month.

“Because it’s a national emergency, it is my position that we can restrain” people who have not got their shots, Duterte said in a pre-recorded message.

“I am now giving orders to the [village chiefs] to look for those persons who are not vaccinated and just request them or order them, if you may, to stay put.”

He added: “And if he refuses and goes out of the house and goes around in the community or maybe everywhere, he can be restrained. If he refuses then the [official] is empowered to arrest the recalcitrant persons.”

Covid vaccinations are voluntary in the nation of more than 100 million people, and less than half the population have so far been jabbed.

Duterte said he was “appalled” at the large numbers of Filipinos yet to be vaccinated.

“If you don’t get a jab you put everybody in jeopardy,” he said, with the virus “galloping in our community, in our country and in the world.”

New infections surged to more than 17,000 on Thursday, rising more than threefold from Tuesday’s toll, according to health department data.

The disease has infected 2.9 million people in the country, nearly 52,000 of whom have died.

The government loosened lockdowns in October last year, after infections driven by the Delta variant peaked, in order to revive the hard-hit economy.

New infections dwindled to a few hundred daily just before Christmas, but ramped up again as families and friends got together for the holidays.

Health experts say the new cases are driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Under the tighter restrictions, in place until mid-January, unvaccinated residents have to stay at home unless buying essentials or exercising.

Restaurants, parks, churches and beauty salons will operate at lower capacity, while in-person classes and contact sports are suspended.

Updated

Scotland scraps pre-departure testing requirement for travellers into the country

Pre-departure testing for travellers entering Scotland has been scrapped in line with the rest of the UK, the Scottish government has said.

The change will take effect from Friday at 4am, while those coming into the country will also be able to use a lateral flow test instead of a PCR as their post-arrival test, taken on or before the second day of their stay, from Sunday at 4am.

The requirement to self-isolate until a negative PCR is returned will also come to an end.

Only travellers above the age of 18 and who are fully vaccinated with two doses are impacted by the change – a booster is not required, according to Scottish government guidance.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the same changes for travellers into England on Wednesday, “frustrating” Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, after UK-wide discussions on the issue had taken place.

The Welsh health minister, Eluned Morgan, said rules there will “reluctantly” match those put in place in England.

Despite the changes, Scotland’s transport secretary, Michael Matheson, urged caution over Covid as the Omicron variant spreads and the number of total cases in Scotland rose above 1m.

He said:

We still have significant concerns over Omicron, but we recognise that now it is the most dominant strain in Scotland and across the UK, it is sensible to review the measures currently in place.

We also fully understand the impact of the restrictions on staff and businesses in the travel and aviation sectors, and these changes demonstrate our commitment not to keep measures in place any longer than necessary.

However, people still need to be extremely careful when travelling and to remember that both our and other countries’ Covid-19 requirements can change at short notice as things can evolve very quickly.

People should therefore ensure they have travel insurance and carefully check their booking terms and conditions, as well as ensuring compliance with the latest regulations for the country being visited.

On BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday, Yousaf said:

Although we engaged in a conversation with the UK government, it is a source of frustration that if the UK government unilaterally decides to move in a certain direction we end up with potentially a double whammy if we don’t align.

Not changing the rules for Scotland, Yousaf said, would have a negative impact on the travel sector north of the border, while posing no public health benefit if travellers could fly to England, follow the rules there and then drive into Scotland.

Our aviation sector, which has undoubtedly been significantly affected throughout the course of the pandemic, gets a further hit and also we don’t end up realising any benefit if we have different public health measures in place, because ultimately a number of people may well travel from English airports if that is seen to be easier or cheaper.

Updated

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story on Boris Johnson criticising anti-vaccine activists for spreading “nonsense” on social media, while stressing that he does not support moves to overtly pressure people into having Covid vaccines.

Austria’s government has said it was making medical grade masks compulsory outside to ward off a new lockdown as Omicron cases rise, AFP reports.

Chancellor Karl Nehammer revealed the decision on Thursday, telling reporters the situation was “very serious” with Omicron’s degree of contagion posing “a new challenge”.

Austrian reported 8,853 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, nearly three times above the daily average number of infections last week.

Medical grade FFP2 face coverings had already been compulsory on Austrian public transport and in enclosed spaces since last January.

FFP2 masks offer better filtration than their surgical equivalent and cover the face more effectively.

Austria is also tightening its health pass controls but loosening restrictions including on self-isolation of those who test positive and those with whom they have been in contact to avoid economic paralysis. [see 3.25pm.].

Nehammer said Vienna was not ruling out a new lockdown should hospitalisations surge, the most recent one having ended on 12 December for those vaccinated.

Those yet to be jabbed must stay at home except for reasons including work and buying food in a country where about one third of residents have not been jabbed – one of the highest rates in western Europe.

Updated

Here is the moment the UK prime minister described anti-vaxxers’ social media messages as “mumbo jumbo”.

Boris Johnson said he wanted to keep coronavirus vaccination voluntary in the UK unlike other European countries that have begun introducing mandatory vaccination.

 

UK reports another 179,756 cases and 231 deaths

A further 179,756 Covid cases have been reported in the UK and another 231 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to the latest figures from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

Read more on this story here: UK reports 179,756 new Covid cases as Omicron surge continues

Updated

Dozens of protestors have gathered outside the Serbian parliament in central Belgrade to show their support for Novak Djokovic, the BBC reports.

It came after the tennis star’s father urged his fans to respond to Australia’s decision to refuse the world number one entry to the country. The chain of events has put Djokovic at the centre of a diplomatic and political furore over the validity or not of his medical exemption from vaccination rules.

Shortly after arriving in Melbourne for the Australian Open, Djokovic was taken to a government detention hotel in the city, where he is being held pending a court appeal. The Australian Border Force said he had failed to provide enough evidence that he was medically exempt from coronavirus rules that all players in the Australian Open must be double-jabbed.

His father Srdjan said the player was being made to suffer “terrible” hotel conditions. Several anti-vaccination protesters, many of them holding Serbia flags, have also turned up outside Djokovic’s hotel in Melbourne to rally against the treatment of the tennis star.

But tennis player Rafael Nadal has shown much less sympathy over the visa debate, reports Guardian sports writer Tumaini Carayol from Melbourne:

Speaking after he successfully returned to competition for the first time since August with a straight sets win over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, Nadal reiterated that the clearest way to ensure participation in Melbourne was through embracing vaccination and that Djokovic had known the conditions for many months.

 

Updated

Omicron may be less severe, but not ‘mild’ – WHO chief

The more infectious Omicron variant appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta, but should not be categorised as “mild”, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Speaking at a media briefing, the director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also repeated his call for greater equity globally in the distribution of and access to vaccines.

Based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world’s population to be fully vaccinated by July, Tedros added. That aim is seen as helping end the acute phase of the pandemic.

Another variant – labelled as IHU and first registered in September 2021 – is among those being monitored by the WHO but is not circulating widely, said the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, Dr Maria van Kerkhove.

There are two other categories of greater significance the WHO uses to track variants: “variant of concern”, which includes Delta and Omicron, and “variant of interest”.

Speaking at the same briefing from Geneva, the WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 nations had not even reached 10% vaccination cover. Among severe patients worldwide, 80% were unvaccinated, he added.

Updated

Austrian government to tighten Covid rules

Austria’s government is to roll out tighter Covid-19 rules from Saturday as the country fights a wave of infections from the new Omicron variant, reports AP.

The new measures include shortening quarantine times to five days, requiring people to wear masks outdoors when in crowds, and limiting to six months the validity of vaccine certificates, officials said. Previously, people who tested positive had to quarantine for 14 days.

From next week, stricter inspections will be in place to make sure only vaccinated or recovered people are going into shops and cultural venues. The government has also told Austrians to keep working from home if possible.

“We have to adjust to the fact that the infection numbers will increase quickly,” the chancellor, Karl Nehammer, told a news conference in Vienna. Austria reported 8,853 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, nearly three times above the daily average number of infections last week.

“Every single person in Austria can help to slow down the speed of the spread of the disease,” the health minister, Wolfgang Mückstein, said.

Updated

First up, a little light relief to brighten your day. To encourage people to get their Covid-19 jabs, a campaigner in Germany has filmed a flock of sheep forming the shape of a syringe from the air, reports Reuters. Here is some marvellous footage of the wooly creatures’ performance.

A German shepherd campaigning for Covid-19 vaccinations used his 700 sheep to form a giant syringe shape in Schneverdingen in north Germany.
Working with a German shepherd to campaign for Covid-19 vaccinations, Hanspeter Etzold used 700 sheep to form a giant syringe shape in Schneverdingen in north Germany.
Photograph: Hanspeter Etzold/Reuters

“Sheep are popular with people and carry positive emotional connotations. So perhaps they can reach many people emotionally when logic and scientific reasoning don’t do the job,” the organiser of the campaign, Hanspeter Etzold, told Reuters.

“I have noticed how enthusiastically the sheep are received and that it simply reaches people deep inside, which is perhaps not possible rationally, with rational arguments,” he said.

The sheep, which belong to the shepherd Steffen Schmidt and his wife, followed pieces of bread laid on the ground to create the 100-metre-long syringe shape as they were filmed from the air.

Updated

Good afternoon. I’m Georgina Quach, taking over from Lucy Campbell while she takes a lunch break. I’ll be updating the blog with more global coronavirus news as it develops. Please feel free to contact me if you have a story or tips to share. You can reach me on:

Email: georgina.quach@theguardian.com

Twitter: @georginaquach

Hospitals outside London could end up treating even more Covid patients than at the peak of the pandemic last January, a senior NHS leader has said.

Soaring infection rates in the north of England mean that one NHS trust expects to have 30% more Covid cases next week than it had at the last peak, the chief executive of NHS Providers said.

Chris Hopson said he fears that hospitals outside the capital will not be as able to cope with the new wave of admissions as those in London. This was because they had deeper staffing problems, higher levels of sickness absence, older populations and in some cases worse social care provision, he said. NHS Providers represents all the 213 NHS trusts in England.

Drawing a contrast between the ability of trusts in London and the rest of England to withstand the intense pressures of Omicron, Hopson said in a series of tweets that in the bulk of the country, “overall Covid cases v previous peaks could be much higher”.

He added: “London currently [circa] 50% of Jan 2021 peak Covid hospital load. One northern trust already at 70% of Jan 2021 peak and predicting [circa] 130% next week.”

Some trusts outside London had as many as 19% of their staff absent because of Covid, much higher than the 10% off sick or isolating that other NHS organisations had been reporting, he added.

Hopson said he had spoken to chief executives of more than a dozen trusts outside London over the previous 24 hours.

They all, unanimously, challenged the assumption that the rest of the country will automatically follow London on the shape and scale of, and ability to ‘cope’ with, pressure.

CEOs outside London gave a number of reasons why their local system may be less able to cope with pressures than London has done. Demographics, patterns of infection, hospitalisation and sickness absence will be different.

So we are likely to see a very varied pattern emerging over next days and weeks, with some trusts finding it easier to ‘cope’ than others. With London trusts at ‘more able to cope’ end? Hence why some trusts now declaring critical incidents – around two dozen now.

More on this story here: Hospitals outside London ‘expect more Covid patients than last January’

Updated

Portugal has said it will allow students to return to school from next week and nightclubs to reopen on 14 January despite a record surge in Covid cases, with hospital admissions still well below levels seen earlier in the pandemic, Reuters reports.

“It is evident that the Omicron variant is less severe … vaccination has been effective against [it],” the prime minister, António Costa, told a news conference on Thursday, referring to the fast-spreading variant that emerged in late 2021.

“That’s why we have a much lower number of hospitalisations, fewer people in ICU and deaths,” he added.

The variant hit Portugal – one of the world’s most vaccinated nations, with 89% of its people fully inoculated – in November, leading to an increase in cases. These reached a record on Wednesday of close to 40,000 new infections.

Authorities registered 14 fatalities on Wednesday, far lower than the more than 300 daily deaths in the previous peak of the pandemic in late January, when the vaccination campaign had just kicked off.

Hospitals had 1,251 patients with Covid compared with a peak of 6,869 on 1 February.

From Monday, only coronavirus-infected people and those who live with them need to isolate, while those who have received a booster shot – a total of about 3 million people – no longer need to do so.

Students can return to school on Monday but a work-from-home order, imposed around Christmas, will stay in place until 14 January, Costa said.

Nightclubs and bars can reopen on 14 January, but a negative test will be required to enter. A negative test will also continue to be requested from all air passengers travelling to Portugal.

The surge in cases comes three weeks before a snap general election on 30 January, and Costa said authorities would do everything in their power to ensure all people, including those in isolation, can cast their ballots.

The president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, said on Wednesday isolation could be temporarily suspended on election day.

Updated

Johnson hits out at anti-vaxxers spreading ‘mumbo jumbo’ on social media

Boris Johnson has hit out at anti-vaxxers, declaring they are “completely wrong” and spreading “mumbo jumbo” and “nonsense”.

The prime minister said he wanted to keep a “voluntary approach” to vaccination, noting that other European countries were “going for coercion”.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton, Johnson said:

I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong.

You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach.

It was a “tragedy” that there was “all this pressure” on the NHS due to Omicron, he said, adding that 30-40% of those in hospital in this current wave are unvaccinated, and: “You’ve got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.”

What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing and we’ve got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.

They are totally wrong, and I think it’s time that I, the government, call them out on what they’re doing. It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.

The prime minister also urged Britons to get jabbed:

The saddest words in the English language are ‘too late’. When you’re in ICU and you haven’t been vaccinated, sadly it’s too late to get vaccinated, so get boosted now.

It comes as the environment secretary, George Eustice, predicted the country would get past the Omicron peak of infections “relatively soon”, with NHS struggles set to be “quite short lived”.

He told Sky News:

This is a difficult situation. It will be quite short lived because obviously we will get past this peak of infections relatively soon, but in the meantime we’ve taken that step to reduce the isolation period and we’re doing all we can to make sure we can redeploy resources [in the NHS].

Updated

A Hong Kong cabinet minister was sent to a quarantine camp on Thursday after he was deemed a close contact of a preliminary coronavirus case at a large party attended by other government officials and lawmakers, AFP reports.

The home affairs minister Caspar Tsui was among more than 100 guests at a birthday celebration on Monday evening that was also attended by city police chief Raymond Siu and head of immigration Au Ka-wang.

Tsui was classified as a close contact because he was there after 9.30pm, when a person suspected to have been carrying the virus attended.

Siu had left beforehand and officials said they were still trying to work out when Au left.

City leader Carrie Lam told reporters she was “very disappointed” senior officials attended the party just three days after health officials had advised the public to avoid large gatherings.

“My colleagues apparently have not taken the advice of the secretary for food and health, so how could they set a good example for the people of Hong Kong?” Lam asked.

Tsui issued an apology on Facebook.

Like China, Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s strictest quarantine measures and travel curbs, which have kept the city mostly coronavirus-free but internationally isolated for some 22 months.

A small local outbreak of the Omicron variant which began with airline crew from Cathay Pacific has been detected in recent days sparking warnings, new social distancing measures and flight bans on eight countries.

At the time of Monday night’s party, banquets of up to 240 were still permitted but Lam said government officials should have “led by example” and heeded calls to avoid such gatherings.

She said an investigation by her office discovered 10 government officials attended the party – eight of whom could prove they had left before 9.30pm and therefore did not need to be sent to quarantine.

Local media reported three city legislators also attended the party, held for a member of China’s top lawmaking body.

Lam did not comment on those reports but confirmed the city’s legislature and main government offices were being disinfected.

Twenty lawmakers met Xia Baolong, Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs chief in Shenzhen, on Wednesday but it was unclear if the three who attended the party were among that group.

A day earlier Lam had lambasted the leadership of Cathay Pacific, saying they should take responsibility for attendants who had breached home-quarantine rules.

She said society was “paying a huge price” for the Omicron outbreak and even hinted that the city might look at legal options against the carrier.

Last year immigration head Au was among three government officials who were fined after they broke social distancing rules to eat at a luxury clubhouse.

Ukraine is offering booster vaccines to all adults as the Omicron variant spreads and is likely to lead to a surge in infections next month, the health minister Viktor Lyashko has said.

After several periods of strict restrictions, the average daily number of coronavirus cases in Ukraine fell in early January to about 4,000 from above 10,000 in early December.

“The medical system is preparing for another increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in Ukraine,” Lyashko said in a post on Facebook on Thursday.

“We call on all Ukrainians to make a conscious choice in favour of vaccination against coronavirus disease and help us overcome the epidemic,” he said.

He added that all vaccinated citizens aged over 18 will be eligible for a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

In the country of 41 million people, only 13.9 million have received two doses. The country has officially recorded 97,000 deaths from Covid since the pandemic began.

Updated

Scottish MP to stand trial over alleged Covid breach

The former Scottish National party MP Margaret Ferrier will stand trial in August accused of travelling from Glasgow to London in September 2020 knowing she had symptoms of coronavirus and wilfully exposing others to the risk of infection.

Ferrier pleaded not guilty to the single charge on Thursday morning at Glasgow sheriff court.

The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP, who referred herself to the police and the parliamentary commissioner for standards , was immediately suspended from her party after the alleged rule-breaking came to light.

She has clung to her position despite vociferous and ongoing calls for her to quit, including from the first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon.

Prosecutors allege Ferrier “culpably and recklessly” put people at risk, making several journeys after having been told to self-isolate between 26 and 29 September 2020.

The charge claims she wilfully exposed people to “the risk of infection, illness and death”, travelling throughout Glasgow and the surrounding areas as well as making journeys to and from London.

Over three days, the 61-year-old is alleged to have visited a variety of local businesses and other locations within her constituency and beyond, including Lifestyle Leisure Centre, Vanilla Salon and Sweet P Boutique in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, St Mungo’s church in Glasgow and Vic’s bar in Prestwick, Ayrshire.

The trial date was set for 15 August, with the case expected to last for four or five days, and a pre-trial hearing set for June.

Read the full story here: Ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier to stand trial over alleged Covid breach

Updated

UK number of people with long Covid for more than a year has passed 500,000

An estimated 1.3 million people in the UK – one in 50 – had long Covid in early December, the highest number since estimates began, PA Media reports.

This includes more than half a million people who first had Covid-19, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households.

Responses were collected in the four weeks to 6 December – before the recent surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant.

The estimate of 1.3 million people is up from 1.2 million at the end of October and 945,000 at the start of July.

Of the 1.3 million, 892,000 people (70%) first had – or suspected they had – Covid at least 12 weeks previously, while 506,000 (40%) first had the virus at least a year earlier.

Long Covid is estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 809,000 people – nearly two-thirds of those with self-reported long Covid – with 247,000 saying their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot”, the ONS found.

Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom (experienced by 51% of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by loss of smell (37%), shortness of breath (36%) and difficulty concentrating (28%).

People working in teaching and education showed a greater prevalence of self-reported long Covid than other professions, and also saw the biggest month-on-month increase, from 2.7% to 3.1%.

For people working in healthcare, the figure dropped from 3.3% to 3.0%, and for people in social care it fell from 3.6% to 3.4%.

Among different age groups, the biggest jumps were for children aged 12 to 16, where prevalence rose month-on-month from 1.4% to 1.9%, and for 35- to 49-year-olds, up from 2.6% to 2.8%.

Self-reported long Covid is defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection which could not be explained by something else.

Updated

Data from Israel on Thursday supports growing evidence worldwide that Omicron causes milder illness than previous coronavirus, even as the country grapples with a record number of daily infections, Reuters reports.

Total hospitalisations on Wednesday stood at 363 patients, after the health ministry reported more than 16,000 new cases – a record high in Israel since the start of the pandemic – with a daily increase of 34 people falling severely ill.

During the height of Israel’s Delta variant wave, the record number of people infected topped 11,000, with the number of those being severely ill increasing daily by around 100, and 1,300 people hospitalised.

“Our initial data, which is not yet entirely accurate, points to seven to eight people hospitalised for 1,000 infected, two of whom will fall severely ill or worse,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s head of public health, told Army Radio.

“This is a significant change from Delta which saw far more – at least 10 severely ill for every 1,000 infections,” she said.

A World Health Organization official said on Tuesday that more evidence was emerging of Omicron affecting the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants and resulting in a “decoupling” in some places between soaring case numbers and low death rates.

With infections rising fast, Israel’s testing centres have come under intense pressure, prompting health officials to prioritise risk groups and to trust younger, vaccinated populations to test at home if exposed to a carrier.

Risk groups have also been given the green light for a fourth dose of a Covid vaccine and for Pfizer’s and Merck’s antiviral Covid medications.

A week into a fourth dose trial at a major Israeli hospital, researchers saw participants’ antibody levels increase five-fold.

But Gili Regev-Yochay, who is leading Sheba medical centre’s study, said that while the jump restored protection provided by a third dose, it was lower than what she had hoped for.

“I expect to see it continue rising, the peak of antibodies usually occurs two to four weeks in,” she told Army Radio.

Updated

Malaysia has granted conditional approval for the use of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for children aged between five and 11, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The country’s drugs regulator has also cleared a vaccine made by Chinese firm CanSino Biologics to be used as a booster shot for adults over the age of 18, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement.

Malaysia, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in south-east Asia, last week cut waiting times to encourage more people to take a booster jab, in a bid to stem the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

Most of the country’s population has received two doses of the vaccine, including nearly 98% of adults and 88% of those aged between 12 and 17, government statistics show.

Malaysia has reported 245 Omicron cases, the majority of which were Muslim pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, Khairy said.

The country will temporarily suspend all religious trips to Saudi Arabia for a month from Saturday, he added.

Updated

Election rallies were cancelled in India’s heartland on Thursday as authorities fret over a sudden Covid surge driven by the Omicron variant, which has seen confirmed infections nearly triple in two days, AFP reports.

Teeming crowds have thronged campaign events for next month’s poll in Uttar Pradesh – the country’s most populous state with over 200 million people and a pillar of support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, has traversed key cities to cut the ribbon on infrastructure projects and partake in Hindu religious rituals to boost the state government’s prospects.

But with several cities imposing Covid curfews and health experts warning of exponential infection growth, several parties have brought their public campaigns to a halt.

“Owing to concerns over the growing number of Covid cases, all… rallies of the party have been cancelled,” Ashok Singh, a spokesperson for the opposition Congress, told AFP.

Another opposition group said it had switched to virtual campaigning while the BJP cancelled a rally planned for Thursday in Noida, a satellite city of the capital New Delhi that has seen a spate of new cases.

Party spokesman Manish Shukla denied the virus was the reason for calling off the Noida event – where chief minister Yogi Adityanath, seen as a potential Modi successor, was set to appear.

“It was cancelled due to some other technical reason,” he told AFP, without giving further detail.

But recent electioneering has sparked concern in some quarters of the BJP.

“Imposing curfew in the night and calling [hundreds of thousands] of people in rallies during the day – this is beyond the comprehension of the common man,” party lawmaker Varun Gandhi tweeted last week.

More than 200,000 people across India died last year in a huge spring Covid wave, driven by the Delta variant, that overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums – an outbreak partly blamed on infections spread through election rallies.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal this week announced he had tested positive for Covid, days after appearing at campaign events for municipal polls in the city of Chandigarh.

Health experts advising the government say the Omicron variant – India’s first case of which was detected five weeks ago – is causing a huge upsurge in urban centres.

“There is no room for complacency,” V.K. Paul, a doctor working with the government on its coronavirus response, told a press conference Wednesday. “Systems will be overwhelmed, your house will be overwhelmed.”

India recorded more than 90,000 new infections overnight while financial capital Mumbai saw its highest daily count yet in the pandemic.

In Amritsar, the Sikh faith’s holy city near the Pakistan border, 125 passengers on a charter flight from Italy tested positive on arrival, local media reported.

Delhi has ordered all residents outside of essential workers to stay home this weekend.

India began rolling out vaccinations to those aged 15-18 on Monday, with more than 12 million newly eligible teens receiving their initial doses in the first three days, according to government data.

Good morning from London. I’m Lucy Campbell, I’ll be bringing you all the latest global developments on the coronavirus pandemic for the next eight hours. Please feel free to get in touch with me as I work if you have a story or tips to share! Your thoughts are always welcome.

Email: lucy.campbell@theguardian.com
Twitter: @lucy_campbell_

Today so far …

  • France’s Assemblée Nationale has passed a controversial “vaccine pass” act in the early hours of this morning after debate was held up by angry reaction to Emmanuel Macron’s warning towards unvaccinated people. The law now goes to the Sénat, which will examine it before any further approval. Polls are showing that about half of French people agree with what Macron said yesterday, but half did not like the way he said it.
  • Prime Minister Jean Castex has said France is ready to deploy a fourth Covid vaccine dose or second booster shot as soon as health authorities gave their green light to such a move.
  • John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has told a news conference: “We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa in this period. The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over, we should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases.”
  • Pfizer has said it expects the latest results from its Covid vaccine clinical trial for children under the age of five – which will include booster shots – by April. Dr Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vaccine researcher, said the company could even have data for the age group by the end of March.
  • Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or above to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections.
  • Thailand has reported its biggest rise in coronavirus cases in weeks, after a holiday season in which people travelled and gathered in large numbers. The Ministry of Public Health raised the official warning level to 4 on a scale of 5.
  • More than 85% of Indonesia’s population has antibodies against Covid, a government-commissioned survey showed, but epidemiologists warned it was not clear whether this immunity could help contain a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.
  • US troops in Okinawa prefecture have been ordered to wear masks off base amid criticism that military authorities failed to tackle a fresh Covid-19 outbreak among service personnel that has taken hold among the local civilian population in Japan.
  • Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in India are experiencing a surge in Covid cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations, but fears are growing about a spread to rural areas in coming days, where health service provision is weaker.
  • Chinese hospital officials have been fired after a pregnant woman lost her baby after she was denied entry at a Xi’an hospital due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
  • Australia is reporting another record day for case numbers, with more than 72,000 logged so far on Thursday. The country’s most populous state, New South Wales, recorded around half of those with 31% of those tested given a positive result.
  • Tennis player Novak Djokovic remains unable to enter Australia, with his visa cancellation over his vaccination status now the subject of a court challenge.
  • The trial of two politicians and two hoteliers over their alleged breach of Covid restrictions in organising a golf society dinner is to begin later today in County Galway in Ireland.
  • Our Science Weekly podcast today is asking why are so many people getting reinfected with Covid-19?

That is it from me. I am off to host our increasingly silly Thursday quiz. Andrew Sparrow has our UK Covid live blog. Lucy Campbell will be here shortly to continue bringing you the latest coronavirus news from around the globe.

Updated

Thailand raises Covid warning level after sharp rise in cases

Thailand reported its biggest rise in coronavirus cases in weeks on Thursday after a holiday season in which people travelled and gathered in large numbers amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Officials recorded 5,775 new cases, prompting the Ministry of Public Health to raise the official warning level to 4 on a scale of 5, permanent secretary Kiatiphume Wongrajit said. The warning level had been at 3 since the end of December.

Under level 4, the ministry recommends closing high-risk venues, including those with poor ventilation, increasing restrictions on interprovincial travel, limiting group sizes in public places and lengthening quarantine requirements for travellers entering Thailand.

Associated Press report that the ministry has submitted a proposal to the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, to ramp up virus restrictions due to the jump in cases. The CCSA is to meet on Friday and is expected to make a decision on the new measures.

Updated

Madalitso Kateta is a freelance journalist based in Lilongwe, Malawi. He writes for us today about how corruption in Malawi has left hospitals desperately short of vital equipment:

In January 2021, the Malawian rights activist Paul Msoma wrote that he was in Kamuzu central hospital, struggling to breathe. The hospital had oxygen cylinders but no flowmeters – the necessary instrument to connect him to them. I was left wondering where the funds that had been released for the country’s Covid-19 response were going. “My situation is getting bad and l desperately need oxygen,” Msoma wrote on Facebook. “Anyone who can urgently help out there please help by donating this very gadget.”

Tragically, Msoma died a few days later. His call for help opened a can of worms and caused many to realise that funds were being misused. An eventual report by the country’s office of the ombudsman following Nsoma’s comments indicated that 79.8% of the Covid funds were misused, including money spent on non-Covid items like allowances for government officers. But, to date, none of the officers involved in the abuse of the funds have been charged.

Read more here: Madalitso Kateta – Funds misused, too few vaccines – we are fighting Covid and corruption in Malawi

Updated

While Florida has experienced a record number of Covid-19 cases and sharp increase in hospitalizations in recent weeks, there is disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over whether the Omicron surge has actually overwhelmed the state’s healthcare system.

For example, Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio posted on Twitter that there “is no Omicron hospital ‘surge’ in Florida. People admitted for non-Covid reasons get tested. If they test positive they get counted as a ‘Covid patient.’”

Infectious disease experts and Florida hospital leaders say that – while there is some validity to the assessment that data showing an increase in Covid hospitalizations and cases can in part be attributed to increased testing – the state’s hospitals still face potentially serious staffing shortages. One hospital in the state had to close its maternity ward because of a Covid outbreak among staff.

But in short, Florida has become a focal point of the often politicized debate over whether the Omicron variant is dangerous enough to overwhelm hospital systems and requires precautions taken earlier in the pandemic.

Read more of Eric Berger’s report here: Crisis, what crisis? Florida Republicans deny Omicron is straining hospitals

Africa CDC director: ‘severe lockdowns’ no longer needed as a tool

A quick reports from Reuters from Johannesburg here, that Africa’s top public health official said he was encouraged by the way that South Africa had handled its latest infection wave, adding that severe lockdowns were no longer a tool to contain the coronavirus.

“We are very encouraged with what we saw in South Africa in this period,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a news conference.

“The period where we are using severe lockdowns as a tool is over, we should actually be looking at how we use public health and social measures more carefully and in a balanced way as the vaccination increases.”

Rafael Nadal appears to have said the quiet part out loud. He said he felt sorry that Novak Djokovic was denied entry into Australia, but there his sympathy ended, as the Spaniard pointedly added that if players were vaccinated, they could play in the Australian Open.

Nadal, who revealed he was fully vaccinated when he contracted Covid recently, said that the world No 1 had known for months he could potentially face problems if he arrived in Australia without being vaccinated against Covid-19.

There’s more here: ‘If you are vaccinated you can play’: Rafael Nadal short on sympathy for Djokovic

My colleague Andrew Sparrow has launched our UK Covid live blog for the day. He is leading on plans to tackle the 5.8m NHS backlog being in doubt as Omicron cases rise. You can follow that here:

I’ll be continuing here with the latest coronavirus developments from around the world.

US troops in Okinawa ordered to wear masks as Covid cases rise

US troops in Okinawa prefecture have been ordered to wear masks off base amid criticism that military authorities failed to tackle a fresh Covid-19 outbreak among service personnel that has taken hold among the local civilian population in Japan.

Okinawa is at the centre of the country’s latest outbreak, with cases surging in recent days from 51 on Saturday to at least 980 on Thursday – a record daily caseload for the southern island.

Those figures omit infections among American troops but include those among Japanese citizens who work at US bases.

The mask requirement came after the foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, called for US personnel to be confined to their bases in a telephone call with the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

Read more of Justin McCurry’s report from Tokyo here: US troops in Okinawa ordered to wear masks as Covid cases rise

Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open journey started in comfort, and excitement. But it ended with him trapped in an immigration hotel infamous for detaining refugees, caught in the middle of a diplomatic spat between Serbia and Australia and a fight over his deportation playing out in the federal court. After touching down in Melbourne about 11.30pm local time, Djokovic never made it through arrivals. My colleague Cait Kelly explains where we are now, as the court wrangle ensues.

Read more here: ‘We await the champion’: how Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open trip went from elation to detention

The trial of two politicians and two hoteliers over their alleged breach of Covid restrictions in organising a golf society dinner is to begin later today in County Galway in Ireland.

The four men face a single charge that on 19 August 2020 they organised an event that contravened the Health Act 1947, as amended, to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19.

The dinner was attended by 81 people, and the public backlash over the event led to the resignation of then agriculture minister Dara Calleary, while a number of other Fianna Fail and Fine Gael senators lost the party whip.

PA Media report that the Oireachtas Golf Society has since been disbanded. The trial is expected to take up to five days with more than 50 prosecution witnesses set to be called.

In the UK, Prof Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, has told Sky News that a growing number of doctors and support staff are isolating or have Covid.

PA Media quote him saying: “We’ve got very significant pressures in general practice, which are long-standing of course but are made considerably worse by the Covid pandemic, and particularly by this Omicron variant.

“We’ve got a growing number of clinicians and administrative staff in general practice who are either unwell or who are isolating, and are unable to contribute to the growing number of consultations that we’re providing and the vaccination programme that we’re contributing to as well. So we’ve got a significant crisis on top of a long-standing one.”

He said there is a need to communicate to the general public “the pressure that general practice is under and explain why it isn’t possible to provide the service, the access and the quality of care that we would expect and want to be able to provide.”

More than 85% of Indonesia’s population has antibodies against Covid, a government-commissioned survey showed, but epidemiologists warned it was not clear whether this immunity could help contain a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.

Stanley Widianto reports for Reuters from Jakarta that the survey, conducted between October and December by researchers at the University of Indonesia, found Indonesians had developed antibodies from a combination of Covid infections and vaccinations.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist involved in the survey that covered some 22,000 respondents, said the level of immunity could explain why there had not been a significant jump in infections since the middle of 2021.

The antibodies may provide some protection against new variants, including the highly contagious Omicron, Pandu said, though adding it would take months for this to become clear.

Omicron has infected more than 250 people in Indonesia, but most cases have been imported and a handful of local cases have not so far brought the type of surge recorded in many countries.

Pandu said the survey did not negate a need for more people to be vaccinated, even those that had already been infected.
“The point is to have the majority of people develop a hybrid immunity to control the pandemic.”

Here is a reminder, should you need it, that our Science Weekly podcast is this week spending thirteen minutes asking the question: Why are so many people getting re-infected with Covid-19?

You can listen to it here:

French PM Castex: Fourth vaccines shots will be available ‘when health authorities give go-ahead’

Reuters are carrying a couple of interesting quotes from France’s prime minister Jean Castex. He has told BFM TV and RMC Radio that France was ready to deploy a fourth Covid vaccination or second booster shot as soon as health authorities gave their green light to such a move.

“When the health authorities will give us the go-ahead, we’ll go for it,” he is quoted as saying.

Castex also noted that countries which had moved towards compulsory vaccinations, such as Italy and Austria, had lower vaccination rates than France.

Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, has urged his US counterpart to consider restricting American troop movement in the country after a surge in Covid cases on bases and surrounding communities, AFP reports.

The request to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken comes as virus cases surge in Okinawa, which hosts most of the US forces in Japan and is now seeing a rise in community infections.

The region’s governor has blamed the rise in local cases on the clusters first seen among US troops.

Okinawa will request that the central government authorise new virus restrictions, its governor said, after the southern island region reported 623 cases on Wednesday – nearly triple the previous day’s figure.

US Marines wait in an observation area after receiving the Moderna Covid vaccine at Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan.
US Marines wait in an observation area after receiving the Moderna Covid vaccine at Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan.
Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

In a call with Blinken, Hayashi “strongly requested the strengthening of measures to prevent an expansion in infections”, Japan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Hayashi called on Blinken to “consider restricting outings (by US troops) to ease worries among local residents, given the situation of coronavirus infections among US forces in Japan”, the statement added.

There were more than 400 Covid cases reported on US bases in Okinawa on 4 January, Japan’s government said Wednesday.

Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki has criticised the US military for failing to adhere to Japan’s strict measures for overseas arrivals, and last month Hayashi expressed “strong regret” to the commander of US forces in Japan over the growing number of virus cases.

In the UK former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, a member of the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee, has old BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a new report will look at how the pandemic has caused a backlog for the NHS. PA Media report he said:

The one thing people are not talking about is a shortage of funding. What they’re talking about is not being able to find the staff to do the work. And that’s why we say in this report the biggest gap at the moment in the government’s plans to deal with this huge six million waiting list is a lack of doctors and nurses and a lack of a plan to find those doctors and nurses.

But the trouble is that the number of doctors and nurses training, it takes seven years to train a doctor, 10 years actually to train a GP, and so it’s always low in the priorities for health sectors.

Hunt said short-term measures are also needed to tackle the backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic:

We need to go a lot further. We’ve got six million people on the waiting list, we’ve got a crisis in our A&E department, record number of 999 calls, double the referrals to children and young people’s mental health in some areas.

If we’re going to tackle all of that we need a lot of short-term measures as well, and what we don’t have is a workforce plan that says how we are going to get these 4,000 doctors, and unless we do that, we’re going to find this incredible frustration from taxpayers’ point of view, that they’re putting the money in, but they’re not getting the results out that they were promised.

If you’ve been struggling to follow the rule changes recently introduced in Scotland, here’s a quick recap of the main changes:

  • Self-isolation after a positive Covid test is reduced to seven days if you have no fever and can produce a negative lateral flow test on the sixth and seventh days.
  • You no longer need to confirm a positive lateral flow test by taking an additional PCR test if you have no symptoms.
  • Household contacts of people testing positive do not need to self-isolate, instead they can take daily lateral flow tests for a week to check if they become positive.
  • If you are a close contact of a positive case, and are not vaccinated, you are required to self-isolate for ten days and take a PCR test.
  • Secondary school children are being asked to take a lateral flow test twice a week, but whole classes will no longer have to self-isolate if there is a positive result among them – only close contacts will be affected.

India’s Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are experiencing a surge in Covid cases, although without a corresponding rise in hospitalisations, but fears are growing about a spread to rural areas in coming days.

India reported 90,928 new daily Covid-19 cases on Thursday, up nearly four-fold since the start of the year, mostly from cities where health officials say the Omicron variant has overtaken Delta. The bulk of those infected have shown no or only mild symptoms and have recovered quickly at home, officials said.

The federal health ministry on Wednesday identified Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru as some of the main regions of concern, although state officials worry the disease will soon spread to the countryside where health facilities are weaker.

“We are watching the situation in the districts and rural belts where the numbers are also growing,” said Ajay Chakraborty, director of the West Bengal health services who has isolated himself at home after contracting the virus.

Reuters report that Many Covid beds in Kolkata were still empty. Chakraborty said that in the government-run Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General Hospital, only 75 admissions were recorded on Tuesday, despite more than 9,000 new cases, he added.

After 18 years of living in the UK, Guardian Australia’s Jacqueline Housden moved back to her home country. Not everything went to plan:

Oddly, my dreams of our new life had not included my mother bursting into work meetings holding a kilo of raw chicken and launching into a raft of complicated cooking options, or my dad rushing past to use the spare fridge as I attempted to look vaguely professional on a Zoom call.

Grant Shapps: testing people before they arrive in UK has ‘outlived its usefulness’

In his early morning interview with Sky News, the UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has justified dropping some advance testing requirements for travellers arriving in the UK. He said:

This was always brought in on a temporary basis. Since bringing in the red list, and then these additional tests, we managed to get 13m extra booster jabs in people’s arms, so it served a purpose.

Obviously Omicron is global, worldwide, everybody has it now. The proportion that comes in from overseas is minuscule by comparison with the numbers that are actually here. So it’s now widespread, and in a sense testing has outlived its usefulness, and we’re able to withdraw it from international travel.

The decision has drawn some criticism from devolved national authorities, but Shapps said he believed all of the UK nations would be moving together on this. He reminded viewers that there is still some testing to be done if you travel:

If you get a positive lateral flow test, after you’ve travelled – and that is the one test that remains – you must take a lateral flow test by day two. And if you do get a positive, then that needs to be [followed by] a PCR test on the NHS and sequenced. So you’ve still got that protection in place, but we think this is proportionate.

He also gave an indication of the UK government’s priorities, adding:

A lot of jobs depend on travel, a lot of jobs depend on tourism. We need to keep the measures in line with actually what’s going on.

French parliament approves ‘vaccine pass’ act in late sitting – law now goes to Sénat

There was controversy yesterday over the way French president Emmanuel Macron had described his strategy towards the unvaccinated. It led to the debate on France’s new Covid laws being held up in parliament.

Kim Willsher reports for us from France that the “vaccine pass” act was voted through its first reading in the Assemblée Nationale at around 5am. It was approved by 214 members of parliament, versus 93 who voted against it, while there were 27 abstentions.

It now goes to the Sénat, which will examine it before any further approval. Willsher says that polls are showing that around half of French people agree with what Macron said yesterday, but half didn’t like the way he said it.

Updated

Grant Shapps, the UK transport minister, is the government representative doing the media round this morning. I’ll have the key lines from his first interviews shortly.

Hello, it is Martin Belam here in London taking over from my colleague Helen Livingstone. Here is a quick summary of the latest Covid numbers in the UK according to the government’s dashboard.

Over the last seven days there have been 1.28m new coronavirus cases recorded in the UK. Cases have increased by 40% week-on-week.

There have been 1,195 deaths recorded in the last week. That would mean that deaths have increased by 131% week-on-week. However, there is a caveat around that figure, as the dashboard says there is a lag on recording some deaths, which would increase the number, but the holiday period is likely to have made week-by-week comparisons unreliable.

Hospital admissions have increased by 58% week-on-week. At the latest count, there were 17,276 people in hospital in total, of whom 911 are in ventilation beds. According to the government’s figures, the peak of hospitalisations during the pandemic was in January 2021, with 39,254 patients in hospital.

Chinese hospital officials have been fired after a pregnant woman lost her baby after she was denied entry at a Xi’an hospital due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

On the night of 1 January a woman in labour was denied entry to the Xi’an Gaoxin hospital because her negative test result was four hours too old. She began bleeding heavily while waiting outside, and was eventually admitted but the baby died.

The woman’s story and an accompanying video went viral on social media, and was reported by local Chinese media. On Wednesday, the Shaanxi Province and Xi’an Municipal Health Commission said it had launched an investigation and determined the baby’s death was an “accident caused by negligence”. Two hospital officials were fired and a manager suspended.

The decision to deport tennis star Novak Djokovic has sparked diplomatic fallout, with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, dismissing pleas from the Serbian government for Australia to reconsider the move.

Speaking after the Australian Border Force decision on Thursday, Morrison revealed that diplomats from the Serbian embassy in Canberra had made formal representations to Australia about the decision to deport Djokovic for failing to meet vaccine exemption requirements.

Under Australia’s border restrictions, an unvaccinated person can only enter the country if they have a valid medical exemption. It is understood that Djokovic was relying on a previous Covid infection to claim the exemption, but this is not recognised as a grounds for an exception by the Australian government.

Morrison said he understood the Serbian government’s position, but the rules “apply to all those who enter”.

Morrison also read part of a letter sent by the health minister, Greg Hunt, to Tennis Australia in November making clear that a previous infection was not grounds for quarantine-free entry into Australia.

Here’s more from Guardian Australia’s chief political correspondent, Sarah Martin.

Leaders of Chicago public schools have cancelled classes for a second consecutive day on Thursday after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers’ union over Covid-19 safety protocols.

The cancellation marks the latest development in an escalating battle over pandemic safety measures in the US’s third-largest school district.

A closed Darwin Elementary School in Chicago.
A closed Darwin Elementary School in Chicago.
Photograph: Jim Vondruska/Reuters

The Chicago Teachers Union sought to revert to remote instruction during the latest surge of Covid infections and while both sides hammer out a deal. Chicago public school leaders have said remote learning didn’t work and schools can safely remain open with protocols in place.

The move to cancel classes and activities on Thursday affects roughly 350,000 students and came after closed-door negotiations on Wednesday failed to produce a deal.

“We have no choice but to cancel classes tomorrow,” said Pedro Martinez, CEO of Chicago public schools, at a Wednesday evening news conference.

Here’s more from our correspondent Gloria Oladipo:

Summary

That’s it from me, Helen Livingstone, for today. Before I go, here’s a quick round up of the main events of the past 24 hours:

  • Pfizer has said it expects the latest results from its Covid vaccine clinical trial for children under the age of 5 – which will include booster shots – by April. Dr Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vaccine researcher, said the company could even have data for the age group by the end of March.
  • Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or more to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections.
  • Novak Djokovic, who was due to defend his Australian Open title this month, is challenging the rejection of his visa and impending deportation from Melbourne in a court of law. There had been an outcry over the controversial “medical exemption” he received from the tournament’s organisers.
  • Australia is reporting another record day for case numbers, with more than 72,000 logged so far on Thursday. The country’s most populous state, New South Wales, recorded around half of those with 31% of those tested given a positive result.
  • The French parliament suspended debate on a new Covid law as opposition lawmakers demanded explanations from President Emmanuel Macron about comments in which he said he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people.
  • A day after Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight countries with rising Omicron cases, neighbouring Macau has gone a step further; the autonomous region has banned all civilian flights other than those coming from mainland China.
  • Only two months after introducing quarantine-free entry for vaccinated tourists, Thailand has now suspended the scheme everywhere except in the island of Phuket. With nearly 4,000 cases reported on Wednesday, mostly local transmissions, health officials warned the country could soon be facing “tens of thousands” of new cases per day.
  • Rather than closing borders, Singapore has declared that people won’t be considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster within nine months of their second dose. The policy comes into effect in February.
  • This year’s Grammy awards, set to take place on 31 January, have been postponed as a result of the pandemic. In a statement, organisers said: “The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority.”
  • Germany is considering shortening self-isolation periods over fears that critical services could grind to a halt, according to health ministry plan. Workers in critical sectors, such as hospitals or electricity suppliers, would be able to end their isolation after five days, provided they get a negative PCR test, under the draft proposals.
  • The president of Poland has tested positive for coronavirus for a second time, after several people around him were infected. Andrzej Duda previously caught Covid in October 2020.
  • Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi’s PCR results came back negative for Covid-19 after Nyusi and his wife Isaura tested positive via rapid tests days earlier, the president’s office said on Wednesday.
  • Pre-departure tests for people travelling to England are to be scrapped. Boris Johnson announced that the requirement would be lifted from 4am on Friday, along with the need for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test result.
  • The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, has become the first world leader to get a fourth Covid jab. On Monday Israel became the first country in the world to embark on a fourth Covid-19 vaccination campaign starting with those over 60.

If you’re doing the dishes or on your daily commute and you need something to listen to, check out our Science Weekly podcast, which this week looks at why reinfection rates are so high for Omicron and what that means for public health measures:

The matter of Novak Djokovic’s attempts to have his deportation reversed has been adjourned until 6pm, when we will continue our coverage.

An interesting tidbit at the end was a discussion on the scope of the hearing, with parties agreeing that a visa was actually issued, and that the matter at hand was the cancellation of the visa, not the requirements of the visa itself.

It’s a small difference that I’m sure will matter once the hearing begins properly.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expanding the eligibility of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s booster doses to those 12 to 15 years old, Reuters reports.

The move came after a panel of outside experts advising the CDC voted earlier to recommend booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine be made available for ages 12 to 15.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13 to 1 to recommend that the US health agency support booster shots for those aged 12 to 15 at least five months after their second dose.

The panel also said the CDC should strengthen its recommendation for boosters for ages 16 and 17. The agency had previously made the shots available to those teenagers, but had stopped short of suggesting that all of them should receive the additional jab.

The CDC said in a statement it now recommended that adolescents age 12 to 17 years old should receive a booster shot five months after their initial Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination series.

Covid-19 cases in the United States have hit record levels in recent days due to the fast spreading Omicron variant of the virus. Infection rates are surging as many workers and school children return from holiday vacations, raising the prospect of overwhelmed health systems as well as closed businesses and schools.

“Covid is overwhelming our hospitals and our children’s hospitals,” said panel member Dr Katherine Poehling, a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “This is a tool we need to use, and help our children through this pandemic.”

Data from Israel’s Health Ministry presented at the meeting suggested that vaccinated children aged 12 to 15 who were five to six months past their second dose were being infected at the same rate as unvaccinated kids by the Omicron variant of the virus. After receiving a booster shot, the infection rate dropped sharply, according to the data.

Some more details on Novak Djokovic’s impending court case.

The news agency AAP reports there was a brief hearing at 3pm today but that there was no formal application or supporting evidence filed. Justice Anthony Kelly (who confessed to not knowing a lot about tennis) said:

I need to know a little more than I presently do about the conditions of the applicant. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for the court to ask, as an open question, whether the particular hotel in which the applicant is staying or may be able to stay might have available to him tennis practising facilities.

Another update on Djokovic’s case – for non-locals, 4pm is in half an hour.

India’s new Covid-19 cases have soared to 90,928 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday, Reuters reports, from 58,097 a day earlier.

Daily deaths rose by 325, taking the total to 482,876. Total infections are at 35.11 million.

Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, has compared his son to Spartacus after Australia cancelled the visa of the world’s No.1 tennis player despite his receipt of a medical exemption from coronavirus vaccination rules.

“Tonight they can throw him in a dungeon, tomorrow they can put him in chains. The truth is he is like water and water paves its own path. Novak is the Spartacus of the new world which won’t tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy,” Srdjan told Russian media.

Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic at Melbourne International Airport.
Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic at Melbourne airport.
Photograph: James Ross/EPA

Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić has also accused Australia of “harassment” – a claim which was rejected by Australian prime minister Scott Morrison – and told Djokovic that “the whole of Serbia is with him”.

Our correspondent Helen Davidson has more:

A small crowd has now gathered outside the Melbourne hotel where Novak Djokovic is being held as he awaits deportation.

Supporters of tennis player Novak Djokovic outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
Supporters of tennis player Novak Djokovic outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne.
Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

About 10 supporters, some draped in flags are playing Serbian music and singing.

Media and members of the local Serbian community wait outside the Melbourne hotel where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is reported to be staying.
Media and members of the local Serbian community wait outside the Melbourne hotel where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is reported to be staying.
Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

There is also dancing:

As the Omicron variant makes its way through Southeast Asia, countries are introducing new restrictions after tentative attempts at reopening, our correspondent Andrew Nachemson reports.

Only two months after introducing quarantine-free entry for vaccinated tourists, Thailand has now suspended the scheme everywhere except in the island of Phuket. With nearly 4,000 cases reported on Wednesday, mostly local transmissions, health officials warned the country could soon be facing “tens of thousands” of new cases per day.

Authorities reportedly plan to meet tomorrow, with the Health Ministry recommending keeping the ban in place until at least the end of January. It’s a dramatic reversal for a country that had hoped to restart its tourism industry, which provided around 22% of its GDP in 2019.

Empty seats in front of bar on a quiet beach on Koh Phangan in Thailand.
Empty seats in front of bar on a quiet beach on Koh Phangan in Thailand.
Photograph: Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images

In the Philippines, authorities cancelled one of the country’s most popular religious events, a Christian parade that typically draws millions of revellers. It’s the second year in a row the procession has been cancelled, and comes as the Philippines reported nearly 11,000 cases on Wednesday, its largest daily surge since 10 October.

Rather than closing borders, Singapore has declared that people won’t be considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster within nine months of their second dose. The policy comes into effect in February.

“Given the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant, we are likely to experience an infection wave that is greater than that of Delta,” read a government press release, warning that even if the variant is milder it could still put a strain on the healthcare system.

According to government data, the city-state is one of the most vaccinated countries in the region, with 87% of the population fully vaccinated and over 40% already boosted.

Australian Covid cases hit new highs

More than 71,000 new cases have been recorded in Australia so far today, from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

NSW had 34,994 new cases and six deaths – and about 31% of those tested were positive, which is an alarming proportion. Six people died, and there are now 1,609 people in hospital, and 131 in intensive care units.

People queue in their cars for Covid tests at a drive-through clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney.
People queue in their cars for Covid tests at a drive-through clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

In Victoria there were also six deaths, and 21,997 new cases. Victoria also has a positivity rate from testing of about one in three. 631 people are in hospital with 51 in intensive care.

Queensland has recorded 10,332 new Covid cases, and one person has died.

There are 284 people in hospital, and 12 in intensive care, including two on ventilators.

Tasmania has reported 751 new Covid cases, which is a drop from the record 867 cases reported yesterday. One person has been admitted to hospital.

South Australia has recorded 3,070 cases, with 123 people currently in hospital and 12 in ICU.

Updated

Novak Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on Wednesday night planning to defend his Australian Open title. Instead, the World No 1 is being held in a quarantine hotel and is set to be deported tonight after a remarkable series of events led to his visa being cancelled.

So how on earth did it get to this point?

Royce Kurmelovs has the answers:

A day after Hong Kong announced a two-week ban on flights from eight countries with rising Omicron cases, neighbouring Macau has gone a step further and banned all civilian flights other than those coming from mainland China.

The ban is in place until 23 January.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam announced the city’s ban on flights on Wednesday, over fears the region was on the verge of a fifth wave of Covid-19. Three community cases were recorded on Wednesday in Hong Kong, prompting a raft of new restrictions on dining and other leisure activities.

The eight countries banned from sending planes into Hong Kong are Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain and the US, including stopovers and transfers.

A woman accused by her ex-husband of kidnapping their two boys to prevent them from being vaccinated against Covid-19 has turned herself into the authorities, AFP reports.

The 46-year-old woman was wanted for “kidnapping minors” after her ex-husband, who lives near the southern city of Seville, filed a complaint with police in mid-December accusing her of taking the boys aged 14 and 12 without authorisation, a judicial source told the news agency.

The man said he had not seen the boys since 4 November when he received a letter from his former wife saying she planned to remove them from their school just days after a court ruled he had the right to decide whether the children should be vaccinated.

The woman turned herself into the authorities on Wednesday morning in Seville with the two boys and a judge ordered her to be remanded in custody pending charges, the source said.

The two minors were handed over to their father on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman for Spain’s Guardia Civil police force said.

Spain, along with several other European nations, began vaccinating children aged five to 11 against Covid-19 on 15 December.

The country has no significant anti-vaccine movement.

With 90% of over-12s in the country fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Spain has one of the highest shares of fully immunised people in Europe.

China has reported 189 confirmed coronavirus cases for 5 January, versus 91 a day earlier, its health authority has said according to Reuters.

Of the new infections, 132 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission on Thursday, up from 41 a day earlier.

Most of the new local cases were in Henan and Shaanxi provinces. Zhejiang also reported new cases.

China reported 45 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, compared with 71 a day earlier.

There were no new fatalities, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636. Mainland China had 103,121 confirmed cases as of 5 January.

Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or more to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections.

The measure is among the toughest vaccine mandates in Europe and takes effect immediately. The move was unanimously supported by ministers despite divisions between the parties that make up prime minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition before the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

People queue outside a rapid Covid-19 testing site for antigenic swabs amid a rise in Covid-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant.
People queue outside a rapid Covid-19 testing site amid a rise in infections driven by the Omicron variant.
Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

Italy also tightened its workplace vaccine rules and from 15 February, people aged over 50 who are in jobs, either in the public or private sector, will have to present a health pass proving immunisation or recovery from Covid-19.

Hospitals are under increasing pressure because of the Omicron variant. Italy registered 189,109 new infections on Wednesday and 231 fatalities, bringing the death toll to 138,276, the highest in Europe after the UK.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is holding a press conference, at which he’s given more details on the case of the world’s No.1 ranked male tennis player, Novak Djokovic, who is due to be deported after his visa was rejected. Morrison told reporters:

On the issue of Mr Djokovic, rules are rules. And there are no special cases, rules are rules. It is what I said yesterday, that is the policy of the government … stronger border protection policies, and particularly in relation to the pandemic.

He also said Djokovic could not prove the medical exemption he claimed he had:

It is on them to have the proof to show why they would not have to be vaccinated. He was unable to furnish that proof to Border Force officers at the airport last night and they are the rules and it happens on many occasions and that is what has now happened.

He also denied that Djokovic had been subjected to harassment (Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić claimed earlier that he was).

For more on Morrison and Djokovic, head over to our Australian live news blog, where Tory Shepherd has more:

Pfizer Inc expects the latest results from a clinical trial for kids under the age of five of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE by April, a top company scientist has said according to Reuters.

“The study has been amended to give a third dose to everybody who’s less than five at least eight weeks after their last vaccination,” Dr Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vaccine researcher said at a meeting of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

She said the company aims to have data for the age group by the end of March or the beginning of April.

In December, Pfizer said it was changing the design of the trial because children between the ages of two and four who were given two 3-microgram doses of the vaccine did not have the same immune response that a larger dose of the vaccine generated in older children.

Gurtman also said the company was studying a third dose of its vaccine in children ages five to 11, six months after their second dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorised in the United States for people aged five and older. On Wednesday, ACIP backed booster shots of the vaccine for ages 12 to 15.

Summary

Good morning and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Livingstone.

Pfizer has said it expects the latest results from its Covid vaccine clinical trial for children under the age of 5 – which will include booster shots – by April. Dr Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vaccine researcher, said the company could even have data for the age group by the end of March.

Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or more to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections.

Novak Djokovic’s attempts to compete at the Australian Open this month are over after the No 1-ranked male tennis player was told his visa has been rejected. He is due to be flown out of Melbourne on Thursday amid a spiralling outcry over his controversial “medical exemption” agreed by the tournament’s organisers.

Here’s what else has been happening over the past 24 hours:

  • Record rises in daily Covid cases were reported in at least seven countries on Wednesday as the Omicron variant continues to spread. They were: France – 332,252; Portugal – 39,570; Turkey – 66,467; Italy – 189,109; Sweden – 17,320; the Netherlands – 24,000 and Israel – 11,978.
  • The French parliament suspended debate on a new Covid law as opposition lawmakers demanded explanations from President Emmanuel Macron about comments in which he said he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people.
  • This year’s Grammy awards, set to take place on 31 January, have been postponed as a result of the pandemic. In a statement, organisers said: “The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority.”
  • Germany is considering shortening self-isolation periods over fears that critical services could grind to a halt, according to health ministry plan. Workers in critical sectors, such as hospitals or electricity suppliers, would be able to end their isolation after five days, provided they get a negative PCR test, under the draft proposals.
  • The Czech government has shortened the quarantine period for Covid positive people from seven days to five. The government also approved blanket testing in companies, effective from 17 January.
  • The president of Poland has tested positive for coronavirus for a second time, after several people around him were infected. Andrzej Duda previously caught Covid in October 2020.
  • Mozambique president Filipe Nyusi’s PCR results came back negative for Covid-19 after Nyusi and his wife Isaura tested positive via rapid tests days earlier, the president’s office said on Wednesday.
  • Pre-departure tests for people travelling to England are to be scrapped. Boris Johnson announced that the requirement would be lifted from 4am on Friday, along with the need for travellers to self-isolate on arrival until they receive a negative PCR test result.
  • The president of Israel, Isaac Herzog, has become the first world leader to get a fourth Covid jab. On Monday Israel became the first country in the world to embark on a fourth Covid-19 vaccination campaign starting with those over 60.

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