Covid live: two-thirds of people with Omicron in England had virus before; Denmark aims to end all restrictions

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: two-thirds of people with Omicron in England had virus before; Denmark aims to end all restrictions” was written by Martin Belam (now) and Samantha Lock (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 26th January 2022 10.21 UTC

The Australian navy’s largest ship has docked at disaster-stricken Tonga and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation – despite crew members being infected with Covid-19, officials have said.

Associated Press report that nearly two dozen sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported infected yesterday, raising fears the mercy mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devastated by the recent undersea volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami on 15 January.

Soldiers load onto HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane before departing for Tonga late last week.
Soldiers load onto HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane before departing for Tonga late last week. Photograph: CPL Robert Whitmore/AP

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of Covid-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. The Australian government said in a statement:

We appreciate the decision of the government of Tonga to enable HMAS Adelaide to dock and offload the humanitarian and medical supplies, and the high priority it has placed on Covid safety throughout the recovery process. The ship is undertaking an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies.

Denmark proposing to end all remaining Covid restrictions next week

Denmark aims to scrap all remaining Covid-19 restrictions next week, the most far-reaching easing of curbs yet seen among the Nordic countries.

In a letter addressed to parliament, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said the government intends to follow recommendations issued by an expert panel on Tuesday to scrap all restrictions. Reuters note that the proposal is still subject to parliamentary approval.

Poland is another country setting Covid records. Deputy health minister Waldemar Kraska said it will report a record number of new Covid-19 cases today, with the daily count rising above 50,000 and expected to climb in coming days,

Kraska told website interia.pl that the highly transmissible Omicron variant currently accounted for around 40% of cases.

“The fifth wave is gaining momentum. Today we will have over 50,000 new SARS-CoV-2 infections,” Kraska said.

“This is a record number, and in the coming days there will be further increases in infections, which we can see from the number of referrals for PCR tests (…) and in the number of tests performed.”

Germany sets new record of 164,000 daily Covid cases as parliament to discuss compulsory vaccines

Germany today reported a new record of 164,000 Covid-19 infections in one day, as the lower house of parliament prepared to debate proposals to either require or robustly encourage residents to be vaccinated.

Around 75% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine – less than in other western European countries such as France, Italy or Spain, where the equivalent figures are all over 80% – and the vaccination campaign is stuttering.

Reuters report that the proposals being debated include requiring all adult residents to be vaccinated against Covid, or only those above 50, or merely requiring all those who have not been vaccinated to receive counselling.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, Germany was more successful than many of its peers in limiting infections through case tracking and quarantines. But since last summer, vaccine-scepticism and a falloff in regional coordination have taken their toll, and public discontent has grown.

Opponents of compulsory vaccination say it violates the second article of the constitution, which guarantees citizens control over their own bodies.

Russia reported a record daily number of Covid-19 today, for the sixth consecutive day. Reuters report that new daily cases jumped to 74,692, up from from 67,809 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 657 official deaths from coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

Speaking of airlines, if you missed it, we had this report from Arthur Neslen earlier:

At least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter because of EU airport slot usage rules, according to analysis by Greenpeace.

The deserted, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their takeoff and landing runway rights in major airports, but they could also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average petrol or diesel cars emit in a year – Greenpeace says.

“The EU Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet an arbitrary quota is not only polluting, but extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are skyrocketing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible of the EU to not take the low-hanging fruit of ending ghost flights and banning short-haul flights where there’s a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European Commission cut the benchmark for flight operations that airlines must meet to keep their slots open from 80% to 25%. But last December, Brussels upped the benchmark to 50%, rising again to 64% in March.

Read more of Arthur Neslen’s report here: Airlines flying near-empty ‘ghost flights’ to retain EU airport slots

More passengers took Wizz Air flights over the Christmas period despite the rise of the Omicron variant, and the carrier said it was cautiously optimistic about the continued recovery of air travel during the spring.

The budget airline reported it carried 7.8 million passengers during the three months to the end of December, even more than it did in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic, while its planes were more than three-quarters (77%) full.

Read more of Joanna Partridge’s report here: Wizz Air passenger numbers rise to 7.8m despite Omicron fears

Self-isolation period in Wales to be cut to a minimum of five days

The self-isolation period in Wales is to be cut to a minimum of five full days, the Welsh Government has said. The new rules mean people will be able to end their isolation as long as they have two negative lateral flow tests on days five and six.

Health minister Eluned Morgan confirmed the changes would come into force from Friday 28 January 28, the same day the country is expected to complete the move to alert level zero. PA Media note that it will bring the nation in line with the measures in place in England and Northern Ireland.

Morgan said: “After carefully reviewing all the available evidence, we believe that testing on days five and six together with five full days of isolation will have the same protective effect as a 10-day isolation period.

“But it is really important everyone self-isolates and uses lateral flow tests in the way advised to ensure they protect others from the risk of infection.”

The minister said that while isolation was important to prevent transmission of the virus, long periods of isolation could “have a negative impact on our mental health and can be damaging for our public services and the wider economy”.

Those who test positive on either day five or day six will still have to continue to self-isolate until they have two negative tests taken 24 hours apart or until day 10, whichever comes first.

India celebrates Republic Day with festivities curtailed by anti-Covid measures

Thousands of people gathered in New Delhi early this morning to watch a display of the India’s military power amid the annual Republic Day spectacle – however the event was curtailed due to Covid-19.

Associated Press report that nearly 500 schoolchildren, folk dancers, police and military battalions, floats and stunt performers on motorbikes paraded from the presidential palace down the refurbished tree-lined boulevard of Rajpath.

An Indian Air Force contingent marches during India’s 73rd Republic Day parade.
An Indian Air Force contingent marches during India’s 73rd Republic Day parade. Photograph: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

President Ram Nath Kovind received salutes from the marching columns, which included a camel-mounted regiment. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, government ministers and foreign diplomats attended. Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country’s constitution on 26 January 1950.

Spectators watch India’s 73rd Republic Day parade at the Rajpath in New Delhi.
Spectators watch India’s 73rd Republic Day parade at the Rajpath in New Delhi. Photograph: Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images

Because of the risk of the coronavirus, authorities shortened the usual parade route, which normally culminates at the 17th century Red Fort. The number of people watching the parade was limited and included only fully vaccinated adults and children over 15 who have had at least one dose of vaccine. All spectators were required to wear masks and observe social distance.

India’s Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) “Daredevils” motorcycle riders perform during the Republic Day parade.
India’s Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) “Daredevils” motorcycle riders perform during the Republic Day parade. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

On Wednesday, India’s health ministry reported 285,000 new cases, including both delta and omicron variants, and 665 deaths across the country in the past 24 hours, with a test positivity rate of 16.16%.

Hungary sets new daily record for Covid cases as Omicron wave continues

Hungary’s daily tally of new Covid-19 infections has jumped to a record 20,174 today, but Reuters report that government data shows the number of patients being treated in hospital has remained at a relatively low level. There are 3,145 coronavirus patients in hospital now, including 164 on ventilators, the government said.

Andrew Sparrow is up and running early for us today with the UK politics live blog. You can find that here.

I will be continuing on this blog with coronavirus news from around the world.

Updated

Study warns that rise in Covid cases among school-age children in UK could pose risk to adults

The prevalence of Covid in the UK has fallen overall in recent weeks, but has risen in school-age children say researchers who have warned the uptick could pose a risk to adults.

The latest data from the React-1 study, which is based on more than 100,000 swabs from randomly selected individuals in England collected between 5 and 20 January this year, shows that the overall weighted prevalence of Covid was 4.41%, with 99% of positive tests involving the Omicron variant.

The team note the overall prevalence is more than three-fold higher than the previous round in December 2021.

“[It] is by far the highest we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” said Prof Paul Elliott of Imperial College London, and who led the study.

The team add among those aged 75 years and older the prevalence increased almost 12-fold between rounds, however Elliott noted prevalence was highest in the latest round of the study in children aged 5-11 years, at 7.81%.

While the team add that during January, prevalence overall was found to be decreasing, among children aged 5-17 it rose. That, they write is “likely the consequence of the peak occurring during the end-of-year school break, causing a delay to school-based transmission among children,” noting the rise could pose a risk to adults.

“Clearly there is a risk of transmission from the children to adults, even though currently the adults the rates are decreasing,” said Elliott.

The study also reveals around two-thirds of those who tested positive in the latest round reported previously having had a confirmed Covid infection – although the Elliott noted that could have been at any point during the pandemic, meaning not all may be true reinfections. However the team say the finding suggests there are certain groups have an ongoing higher risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

While the researchers say vaccination remains the mainstay of the defence against Covid, particularly given the protection it offers against hospitalisation, other approaches might be needed.

“Further measures beyond vaccination may be required if the very high rates of Omicron infection persist, despite Omicron appearing to be intrinsically less likely to cause severe disease,” they write.

Here’s the video clip of UK foreign secretary Liz Truss – complete with awkward pause – denying that she attended or was invited to any parties during lockdown.

The key lines from UK foreign secretary Liz Truss on Sky News are that she has reiterated her 100% support for the prime minister, she has said that she herself attended no parties during lockdown, and she also said – albeit with a slight pause – that she had not been invited to any parties during lockdown. She declined, when asked, to call for Labour leader Keir Starmer to also be investigated by police over having a beer in a constituency office.

Beyond that she said “I’m not going to prejudice the findings of the Sue Gray report, or indeed, the police investigation” or words to that effect quite a lot. She said:

I believe that he’s done a fantastic job as prime minister, whether it’s delivering Brexit, delivering the Covid vaccines, the booster programmes. We’ve now got a much faster growing economy than many of our competitors, thanks to his work, and I believe that’s what we should focus on … I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate on specific claims or specific accusations about what may or may not have happened.

A quick snap from Reuters here that the Czech Republic has recorded 39,614 new Covid-19 infections for its highest daily tally since the pandemic began, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s figure is the week’s second highest in the nation, after 30,367 infections were found on Monday in the country of 10.7 million people, which is bracing for an expected peak in Omicron infections this month.

Our political editor Heather Stewart has five things to look out for from the Sue Gray report when it is published. She identifies these key questions:

  • What was the prime minister’s direct involvement in lockdown breaches?
  • What does Gray say about the culture in No 10 and who is responsible?
  • Which senior civil servants and advisers are named – and shamed?
  • Are any other ministers, aside from Johnson, implicated?
  • Has Gray found evidence of carousing upstairs in the flat Johnson shares with his wife, Carrie?

You can find her answers here:

“We will absolutely publish the findings of the report … unless there is some specific issue” is the line that UK foreign secretary Liz Truss has immediately taken on Sky News this morning over the Sue Gray report. Asked whether Boris Johnson would have to resign if he had broken the law or misled parliament, she said:

The prime minister has appeared before parliament. He has apologised for what has happened. He has admitted that mistakes were made, and I 100% support him and want him to continue as prime minister.

Hello from London. It is Martin Belam here taking over from Samantha Lock. As you know by now, I usually bring you quotes and key lines from whichever government minister in the UK is on the airwaves. Sky News and Times Radio are promising they will have Liz Truss on, although Good Morning Britain are suggesting they haven’t had any minister confirmed.

Speaking of reinfections, here is a handy guide compiled by Guardian science correspondent Nicola Davis.

According to the latest figures for England from the UKHSA, from the start of the pandemic up to 9 January this year there were 425,890 possible reinfections, with 109,936 found in the week ending 9 January, accounting for almost 11% of all cases that week.

Read the full analysis below.

Updated

Two-thirds of people with Omicron in England had Covid before, study finds

Two-thirds of people recently infected with the Omicron variant say they had Covid previously, according to a new British study.

The REACT (REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission) research team swap-tested thousands of volunteers across England.

Almost two out of every three Covid-positive participants reported having had Covid before, according to the findings published by the Imperial College London on Wednesday.

“Among the 3,582 swab-positive individuals reporting whether or not they had had previous infection, 2,315 (64.6%) reported a confirmed previous infection,” the report read.

The researchers concluded that past infection was associated with a high risk of reinfection with Omicron.

However, more work is needed to determine how many of the results are true reinfections or PCR tests which may have picked up old traces of the virus.

Risks of infection were found to increase among people living in large compared to single-person households, those in more deprived areas and among people of Asian, Black and other ethnicities, according to the findings.

The research programme, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and carried out by Imperial College London, is in partnership with Ipsos MORI and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

South Korea hits new daily case record

South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases has exceeded 13,000 for the first time, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The record of 13,012 comes just a day after the tally topped 8,000 for the first time amid a rapid spread of the Omicron variant and despite an extension of tough social distancing rules.

Omicron is likely to account for more than 90% of new infections over the next few weeks, with the daily numbers surging to 20,000 to 30,000 or more, health officials said. The variant became dominant in the country last week.

“Going forward, our top priority is to reduce critically ill patients and deaths,” prime minister Kim Boo-kyum told an inter-ministry meeting on Wednesday.

A new testing policy has taken effect in four designated cities in South Korea on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups can take a PCR test while others are advised to get a rapid antigen test first at a local clinic.
A new testing policy has taken effect in four designated cities in South Korea on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups can take a PCR test while others are advised to get a rapid antigen test first at a local clinic. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

A new testing policy has taken effect in four designated cities on a pilot basis, under which only priority groups can take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test while others should get a rapid antigen test first at a local clinic.

The programme will be expanded on 29 January to include some 256 state-run testing stations nationwide, and then hundreds of local clinics starting 3 February, Kim said.

The government has also cut mandatory isolation for people who have been vaccinated but tested positive to seven days from 10, as part of efforts to free up resources for serious cases.

The Netherlands to ease restrictions, reopen bars and restaurants

The Dutch government will today further ease Covid restrictions despite record numbers of infections, with restaurants, bars and theatres set to re-open on Wednesday.

Prime minister Mark Rutte told a news conference on Tuesday:

The Netherlands has missed you.

Today we are taking a big step to further unlock the Netherlands. That feels contradictory while the contamination figures are going through the roof, and we have to be clear that we are taking a risk.

Rutte said the decision was in response to “great tensions” with the hospitality and cultural sectors over a virtual lockdown imposed days before Christmas.

Anger mounted after shops, gyms, hairdressers and sex workers were allowed to resume business on 15 January, but other venues had to stay shut. Cafes in several cities opened in defiance of the restrictions the weekend before last, while dozens of museums even opened as well as beauty salons for a day in protest, Agence France-Presse reports.

The European country is currently seeing record numbers of coronavirus cases, with new infections running at around 60,000 a day, fuelled by the Omicron variant.

However, intensive care admissions and deaths have been falling.

The Netherlands is set to ease restrictions and reopen bars and restaurants from Wednesday.
The Netherlands is set to ease restrictions and reopen bars and restaurants from Wednesday. Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

Cafes, bars and restaurants can open again until 10pm, so long as patrons have a Covid pass, wear masks when not seated, and capacity is reduced, the government said.

Cinemas, theatres and museums may also welcome back customers, but nightclubs must stay closed for the time being.

Fans can also return to football matches and other professional sports, but stadium capacity will be limited.

Quarantine rules for schools will also be relaxed, with classes no longer having to shut if three or more cases are confirmed, and children under 18 need no longer isolate after contact with an infected person.

Summary

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog to unravel all the latest Covid developments.

Amid the chaos surrounding alleged Downing Street lockdown breaches it may be easy to forget we are still in the midst of a global pandemic.

However, the saga is set to enter a new phase with an official report by senior civil servant Sue Gray due to be published in the coming days.

Arch-critics of prime minister Boris Johnson are hopeful that Gray’s findings will be damaging enough to trigger what they believe will be the final trickle of letters needed to get to 54 and force a no confidence vote.

Just across the UK border in the Netherlands, the Dutch government will further ease Covid restrictions despite record numbers of infections, with restaurants, bars and theatres set to re-open on Wednesday.

“The Netherlands has missed you,” prime minister Mark Rutte told a news conference on Tuesday. “Today we are taking a big step to further unlock the Netherlands. That feels contradictory while the contamination figures are going through the roof, and we have to be clear that we are taking a risk.”

The Netherlands has so far endured some of Europe’s toughest Covid restrictions.

Here are all the global Covid developments from the past 24 hours:

Europe:

  • Boris Johnson said he welcomes a police inquiry into Downing Street parties and will help “draw a line” under matters. Earlier, Metropolitan police said they would begin investigating parties held at No 10 during coronavirus lockdowns. The development piles further pressure on the prime minister after fresh revelations of two more gatherings, including one to celebrate his birthday.
  • Sue Gray’s inquiry report is reportedly set to come this week after the Met said there is no need to hold material back.
  • The UK reported 439 deaths within 28 days of a Covid-positive test. That’s the highest tally since February 2021. Tuesday’s data showed 94,326 new daily cases. The figures are often higher on a Tuesday when most deaths at the weekend are included in the tally. Last Tuesday, 438 deaths were reported.
  • The UK’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said 77,000 NHS workers remain unvaccinated, and Covid policies – including on mandatory jabs for NHS staff – should be kept “under review”.
  • Scotland will allow people to return to offices from Monday, in a “phased” plan announced by Nicola Sturgeon. The first minister asked employers to begin a phased return to work by introducing hybrid working next week after a continuing decline in Omicron variant cases in Scotland, in an update to MSPs at Holyrood.
  • Italy’s daily cases have more than doubled in a day to 186,740. This is up from 77,696 a day earlier, the health ministry said. The number of deaths jumped to 468 from 352, though more tests had been taken in the past day than on Monday.
  • In Germany, the anti-vaccination movement is ramping up, with thousands of people taking part in weekly protests across the country. More than 2,000 rallies were held on Monday.
  • Russia has cut the isolation time for Covid contacts from 14 days to seven, amid a surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant. On Tuesday, daily cases reached the record high of 67,809, official figures show.
  • Doctors have discovered an “antibody signature” that can help identify patients most at risk of developing long Covid.
  • Malta will start to scrap a requirement for people to present a vaccination certificate for entry to restaurants and other venues from next month.
  • Bars, restaurants and theatres in the Netherlands can reopen on 26 January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, further relaxing restrictions despite record infection levels.

United States:

  • The US Department of Labor said it will withdraw its Covid-19 vaccine-and-testing requirement for large employers after the Supreme Court blocked the rule.
  • An appeals judge has temporarily restored New York’s mask mandate on Tuesday, a day after a judge in a lower court ruled that Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration lacked the constitutional authority to order people to wear face coverings.
  • Elton John has postponed two farewell concert dates in Dallas, Texas, after contracting Covid-19.

Asia:

  • South Korea’s daily count of new cases topped 8,000 for the first time, despite the recent extension of strict social-distancing rules.* Two years since its first infection, Australia recorded one of its highest number of Covid-related deaths in a day.
  • Japan expanded regions subject to tighter curbs to cover 70% of the country, as the government tried to counter a record wave of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

Middle East:

  • An Israeli government advisory panel has recommended offering a fourth vaccine dose to all adults, on condition that at least five months have passed since they received the third or recovered from the illness.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, have begun testing a vaccine specifically designed to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the companies have announced.

Updated

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