Covid live: UK considering door-to-door vaccinations, reports say; Israeli PM isolating after daughter tests positive

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid live: UK considering door-to-door vaccinations, reports say; Israeli PM isolating after daughter tests positive” was written by Miranda Bryant (now); Tom Bryant, Martin Farrer and Caitlin Cassidy (earlier), for theguardian.com on Sunday 26th December 2021 14.56 UTC

Israeli prime minister isolating after daughter tests positive for Covid

The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, started isolating at home today after his daughter tested positive for Covid.

His office said that he is awaiting the results of a PCR test after his 14-year-old daughter, who has been vaccinated, contracted the virus, reports Reuters.

Bennett left his weekly cabinet meeting and went home after hearing about his daughter’s positive test.

Before the session started, he and other cabinet members took rapid antigen tests and received negative results.

It comes as Israel is seeing a rise in infections caused by the Omicron variant.

So far, Israel has reported 1,118 confirmed cases of Omicron and the number of infections is doubling every two days.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at his weekly cabinet meeting in Kibbutz Mevo Hama, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, today.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at his weekly cabinet meeting in Kibbutz Mevo Hama, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, today. Photograph: Nir Elias/AP

Algeria brings in new vaccine passport requirements – hours after announcement

Algeria implemented new vaccine passport requirements today for crossing the border and entrance to public venues including sports facilities, cinemas, bathhouses and museums.

Under a quarter of the population have had one vaccine dose amid vaccine hesitancy. It is hoped that the new requirement will boost vaccination rates.

The new restrictions were announced last night and came into effect today, leaving no preparation time for businesses.

According to official figures, 6,230 people have died from Covid, including seven in the past week, and there have been 217,000 cases, reports the Associated Press. But the true figures are estimated to be much higher.

Last month the health minister, Abderrahmane Benbouzid, warned that if vaccine hesitancy continues, over 13 million vaccines risk going out of date before they are used.

Hi, I’m looking after the blog for the next hour or so. Please get in touch with any tips or suggestions: miranda.bryant@guardian.co.uk

Santa hats and Christmas jumpers added festive colour to the usual PPE for the “jingle jabs” NHS campaign in east London on Christmas Day.

At one of at least eight vaccination centres open in England, volunteers decorated Redbridge town hall with Christmas-themed pictures and festive messages as they dealt with a fast-moving queue for booster jabs.

“We’ve tried to jazz it up a little bit, tried to decorate some of the bays. There’s only a limited amount we can do from a clinical point of view, but we’ve tried. Those with their Christmas hats have got them on while trying to observe full PPE,” said Imran Khan, a senior clinical pharmacist at the centre.

Khan said the campaign to get people vaccinated at centres open from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day was useful in a diverse area such as Ilford and especially for workers who did not have the luxury of working from home.

Sadique Shikder, 46, said his job as a bartender meant he was usually too busy to get to a vaccination centre. Similarly, 54-year-old Azmat Hussain, said he would normally be travelling as a salesperson in the financial sector. “We usually do a dinner today and it’s my mum’s birthday as well but because of Covid we’ve had to scale back so I’ll go back and watch TV,” said Hussain.

Updated

Omani authorities will require foreign travellers aged 18 or older to have received at least two Covid-19 vaccine doses to enter the sultanate, the state news agency reported on Sunday.

The sultanate also cancelled a previous decision that suspended entry from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique.

France recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time since the pandemic struck, and Covid-19 hospitalisations have doubled over the past month as the fast-spreading Omicron variant complicates the government’s efforts to stave off a new lockdown.

More than one person in 100 in the Paris region has tested positive in the past week, according to the regional health service. Most new infections are linked to the Omicron variant, which government experts predict will be dominant in France in the coming days.

Meanwhile a surge in Delta variant infections in recent months is pushing up hospital admissions. More than 1,000 people in France with the virus died over the past week, bringing the overall death toll to more than 122,000.

The government is holding emergency meetings on Monday to discuss next steps. Some scientists and teachers have urged delaying the post-holiday return to school, or re-imposing a curfew. But the education minister says schools should open as usual on 3 January, and other government officials are working to avoid measures that would hammer the economic recovery.

Instead the government is hoping that stepped-up vaccinations will be enough. The government is pushing a draft law that would require people to be vaccinated to enter all restaurants and many public venues, instead of the current health pass system which allows people to produce a negative test or proof of recovery if they’re not vaccinated.

Updated

UK considering door-to-door vaccination teams, reports say

Coronavirus vaccination teams could go door-to-door in the UK to reach those yet to have their jabs, reports have suggested, in a bid to stave off further restrictions, PA Media reports.

The Mail on Sunday reported a trial which had been carried out in Ipswich, Suffolk, could be expanded across the whole country as the government attempted to hold out against introducing new restrictions in England.

New Covid measures came into force in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on Boxing Day but politicians in England are unlikely to discuss further measures until Monday, with suggestions a voluntary reduction in social contacts before Christmas could convince Boris Johnson to rely on guidance rather than new rules.

Downing Street believes that reaching those who have not yet had their vaccinations is a key way of staving off new restrictions.

A month-long campaign was launched at the end of November in the Westgate area of Ipswich, which had a low vaccine uptake rate. Public health teams went door-to-door addressing worries and offering transport to vaccination centres. A bus also toured the area to offer jabs without appointments. In Great Yarmouth, in Norfolk, community vaccinators have made doorstep calls in areas where vaccination rates are low.

The Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is expected to speak to government officials on Boxing Day over the prospect of a recall of parliament to approve any pre-new year measures in England.

It is understood a Covid O meeting is yet to be scheduled as ministers await further data, but No 10 did not rule out the possibility one could take place on Monday.

The number of people getting their first jab of the Covid-19 vaccine rose by around 46% in the week up to 21 December, the government said.

In total, 221,564 first doses were administered in England in the week of 15-21 December, a 46% increase from the previous week, and 279,112 second doses were administered, a 39% jump, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The largest increase was seen among young people, with an 85% increase in first doses for those aged 18 and 24 and a 71% increase in first doses for those aged 25 to 30. In the week up to 21 December, more over-60s had had a first dose than during any seven-day period since early June.

Updated

More details from Reuters on the identification of the first case of the Omicron variant on the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian health ministry said the carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory. A ministry official, Majdi Dhair, said this meant the variant, first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong last month, existed in Gaza and was now spreading among the population. The discovery poses a new challenge to the enclave’s under-developed health system.

“We are ahead of difficult days. It is expected that the Omicron variant will spread fast,” he told reporters.

Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 COVID-19 infections and 1,691 deaths. Dhair urged Gazans to get vaccinated, putting the percentage of those who had already received shots at around 40 percent.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, three cases of Omicron variant had been detected among Palestinians on Dec. 16 and the number had since risen to 23 among the 3.1 million population, Palestinian health authorities said.

Is Omicron the start of another bleak new year or the beginning of the end for the pandemic in the UK? The Observer’s science editor Robin McKie reports

How close does this year’s outbreak parallel that of last winter?

At first glance, the two years look similar, with case numbers rocketing in only a few weeks in the UK. However, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 remain very low so far this year, with latest research suggesting that the new variant appears to trigger fewer cases of severe illness than its viral predecessors.

Scientists have generally treated these results studies as good news but have also counselled caution. Daily Covid-19 case numbers are still rising – they reached a record 122,000 on Friday – and it was estimated that 1.7m people had Covid-19 in the UK last week.

Are there noticeable differences in the ages of those affected by Omicron?

Crucially, most of the new cases have occurred in young adults, which has led some researchers to warn that if Omicron starts to affect older – more vulnerable – people in greater numbers, hospitalisations could still jump. On the other hand, a huge number of people – especially the elderly – have now been give vaccines and boosters and will have gained considerable protection against Omicron. It remains to be seen how these different factors affect figures. At present, data is still being gathered and it is too early to be sure. At the same time, policy decisions to protect public health still have to be taken.

The problem is highlighted by infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University. “There is inevitably a lag between infection and hospitalisation,” he told the journal Nature last week. “But in the meantime, policy decisions have to be made, and that is not straightforward.”

Is the virus likely to lose its power to cause severe illness?

Many scientists believe evidence is now suggesting that this idea may be correct. Recent studies in Scotland, England and South Africa all point in this direction. “My gut feeling is that this variant is the first step in a process by which the virus adapts to the human population to produce more benign symptoms,” says Dr Julian Tang, Professor of Respiratory Sciences at Leicester University. “In a sense, it is to the virus’s advantage if it affects people in a way that that they don’t get too sick – because then they can walk around and mingle in society and spread the virus even more.”

So will Covid-19 end up behaving like flu?

Some health officials have predicted that Covid-19 could end up behaving like influenza, which requires a new vaccine to deal with new strains that appear every year. However, Professor Martin Hibberd, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, argues that coronaviruses – like those that already cause common colds – do not behave this way: “They do not appear as new strains every year. The reason we get colds in winter is because our immunity to coronaviruses does not last very long. And this virus seems to be more similar to those that cause common colds. In other words, we may still need to think about giving vaccines to protect against Covid-19 every year because immunity will always slip.”

That does not mean we face “doom and gloom” for the next five years, adds Tang. “I think the virus will evolve itself out of the pandemic strain very soon and become milder, more transmissible to the point where you may only need to think about vaccinating the more vulnerable members of the population.”

First Omicron case detected in Gaza, Palestinians say

The Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday it had identified the first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in the Gaza Strip.

Reuters reports that the carrier is a Gaza resident who was infected within the coastal territory, ministry official Majdi Dhair told a news conference.

Gaza, with a population of 2.2 million people, has registered 189,837 Covid-19 cases and 1,691 deaths.

In the UK, cabinet ministers vying to succeed Boris Johnson have been warned by Tory colleagues that they will damage their chances unless they stridently oppose further Covid measures in England, as MPs called for New Year’s Eve restrictions to be ruled out.

With ministers expected to meet as soon as Monday to discuss whether additional measures are needed to protect hospital capacity, several Conservatives said that they would be watching those emerging as leading contenders to replace Johnson should he step aside before the next election.

The news comes after it emerged government scientific advisers had modelled the impact of implementing so-called “step 2” restrictions from Tuesday. Such measures would see an end to indoor gatherings, limited outdoor gatherings, and bars and restaurants only able to serve outdoors. The modelling suggested that restrictions could reduce deaths by 18% if kept in place until mid-January or 39% if retained until the end of March.

Delaying the measures until New Year’s Day would reduce their impact, though the scientists said their models did not have “sufficient precision” to detect differences in a small delay. “When an epidemic is rapidly growing, the earlier interventions take place, the larger their effect,” they said.

The UK recorded 122,186 new Covid cases on Friday, the highest yet, while the Office for National Statistics estimated that 1.7 million Britons had the virus in the week ending 19 December, also a record.

The Liberal Democrats have called for a clear plan to keep schools in England open in January.

The Sunday Times has reported that the prime minister told Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, that he is “absolutely determined” that pupils will return to school after the Christmas holidays and that both believe education is the “No 1 priority” with school closures “not being considered”.

However, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said it was not clear what mitigation measures had been put in place to keep Covid cases down in classrooms.

“Our children have been failed again and again throughout this pandemic by Boris Johnson’s government,” she said. “Of course schools should stay open but he needs to explain how and with what help for teachers and parents.

“He needs to explain how and with what help for teachers and parents. From air purifiers to rolling out the vaccine to teenagers, this government has dragged its feet. Ministers must set out a clear plan to reassure families that schools will be kept open, instead of making yet more empty promises.”

Schools were closed in England last January, some after reopening for just one day following the Christmas holidays. Most children had already been off school from March until September.

Restrictions on hospitality in Scotland have been reimposed as the government looks to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

With the increased transmissibility of the new strain, the Scottish government has imposed limits on the number of people who can attend events.

Only 100 are allowed to attend a standing indoor event and 200 at a seated event. Outdoor events have been limited to 500, meaning large-scale Hogmanay celebrations have been scrapped.

Despite the restrictions, football games in the Scottish Premiership will go ahead on Boxing Day, with the winter break brought forward to limit the impact of restrictions on teams. Indoor non-professional contact sports have also been stopped.

The restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks, and will be paired with further changes coming into effect from Monday at 5am, including the closure of nightclubs.

Indoor hospitality and leisure settings will also have to return to one-metre social distancing and table service where appropriate under the new measures.

Some detail on the new restrictions in Wales, via PA Media. Groups of no more than six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales from Boxing Day as new restrictions come into force.

Under a series of new measures announced by first minister Mark Drakeford last week, the two-metre social distancing rules are returning in public places and workplaces.

Licensed premises will have to offer table service only, face masks will have to be worn and contact tracing details collected.

Outdoor events will be limited to 50 people, with 30 indoors – but numbers able to attend events such as weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and wakes will be determined by the size of the venue.

The rules, which come into force from 6am, are a revised version of alert level two. The regulations bring back protections in hospitality businesses, including licensed premises, and in cinemas and theatres. Nightclubs will also close.

The Night Time Industries Association described the measures as a “devastating blow” to the industry and urged the UK Government to reintroduce the furlough scheme.

Drakeford said £120m would be available for nightclubs, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses affected by the measures.

“We are facing a very serious situation in Wales. A wave of infections caused by the new, fast-moving and very infectious Omicron variant is headed our way,” he said.

“We will do everything we can to protect people’s health and livelihoods in Wales – this means taking early action to try and control its spread.”

There will be no restrictions on household mixing, but guidance will be issued about limiting the number of visitors, taking a lateral flow test before the visit, and meeting outdoors, if possible.

There will be a separate offence for large gatherings – more than 30 people indoors or 50 people outdoors – in private homes and gardens.

Drakeford did not rule out introducing further restrictions in the new year, but said he hoped these measures would flatten the infection rate.

Updated

More on the situation in China, courtesy of Reuters, after the country reported its highest daily rise in local Covid-19 cases in 21 months as infections more than doubled in the northwestern city of Xian, China’s latest Covid hot spot.

The city of 13 million, which entered its fourth day of lockdown, detected 155 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Saturday, up from 75 a day earlier, official data showed on Sunday.

That drove the national daily count to 158, the highest since China managed to contain a nationwide outbreak in early 2020. Xian, with 485 local symptomatic cases reported for the 9-25 December period, has imposed heavy-handed measures to rein in the outbreak, in line with Beijing’s policy that any flare-up should be contained as soon as possible.

Residents may not leave town without approval from employers or local authorities and multiple rounds of mass testing were conducted to identify cases.

The city has announced no infections caused by the Omicron variant, although Chinese authorities have reported a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in southern China.

Including imported cases, mainland China confirmed 206 new cases on 25 December , up from 140 a day earlier.

No new deaths were reported, leaving the cumulative death toll at 4,636. Mainland China had 101,077 confirmed cases as of 25 December.

Updated

Russia has reported 23, 721 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, down slightly on the 24,946 cases it reported the day before. The country had also reported 968 Covid-linked deaths in the last day.

Updated

New restrictions for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

New coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as the country’s leaders try to combat rising Covid cases.

Although Boris Johnson is still considering similar measures in England, the devolved governments have gone ahead with new rules.

Wales

  • From 6am on Boxing Day, a maximum of six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants.
  • A total of 30 people will be allowed at indoor events while 50 people will be allowed at outdoor events.
  • Two-metre social distancing is being required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs will close.

Scotland

  • Large events will have one-metre physical distancing and will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors from 5am on Boxing Day.
  • Up to three households can meet with a one metre distancing between groups at indoor and outdoor venues like bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms.
  • Table service is also needed at places where alcohol is served.
  • The restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks, and will be paired with further changes coming into effect from Monday at 5am, including the closure of nightclubs.

Northern Ireland

  • Restrictions begin on Boxing Day and December 27, with indoor standing events no longer permitted and nightclubs closing.

Full story here:

Updated

A summary of today’s developments

To summarise the latest developments:

  • Covid is continuing to spread in Australia, with 9,605 cases detected across the country. New South Wales recorded a record 6,394 cases, as the NSW health minister urged residents to reconsider whether they need to call an ambulance or go to hospital due to staff furloughs, warning everyone in the state was likely to be infected with Omicron. In South Australia, restrictions have been tightened to stem the spread of Omicron after a record daily number of cases.
  • Testing centre delays were still hitting Australian states and territories, with some reaching capacity before opening on Boxing Day.
  • Also in Australia, a Sydney hospital has been forced to issue an apology after falsely telling 400 people they had tested negative to the virus yesterday evening, when they were positive.
  • France recorded a record high of 104,611 Covid-19 infections on Saturday, breaking the 100,000 threshold for the first time since the pandemic began.
  • Italy reported a third successive record tally of Covid-19 cases on Christmas Day, Reuters reports. New cases reached 54,762 compared to 50,599 a day earlier, the health ministry said.
  • Record cases are being reported in Ireland and in China, where authorities are imposing strict lockdowns to contain the outbreaks. Local transmission is rising in China and its Xi’an province is now allowing only one member of a household to leave their home for necessities every two days. China recorded 206 cases, the highest daily rise in 21 months.
  • More than 5,400 flight cancellations have thrown the Christmas travel schedule into chaos. Omicron has meant airlines could not staff flights. A quarter of cancelled flights were in the United States.
  • New Covid measures in England could be in place until late March under measures examined by the UK government’s scientific advisers, including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in England earlier this year
  • India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has announced vaccinations for children under 15 and booster jabs for healthcare and frontline workers.
  • The Omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Portugal, making up almost two-thirds of cases since Wednesday. Schools, bars and clubs are closed until 10 January.
  • There were queues at vaccination centres in England, kept open in some areas to allow walk-in appointments as the government encourages booster shots to counter the surge caused by the Omicron variant.
  • The Nigerian president’s top media aide Garba Shehu said on Saturday that he has tested positive for coronavirus and was in isolation.
  • Germany recorded 10,100 new Covid cases and 88 deaths, as the reference rate continues to decrease.

Updated

SydPath medical director professor Anthony Dodds has addressed the media on the 400 false negatives at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. He said no sailors or crew linked to the Sydney to Hobart yacht race were believed to have been impacted.

Owing to the very large volume of tests we’ve been contending with, last night we incorrectly messaged 400 patients who had been swabbed at our centres from 22 December and 23 December, advising them they had tested negative to Covid.

These people in fact had tested positive to Covid. As soon as we became aware of this issue this morning SydPath immediately commenced a process to contact these individuals. An emergency response team is now investigating the cause of this mistake which we believe is due to human error. We sincerely apologise for the mistake that has been made.

Germany records 10,100 Covid cases

In Europe, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has registered 10,100 new Covid cases in Germany and 88 deaths within the past 24 hours.

The seven-day incidence continues to decrease. The RKI gave the value of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants as 220.7 as of Sunday morning. The previous day was 242.9, while a week ago the nationwide incidence was 315.4.

It brings total deaths during the pandemic to 110,364.

Updated

To recap Australia’s daily Covid numbers. There have been 9,618 total cases recorded across the country:

  • Victoria has recorded 1,608 new cases.
  • NSW has reported a record 6,394 Covid cases. St Vincent’s hospital has revealed 400 people were incorrectly told they tested negative yesterday evening. It hasn’t been confirmed whether this brings the official case count to 6,794, which would push the national case count to 10,018.
  • The ACT has recorded 71 new local cases.
  • Tasmania has recorded 44 new cases.
  • South Australia has recorded 774 new Covid cases, prompting the return of some restrictions in the state.
  • There have been 714 Covid cases detected in Queensland.
  • Western Australia has recorded one local case who wasn’t infectious while in the community.
  • The Northern Territory has reported 12 new local cases.

Updated

Western Australia has recorded one new Covid case.

The case attended the Perth Mess Hall event, and was also staying at a hostel linked to a previous case.

They tested positive while in quarantine and aren’t considered to have been contagious in the community.

It brings the total number of local cases linked to the current outbreak to eight.

In addition, there was one other case reported overnight – an overseas traveller in hotel quarantine.

Today’s new case came from 3,387 tests.

Updated

Case numbers have not yet been released for Western Australia, but if there were 400 further cases that weren’t included in the official daily count in NSW because of the St Vincent’s hospital bungle, then Australia would have recorded more than 10,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day.

NSW would have accounted for the bulk of the cases – almost 7,000.

Updated

Sydney hospital distributes 400 false negative test results

In Sydney, St Vincent’s hospital has launched an emergency response after falsely telling 400 people they tested negative for Covid when they were, in fact, positive.

The hospital has released a statement saying it is believed the mistake was down to “human error”.

The affected people are being contacted.

What is unclear is whether this impacts today’s case numbers in NSW – which were already at a record 6,394.

Updated

Here is the full update from the NT’s Michael Gunner. No cases have been found in Nhulunbuy, where positive wastewater was detected:

The Northern Territory has recorded 12 new cases of Covid-19 since our last update.

Four new cases are linked to the current cluster. This brings the total case count for the cluster to 144.

Two new cases are household contacts of previous cases in the Tennant Creek area. They were not infectious in the community.

Two new cases are in the Katherine area and are likely to be linked to previous Katherine area cases. They are in isolation and contact tracing is underway.

Two new cases were locally acquired in household contacts of a traveller from interstate. Six new cases are in interstate arrivals. They are all in isolation at home or at the Centre for National Resilience.

There are currently 18 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including one in ICU. The majority of admissions are for the purposes of infection control and assessment.

1,499 Covid-19 tests were processed across the NT yesterday….Covid-19 testing sites are open in Nhulunbuy, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. Testing is also available at NT Health clinics in remote communities.

Back in Australia, the Northern Territory has recorded 12 new Covid cases, bringing the total number of cases linked to the current outbreak to 144.

There are 18 people in hospital with Covid, including one in ICU.

In a Facebook post, chief minister Michael Gunner said the “majority” of admissions were for infection control and assessment.

Two cases detected in Tennant Creek are household contacts of previous cases and haven’t been infectious in the community, and two cases have been detected in Katherine, likely linked to previous cases with contact tracing underway.

Two new cases were recorded in household contacts of a traveller from interstate, and six further cases were recorded in interstate arrivals.

Western Australia is yet to provide a Covid update after reporting two new cases yesterday.

Updated

More on the 206 new cases reported in China today from Reuters, which is the highest daily rise in local Covid cases in the past 21 months.

Infections more than doubled in the northwestern city of Xian, the nation’s latest hotspot. The city of 13 million, which entered its fourth day of lockdown, detected 155 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms for Saturday, up from 75 a day earlier, official data showed on Sunday.

It drove the national daily count to 158, the highest since China managed to contain a nationwide outbreak in early 2020.

Xian, with 485 local symptomatic cases reported between 9 December and 25 December, has imposed heavy-handed measures to rein in the outbreak, in line with Beijing’s policy that any flare-up should be contained as soon as possible.

Residents are unable to leave town without approval from employers or local authorities, and multiple rounds of mass testing have been conducted to identify cases. The city has announced no infections caused by the Omicron variant, although Chinese authorities have reported a handful of Omicron infections among international travellers and in southern China.

Including imported cases, mainland China confirmed 206 new cases on Christmas Day, up from 140 a day earlier. No new deaths were reported, leaving the cumulative death toll at 4,636.

Updated

To recap, Covid case numbers across Australia have been released for every state and territory excluding Western Australia and the NT. It brings total cases (so far) in Australia to 9,605.

  • Victoria has recorded 1,608 new cases.
  • NSW has reported a record 6,394 Covid cases.
  • The ACT has recorded 71 new local cases.
  • Tasmania has recorded 44 new cases.
  • South Australia has recorded 774 new Covid cases, prompting the return of some restrictions in the state..
  • There have been 714 Covid cases detected in Queensland.

Tennis player Denis Shapovalov, who is part of Canada’s team for January’s ATP Cup, has tested positive for Covid in Sydney.

Shapovalov played at the World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last week, where he defeated Rafael Nadal in the third-place play-off match. Nadal also tested positive for the virus after playing at the tournament, as did Belinda Bencic and Tunisian Ons Jabeur.

Shapovalov said his symptoms were minor. The ATP prefaces the Australian Open, due to kick-off in mid-January.

Updated

The Dominican Republic has identified its first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the health ministry of the Caribbean country said on Saturday and Reuters reports.

In a statement on Twitter, the ministry said Omicron had been identified in a person with mild symptoms who had arrived in the country from South Africa.

The ministry also said it had later been informed by Chilean authorities that a person who traveled to Chile from the Dominican Republic had tested positive for Omicron.

Other potential cases of Omicron are under investigation.

NSW shadow minister for health Ryan Park has responded to health minister Brad Hazzard’s comments about the Omicron variant earlier today.

Hazzard said it was inevitable everyone in the state would get Omicron, which was what made vaccination rates particularly crucial:

It’s not good enough for the premier to say ‘we’re all going to get Omicron’.

He’s the leader of the state, where’s the planning and where’s the resources and where’s the leadership? Where’s the plans for hospitals? For health workers? Are there enough resources for testing clinics to cope with demand?

We’ve got many people in NSW with Covid symptoms or positive RAT tests without access to a PCR test. Many clinics are closed for the next few days. That’s not good enough.

South Australia has tightened public health and social restrictions in response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the virus.

Gyms will return to density limits of one person per seven square metres, effective immediately. From midnight, hospitality venues will return to one person per four square metres density limits for indoor dining.

Home gatherings will be reduced to 10 people.

The state was due to further ease restrictions on 28 December. PCR tests will no longer be mandatory for interstate arrivals.

Updated

Back in Australia, South Australia has recorded 774 new Covid cases from more than 20,000 tests – another record day of case numbers. It is up from 634 cases detected on Christmas Day as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

There are 17 people currently being treated in hospital, including three in intensive care.

Some 93% of eligible South Australians have received their first dose of a vaccine.

Updated

China reports 206 Covid cases

China has reported 206 new Covid cases on Christmas Day, a significant jump from 140 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday and Reuters reports.

Of the new infections, 158 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 87 cases the previous day.

Most of the new local cases were in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

China also reported 29 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from 24 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. Mainland China had 101,077 confirmed cases as of 25 December.

Many Covid testing clinics are closed in Queensland today for the Boxing Day public holiday, but five-day testing after arrival to the state is still mandatory, causing a backlog.

Updated

Still in Australia, Queensland has reported 715 new Covid cases, bringing active cases in the state to 2,857. There are seven patients being treated in hospital, and none requiring intensive care.

It comes as Omicron becomes the dominant strain in the state, accounting for about 75% of new cases.

Chief health officer John Gerrard said the fall in case numbers from the previous day followed a testing lull on Christmas Day, and warned case numbers would increase in the coming days:

It won’t surprise us at all if within the next couple of days if the numbers get substantially higher. We would not be too concerned at that, that would not be a surprise.

Updated

A summary of today’s developments

If you’re just joining us, here is a summary of recent major developments.

  • Cases are continuing to rise in Australia. New South Wales recorded a record 6,394 cases, while Victoria recorded 1,608 new Covid cases. The NSW health minister has urged residents to reconsider whether they need to call an ambulance or go to hospital due to staff furloughs, warning everyone in the state was likely to be infected with Omicron.
  • Testing centre delays were still hitting Australian states and territories, with some reaching capacity before opening on Boxing Day.
  • France recorded a record high of 104,611 Covid-19 infections on Saturday, breaking the 100,000 threshold for the first time since the pandemic began.
  • Italy reported a third successive record tally of Covid-19 cases on Christmas Day, Reuters reports. New cases reached 54,762 compared to 50,599 a day earlier, the health ministry said.
  • Record cases are being reported in Ireland and in China, where authorities are imposing strict lockdowns to contain the outbreaks. Local transmission is rising in China and its Xi’an province is now allowing only one member of a household to leave their home for necessities every two days.
  • More than 5,400 flight cancellations have thrown the Christmas travel schedule into chaos. Omicron has meant airlines could not staff flights. A quarter of cancelled flights were in the United States.
  • New Covid measures in England could be in place until late March under measures examined by the UK government’s scientific advisers, including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in England earlier this year
  • India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has announced vaccinations for children under 15 and booster jabs for healthcare and frontline workers.
  • The Omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Portugal, making up almost two-thirds of cases since Wednesday. Schools, bars and clubs are closed until 10 January.
  • There were queues at vaccination centres in England, kept open in some areas to allow walk-in appointments as the government encourages booster shots to counter the surge caused by the Omicron variant.
  • The Nigerian president’s top media aide Garba Shehu said on Saturday that he has tested positive for coronavirus and was in isolation.

Back in Australia, the ACT has recorded 71 new Covid cases on Boxing Day.

Some 21 new exposure sites have been added to the government’s website in response to rising cases. It is half the record 142 new cases reported on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, ACT Health hasn’t updated waiting times at Covid testing clinics since 10am, when all were closed or at capacity.

“We are experiencing high demand for testing. Please do not queue on the roads,” the website states.

Updated

Serbian media is reporting star tennis player Novak Djokovic won’t play in the ATP Cup due to take place in Sydney in January. He will make a decision on the Australian Open before the new year.

Djokovic has refused to disclose his vaccination status, which is mandatory in order to play at the Australian Open unless he receives a medical exemption.

Updated

In Australia, the Queensland treasurer Cameron Dick has lashed out at the New South Wales health response to the virus. The state has been reporting daily record case numbers of Covid-19. The NSW health minister earlier today acknowledged hospital staff were being “run off their feet”.

Dick:

This is a state that let the virus get out of control and it caused untold damage to lives, livelihoods and to business … and we look at the hundreds of lives that were lost. People of NSW are naturally very concerned.

It comes as three-quarters of Covid patients in Queensland in the past two weeks are revealed to have been under the age of 35.

Updated

Israel has ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer Inc’s antiviral Covid-19 pill Paxlovid for people aged 12 and over at risk of severe illness, Reuters reports. It is the first pill developed specifically to treat Covid-19.

An Israeli official confirmed the announcement on Saturday, after Channel 12 TV said Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett agreed the deal in a phone conversation with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. There was no immediate confirmation from the company.

Paxlovid, the first oral and at home treatment for Covid, is nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to Pfizer’s clinical trial.

Pfizer said recent lab data suggested it retained effectiveness against the Omicron variant of the virus. The FDA approved the antiviral pill three days ago.

Updated

In South Korea, three members of K-pop sensation BTS test have tested positive for Covid-19 following their return from the US, AFP reports.

The South Korean group gave their first in-person concerts since the start of the pandemic in Los Angeles, which took place from late November to early this month.

They have been on holiday since then, and each of the three infected members returned to South Korea on different dates. They are all fully vaccinated, and none have had any contact with other group members after their return.

Three BTS members have contracted Covid.
Three BTS members have contracted Covid. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

Rapper RM and vocalist Jin tested positive for the virus Saturday evening, according to Big Hit Music. The announcement came a day after the agency confirmed that Suga, another member of the septet, was “administering self-care at home” following a positive test.

While RM and Suga are asymptomatic, Jin has mild fever, the agency said. Among the three, RM and Suga received their positive tests while still in self-quarantine after arriving back home, while Jin was released from quarantine after testing negative and received his positive result later.

Big Hit Music said in a statement the company would put its “highest priority on the health and safety of our artists”.

Updated

As Christmas arrives around the world, a surge of Covid infections is keeping many families apart, overwhelming hospitals and scaling back religious ceremonies as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

I’m Caitlin Cassidy here to bring you major Covid developments around the world.

Pope Francis has used his Christmas address to pray for more vaccines to reach the developing world, while in England, Queen Elizabeth II has noted another year of pain after losing her husband, Prince Philip, in April, acknowledging Christmas can be hard for “those who have lost loved ones”.

Cases are continuing to rise in Australia, where New South Wales earlier recorded a record 6,394 cases. The NSW health minister has urged residents to reconsider whether they need to call an ambulance or go to hospital due to staff furloughs, warning everyone in the state was likely to be infected with Omicron.

France recorded a record high of 104,611 Covid-19 infections on Saturday, breaking the 100,000 threshold for the first time since the pandemic began, and Italy reported a third successive record tally of Covid-19 cases on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, some 5,400 flight cancellations have thrown the Christmas travel schedule into chaos. Omicron has meant airlines could not staff flights, with quarter of cancelled flights in the United States. Let’s dive in.

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